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Ahdaf Soueif

Would Austen have read this book? she would have seen it as an improbable Radcliffe fantasy (especially the trunk and manuscripts) and gobbled it up, all the while writing harsh abrasive remarks about it to Cassandra who would at least listen ….

Friends and readers,

I first read Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love some six years ago. I immediately recognized it as written in the Booker Prize mode: it has narratives within narratives, especially the past ones embedded into present day memories; deep subjectivity and reveries as the POV for long stretches; rich prose style. It seemed a cross between Ruth Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust (1984) and A. S. Byatt’s Possession (1990), Brontesque in its passionate outpourings, a George Eliot kind of heroine (Anna is called a Dorothea Brooke by her great-great grandaughter, Isabel Parkman), neo-Victorian, self-consciously Orientalist. Unlike many a more politics Booker Prize winner (in the event it was merely short-listed) Soueif is more than anti- or post-colonialist: she is avidly pro-Palestinian, rightly searingly critical of British, then US, then Israel behavior towards Egypt. She provides an alternative and accurate history of Egypt within this book, teaching the reader to understand events she (most readers I’ve met have been women) has been mislead, miseducated or silenced about. I had a hard time with it because the first heroine we meet, the older new reclusive Egyptian journalist Amal al-Ghamrawi, tells her story now in the third person, now in the first person, and reads and tells Anna’s story in a similar woven way. But if you keep at it, you will find yourself enjoying a passionate historical romance masterpiece.

I reread it for a paper I wrote on Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake as they seemed uncannily similar, with both having epistolary situations (epistolarity — characters reading letters and journals where we are aware of the other reader) and story-telling first person story-telling set in side-by-side time frames. Smith’s Ethelinde and Soueif’s Map of Love are deeply recessive novels. The stories and characters that matter most are suspended, remain latent until we are well into the novel. Characters who blend into one another so it’s hard to keep them distinct. Prevailing moods are melancholic, ironic and nostalgic despite considerable alienation, deeply erotic, paradoxically all the more when the main character, a woman or feminized hero, has chosen celibacy. Events occur in widely disparate geographical places, leading to estrangements between characters, whom memory nonetheless connects and who act based the connection. Books will straddle languages. Contain some form of influential armed war (whether or not off-stage). Ending in a periphery, where the characters accept severely diminished hopes, tragic deaths and loss. A retreat into a refuge, internal exile. And above all migrancy.  The trunk motif is first found in Godwin’s Caleb Williams. Intense love stories.

These past three weeks I’ve reread and skimmed and dreamt over it — for the love scenes between Anna and her Egyptian lover evoke in my mind or are very like those of Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser in Outlander. At Politics and Prose Bookstore a 2 hour single session class was held on it this past Thursday. The room was full, and we had even a male reader. The teachers, Susan Willens and Virginia Newmyer, worked thoroughly to present historical and thematical and allusion background, then went over the story line section by section, and then we discussed characters themes POV politics settings moods. So here I am to share at least that part of that original paper concerning just Map of Love and offer a brief account of the politics of Soueif’s other novel, In the Eye of the Sun (set during the 1967 Israeli-Egyptian war), and at least mention her journalistic autobiographical account of the Arab Spring (2012), Cairo and her book of good essays, Mezzaterra (Fragments from the Common Ground) whose themes, attitudes and use of fragments as a way to speak remind me of Elena Ferrante’s La Frantumaglia.

Soueif’s core story is of Anna Winterbourne, found in a trunk filled with writing. Anna is a fin de siècle English widow of a minor English colonialist whose early death is attributed to his experience of colonial war with Kitchener’s forces on the Sudan. Anna travels to Egypt and marries a middle-aged Egyptian nationalist bachelor, Sharif Basha al Baroudi, who like by this marriage defies and cuts himself off from people. Anna’s trangressive history is held off, and surfaces as correspondence told by bits and pieces. Soueif’s Map of Love was for me a page-turner as I worked my way through parallel contemporary stories of Soueif’s direct surrogates, the older now reclusive Egyptian journalist, Amal al-Ghamrawi, who reads and tells Anna’s story, of Amal’s much younger American cousin, Isabel Parkman, who has an affair Omar, Amal’s middle-aged brother (Palestinian, modeled on Edward Said, but made directly active in the Arab-Israeli wars),to reach Anna’s “translational” texts (Hassan). The Map of Love ends when Shariff is assassinated and in the novel’s penultimate passage a paragraph remembering the ambiguous close of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette: Omar is thought to have been assassinated. Like Smith’s pro-active young woman-daughter Medora (from her last novel, The Young Philosopher), Isabel will not give up hope (516). Anna’s story is one of failure at the close: when Sharif is assassinated, she must return to England and bring up their daughter — shades of Outlander, but unlike Claire — Anna has not been to create some new social identity as a result of geographic and ethnic and marital dislocation.

The power of The Map of Love resides in its stretches of intense interiority. The reticence Soueif felt appropriate for Anna, with a sophisticated understanding of political relationships provide neo-Victorian texts (Tolstoy like), which enable Soueif to weave the colonialist and nationalist politics of Eygpt in naturally Anna’s main correspondent is Sir Charles Winterbourne, her dead husband’s now retired father. Soueif also (anticipating Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall) has Amal interweaves a distilled opulent neo-Victorian novel which Amal simply tells and moves between the third and first person. The Map of Love has been called a “translational novel,” with Sharif and Anna supposed talking to one another in French (though the words are English); when it finally drives down to fleeting naturalistic exchanges between the two. I was deeply moved, especially at a long scene of his dying, and her relief to have as an option a final choice of retreat for herself back to England, to educate her daughter by Shariff, paint, garden, and care for Sir Charles in his decline (505). The real mark of the post-colonial novel is migrancy, a kind of ricochet.


John Frederick Lewis (1804-76), The Harem — the painter who inspired Anna Winterbourne’s journey into Egypt after her husband’s return from there and death

Soueif’s novel achieves its political goal for an English novel simply weaving in nuanced accurate history of the earlier phases of the British take-over because much is unknown and rarely told from the perspective of the colonised subjects. We learn of the important Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer (1841-1917), a feminist Qasim Amin (1863-1908); the novel (like her In the Eye of the Sun on the Israeli-Eygpt wars) is meant to educate English-reading readers. Movement is temporal, back to Sharif’s father, still alive after decades of solitary confinement (political exclusion presented as religious), forward to 1900, when Anna’s eleven years in Eygpt begins, to her readers’ stories of Suez, 1952, Amal’s prime, in the 1960s, and Isabel’s now in New York, London, Cairo 1997. Soueif pokes fun at Booker Prize self-reflexive and cultural conventions, at the same time as she is open to “orientalist” texts. Shortly after her first husband’s death, Anna is drawn to return to Egypt when she is mesmerized (Map 45-46) by the Orientalist opulently colorful depictions of Egyptian street life, Islamic culture in schools, harems by Frederick Lewis (1779-1856) in her frequent trips to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert). Emily Weeks, an art historian has written an immense book on his work as cross-cultural. Map of Love is (Wylie Sypher like) is a kind of verbal equivalent of Lewis (Sypher). Like Smith, despite the repeated failure of group efforts, Soueif hopes for an internationalism, though it has to be said that the kind of cosmopolitanism found in this novel, has lately come under scrutiny as a disguised mask for neo-liberal western-style colonialism.

Surely she was also hoping someone would make a film and she could make money that way. Increase her visibility &c

In the class we spoke of the importance of the women’s friendships and relationships within the novel, for me this was especially true for Sharif’s sister, Layla, and Anna. As is common for me, I discovered a common view of the book by the women there was critical of some of the more unusual sexual couplings while I had no trouble. Anna’s granddaughter, Isabel’s older lover, Omar, has had an affair with her mother, Anna’s daughter, Jasmine. Some objected to the modern stories as thin, or unbelievable — no more so I felt than the Victorian one.

See this excellent review in the New York Times when the book first came out: Annette Kobak’s “Out of the Trunk.”. Also Emily Davis’s wonderful, “Romance as Political Aesthetic in Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love, ” Genders 45 (28 July 2007).
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Soueif’s earlier and equally long novel, In the Eye of the Sun, reveals how self-consciously she has imitated the Booker Prize model — for this is not at all pastiche, but very contemporary in language and feel. Soueif mentions Tolstoy as her master, and here she is retelling what she suggests is the crucial war of the century, and how the betrayal of Egypt (its defeat) was engineered with Britain’s help, and fostered by some of the elite of Egypt too. While I can see that Map of Love is far more polished, more somehow artful, In the eye is the more living book. It is also like Tolstoy meaning to be accurate and meaning to inform her reader — as if she were a journalist

What Soueif shows is the Egyptian authorities deliberately allowed Israel to strike first in that war and so gave it the opportunity to destroy the Egyptian air force. Having wiped that out, it was relatively easy for Israel to win the war. Soueif indicts the incompetence, rivalries between different Egyptian people in power but what is striking to this reader is how she is careful to include someone saying to someone else, the Israeli planes are on their way a day before June 6th; that is June 5th. I remember how nervous the other character became, fearful that if Egypt hits first, Egypt will be the aggressor, blamed, and then the US will outright attack Egypt. Now I recall how the US has not been in the habit of attacking other countries along side Israel whom Israel wants to destroy in some way. We give them billions, and share spying information but we don’t overtly attack. Now we are doing the same for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Back to In the Eye of the Sun, this idea that Egypt dare not defend itself from Israel’s surprise attack because of fear of US retaliation emerges as false since what happens is the surprise attack not only pulverizes Egypt but allows the rest of Egypt’s army to suffer horrendous casualties. Whole units wiped out. It is really implied this is collusion of some sort — could it be that those in authority were thought to want a capitalist order to replace Nassar’s open socialism — remember he nationalized or wanted to nationalize the Suez canal. He was replaced by Sadat a pro-US person (pro-capitalist).

The book has a good subjective heroine’s plot. One heroine’s half-ass husband who can do no real harm gets involved in quiet revolutionary activities and is imprisoned, tortured, psychologically and economically destroyed for life: Deena’s husband, Nur-ed-Din. Several of the women die of too many childbirths; they are shown to be very much bullied by their husbands, they dare not refuse sex and sex means children. Although brief, very good:  Marilyn Booth on In the Eye of the Sun, in World Literature Today 68:1 (1994):204-5.

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To conclude, I admit I was chuffed when I found the two teachers and I were agreed in some deep ways: they loved the account of the long imprisoned father of Sharif, his melancholy despair and his (religious) attitude towards existence that enabled him to hang on in solitary for so long and endure a life-in-death. I liked some similar characters and melancholy piquant details in her Eye of the Sun, e.g., Aysa’s father loses his library; it has to be sold. It is in 1979 that Deena writes letter detailing what was done to her husband (terrible things); that was the last year that Jim and I were together in NYC and found we must move to Virginia.

Other of her novels I’d like to read: The Sandpiper; other of her essays, This is not a Border. I loved this essay: “The Politics of Desire in the Writings of Ahdaf Soueif” by Joseph Massad in Journal of Palestine Studies, 28:4 (Summer, 1999): 74-90

Ellen

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A photograph of Tom Carpenter, the trustee of Chawton Cottage; he is carrying a portrait of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward

Friends,

Last night I came across in the latest issue of Times Literary Supplement (for January 25, 2019), an informative piquant review by Devoney Looser of a autobiographical book, Jane & Me. Its author, Caroline Jane Knight, a fifth great-niece (with now a little help from Devoney & the TLS), is launching this book maybe to provide herself with a raison d’être (a not “very promising heroine-in-training” says Devoney), a basis for her living independently someday. I think the information here and acid insights make it required reading for the Janeite, and discovered it’s behind the kind of magazine paywall where you must buy a whole subscription for a year, before you can read it. It is almost impossible to share a TLS article online as if you subscribe to the online version, you can only do it through an app on an ipad or some such device. So I here provide a summary, contextualized further by what I have drawn from Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites.

Why is the review valuable in its own right too: we learn a good deal about the history of Chawton House Library this century from the point of view of the family who owned it — Jane Austen’s collateral descendants. Caroline is a poor transmitter: Looser points to where Caroline has not even begun to do the research necessary on her own life, but there is enough here to make do, and if you know something from your work, or can add further research like Devoney, you can have some insight into Austen’s family and what she was up against as she tried to write honest entertainments.

In brief, Devoney tells the story of a downwardly mobile family who let the house fall into desuetude and the present Richard Knight leased it to Sandy Lerner whose great luck on the Net had brought her huge amounts of money, some of which she expended by renovating, it’s not too much to call it rescuing Chawton House into a building one could spend time in comfortably enough so that it could function as a library. While she set about building, she started a board of informed people who would know how to turn it into a study center for 18th century women’s writing. Austen’s peers & contemporaries.


Richard Knight and Sandy Lerner walking on the grounds together during some occasion

Let me first bring in Yaffe’s account who also sheds light on Richard Knight who was at the conference as a key note speaker and we can here gather a few truths about him. He had “inherited a crushing estate-tax bill and a `16th century house in need of a million British pounds’ worth of emergency repairs.” A developer’s plan to turn the place into a golf course and expensive hotel had collapsed by 1992. Enter Sandy Lerner. She had made oodles of money off an Internet business, is another fan of Austen, one common today who does not like the idea of Austen as “an unhappy repressed spinster,” something of a recluse, not able to see the money and fame she wanted. When Dale Spender’s book, Mothers of the Novel, presented a whole female population writing away (as Austen did), a female literary tradition, she found a vocation, collecting their books. After she heard a speech by Nigel Nicolson, where he offended her (talking of a woman who thought Jane Austen didn’t like Bath as “a silly, superstitious cow,” described himself as heading a group who intended to open a Jane Austen center in Bath even though Edward Austen Knight’s Chawton House was on the market (too expensive? out of the way for tourists?), she decided to “get even.” When she had the money two years later, she bought Chawton House. She wanted to make it “a residential study center where scholars consulting er rare-book collection could live under 19th century conditions.” This super-rich woman loved the sense these people would gain “a visceral sense of the historical moment,” wake up to “frost on the windows, grates without fires, nothing but cold water to wash in.”

She paid six million for 125 year lease on the house and its 275 acre grounds; another $225,000 for the stable block. She discovered it to be badly damaged, inhabited by tenants she found distasteful, “ugly,” rotting. Crazy rumors abounded in the village she was going to turn the place into a lesbian commune, a Euro-Disney style theme park, her husband testing missile systems in the grounds. She thought of herself as this great philanthropist. Culture clashes: the Chawton estate sold its hunting rights for money; she was an animal rights activist. Disputes over her desire to remove a swimming pool said to be a badger habitat protected under UK law. I saw the Ayrshire Farm here in Northern Virginia that she bought during the protracted lawsuits and negotiations over Chawton: an 800-acre spread in northern Virginia, where “she planned to raise heritage breeds under humane, organic conditions, to prove socially responsible farming was economically viable.” She started a cosmetics company whose aesthetic was that of the Addams Family (TV show). Chawton House was finally built using a sensible plan for restoration; a cemetery was discovered, a secret cupboard with 17th century telescope. Eventually Lerner’s 7000 rare books came to reside in a house you could hold conferences, one-day festivals and host scholars in. It had cost $10 million and yearly operating costs were $1 million a year.


Lerner’s Ayrshire Farmhouse today — it’s rented out for events, and hosts lunches and evening parties and lectures, has a shop ….

Lerner is unusual for a fan because she dislikes sequels and does not seek out Austen movies; it’s Austen’s texts she loves — yet she too wants to write a P&P sequel. I sat through one of her incoherent lectures so know first-hand half-nutty theory that every concrete detail in an Austen novel is crucial information leading to interpretation of that novel. I’ll leave the reader to read the details of her way of research, her travels in imitation of 18th century people: it took her 26 years to complete. How she has marketed the book by a website, and how Chawton was at the time of the book thriving (though her Farm lost money). Yaffe pictures Lerner at a signing of her book, and attracted many people, as much for her Internet fame as any Austen connection. Yaffe has Lerner against distancing herself from “our distastefully Twittering, be-Friending world, for the e-mail boxes overflowing with pornographic spam.” But she will buy relics at grossly over-inflated prices (“a turquoise ring” Austen wore) and give them to friends. She launched Chawton House by a fabulously expensive ball, to which Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul (dressed as aging Mr and Mrs Darcy) came. A “prominent chef” made 18th century foods (“nettle and potato soup, pickle ox tongue, sweetmeats”). She was in costume: “a low-cut, pale-blue ball gown. She even went horseback riding with Rintoul. A real thrill for a fan.


Chawton House Reading Room — there are two rooms, one open to the public, the other locked and filled with rare 18th century books

Devoney doesn’t say this nor Yaffe but I will: Chawton House never quite made it as sheerly a study center for women’s writing as originally envisioned; instead it became a sort of Jane Austen tourist site where festivals and conferences dwelling on Austen for fans were necessary, sometimes becoming a semi-popular community center like the Bronte Haworth house seems to be turning into. That’s not so bad, far worse was the people working for and at the place never acquired enough funding to do without Lerner; and over a fit of pique and probably long-standing resentments, some two years ago now Lerner pulled all her money out. It turns out 80% of funds came from her, and no way has been found to locate a substitute so the place can carry on its serious functions in the same way. Some new compromise will have to be found. Nearby is Chawton Cottage, now a small research center (for those select people who get to see its library), but more a tourist site; also nearby is the Austen family church where (among others) Austen’s sister, Cassandra and their mother, are buried. The house now (Looser says) “stands to revert back to Richard Knight’s family,” of whom Caroline is a member. All of us who know something of the house, who have experienced its scholarly meetings, its library, walked on its grounds, heard a concert at the church, mourn the fact that its fine director, Dr Gillian Dow has gone, to return full time as a scholar and lecturer to the University of Southampton.

This is the larger context for the story of Caroline and her older relatives from the turn of the century to now. Like other of these aristocrats who cannot afford to life the extravagant life of leisure they once did, Caroline (says Devoney) presents herself a slightly downtrodden: she and her parents lived in the basement of Chawton house while the rich tenants occupy the plum apartments above. One of the houses I was shown in the Lake District/Nothern Borders of England is owned by an aristocrat’s wife’s family; and the husband himself works to hold onto it by throwing it open to the public for various functions. He is clearly a well-educated man who lived a privileged elite life; nonetheless, he gave one of the talks. He told us he and his family living in the basement quarters below; their paying tenants above stairs.

The various Knights during Caroline’s life didn’t have many servants (oh dear poor things) and spent their time in less than admirable ways (watching TV say, horse racing — which costs). None of them were readers, and (as opposed to Devoney) I would say none of them ever produced anything near a masterpiece or important book, except maybe JEAL — if you are willing to consider how central his Memoir of his Aunt has been and how it has cast its spell over ways of reading Austen and understanding her ever after. A few have been minor literary people, and Joan Austen-Leigh and others been influential valued members of the British Jane Austen Society and they “grace” the JASNA every once in a while with their presence. Several have written sequels. Looser goes over a few of these, giving the impression that a couple which JASNA has promoted are better than they are.

Various financial troubles and also legal ones (including one male relative running over a local person with his car and “found not guilty of manslaughter” although he fled the scene) are covered by Devoney. When it comes to explaining the financial problems, Caroline says they are all a mystery. She omits any clarifying description of what the estate was like and which Knights lived here in WW2. Devoney supplies this: she tells of one recent Edward Knight’s time in India — his father had had been a royal favorite and a public-spirited magistrate, who loved to shoot birds. In 1951 thirty cottages in which tenants lived were auctioned off, and some went to occupants. They were in such bad shape apparently (again that is my deduction from what Looser gently implies) that one lucky man who could afford to buy the cottage said he got it for the price of a TV. Devoney implies this was dirt cheap. Not so: for many British people in 1951 the price of TV was out of their range; in the 1950s most Brits rented their TV


Chawton House recently from the outside

Death duties, genuinely high taxes each time the house changed hands is what did them in. (We no longer have even that in the US and the Republicans are salivating to change the death tax laws once again — these are important tools to prevent the growth of inequality.) I thought interesting that Chawton House was sold to one Richard Sharples, a conservative politician (1916-73) who served as governor of Bermuda and was assassinated (in Devoney’s words) “by black power militants.” Of course this bad-mouths these people, and when they were hung for the murder, there were days of rioting. I remember how horribly the white treated black and native people on Bermuda — so cruel that there are famous rebellions (Governor Eyre) wth terrifying reprisals by the British and colonial gov’ts. In the 20th century Sharples’ widow’s only recourse was to sell the property, furniture, books, portraits in 1977. There have over the century been a number of such sales to pay off death duties and some of the objects prized in museums, libraries came out of just such Sotheby auctions. Looser tells us in an aside there is a ditigal project trying to reconstruct the Knight Library as it was in 1935 (“Reading with Austen,” readingwithausten.com)

As to Caroline, she has apparently read very little of Austen’s fiction — that must very little indeed since Austen left only 6 novels which can easily be reprinted in one volume. She has appeared on TV, and is now she’s trying what a book can do. It’s not a memoir worthy of Jane Austen, says Devoney: the lack of elemental research even about her own life; Caroline’s account of herself features James Covey’s self-help book, The Habits of Highly Effective People, as the one that has gotten her through life. Wouldn’t you know it was seeing the 1995 P&P film by Andrew Davies that “kindled” Caroline’s interest in Jane Austen. I watched a documentary with Andrew Davies aired on BBC recently about just how much he changed the book to be about men; how much “correction” of it he made. Caroline still dreams of moving back to Chawton with the present male Richard Knight as ambassador (of what it’s not clear). I’ve been to JASNAs where Richard Knight gave a talk about his family in the mid-morning Sunday breakfast slot of the JASNAs. Here is Arnie Perlstein’s reaction to one.

Devoney ends her review with suggesting how much this history might remind us of Persuasion and the Elliot family and quotes Darcy in P&P: “I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.” Devoney does justice at her opening to a few of the immediate Austens who showed some literary ability and genuine interest and integrity towards their aunt: James, her brother was a minor but good poet; his three children include JEAL; Anne Austen Lefroy who tried to finish Sanditon and wrote a brief touching novel, Mary Hamilton; Caroline Austen wrote her Reminiscences; Catherine Hubback several novels, a travel book of letters, and a continuation of Austen’s The Watsons as The Younger Sister. Her son, grand-nephew, and granddaughter all wrote books to add to our knowledge of the family; Edward Knight’s grandson produced the first substantial edition of Austen’s letters. There the inspiration coming through and about the aunt seems to have ended.

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From Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?, Jeffrey Palliser tells Alice, a visitor to this aristocratic family at their country mansion who wonders what there is to do all day, about what he as an example of his relatives’ lives does with his time:

“Do you shoot?”
“Shoot! What; with a gun?”
“Yes. I was staying in a house last week with a lady who shot a good deal.”
“No; I don’t shoot.”
“Do you ride?”
“No; I wish I did. I have never ridden because I’ve no one to ride with me.”
“Do you drive?”
“No; I don’t drive either.”
“Then what do you do?”
“I sit at home, and—”
“Mend your stockings?”
“No; I don’t do that, because it’s disagreeable; but I do work a good deal. Sometimes I have amused myself by reading.”
“Ah; they never do that here. I have heard that there is a library, but the clue to it has been lost, and nobody now knows the way …

None of this loss and mismanagement or lack of literary interest or ability as part of a family history is unexpected. In her discreet last chapter of her fine biography of Jane Austen, Claire Tomalin records the earliest phases of this decline, together with or amid the real attempts of Catherine Hubback’s part of the family and other descendants of Frank to publish respectable books about Jane Austen. I imagine the valuable library gathered since Chawton House Library became a functioning study center (a large room in the present Chawton house) will remain intact but nowadays (as some of us know) libraries filled with books are not valued by booksellers or even libraries or universities in the way they once were. I know people who found they could not even give away a particularly superb personal library, and others driven to sell theirs for very little in comparison say for what they would have gotten in 1980 or so and that would not have covered how much it cost them over a lifetime.

Ellen

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Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh 1939 in Gone with the Wind

Diary

Friends,

Day 5/10 of books that influenced me (growing up lasts a long time), that had a discernible impact.

Again for me this is problematic. Between the ages of 13 and 15 I read and reread four books to the point I knew many scenes by heart and can today still conjure them up vividly in my mind. Undeniably (surely we are to to be truthful, or What are we doing in such an exercise?), the first up in time (I was 12) was Gone with The Wind. It came into our house as a book-of-the-month club special for my mother, and I sat down and began to read. I was so entranced (with a four column page) read it so much and so often that the copy fell into pieces. The cover illustration was a collage of scenes from the GWTW books (hence not like the one I find) but my copy was a reprint of the first edition, the ample book behind this older cover:


Note the confederate flag on the side of the paper cover

The problem is that even then I knew it was a racist book and I am today deeply ashamed of myself that I ignored this. (Note the confederate flag on the side of the paper cover.) It was wrong and racist behavior on my part as the book has functioned perniciously in US culture. Still I am not embarrassed in front of GWTW. I have seen this reaction when I used to assign to students to read a book from childhood and the young adult was embarrassed to realize what the book he or she so loved was. I regretted when that happened. My father tried to read The Secret Garden to me when I was 10 and had to give it up so mortified was he to see the agenda of Burnett’s book. These books answered to what we were then

I was Scarlett in my earliest readings. GWTW led to my reading a helluva of lot of Walter Scott in my earlier teens.  In later years I have decided the heroine of GWTW is Melanie. I shall never forget her standing at the top of the ruined stairs of Tara with a rifle, having killed the marauding soldier, and now determined to lug the corpse to the field to bury it. When Ashley comes home, Scarlett’s wild desire to run to him, and Will saying, “he’s her husband.” I’ve expanded the heroes to include Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes and Will Benteen.  I remember so many scenes from GWTW; they formed a backdrop of women’s key emotional moments in my mind. Scarlett in her mother’s green velvet curtains trying to charm money out of the imprisoned Rhett.

It’s women’s historical romance first and foremost.

I’ve never given up this type of book and some are leftist and liberal. My most recent wallowing has been in the distressingly pro-violence Outlander (the first three books) and the brilliant voyeuristic film adaptation: I find irresistible the central love relationship of Jamie and Claire, and I bond with Claire in book and film. I find irresistible still her fierce adherence to Jamie, I bond with her in book and film.


Claire and Jamie starting out together …

People disappear all the time.
Young girls run away from home.
Children stray from their parents and are never seen again.
Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station.
Most are found eventually.
Disappearances, after all, have explanations.
Usually.
Strange, the things you remember.
Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years

I know the Poldark novels by Winston Graham belong to this genre so my study of the Poldark novels began here when I started to read Ross Poldark after watching a few of the episodes of the 1970s serial drama. It’s deeply humane in its politics.


My first copy of Ross Poldark, the 1970s reprint of the 1951 cut version, published in anticipation of the 1975 serial drama starring Robin Ellis

There were three other authors I read & reread around the same time, getting to know by heart key scenes: the second chronologically was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I recently reread it once again and am convinced it is a poetic masterpiece of l’ecriture-femme, one of the great novels for women and one of the world’s great novels in all languages. Who can forget countless passages like this: “I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure, born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld; or offered only at a price I cannot afford to pay.” Contra mundi.


This is the copy of Jane Eyre I now own

At the time I was not alive to the crucial differences in language between Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne DuMaurier’s RebeccaRebecca was another “extra” from my mother’s subscription to the US Book-of-the-Month Club. Like Bronte, like GWTW, DuMaurier’s books satisfied a need in me that recent Booker Prize women’s romance (Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac, A. S. Byatt, Possession) also satisfy. Bronte and DuMaurier explicitly make visible a woman’s vision using techniques found in l’ecriture-femme, but there were only 5 Bronte novels that I could read (JE, Villette, Agnes Grey, Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Wuthering Heights) so DuMaurier functioned as yet more of the same: My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, Branwell Bronte and above all King’s General. Last summer I reveled with a group of people in a class I taught at OLLI at Mason in reading together King’s General (17th century civil war, crippled heroine) and Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover. However vastly more perceptive about the nature of reality, Volcano Lover is still of this genre. All versions of the same kind of underlying deep gratification of soul.

I had found my copy of Jane Eyre in a local drugstore for 40¢; I went back a few weeks later, and found imprinted in the same cheap way Austen’s Mansfield Park. Another 40¢ and home I went to read and reread MP. My fourth and nowadays favorite book of all these. When I got to the end and heard the moral of struggle and endure, I turned back to the first page and read the novel over again. I’ve never stopped reading it. It has never been far out of my mind, always at the edge of consciousness to be called up. I’ve never forgotten the cover of this MP: white, with 18th century type stage characters, and the blurb telling me this is a “rollicking comedy.” In my naivete I couldn’t understand why this blurb so false was there. But no matter I was Fanny, and this was a somber strong book.


The colors dark and distorted this is nonetheless the second copy of MP I owned

Since then I’ve seen all the film adaptations of Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park available.


Fanny and Edmund growing up at MP (1983 Ken Taylor BBC)

With GWTW, Jane Eyre, and Mansfield Park I began my love affair with women’s great books, historical romance, and historical fiction. I’ve never stopped reading these and nowadays want only to write about them. And for me they include the great classics (in 19th & early 20th century beyond DuMaurier, English Anne Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Oliphant, Virginia Woolf, Rosamund Lehmann, Margaret Drabble).


Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre (Sandy Welch’s JA, 2006)

Ellen

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James Whistler (1834-1903), “Reading by Lamplight” (1858)

Women cannot be expected to devote themselves to the emancipation of women, until men in considerable number are prepared to join with them in the undertaking — John Stuart Mill, On the Subjection of Women

Dear friends and readers,

Another set of texts we covered in my 19th Century Women of Letters course this term included George Eliot’s ground-breaking depiction of wife abuse in her “Janet’s Repentance” (one of her three Scenes from Clerical Life), which I preceded with Caroline Norton’s English Laws for Women and the contextualized with Lisa Sturridge’s chapter on the novella in her Bleak House: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction, an on-line Master’s Thesis by Renee Wingert, Battered, Bruised and Abused Women: Domestic Violence in 19th century Fiction, to which I am indebted in what I write below. We also read a fine essay by E. S. Gruner, “Plotting the Mother” about Ann Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Ellen Wood’s East Lynn and Caroline Norton’s Lost and Saved (Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 16:2, 1997). Although until recently (when it is discussed) “Janet’s Repentance” has been treated as centrally depicting alcoholism, its real center is wife abuse. Given the set-back women’s causes have received in the recent US election, I’d like to right this misapprehension and urge those who love 19th century novels, especially by women, to read it.

It is striking and original study even today. It places the multiple acts of of physical violence (seen on Janet’s body and the whole of her depressed behavior as a result) not in a private house away from everyone, as a hidden private act, but in the community, showing us how it’s known and occurs as part of everyday life that everyone knows – like the reality everyone also sees (highlighted in Chapter One) that Janet’s husband, Dempster, is an awful bully. Most of the time until today when these things are talked about or dramatized in stories and film, it’s assumed or said no one knew. The woman colludes by not telling explicitly in the cases of sexual harassment. In modern stories, she fears she’ll lose her job, her children, her husband will get back to her and kill her. In fact people live utterly interdependent lives, and a build up of a community of hypocrisy is essential to the husband getting away with it (from schools where the children attend to doctor’s offices). When she leaves she leaves into a community of people, that is what is so striking and to this day unusual. Eliot shows how she is blamed in all sorts of ways by the very woman living in the house with her, how legally she has to break the law to leave him. And yet Janet is isolated – who more without someone to turn to for help than she? her mother doesn’t move on her behalf; only after she flees for her life do the others admit they know, help her to hide and determine to act o her behalf. In Oliver Twist Nancy is a street prostitute; Helen Huntington in her Wildfell Hall is this reclusive person, the whole point of Sherlock Holmes stories which include as inset pieces stories of abuse – the best known is the “Adventure of the Abbey Grange” – is to protect the aristocratic family from shame. (“Abbey Grange” is well-known because the husband spitefully murders her dog and it was done superbly well in the 1980s Jeremy Brett series). The other books mentioned by Wingert or Sturridge do not bring out this everyday reality. “Janet’s Repentance” was serialized by Blackwood and it made him far more uncomfortable than most of the books he ever published.

Equally still mostly verboten is the man is upper middle class. A middle class milieu is usual for stories by women because it’s what they know. But most accounts in the 19th century and until today are of working class men and women, often desperately poor; in the 19th century in parliament an elsewhere it was repeated ad nauseam this was not a middle to upper class problem: it was the drunken working class man presented as unemployed often (as in Dickens, e.g., Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities). And there was legislation in Parliament proposed (it didn’t pass) to flog such men. John Stuart Mill supported flogging such men. Because of course then it’s not them. Didn’t pass.

It’s a movingly done, utterly believable, persuasive story. Wingert’s chapter brings out how the violence is multifaceted violence: emotional, mental, physical, social (the man demands absolute obedience) — he becomes incensed when she finally on impulse in small way refuses him (she will not pick up the clothes he has thrown on the floor) and he kicks her out. The first time we see her it’s as a silence woman waiting for him to come up the stairs, and yes she’d drunk, how else could she endure this but find indifference and oblivion this way. You can see what’s emphasized by noticing it’s serialized and where each installment begins and ends (Part 1, chs 1-4, Part 2; Chs 5-9, Part 3; Chs 10-14, Part 4, Chs 15-21, Part 5, Chs 21-28).

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Another 19th century illustration of a woman with a book

As the story opens (1-4), there is an emphasis on the nature of social life and community in Milby. We see how bullying, competition, domination is what wins out and is respected. Everyone sees how horrible Dempster is but they don’t care; they are afraid of him themselves. This environment fosters violence – to a clergyman seeking a post, in public and in private. There is much witty satire on professions (like the medical establishment, though not as funny as Trollope in Dr Thorne), women’s vanities in church. the curate and teacher at this point reads nothing at all. It’s a first attempt at ethnography.

At first we hear of Janet through ominous gossip of unnamed or minor characters or Janet’s mother. “to see her daughter leading such a life …. For my part I never thought well of marriage … Janet had nothing to look to but being a governess … I certainly did consider Janet Raynor the most promising yong woman of my acquaintance … Or: “I’ve never been to the house since Dempster broke out on me in one of his drunken fits. She comes to me, sometimes, poor thing, looking so strange, anybody passing her in the street may see plain enough what’s the matter” (Mrs Perrifer). It ends on her waiting for him to come up. We hear ““O Robert! Pity! Pity!” and are told her mother not far off in her house is imagining this: Janet’s mother’s complicity is thus begun. Two more conflicts are laid out: the established church type versus the dissenters and evangelicals within the citadel; the sensitive, Tryan who wants to effect moral change in the community and those who want an older acceptance of rough coarse ways to remain dominant (why Dempster and his ilk want to pillory him). Tryanites versus anti-Tryanites.

The second part (5-9) opens with switch of mood, morning, people cheerful, a fortnight has passed and Janet is looking better. We move from

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we know them when they are gone” … [to]

When our life is a continuous trial, the moments of respite seem only to substitute the heaviness of dread for the heaviness of actual suffering … Janet looked glad and tender now — but what scene of misery was coming next? …. When the sun had sunk, and the twilight was deepening, Janet might be sitting there, heated, madened, sobbing ot her griefs with selfish passion, and wildly wishing herself dead (5)

We see Tryan again, this time with a firm constituency and friends. They are anti-high church (one man says we could do without all these bishops) and we see his courage withstanding ridicule to be stubbornly the way he is. we hear the local clergy: they discuss carelessly who is kept out of the workhouse and who not. Alas, Janet is delighted to collaborate with her husband on placards; she claps her hands so pleased is she to be valued. We have this scene of the mother-in-law and Janet and her husband: she has little love for Janet, much jealousy, angry that Janet is childless (as are all Eliot’s heroines insofar as we see them). Then we meet the middle range of church leaders, the vicar, his wife, a tea party, and Tryan comes off very well: he is a decent average man who wants to be among people. We have the scene of stigmatizing Tryan gets through with his friends nearby. Eliot seems anxious for us to know that Janet will change here too: the next time we will see him, he will come as Janet’s beloved friend to help her.

In the central chapters (10-14) we see Tryan making his way into minds and hearts and (among them) Janet responds despite the “thickening miseries of her life.” Dempster’s business is not prospering – and he takes it out on the person nearest to him whom he can. We are told about “these suspicious points:” it would seem this is a corrupt man (who wouldn’t reveal his tax returns if there were such things). He’s not liked, not trusted, and is drinking more, he becomes more violent inwardly too. The word “cruelty” is used of him repeatedly (13 — “a woman he can call his own to torment … the keen retort which whets the edge of hatred”), and then the crashing close where a dinner is supposed to take place and she refuses to pick up his clothes – an impulse of defiance, maybe the first. Alcoholism is central in these chapters too, though not overtly dramatized until the end of the story. Janet does say to her friend (who will help her) Mrs Pettifer; “Kindness is my religion.” She does tell her mother finally how cruel this mother and everyone else is to. These are complex persuasive pictures of the man becoming more drunk, more inwardly violent – reviewers likened this story to a biography. Reviewers recognized that here was a new unusual author. Then the dreadful scene where he says I”ll kill you,” with a “devilish look of hatred.” But instead on impulse, he thrusts her in in her nightgown, barefooted on a freezing old night. She stands there so relieved she is not dead. It takes a while for her to realize she is cold and feel her strong instinct against suicide. This is the story’s climax.

The denouement (15-21) shows us Janet out in the world now, parted from her husband. she has a strong instinct against suicide and saves herself by going to Mrs Pettifer’s house to whom she was kind and is her rescuer. Is told stay, remain calm. We enter her mind, her memories and there many deeply felt about a woman’s life, its stages and phases (15); she was when young “a pet fawn” given over to the “clutches of a panther.” She thinks over her situation: he owns everything; we are told she felt she had not strength to be independent (much less go to court).

Life might mean anguish,might mean despair; but — o, she must clutch it, though with bleeding fingers, her feet must cling to the firm earth that the sunlight would revisit, not slip into the untried abyss, where she might long even for familiar pains (15)

Eliot muses how all of us are hidden from one another (“full of unspoken evil and unacted good”). Janet fears “being dragged bck again to her old life of terror, and stupor, and fevered despair” (16). She has to determine something. In modern terms we’d say Janet needs to “work” on several areas of psychological damage, needs to talk and find understanding (where Tyran comes in). The difficulty of breaking the habit of drinking for calm (in her case) and indifference to what is happening around her, and the hardest of all what to do about her husband. Now others are with her, among the first thing to be said is, how to protect her from further violence. Today people get a court order and police are alerted – they are supposed to be on the side of the abused person. How is she to live? Her lack of property or income. Mostly dramatized is how she must consult with someone. Over in her house the household and Dempster begin to realize she is not coming home. He has no Janet to bully so he goes after his coachman. Here finally is someone who won’t serve him if insulted: the man says will have the law on the lawyer. A little later therefore Dempster is too proud to call for this man, and half drunk (as usual) gets up to drive his coach himself.

There is a kind of waiting and finally one evening Tryan comes to Janet as her mutual confessor-psychiatrist. In a deeply inward colloquy he tells Janet of an attachment he had with a girl who he left because she was in slower station than him (they were lovers); his cousin said to go out to missionary. He does not but finds life is empty without her, and he hears she had become a prostitute subject to a brothel madam, and is now dead. Here is the core of his conversion experience. (As with Gaskell’s Mary Barton we have the story of a broken prostitute at the hidden core of the tale.) Those who’ve read Daniel Deronda (or seen Andrew Davies’s film adaptation) will recall that Gwendoleth Harleth ends up in just such a relationship with Daniel Deronda.”Janet’s Repentance” has been called “evangelical gothic:” we have a slow conversion of Janet not to the doctrines of evangelicalism but to an emotional cleansing. The others are practical; Something must be done to secure her from violence. Then the community feeling: turning in her favor: her servants who saw it all say they would not stand being mauled. (They never helped her, did they?) As she grows stronger, her mother rightly fears she might go back. But news comes Dempster has had a bad accident (overturned the coach), no one knows if he is alive or dead. As a reader the first time round I hoped he was dead.

And then the ending or fifth part (22-28). We get this exemplary wife, and then he dies with her still looking for some sign of forgiveness (!?); there is none. He is Dempster to the end. No final moment which Janet dreams of even comes. And an incipient romance between her and Tyran cut off. This ending reconciled Blackwood to the story (though he no longer wanted a fourth clerical tale). Janet can be seen as repentant, and I have to admit not only repentant for having been alcoholic but for somehow being at fault. There is a punitive pattern asserted here too.

Although her friends try to keep from her Dempster’s state, she has been trained to submit, and wants actually to go back. They try to stop her, and hide at first that he has been in this accident, but she’s a free body, no one is imprisoning her. Can’t hold her back and she is there to listen to his nightmares – maybe such a man feels remorse. Good lines include Eliot on the community’s “inherent imbecility of feeling:” Most people simply do not enter into one another’s cases at all, Mr Pilgrim (who is close to the scene) is a case in point. Tryan talks of how she doesn’t want particulars known to protect her. Day after day, the community again becomes divided about her – she is to blame, some cant about widows helps. We begin to get religious talk and Janet manifests nervousness. She is so used to her old life; she is at sea, scared. Real psychological feeling. she yearns for “purity, strength, peace” (221). Finally Dempster dies in a delirium tremens fit. Then we see her efforst with others to secure the now consumptive (over-worked) Tryan a place to at least maintain what health he has. Her mood is likened to that of a prisoner galled long after bars go away; you are feeling the memories of the abuse – Eliot would know what is it like to be an ex-prisoner from American prisons. Still she is freed from “haunting anxietya about the future,” “dread of anger and cruelty,” can find repose (23) Again Mrs Pettifer is our dea ex machina; she moves so she will need a boarder. Another good woman in the story, Miss Linnet (a sweet bird name) helps furnish the new place. But he dies.

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Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938), The Closed Window

As in Eliot’s Mill on the Floss and other stories, Eliot’s heroine submits herself to duty; violates natural feelings of revenge, fear, hatred. She does this throughout her career. Gwendoleth’s husband falls over boat, and she hesitates a moment before she throws him the rope; he cannot reach it and the water carries him off; had he not drowned she would have submitted. I wrote in an essay on Eliot published in Studies in the Novel some years ago, “Taking Sides:”

It is the great merit of Eliot’s imaginative work that she poses questions of serious and large import with which we are today only beginning to deal frankly. It is its great defect that she repeatedly opts for dramatic resolutions which cruelly deprive her exemplary characters of some natural fulfillment or worthy goal on the grounds that it is right for them to violate their natural instincts and obey conventions, conventions she herself ignored and disobeyed in order to become George Eliot the great novelist. Her characters immolate themselves, behave even semi-suicidally and we are to admire them for this. What she most often offers is consolation.

In this story we will have Janet left to do good deeds and sit near Mr Tynan’s grave and be admired and liked by all especially her mother. I should say I see in the incipient romance, an underlying autobiographical paradigm (Janet: “alone, she was powerless”): in the second half of Eliot and Lewes’s marriage, he was often ill, very thin; he lies behind Ladislaw, Daniel Deronda — and Tryan too. Tryan is cut off by his consumption.

From the reviewers at the time: some were shocked, women were to write uplifting fiction, all three very unpleasant stories said one critic. Some attacked the exposure of clerical politics: clerical and religious papers paid attention to all three stories. Mostly they were offended but dissenters not as. Many preferred the portrait of Tryan to Trollope’s Mr Slope (from Barchester Towers); a positive not satirical image. Famously Dickens said the author was a woman. Among the best were those that praised the story for the strong depiction of Janet – the interior character of Janet. But I think also the community life is central to the story’s effect. It was agreed moral impact of book was well-meant and there you have the beginning of the immense respect she would get.

I’ll end by suggesting the use of the pseudonym in this particular case was the result of more than Eliot’s being a woman and wanting to hide that. Her matter is deeply subversive. She was known to be an atheist or at least agnostic, living with a man outside of marriage. How could she deal with issues like these and get the respect needed for her story to function morally.

Janet’s Repentance is a deeply felt, passionate and intelligent text, often satiric too. I hope I have roused my readers’ curiosity and interest to get hold of and read “Janet’s Repentance.”

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

It feels wrong to have an Austen reveries blog where of late I so rarely post on Austen herself: yes, she’s a cynosure, sign under which women’s art, l’ecriture-femme, women writers may find sympathetic hearing; yes, if she be not an 18th century writer, I know not where an 18th century writer is to be found. But since I finished the reading and discussion of Austen’s letter and at least the opening of the Austen papers, I’ve not found much occasion to write something useful or (one of my goals for this blog) insightful on Austen’s texts. I hope to remedy this a wee bit tonight.

This week I went to a splendid lecture at the Smithsonian museum by Deborah Lutz out of her book, The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which reminded me of the methodology of Bryne’s finest accurate book on Austen where she finds 18 small (and larger) objects to dwell on: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. When I asked a couple of questions and commented on Lutz’s lecture, as did many others (she was generous enough to stay for a full half-hour and addressed herself sincerely to the questions), she confirmed that the core idea of her book, what shapes its presentation, was Byrne’s book. She also credited Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame, for her sceptical outlook over the Austen’s family’s attitude towards her published writing. I can confirm all three are lucidly written, perceptive, and the first two especially offer a wide range of the sense of life of the era through material objects and intimate doings and norms.

Lutz talked of museums as places which preserve relics secularly conceived. In this pre-photography period where death was so ubiquitous, and paper so expensive, people turned to objects to preserve the life they had loved and made theirs meaningful. Her lecture was thus about death, and how the Victorians did not flinch from body parts even if an increasing number of people lacked a religious sensibility. Lutz discussed how Charlotte specifically but Victorians in general meditated the relics, scrapbooks, drawings, relics they all created. It was a lecture about death, Victorian ways of accepting and living around and through the omnipresent reality, especially strong in this family. Gaskell thinks we are centrally taught about life through death.In the Brontes’ case they preserved plants, flowers, the person’s hair, hand-written lines of poetry, small furniture, the dogs’ collars. Charlotte was a superb visual illustrator and they preserved her drawings of the places they had been and objects acquired. Byrne concentrates on objects found in the novels, and especially how they were acquired by the Austens in life and related to what they were doing then and are transmuted indirectly into the novels. It is a deeply secular book as befits Austen somehow. Things here and now and found in the novels as allusive objects. The opening phase of Harman’s book is similar: how do we relate what we read what’s in the family poetry, memoirs, with what we know literally of Austen’s life at that point. She shows how little respect Austen had at first, how her brother was jealous, and how the legacy grew from James-Edward Austen-Leigh whose book she rightly concentrates on.

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I’ve been thinking about Austen’s relationship to the theater of her time — you could call this another aspect of the real life and things surrounding Austen (not so much the Brontes who lived so far off from the “center”). Are there not enough playbooks to pile them up readily on tables in Mansfield Park? Marianne Dashwood has a TBR pile. Anne Eliot a veritable library of life-writing and texts to help one through grief and depression, to rebel with? We must remember the novel did not become ubiquitous until near the end of the 18th century. People read sermons, they read texts to help with emotionally distraught states designed as ways to resign yourself religiously, to cope with death. For entertainment and subversion, throughout the 18th century people continued to read plays the way we might today read a novel. The wealthy in great houses acted them out. Mid-century the novel was just emerging as a popular form and circulating libraries would not have a substantial stock until later in the century. Respectability came with Scott and later for women Austen and her followers. The unspoken reality of plays was their lack of respectability didn’t matter, was their raison d’etre. These books of plays were often several single plays bound together. You can find them in research libraries. I own a 5 volume set — beautifully done — printed in 1804. It has learned essays at the opening of the 2 volumes of comedy (on comedy), the 2 volumes of tragedy (on tragedy), and 1 volume of farce, burlesque and opera (ditto for 3). The volume of comedy is about 1/3 from the restoration and early 18th century.

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Mrs Siddons as Southerne’s Isabella with her son as Isabella’s child (Wm Hamilton)

It’s probable Austen read this sort of thing, that her father had versions of it in the library. Let us recall the recorded reality that among the gentry people acted out amateur plays. I’ve always wondered what they did for individual scripts – – someone had to copy parts out. A guide to what people were willing to discuss and quote are two books which record what plays people did.I really recommend reading (for fun) Robert Noyes’s The neglected muse &Thesian Mirror. The neglected muse is about Restoration and 18th century plays played; Thespian Mirror is sheerly Shakespeare. He has taken into account people did the revisions that were popular (Garrick’s where Romeo and Juliet wake up first and then die; Tate’s Lear). He’s read about 900 novels and tells the stories of productions in these novels, or quotations found in them, allusions, but mostly productions. Edgeworth has her characters in Patronage act out Aaron Hills’ transation of one of Voltaire’s popular plays — that reminds us that people read and watched French (and Italian too) drama in translation (when they were translated). In the 1790s books of German plays were translated: the Folger has a whole bunch of these, and I’ve read in them. Much better translation of Lovers Vows than Inchbald’s by a man named Thompson. Also plays made out of novels in the 1790s were available: there’s two from Radcliffe, one from “Monk” Lewis.

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Mrs Young as Hortensia

The way to gauge what Austen might really be alluding to is to see the plays she openly cites: look at the ones cited in MP: the interesting thing is how many come from the later 18th century, and how many are mixed (tragi-comedy). Tom wants to do The Heir at Law: there Austen is alluding to his unfitness because the play has an unfit heir. We can adduce Shakespeare here and there because of Austen’s explicit remarks about her reading and what she thought English people read at the time. She avoids the ribald. We are told by family records the Austens in their barn preferred comedy – -these pseudo-oriental harem nonsense, but that James loved tragedy and sometimes won.

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While the Noyes’ volumes might be superior for the purpose of understanding the full milieu of Austen’s reading and dramatic allusions, Paula Byrne (again) and Penny Gay’s books on Austen and the Theater jump directly from Austen’s allusions to plays in her letters and what there is in the novel (as well as speculation); the problem here is they do sometimes go on about a play they have little solid evidence in the novel for because they’d like to believe this play is alluded to. They use Austen’s letters — overread them. All you need is one reference and Byrne acts as if Austen memorized the play just about. But as histories of drama gone to, read, familiar in the period, they are useful concrete descriptions of the milieu.

What we do see is the gradual censoring of the ribald, a growth in proto-feminism, at least more strong women in strong roles. There were women playwrights at the end of the era and some of Austen’s comments in her letters and allusions ferreted out by Byrne and Gay show she did favor these in her reading or had read them (like Hannah Cowley’s play).
That Austen read and alluded to drama is so and that allusions are there is so if you base your suppositions on what Austen clearly says (she has no reason to hide the sort of thing she alludes to — she wants her readers to understand her) or alludes to, and her letters if used with discretion are helpful. Also records of what was played in London, Southampton, Bath while she or relatives were there.

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Last the early translations, another way into Austen’s texts: the Francophone world of publishing and the Anglophone were in continual exchange. In London French texts are continually published; English novels are translated into French language — and culture — continually (and find their way to Italy, Germany, even Russia). I rejoice to say the early French translations of Austen’s texts are now all available now in good texts for a reasonable price.

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Some are typed books.  LLC Classic series from Memphis offers the whole book typed, proof read carefully, and evenly distributed from page to page in three columns (rather like Book-of-the-Month club used to do in the 1950s).  I have two copies of two different hard-to-buy books among my Jane Austen library of this type. One is Isabelle de Montolieu’s French translation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — if you buy the commercial copy you will find it’s been doctored, changed by a modern translator to come closer to Austen — which kills the value of the book. The typed version of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Raison et Sensibilite does not include her even more invaluable preface. It was reprinted by Gilson in his magisterial bibliography of 1998. You can purchase a similarly typed version of the early 19th century French translation of Pride and Prejudice by Eloise Perks (1822), Orgueil et Prevention; said by those who have studied the issue the best of the contemporary translations.

Some are facsimiles of varying quality. I cite the ones which are readable, include the complete text, reliable.

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There is a facsimile of the French translation of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Persuasion, La Famille Elliot ou l’Ancienne Inclination, and I rejoice to say it includes her invaluable preface – she explains her choices, tells how Austen was regarded by a serious French reader of women’s books at the time. It’s not beautifully done; it looks like someone just put the book down on a scanner and the pages are smaller than the white page alloted to each but you can read it. ISBN 9781273394805 Elibron does a much better job at this — I love Elibron facsimiles.

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For Mansfield Park, Hachette has produced a beautiful three volume set from la Biblioteque Nationale de France: La parc de Mansfield, ou Les Trois Cousines, translator Henry Vilemain. ISBN 9782012570368

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For Emma there are the beautifully done volumes by Hachette: La Nouvelle Emm, ou Les caracteres angelas du siecle. The translator is unknown. You can now also buy an FB edition, one volume, La Nouvelle Emma, all four volumes in one, beautifully typed ISB 9781503193185.

And for Northanger Abbey, I have the 1946 reprint by classiques Garnier of the very best translation into Frenc of an Austen text that exists:  Felix Feneon’s Catherine Morland, done from prison (he was an anarchist and came closer to her spirit than anyone else ever has). See my essay focusing on this brilliant translation in the context of translations of Sense and Sensibility.

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Another excellent volume I’ve described in earlier blogs

Ellen

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John Sell Cotman (1782-182), Carnarvon — one vision of her poetry, geologic cataclysmic time

To Hope

Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
    How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
    And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
    Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
    Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
    Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
    ‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.

Dear friends and readers,

A milestone on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake for Valancourt: I’ve typed two volumes and have begun the third. I’m slowly accumulating material for an introduction and notes. It ought to have been titled Newenden (the way d’Epinay titled hers Montbrillant).

I cannot say my reading of the novel has changed much. It’s more a matter of emphasis. I had not realized quite how central & dominant to the novel are the slow devolution into a bitter loneliness on the part of Sir Edward and adultery on the part of Lady Newenden. I find the depiction more true to life on the part of both people and their slow interaction with others than anything in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Smith gives us the how and why, the real feel of such a drift. Ethelinde a study in adulterous longing from a genuinely woman’s point of view: sexual fulfillment and companionship ached for.

She is Sir Edward and in later novels he as a figure will be given her poems. Her rotten marriage transposed sexually. I’m puzzled why Sir Edward does not kill himself. Outflanked by the social hypocrisies of his wife’s parents, the vicious rumors of Lord Danesforte about him and Ethelinde; a clever man the wife’s apparent lover, his misery because she is such a bitch (Lady Newenden), his relationship with Ethy a ruin, Ethy’s father taking the money loaned him and gambling and giving it to Lady Newenden’s lover. In other novels Smith’s greatest poetry is often attributed to such a male figure.

There is ever a male who is obsessively after the heroine. Whether his general behavior otherwise be reprehensible (Delamare in Emmeline) or noble & self-sacrificing (Montgomery), it’s this obsessive pursuit of the heroine that makes for the discomfort and misery of the story. In Emmeline, the heroine is not openly willing to reject him but rather flees; in Ethelinde we get these emotionally twisted scenes of her not being able to say yes or no. Could this be a version of her relationship with her husband? of what he was? these have an individuality beyond the typical portrait of the upper class male educated to be a vicious bully and amoral and yet think very well of himself — as we see in Stael’s and Epinay’s fictions — how Smith read the French! In the light of French women’s more explicit fiction, when we place Ethelinde’s wastrel selfish gambling brother and the father’s original behavior, the novel becomes feminist in the 18th century way.

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Cotman: Normandy fantasy

I would have much preferred for Sir Edward to end up with Ethelinde: I almost believe in their relationship as much as any marriage. Her Manon is deeply transgressive in its sympathy for the lovers and Manon herself, The Romance of Real Life reveals families as they are and this book fits right into this trajectory too.

The recluse would have been left out at the end, but she would then have been a more tragic figure had the son drowned as we thought — a sixth volume had been in the works. Could it be she was planning to have Montgomery return after Sir Edward marries Ethy; it would have become an emotional version of the Martin Guerre story.

I was blaming Smith for marginalizing transgressive heroines, female characters led to live with men outside wedlock, for making her heroine super-chaste, but after reading Wollstonecraft’s really stinging attack on Adeline in that novel, and realizing how much time and space and sympathy Smith gives such heroines across her oeuvre (here Caroline’s unnamed mother, Montgomery’s grandmother) and the thoughts she gives her — in this novel several female figures have lovers and children outside marriage — to have some joy, they take a risk and pay.

The novel has little specific politics of Desmond and the later books. The wide landscape there, but here acid satire on the hypocrisies and snobberies of social life is central to her purpose. I just love it. It connects her to Thackeray. Long obsessive conversations between Ethelinde and Montgomery about how they cannot afford to marry, how this will “ruin” their chances in life go round and round. I can only think there is a personal element here, she must have been herself subjected to this morbid nagging. When she is pictured sitting on the stairs as her father and Montgomery talk, the scene feels like a memory — maybe when she was sold to Benjamin Smith. Austen’s Persuasion with its thrust to trust at the close, and several stories by Crabbe are aimed at just this kind of cruel prohibition — which in Crabbe ruins lives all the more, as the people haven’t got a chance of growing rich anyway. Whatever happiness they can have is in personal fulfillment.

I probably enjoy the novel more when it approaches from a frank and caustic point of view the kind of satire we find in Austen towards say Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mrs Norris. For example, the hypocrisy and insolence (Smith’s narrator calls it) when Mrs Ludford, Ethelinde’s rich aunt pretends to forget her siblings’ ages and says how good it was Ethy’s mother’s other children except for the one brother did die (p 186 in 1790 ed, p 40 in my edition: Mrs Norris expresses the same idea only it’s presented more indirectly. (The line is later in MP than I thought). These intersections they bring out Austen for me where I could be exhilarated in a twisted kind of way as we both dig the imaginary knife in and so doing expose the pettiness meanness of the world — there is more truth in Smith’s opener version: paradoxically it’s true that Colonel Chesterville has not put his son to the right path; maybe he would have been better off apprenticed (p 187) than brought up in idleness and self-indulgence. But this establishment view is presented against a backdrop that makes us see the ugly nature of Mrs Ludford’s motives for saying this (unlike Trollope say where such establishment comments are not undercut in this way).

There are long similar stretches in Celestina.

It’s remarkable how many scenes in Austen occur in variation in other novels by women of the era. The difference between Austen and Smith includes Smith lets us feel the full bitterness of these. I’m struck by how the tone of the plangent section of Volume 2 when Montgomery comes to London, Edward is in love with Ethelinde and she more in love with Edward than she realizes, is close the mood and atmosphere of the 1983 S&S mini-series by Alexander Baron. The 1980s darker mini-series were more like these novels than any films before or since.

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Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood, Bosco Hogan as Edward — conversing over her drawings, the landscape, sitting together — perfect image for Smith’s Edward and Ethelinde (1981 BBC S&S by Alexander Baron)

What emerges in the latter part of Volume 2 is that Chesterville is a stand-in for Charlotte Smith’s own father who failed her so abysmally, who sold her, betrayed her. The acid in the soul of his novelist is Colonel Chesterville’s not caring for his daughter, and when Ethelinde’s aunt (it was an aunt who suggested to the father to marry Charlotte off and married Charlotte’s farther herself), Mrs Ludford, suggests Ethelinde needs another situation and her father would be glad to get rid of her (by implication) this touches upon how the orignal sin in her life was her father’s deserting her for a nasty woman and giving her up to an awful boy. If Charlotte was too young to know, Mr Turner was not (Elibon, Vol 2,, p 203, p 44 my typescript)

The novel’s scenery is all great prose poetry wants but it remains a framing.

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Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Temple of Winds, Blackdown, Sussex — another, botanic, allusive, southern England

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The undermining of false stereotypes of masculinity.

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Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in 1935 A Tale of Two Cities — perfect for Sir Edward

Sir Edward refuses to duel. After reading on Inimitable-Boz, a defense of Carton’s sexuality and courtship of Lucie Manette I began to see Sir Edward as anticipating Sydney Carton.

Sir Edward’s wife, Maria, is a cold tempered socialite, presented as nasty-tongued, nervy, bored with anything but her vanity, loving gambling, despising anyone who likes to read or walk in the landscape and mocking the depression marriage with her is causing Sir Edward. He married her for her money but also to be her husband, and she wanted his title, but now she is clever enough to throw this up to him and when he forbids her to see or be with Lord Danesforte any more — on the score of gambling debts too – she turns on him and accuses him of adultery with her cousin, Ethelinde. There is no adultery (both too virtuous) but he loves Ethelinde intensely and now feels he must cut himself off from her and her improvident father (a gambler) and brother (yet worse)

A long meditation of Sir Edward as he contemplates Ethelinde’s future as the wife of a man without any adequate monetary support and connections — his desire to help alleviate any of her difficulties at any cost to himself reminds me of Sydney Carton. We might historicize Carton too: this is a time when there is no state or gov’t or any kind of safety net. Reading the brilliant analysis of Charlotte Smith’s depiction of Edward’s selfless yet deeply selfish (she is so deeply congenial a spirit, so good) and sexual (she is beautiful ohim) love for Ethelinde, and how persuasive their relationship, teaches me that the problem we have in reading Dickens’s Carton and many other heroes of “sensibility” and depression, is that the time is indeed more than 160 years ago when women also had no means of getting decent support on their own either. I find Volume 2, chapter 10, pp 239-44, the long inward delving into this man astonishing still.

Smith provides the psychological underpinning that Dickens & other male authnors omit to understand this kind of male temperament — they are too embarrassed. Who would admit desperation at their class background in this way (except for Godwin). To call them men of sensibility is to use a label to erase what the text does: undermine masculine stereotypes.

It’s ridiculous to get too worked up over a novel but as I’m typing it I do bond with it, and did find myself intensely hurt when at the ASECS someone ridiculed Sir Edward and read the book as if we were to empathize genuinely with Lady Newenden when she is the cruel pernicious presence of the piece from her outward conduct.

Smith gives Edward a good phrase for his attitude towards Ethelinde: she has a sanctity of character. So much better than purity which brings in this baggage of asexuality no no sexuality in this woman for real. She’s not corrupted or corruptible because of her background and asocial-ability. Sanctity of character is a phrase I’d use for Esther Summerson as well as Jarndyce as played by Denholm Elliot (the 1988 Bleak House like the 1989 ATOTC written by Arthur Hopcroft).

How Edward feels about Ethelinde:

that her whole life might be exposed to trials, he could not soften, to difficulties he could not alleviate; all his sense, his morality, his resolution, hardly supported him when he considered it; and he sometimes fancied he could rather bear to destroy her, and then himself, than endure the certainty of that, the very idea of which inflicted anguish so acute

When she writes so moving and ably and subtly we have to see that she did value her fiction and talked denigratingly of it because others didn’t value it or wouldn’t admit they saw it what is there (p 241-43 of Elibron, pp 52-53 of my new edition)

Again the lone figure against time and nature.

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John Sell Cotman, from a Dulwich exhibit of his Normandy watercolors

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From her poetry: the autobiographical background: Her terrors for her children, several of whom predeceased her and did know hardship. I’ve no doubt she saw a version of this woman who lies at several removes behind this novel; Sir Edward’s terrors for Ethelinde’s future

The Female Exile.
WRITTEN AT BRIGHTHELMSTONE IN NOV. 1792. [from Elegiac sonnets (1797-1800)]

November’s chill blast on the rough beach is howling,
   The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the shore,
Dark clouds o’er the sea gather heavy and scowling,
   And the white cliffs re-echo the wild wintry roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger reclining
   Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely seat;
Her eyes fill’d with tears, and her heart with repining,
   She starts at the billows that burst at her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart heaving,
   She watches the waves where they mingle with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes deceiving,
   May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing tresses,
   Once woven with garlands of gay Summer flowers;
Her dress unregarded, bespeaks her distresses,
   And beauty is blighted by grief’s heavy hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
   To seek the gloss’d shell, or the crimson weed stray;
Amused with the present, they heed not to-morrow,
   Nor think of the storm that is gathering to day.

The gilt, fairy ship, with its ribbon-sail spreading,
   They launch on the salt pool the tide left behind;
Ah! victims—for whom their sad mother is dreading
   The multiplied miseries that wait on mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them with anguish,
   Now wanderers with her on a once hostile soil,
Perhaps doom’d for life in chill penury to languish,
   Or abject dependance, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors renewing,
   O’er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin
   All breathless with haste, half expiring with fears.

Poor mourner!—I would that my fortune had left me
   The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But like thine my hard fate has of affluence bereft me,
   I can warm the cold heart of the wretched no more!

Ellen

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Frontispiece for Phillis Wheatley’s poems

Dear friends and readers,

In this second of a two-part report on the EC/ASECS conference I attended a couple of weeks ago now, the themes of the papers and talks seem as much about what gains respect as what incurs infamy.

Papers and talks were on ways writers were pressured into presenting themselves in order to be heard at all, surprising underlying punitive and/or emotional patterns which are still with us; the difficulty (impossibility it seems) of breaking out of stereotypical expectations, frustrating publishers. Since two of the panels I went to were chaired by Eleanor Shevlin and were about book history, I also summarized a paper she read aloud to the Washington Area Print group last week on the publisher William Harrison.

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From a 2007 film adaptation of Justine

The session I chaired on Saturday (9:00-10:15 am) was originally intended (by me) to be about actresses, but as my call for papers turned up but one possible paper and I found I was not able to write a paper myself after all, I contented myself with the publication of my review of Felicity Nussbaum’s Rival Queens, and widened the scope of “R-e-s-p-e-c-t (yes I had Aretha Franklin’s famous song in mind) to include women in all working occupations and all ranks: “For actresses, women playwrights, working women, fictional heroines, and even aristocrats respect and favorable reputation matter.”
I’m delighted to say truthfully all three papers were excellent (I took more notes than usual) and the talk afterwards stimulating.

Kate Novotny spoke on “The Ethical Quicksand of Sade’s Justine: or, How to Win Readers and Offend People.” Mr Novotny went over the text, conventions and rhetoric of Sade’s Justine to show how Sade mediated his book’s shocking content in order to persuade his reader to listen to his philosophical point of view which (among other things) justified violence. His rhetoric relies on the similarity of his story to Richardson’s Pamela and other tales of virtuous lowly girl makes good. Justine is a satire on Richardon’s piety. Kate went over the text of Justine slowly, showing its use of familiar motifs. Lulled as it were, once we are reach the orgy, the fundamental nature of the text is an egoistic misogynist ethos. The strongest person is the best person and can or will not be controlled; one implication is that it’s a mistake to give women a voice at all.

In contrast, Sarah Hastings’s paper, “Vows, Whores, & Signs: Women and Words in Behn’s The Feigned Courtesans and The Rover shows Behn’s comedies hinge on a critique of mores that prevent women from exercising their power. Behn intermingles women who enact normative roles of virtue and who are prostitutes, gypsies are aligned and actresses identified with prostitutes. Failed servants survive through prostitution — indeed only through sexual flexibility can women survive at all, marriage being an exploitative commercial contract whose crux is a sexual-familial bargain. We see the mask of the courtesan allows her to enact agency and be pro-active on her own behalf; she is better off than the relatively helpless women who obeys norms of virtue. Women want to flee the world of men, be free from male control. Her stories foreground anxieties about marriage. Behn’s women want marriage to be partly based on compatibility (love). Tellingly Angelica Bianca is the only real courtesan in The Feigned Courtesans and wants to de-commodify herself; Helena wants a constant husband (while Willoughby wants an open marriage for himself). Behn’s plays reflect the world outside them too. Ms Hastings gave a brief history of the laws concerning prostitutes (made illegal under Henry VIII) and suggested an infinite series of steps exist between respectability and being called a whore; the class the woman belongs to affects how she is seen too. Women were treated as interchangeable objects. Market savvy women exploit these gradations and contradictions. During the civil war too there seemed to be a surfeit of women in civilian society, yet changes in customs which favored women.


From a 1986 production of Behn’s The Rover

Katherine Kittredge’s paper, “No Shame in Patchwork: Didactive Depictions of Laboring Class Girls” came out of her work on child poets and children’s literature in the long 18th century. Mr Kittredge asked how are laboring girls depicted in the 18th century? The improbability of Pamela not only gave rise to parody, it was felt not to be the strongly corrective narrative needed to train working class girls to accept their place and condition. The most famous of the didactic stories for girls was Goody Two-Shoes, the story of an itinerant orphan teacher who becomes respected and later marries up. Much harsher is the History of Susan Grey where an orphan becomes a washerwoman; when a captain goes after her, she is unjustly fired, flees, and dies a horrible death. We see the vulnerability of such a girl; ambition is dangerous; education and gentle behavior cannot change your status. In another story, the mother so busy with so many children that she can teach them only the catechism and her older daughter cannot be spared to attend school. Interestingly, in such stories we do not find upper class women teaching; the roles modeled insist on plain clothing, mending one’s clothes, and if the girl has fewer that suggests she will be safer: one good calico say and two other outfits. (She is not trying to get above herself.) Sewing or making clothes becomes a skill that creates community among women. These are proto-adult narratives that teach the girl that a laboring girl will never pass, they have an underlying paranoia that everyone is watching and punishments meted out. Later on in the century other standards than home-made few clothes replace these; now the girl has to be careful lest she make herself ridiculous because she has access to consumer culture.


Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre (1997 film)

The discussion afterwards was very interesting. One French scholar debated whether Sade had a discernible or consistent philosophy in Justine. Late on I thought of the Comus-like debate in Sade’s Marquis de Ganges but do not know if there are such passages in Justine. After all the papers all stayed within the 20 minute limit. I remembered Germaine Greer’s two part chapter in her Slipshod Muses where she argued that we have very few documents on Behn and suggested that much that has been said about her in biographies has no foundation. Greer thinks what evidence we have suggests Behn lived partly as a kept mistress and her playwriting was a way to help her make ends meet, not something she could really survive on. Thus her plays mirror her life’s experience. Ms Kittredge’s children’s stories anticipate Bronte’s Jane Eyre who has (we recall) only 3 dresses, two grey plain ones and one grey silk; she resists Rochester’s attempt to make her play a role above her status; she becomes a teacher, and she is rewarded for her selflessness. Even 20th century novels for women reflect these didactic “good girl” patterns: in Winifred Holtby’s socialistic radical South Riding, one of the heroines is very intelligent and her parents cannot afford to send her to school because her mother having too many children needs her at home. She is rewarded for her self-sacrifice when someone comes across with a scholarship for her; her great wish is to become a teacher like the primary heroine of the book.


Sarah Burton (Anna Maxwell Martin), the working class girl as teacher with her pupils behind her (2011 South Riding, an Andrew Davies’ product)

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Edward Young (1681-1765)

Eleanor Shevlin chaired two book history sessions. The mid-morning (10:30-11:45) had three papers whose particular topics — a woman poet, a bluestocking and saloniere who wrote letters and Richardson — were areas I’d worked on.

Jim May spoke first about the frustrations he’d experienced working on a half-volume for the Cambridge edition of Richardson’s complete correspondence. Prof May has been working for many years on Edward Young and his part was to edit the 28 Young-Richardson letters (6 from Richardson). He gave a brief history of the publication of this correspondence. Richard Phillips had bought Richardson’s letter ms’s, and commissioned Anna Barbauld to edit the papers inside 3 months (!) Peter Sabor has counted around 600 letters from Richardson and Barbauld included about 1/4 of these; she conflated, abridged, eliminated substantives. The texts are hard to read. Foundational work was done in the 20th century by Henry Petit and Harry Forester; it would be very hard to improve upon them. PRof May handed out a xerox of letter by Mary Hallow, Young’s housekeeper who had a close relationship with Young. The problem is Cambridge’s policies which do not include information on punctuation, variants and have other restrictions so hat Prof May will intends to publish an essay which includes the notes not permitted in order to get the material he has added.


Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800)

Eliza Child’s paper on Elizabeth Montagu’s “Letters from the North: Marriage, Power and Coal” was fascinating to me. I had known Montagu was involved in her husband’s mines (a central source of their great wealth), but not how active, how interested in industry, genuinely knowledgeable and (for her time) benevolent or at least just to the workers. It was another outlet for her imagination, altruism, sensibility. She chaffed at the limitations her husband imposed on her. Ms Child told us about Montagu’s entrepreneurial activity at Denton, a mining community; she had the confidence to persuade her husband to risk capital expenditure. Sections from Montagu’s candid letters were read aloud (she does not want to “lose” money “merely to avoid a little trouble”); her husband was more cautious (we heard her urging him “to act”, that he got “angry” but when “money came into his pocket” is gratified). She had hoped to be seen with Voltaire and Johnson in her “Essay on Shakespeare”; here she could be socially useful. She enacted fair hiring practices (contracts were short-term), opposed fixing prices (cabals), broke ranks with their peers over these issues. Her sister, Sarah Scott’s Sir George Ellison, is a model of benevolent capitalism. She also had effective charities: set up schools, gave material assistance to children to learn to read, for girls to knit and spin. These letters can provide a conterpoint to how women are often depicted in the 18th century novel where we often find them victimized by wealth.


Felicia Hemans, recent edition of her poems and letters

Alex Grammatikos spoke on “The Nothingness of Fame, At least to Women: Felicia Hemans and the Price of Celebrity.” Mr Grammatikos’s paper showed how Hemans was gradually pressured into presenting herself in the most conventional poetess sort of ways because she saw that not to do so left her vulnerable to criticism for her private life: she separated from her husband after having 5 children by him in 5 years; she turned to her mother who took care of the children while she spent her days writing and reading. She was also ignored or seen as inferior to the male poets. When she presented her work as that of a women of sensibility (and wrote poems to suit) she was successful. In her letters we see her say that she has no friends to help her promote her work as an author. She tells one correspondent how her previous poems were not successful because their subject was “not to be seen from a female pen.” She read reviews which focused on her femaleness and she redirected her career. There was a considerable gap before she could get a book of poems published again and when she did, she writes in the sentimental vein (“Records of Women”) for which she became famous. Mr Grammatikos felt Hemans resented this identification and Byron’s mockery of her as a “he-mans” was grating. But there was no breaking out of these stereotypes. So the phrase “nothingness of fame” was hers and refers to her sense of her true selfhood as lonely and suppressed.

Once again the talk afterwards was very interesting. I regret I was not able to get most of it down because so much was give-and-take. I can remember best what I contributed which was that I reviewed a Cambridge edition of Austen’s later manuscripts (which is supposed to be published this spring) and found the edition to be a missed opportunity; the choice of documents showed the series had not been thought through (so one had “everything else” including early manuscripts and not all the late ones); it was said to be for students and yet the price was outrageous and notes veered between minute erudition and high school-type explanations; it was basically a reprint of Chapman without Chapman’s apparatus.

There were two more lively talks (Phillis Wheatley, Kathy Temple on William Blackstone’s Commentaries); another session from which I briefly summarize 2 papers, and on November 9th (a few days later) Eleanor Shevlin’s paper on “The Making of the English Novel,” the role of periodical subscription magazines and newspapers; for summaries of all this see the comments.

Ellen

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