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whistlerreadingbylamplight1858-large
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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LutzBronteCabinet

the_real_jane_austen_a_life_in_small_things-byrne_paula

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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Noyes

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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Carnarvon 1800 by John Sell Cotman 1782-1842
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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“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” —-Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

‘An you’ll be a bit o’company for me too, miss … I like as I feel lonesome without my cat … [there was] Mr Weston, with the identical cat in his arms. I now saw that he could smile, and very pleasantly too … not twelve months ago I lost the last and dearest of my early friends; and yet, not only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort, even for this life … —-Anne Bronte, Agnes Grey


Charlotte Bronte by George Richmond


Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

Dear friends and readers,

As a follow-up and continuation of my discussion of Mary Brunton’s Self-Control, I thought a brief foremother poet blog presenting some of the poetry of Charlotte and Anne Bronte would be fitting. Emily’s (1818-48) poetry is well-known and done justice to; her sisters’ verse not as much. I begin with Anne as her work is often not reprinted except with her novels.

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John Constable (1776-1837), Autumn Sunset

Anne Bronte lived but 29 years. She seems to me a poet of autumn. In her novels (Agnes Grey and Tenant of Wildfell Hall), her tone is bleak, she often feels hopeless when confronted with the inhumanity of her employers and allowed brutality of their children; in her poetry there is much sweetness, and

Consolation

Though bleak these woods and damp the ground
With fallen leaves so thickly strewn,
And cold the wind that wanders round
With wild and melancholy moan,
There is a friendly roof I know
Might shield me from the wintry blast;
There is a fire whose ruddy glow
Will cheer me for my wanderings past.

And so, though still where’er I roam
Cold stranger glances meet my eye,
Though when my spirit sinks in woe
Unheeded swells the unbidden sigh,

Though solitude endured too long
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue
And overclouds my noon of day,

When kindly thoughts that would have way
Flow back discouraged to my breast
I know there is, though far away
A home where heart and soul may rest.

Warm hands are there that clasped in mine
The warmer heart will not belie,
While mirth and truth and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.

The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly then
The joys of youth that now depart
Will come to cheer my soul again.

Though far I roam, this thought shall be
My hope, my comfort everywhere;
While such a home remains to me
My heart shall never know despair.

[My feeling is this is autobiographical and refers to those times she was sent away to school and to the period of governessing which she was not alone in hating as an occupation; paid companion was just as bad.]

Lines composed in a wood on a windy day

MY soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves, beneath them, are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky.

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
And hear the wild roar of their thunder today!

[It’s tempting to compare it to her sister Emily’s acerbic and grim lines, but that usually ends in seeing Anne as weaker. It’s rather she has a different more open voice. This last occurs in Agnes Grey within a moment of hope in the book:]

The Bluebell

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil –
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

A fine selection may be found in Anne Bronte: Agnes Grey and Poems, introd. Anne Smith (Everyman, 1985).

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William Turner (1789-1862), Drachenfels (1817)

By contrast, Charlotte’s poems are far more visionary, passionate; they have complicated ethical statements.

Sigh no more-it is a dream
So vivid that it looks like life.

Fast, fast as snow-flakes, fled the legions,
And the heart throbs, the blood runs fast
As gathering in from many regions
Returns the scattered, faded Past.

Under the rubric, “O that word never, December 23rd:”

NOT many years, but long enough to see
No foe can deal such deadly misery
As the dear friend untimely called away
And still the more beloved, the greater still
Must be the aching void, the withering chill
Of each dark night and dim beclouded day.

THE Nurse believed the sick man slept,
     For motionless he lay.
She rose and from the bedside crept
     With cautious step away.

HOW far is night advanced? Oh, when will day
Reveal the vanished outline of my room?
I fear not yet — for not a glimmer grey
Steals through the familiar blank and solid gloom
Which shuts me in — would I could sleep away
The hours — till, skies all flushed with morning’s
     bloom
Shall open clear and red and cheer with light

Like wolf — and black bull or goblin hound,
     Or come in guise of spirit
With wings and long wet waving hair
And at the fire its locks will dry,
     Which will be certain sign
That one beneath the roof must die
     Before the year’s decline.

Forget not now what I have said,
     Sit there till we return.
The hearth is hot-watch well the bread
     Lest haply it may burn.

At first I did attention give,
Observance-deep esteem;
His frown I failed not to forgive,
His smile — a boon to deem.

Attention rose to interest soon,
Respect to homage changed;
The smile became a relived [?] boon,
The frown like grief estranged.

The interest ceased not with his voice,
The homage tracked [?] him near.
Obedience was my heart’s free choice
Whate’ er his mood severe [?].

His praise infrequent — favours rare,
Unruly deceivers [?] grew.
1And too much power a haunting fear
Around his anger threw.

His coming was my hope each day,
His parting was my pain.
The chance that did his steps delay
Was ice in every vein.

I gave entire affection now,
I gave devotion sure
And strong took root and fast did grow
One mighty feeling more.

The truest love that ever heart
Felt at its kindled core
     Through my veins with quickened start
     A tide of life did pour.

[A] halo played about the brows
Of life as seen by me,
     And trailing [?] bliss within me rose,
     And anxious ecstacy.

     I dreamed it would be nameless bliss
     As I loved loved to be,
And to this object did I press
     As blind as eagerly.

But wild and pathless was the space
     That lay our lives between,
     And dangerous as the foaming race
Of ocean’s surges green,

     And haunted as a robber path
     Through wilderness or wood,
     For might and right, woe and wrath
     Between our spirits stood.

I dangers dared, I hindrance scorned
     I omens did defy;
     Whatever menaced, harassed, warned
     I passed impetuous by.

On sped my rainbow fast as light,
I flew as in a dream,
     For glorious rose upon my sight
     That child of shower and gleam,

And bright on clouds of suffering dim
     Shone that soft solemn joy.
     I care not then how dense and grim
     Disasters gather nigh.

I care not in this moment sweet,
     Though all I have rushed o’er
Should come on pinion strong and fleet
     Proclaiming vengeance sore.

Hate struck me in his presence down,
     Love barred approach to me,
     My rival’s joy with jealous frown
     Declared hostility.

Wrath leagued with calumny transfused
     Strong poison in his veins
     And I stood at his feet accused
     Of false [ -] strains

Cold as a statue’s grew his eye,
Hard as a rock his brow,
     Cold hard to me-but tenderly
     He kissed my rival now.

She seemed my rainbow to have seized,
     Around her form it closed,
And soft its iris splendour blazed
     Where love and she reposed.

This, The Teacher’s Monologue, shows a working out of painful thought:

The room is quiet, thoughts alone
     People its mute tranquillity;
The yoke put off, the long task done,—
     I am, as it is bliss to be,
Still and untroubled. Now, I see,
     For the first time, how soft the day
O’er waveless water, stirless tree,
    &nbps; Silent and sunny, wings its way.
Now, as I watch that distant hill,
     So faint, so blue, so far removed,
Sweet dreams of home my heart may fill,
     That home where I am known and loved:
It lies beyond; yon azure brow
     Parts me from all Earth holds for me;
And, morn and eve, my yearnings flow
     Thitherward tending, changelessly.
My happiest hours, ay! all the time,
     I love to keep in memory,
Lapsed among moors, ere life’s first prime
     Decayed to dark anxiety.

Sometimes, I think a narrow heart
     Makes me thus mourn those far away,
And keeps my love so far apart
     From friends and friendships of to-day;
Sometimes, I think ’tis but a dream
     I treasure up so jealously,
All the sweet thoughts I live on seem
     To vanish into vacancy:
And then, this strange, coarse world around
     Seems all that’s palpable and true;
And every sight and every sound
     Combines my spirit to subdue
To aching grief; so void and lone
     Is Life and Earth—so worse than vain,
The hopes that, in my own heart sown,
     And cherished by such sun and rain
As Joy and transient Sorrow shed,
     Have ripened to a harvest there:
Alas! methinks I hear it said,
     ‘Thy golden sheaves are empty air.’
All fades away; my very home
     I think will soon be desolate;
I hear, at times, a warning come
     Of bitter partings at its gate;
And, if I should return and see
     The hearth-fire quenched, the vacant chair;
And hear it whispered mournfully,
    &npsp; That farewells have been spoken there,
What shall I do, and whither turn?
Where look for peace? When cease to mourn?

‘Tis not the air I wished to play,
     The strain I wished to sing;
My wilful spirit slipped away
     And struck another string.
I neither wanted smile nor tear,
     Bright joy nor bitter woe,
But just a song that sweet and clear,
     Though haply sad, might flow.

A quiet song, to solace me
     When sleep refused to come;
A strain to chase despondency
     When sorrowful for home.
In vain I try; I cannot sing;
     All feels so cold and dead;
No wild distress, no gushing spring
     Of tears in anguish shed;

But all the impatient gloom of one
     Who waits a distant day,
When, some great task of suffering done,
     Repose shall toil repay.
For youth departs, and pleasure flies,
     And life consumes away,
And youth’s rejoicing ardour dies
     Beneath this drear delay;

And Patience, weary with her yoke,
     Is yielding to despair,
And Health’s elastic spring is broke
     Beneath the strain of care.
Life will be gone ere I have lived;
     Where now is Life’s first prime?
I’ve worked and studied, longed and grieved,
     Through all that rosy time.

To toil, to think, to long, to grieve,—
     Is such my future fate?
The morn was dreary, must the eve
     Be also desolate?
Well, such a life at least makes Death
     A welcome, wished-for friend;
Then, aid me, Reason, Patience, Faith,
      To suffer to the end!

[It’s a poem by Charlotte Bronte expressing her real feelings in finding herself among deeply uncongenial people as a teacher in a school of the era, most of them then dedicated to teaching conformity in outward life and “accomplishments” and rote learning to impress others. I like the long opening especially. It falls off in the last two stanzas. I remember how more than ambivalent were the feelings of Jane Eyre about her students in the last part of the famous book, and also the power of the bitterness of Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey. I’ve been watching Jane Eyre films the past couple of weeks or so (1973 mini-series and again the 1983 one, the 2006 one — superb that last one too, by a team of women), also Kathryn Hughes’s Victorian Governess (how the job search then is like many today, and the experience afterwards too).

I was interested to see that in Chadwyck-Healey, a note told the reader as a matter of course, this is not good poetry. The assumption seemed to be that it’s bad because it tells the truth about the very real negative aspects of teaching and social life and depression, loneliness. Maybe too it’s not liked because it’s what Annie Finch calls “poetess” poetry, a poetry showing dwelling in sensitivity.]

Regret
by Charlotte Brontë

Long ago I wished to leave
“The house where I was born; ”
Long ago I used to grieve,
My home seemed so forlorn.
In other years, its silent rooms
Were filled with haunting fears;
Now, their very memory comes
O’ercharged with tender tears.

Life and marriage I have known,
Things once deemed so bright;
Now, how utterly is flown
Every ray of light !
‘Mid the unknown sea of life
I no blest isle have found;
At last, through all its wild wave’s strife,
My bark is homeward bound.

Farewell, dark and rolling deep !
Farewell, foreign shore !
Open, in unclouded sweep,
Thou glorious realm before !
Yet, though I had safely pass’d
That weary, vexed main,
One loved voice, through surge and blast,
Could call me back again.

Though the soul’s bright morning rose
O’er Paradise for me,
William ! even from Heaven’s repose
I’d turn, invoked by thee !
Storm nor surge should e’er arrest
My soul, exulting then:
All my heaven was once thy breast,
Would it were mine again!

[The sadness and isolation from others recall Bronte’s Villette. And the longing to be with those who have passed on, so poignant.]

*********

Emily Bronte by Branwell Bronte (the brother who also died young)

This one is said to be by both Emily and Charlotte:

The Visionary

Silent is the house; all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o’er the snow-wreaths deep;
Wathing every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the wildering drift, and bends the groaning trees.

Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Nor one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far:
I trim it well, to be the wanderer’s guiding-star.

Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame;
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame:
But neither sire nor dame, nor prying serf shall know,
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.

What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
What loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.

Burn, then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear —
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air:
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.

      (Written 1845, published 1850).

See Selected Bronte Poems, ed. Edward Chitham (Blackwell, 1985).

*******************

The 1983 Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton as Rochester and Zelah Clarke as Jane is very good (see The Latest Jane Eyre)

Of course I love their novels too as well as most of the film adaptations thus far. I can’t think of one I don’t like.

There are so many sites, so many books and essays, so much is known that I won’t repeat a potted life once more, but shall confine myself to referring the reader to the Victorian Web for Charlotte; and University of Pennyslvia and the Literary Gothic for Anne. One of the finest biographies is still Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte; Maria Frawley’s Anne Bronte is a gem. A good book which treats Anne as her sisters’ equal: Julie Nash & Barbara A. Suess’s New Approaches to the Art of Anne Bronte. It’s telling to know that George Moore admired Anne Bronte. And don’t miss Daphne DuMaurier’s on The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte.


Landscape from Sandy Welch’s 2005 Jane Eyre (On Never Tiring)

Ellen

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an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she does — Letter 91, Mon-Tues, 11-12 Oct 1813


Simon Brett’s 20th century illustration of Richardson’s Clarissa — harassed from within and without

Dear friends and readers,

As I remarked, I have not given up on my project of reading Austen’s letters, but rather mean to go about it differently. First, I decided before trying to ascertain what (if any) general value Austen’s highly partisan comments on her rival novelists might have, I should be sure and read the specific works she condemns. While working on the proofs of Sense and Sensibility, she writes (Letter 72, Tues, 30 April 1811), Austen comments on Brunton’s novel in a less abruptly vehement & partisan manner, with more frankness than usual:

We have tried to get Self-contoul, but in vain. — I should like to know what her Estimate is but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever — & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled

H. J. Jackson begins a Times Literary Supplement article (April 5, 2006) by telling us:

Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, was a serious collector of books and prints in her own right. Surely the only British queen ever to have learnt how to set type, she also set an intellectual example to the ladies of the kingdom. The sale catalogue of her library, auctioned by Christie’s in June and July 1819, included over 500 lots of prints and drawings and almost 5,000 of books, organized by subject; theology alone took three-and-a-half days to clear. While it is interesting to see just what the Queen and her daughters might have been reading (in English, French, Italian and of course German) on sundry topics in religion, law and history, the student of literature is naturally drawn to the pages that list plays, poetry and novels, and in this last category it is surprising to find two titles most of us have never heard of listed under the name of Jane Austen.

They were Self-Control and Discipline, both by Mary Brunton. Discipline has been repeatedly compared to Emma whose story line is close; Self-Control is strongly like Sense and Sensibility but has plot-designs like parts of Mansfield Park and Emma.

Well, Brunton is very like and very different from Austen. The central drive of the book is to tell the story of Laura Montreville, a young woman, heroine, erotically drawn to an immoral, cruel, and often stupid and distasteful man, Villiers Hargrave. Laura is physically so drawn to him that she bonds intensely and only when she discovers that he impregnated a married woman, dueled with that woman’s husband, and has no remorse and taken no responsibility for the woman whatsoever does she throw off her deep emotional engagement with him, and not even then. The plot-design is also structured on his male possessiveness; Hargrave wants her and if he cannot have her, no one else will. She becomes as a symbol the repository of his respect and pride, and by the end of the novel he is stalking her, ready to murder her and her alternative partner, Montague de Courcy, a Mr Knightley type, rather than give her up. Her sexual state of intense hidden longing is not so different from several Austen heroines (Marianne Dashwood, Jane Fairfax, Fanny Price); what is different is the frankness with which the themes are treated, the conscious and articulate language used to characterize Laura and the others characters nuance and by nuance. It is an original book insofar as the reflections are concerned. Freud before the imposition of moral readings and intense religious judgements are thrown off. Like Austen Brunton uses the ordinary language of everyday life, and for the most part tries to stay within the boundaries of common sense happenings, however dire the economic situation of her heroines becomes. (Her second novel, Discipline, also brings her heroine near destitution.)

It’s somehow indicative to me that the two long academic style essays that analyze Brunton’s novels both look at them from the point of view of business and the city (Sharon Alker on Brunton and “commerce”; Martha Musgrove, Brunton and the cityh); come up with the idea that the heroines show themselves to be assertive and coping very well insofar as they can. It’s an early 21st century form of avoiding the central subject which is tabooed even today and where the heroine’s behavior is not easily exemplary at all. It is true that Scot novels show this kind of exploration of city versus townL You find it on Oliphant and Ferrier. But for Oliphant at least the erotic story is much sidelined; the central story is the loss of a business in Hester (Oliphant’s most read English novel). She did see herself as writing in a Scots milieu. She apparently compared her depiction of Edinburgh to Walter Scott’s, wrote Joanna Baillie she was exploring the passions as Baillie had only in a different genre.

The short essay published in the Times Literary Supplement by H.J. Jackson cited above is closer to the mark: Self-control is heavily indebted to Richardson’s Clarissa and Burney’s Cecilia and the two further novels delve this erotic and intensely psychological examination of sexuality further. In McKerrow’s biography, she says Brunton lost her nerve momentarily but it was too late to recall Self-Control and so Brunton defended it to friend: what does she defend: the heroine’s continued intense attachment to Hargrave. She says it’s not unnatural at all. In the era the way moralists repressed such topic and frank treatment of them is to insists on an ideal of decorum which would prevent talking of such subjects, and a norm of plausibility which would deny that people feel or act these ways.

Self-Control does reveal why so many say of Austen’s novels they are gentle and retreating and light. There is no scene in anywhere of all Austen where we see someone try to seduce a girl directly, come at her physically and pressure her. There is no scene of abrasive encounter in the streets (Davies adds this in 2007 NA in Bath). All sorts of hard everyday occurrences are described or dramatized in Brunton. Real desperate poverty or cheating: Laura’s father, naive fool, has bought he thought an annuity for his daughter; he has yet to face up to the reality the man took the money and never bought any stock and he is being put off like the characters are in Dickens Circumlocution office (or we would be today).
In all sorts of incidents this is a realer novel, Miss Austen. Including the cruelty of the mother to the daughter before she died that is not ogre like: Laura’s mother was a dense materialist, bully, who saw in her daughter the sensitive type and took it out on her in chastisement and outright hitting. Thank Lady Luck she dies — after making her husband’s life a misery too and overspending (a realer Mrs Churchill here).

Hargrave actually directly tries to push Laura into having sex with him. Her horror and fear and repulsion is not unreal given her background and what she would pay were she to have given in (the “infamy” she speaks of would destroy her life as she is now living it), but her reaction is over-the-top. She so rejects Hargrave that it becomes unreal, ludicrous. I speculate this is the kind of improbability Austen saw “everywhere.” Especially when she’s broke, her father near death and then dead. Austen’s non-heroines cave in everywhere for financial need but they do it off-stage, we are told about it from afar: from Charlotte to Mrs Clay. Or they are foolish and don’t see what’s in front of them, or are amoral, from Lydia to Maria Crawford (who Austen writes a venomous paragraph about when she marries Rushworth). Brunton’s characters who are virtuous behave with improbable idealisms. But then Austen does not try her heroines so explicitly and hard.

These kinds of scenes are not what is original in the fiction, not making us see what was not dramatized by women of this class before. What Brunton has in mind is a Clarissa-Lovelace scenario (Christy you must put everything down and read Clary next): basically in stilted and uncomfortable language but yet there fully Brunton shows us that Laura is intensely erotically attracted to Hargrave and afraid that if she marries him, she will become abject to him because of the sexual possession he will exert over her, and her sexual needs. This is why Clarissa refuses to marry Lovelace: marriage will be the seal of corruption, the coffin top locking her into abjection to an immoral cruel man. Clarissa foresees she would allow Lovelace even to beat her rather than lose him. Brunton does not want her heroine raped, indeed she cannot bear to have her lose any virginity at all, even of the vague type of sexual experience we are to imagine Marianne and Willoughby, Jane Fairfax and Frank or even that paragon Anne Elliot with Frank Wentworth may have known as engaged or semi-engaged couples (touching, kissing). So like Burney (the same kind of inhibition) she brings her heroine to the brink and improbably calls the man off. He does not proceed. At the same time she wants to show the Knightley figure, Montague de Courcy, is not attractive to Laura. I have to admit this falls into the idea women like to be with mean rough men, like rough sex, but that’s not fair to the speifics. It’s that Laura has genuine erotic feelings and longings for both men, but more for Hargrave, partly because he came on the scene first.


The passionate but good man: Gilbert Markham (Toby Stevens, 1996 BBC Tenant of Wildfell Hall)


His rival, Arthur Huntington (Rupert Graves) whom Helen (Tara Fitzgerald) has married out of erotic enthrallment

Brunton shows what Austen keeps off-stage again and again and it’s riveting and yet presented in these old-fashioned terms. Religion is specifically woven in; it’s made part of the heroine’s moral motivations and thinking only much less skillfully and tactfully than say Anne Bronte. (The insight behind this book is the same as in Tenant of Wildfell Hall — why the heroine is allured by the “bad” man.) She explores the same areas as Austen, her paradigms are even at times literally close, but she then goes on to really penetrate the territory. Poverty, the complexity of psychological motivations. She also has ironic undercutting of literary formula.

One improbability is Laura’s rejecting marriage to Hargrave. Even if he tried to seduce her, and mortified and humiliated by such conduct, and would be an immoral husband, would she in her desperate state, with her father needing money refuse to marry him and make the kind of speeches she does. She’d cave – the way Mrs Clay does to Mr Elliot and so many of the non-virgin non-heroine Austen characters do.

There is a kind of closeness in theme and intimacy. Laura is a kind of Marianne Dashwood very much sympathized with: she’s got to learn self-control. There are incidents which are closely parallel to incidents in other of the Austen books beyond S&S: a saving from drowning like that of Jane Fairfax. It anticipates Anna Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall in the heroine’s trying to make money by painting and selling her paintings. The psychological astuteness is very good — much better in its nuances and language than say Radcliffe. I do think Austen would have seen these as her rival. Nothing gothic about them. The characters really pass days visiting and walking and talking.

The difference is a matter of tact. Austen knows how to hide improbabilities and hers may be said to be the large ones — like Darcy turning up to a country assembly in the way he does, marrying someone like Elizabeth, being quite as grave and apparently sexually reticent and contained (the apparently virginal Mr Knightley is a character taken further in this direction since we see him more intimately.

The religious talk is explicit and interwoven. Byron had read enough of the novel (in 1810 he was still very much a part of the Scottish world) to term it filled with “religious cant.” Brunton is really driven to make sure her heroine makes no overt sexual gesture, not even to Montague de Courcy. There is no religious talk in Austen’s novels (as there is no spiritual sublime as in Radcliffe). It is however not nagging, not pompous and not directed at the reader Elizabeth (Hamilton scolds and Hannah More threatens the reader), rather another mode of explanation justifying Laura the heroine’s conduct at moments and that of the good virtuous characters. It is striking how secular Austen is in comparison (the same holds true for Charlotte Smith, Fanny Burney, Inchbald, and most of the male writers of this era of novels).

Since I have no religious beliefs whatsoever (thorough atheist), I probably dismiss much of the religious talk. I can take it with better equanimity than the intrusions of didacticism in Hamilton and More because they are woven into the psychological moments and are part of the spirit in distress; as someone might make a character project a terror or ghost. Clarissa is another matter; I’ve studied it and am with those who take Richardson’s belief system to be (like Prevost’s tellingly) fideist. That’s quite different from evangelical Christianity of the later 18th century type which I take Brunton to be — anticipating the Brontes here too.

But it’s understandable for the author cannot quite face what she is doing the way Richardson or more secular novelists can. One of the reasons it reminds me of the Brontes is this religious Protestant strain combined with this intense exploration of the erotic. She’s earlier than the Brontes and more evangelical. Her books were likened to More’s as well as Austen’s.

At the same time there’s this paradox: Brunton really clearly articulates say the complex motives, or really shows us explicitly she is making fun and why, really brings home the mechanisms of capitalism. Now Austen rarely does this and we are left to attribute to her this complex of understanding. But we do not know it’s there and when we come to read her letters her way of talking about people can be embarrassing, narrow, unfair, very very rarely does she at all bring out a complexity of views and then only at a distance. Austen thus remains readable and can be read in modern terms because she just suggests and does not treat directly. We can assume what we would like because there is a genuine humanity and decency at the core of Austen’s ethics and we extrapolate out from that but we do not know at all that she applies it.

I’m not sure why Austen excluded so much experience that even belonged to her stories: that is to say, are part of female everyday experience. Bronte called her passionless for doing this; my view is 1) she intuitively or instinctively didn’t bring up or marginalized central aspects of women’s life at home, courtship because she was brought up that way, and she did steer clear of violence and open sex; 2) she was an unmarried woman and knew it’d hurt her reputation, and 3) her relatives would have stopped her from publishing (as perhaps they did Lady Susan). I suspect most of the time it was the first, but also the 3rd played into it.We have so few manuscripts and yet among them a long paragraph about how her mother was offended by Persuasion because the authority figure Lady Russell was questioned. A second piece of evidence is that beautiful fair copy of Lady Susan. I’ve seen that sort of thing before — many times in the Renaissance. Women longed to reach people with their writing and you find them literally imitating books. I continue to read her. But it is a paradox and shows us why in her era people like Smith, Radcliffe and the others were more valued.

Her fame and reputation and cult begin with the James-Edward Austen-Leigh
framing.

*****************************


Harassed hounded by her landlady, Clary (Saskia Wickham), attempting to flee, is arrested on the street for debt (1991 BBC Clarissa)

The last third of the book continues to hold me, but not quite as well in the first two-thirds. What happens is Brunton continually rehearses the Lovelace-typology in Hargrave and has him again and again assail Mary oops! — Laura, this time through her aunt. What interests Brunton is not so much Hargrave versus Laura, but Laura versus Lady Pelham and unlike Clarissa, where the interest is in the general family aggrandizement perspective versus marriage for love/affection/companionship and a woman’s right to say no to a corrupt man who will corrupt her (the perspective of Mansfield Park), but the two women, with the powerful one tormenting (Brunton’s word) and harassing the woman in her power. Laura does have an allowance now but she has spent it partly on Lady Pelham’s disiherited hated daughter and must wait to save and then flee to Scotland.

For women of the era this powerful woman who preys on the powerless sensitive one is a burning trope — it’s how they experienced violation, misery, and society’s inflictions. Austen has not just her Mrs Norris, but Lady Susan who terrorizes Fredericka for a time. Elizabeth’s defiance of Lady Catherine is after all easy since Lady Catherine has no authority over her — or Darcy for that matter

To her credit, Brunton carries on explicit analysis of nuances in ways Austen does not go near, and this does question authority figures and expose them. She revels in landscape and we have visits to houses very like the one to Pemberly. De Courcy is about to marry his dependent sister off, and we see her compromise in marrying a man she only likes somewhat, who is older than she but is a good man and will care for her. The sub-story reminds me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s sub-stories in Wives and Daughters as the whole trajectory of the book and mood seems half-way between Austen and Ann Bronte.

Hargrave has a gambling friend who means to live off Hargrave and the idea that once Hargrave marries Laura (if he can manage it), Hargrave will tire of her and go back to gaming. Shades of Henry Crawford who we are to feel would have tired of Fanny once he had her. Gambling is an bad vice in Tenant of Wildfell Hall. So too drink — but Brunton will not go that far and Austen drops that reality after the Juvenilia.

I do like these moral fictions. For that’s what this is — women’s issues and experiences. I was reminded of Jane Collier and Sarah Fielding’s The art of Ingeniously Tormenting, one of these books whose genre is hard to classify. Women read it it droves (as they did in our time GWTW and recently Byatt’s Possession and some of Margaret Atwood and Drabble’s novels: Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, Surfacing; Needle’s Eye, Waterfall, Seven Sisters, the Jigsaw Puzzle memoir).

Brunton’s may fall off for others for other reasons, but for me this last part of the novel is less original. I realize it’s a burning issue for women of this era but it is not for me. I am not subject to an older woman in this way. For women today there is an escape from mothers, mother-in-laws, aunts, women you work for as companions. The first part of the book was highly original not just in its realistic kind of slant (Austen’s) and going farther than this but in its daring and penetration. Here we are back with the paradigm of Clary, anticipating the last part of MP where Austen also falls back on it.

It is a story of self-control and denial; they retain control over that much desired “rose” (their virginity; they don’t go all the way).

The very last part of the book shows her re-working conventoinal paradigms showing her heroine rising above these — when she is not drawn into debt I don’t think it’s a matter of probability but showing heroine’s strength; ditto when she is not drawn off to a lone place to be harassed.

We are given a series of rounds of Hargrave’s harassments and Laura’s inability to push him away partly because her aunt is on his side shows him stalking her. He is willing to murder her rather than she be the wife of de Courcy. He hates her at some level is made explicit. Austen called it improbable; this is the weapon used against this kind of story and Brunton’s problem is she does not resort to the Clarissa like gothic. When the aunt tries to trick Laura away, Laura finds out. When the aunt colludes in trying to put Laura into debtor’s prison, Laura is not out of her wits and remembers to call a lawyer and insists on her rights and escapes this. When they try to trick her into playing cars and getting into debt, her principles are against it. In each instance in a gothic novel we’d be whisked into another realm, not here. It does make the paradigm obsession transparent. The fights over money are kept quite specific, with specific sums and Laura reminds me of Elinor Dashwood at the close when she decides (despite the advice of Montague that they don’t need any of her aunt’s money) to keep 2000 pounds and give the rest to the proper heir (a daughter Lady Pelham hated and wants to disinherit). She has worked earlier to make ends meet in London.

I have no easy demonstration of this but I suggest that last one half-wild phase (which Austen lights upon to ridicule) where Laura escapes Hargrave by getting into a boat and risking her life over a fall is an religious allegory; God or providence is on Laura’s side. The whole of that last sequence is half-mad and reminds me of Cecilia. The heroine tells us under the harassment of her aunt (she does not use that word but it’s what she means) she blanks out, she has these periods of just sitting there and doesn’t remember what is happening, has nightmares and that is just before this final sequence.

Infamy and shame are central too. At the close where she feels her reputation is in shreds, Hargrave finally dies and writes a letter vindicating her innocence and so the last page and one half, she marries de Courcy and lives with him in retired contentment ever after. But to describe the novel (the way many do) as about this without making it clear how tacked on that is, is to misrepresent it. Brunton’s last novel, Emmeline, is apparently about a young couple who have undergone a divorce (the woman) and now marry. They have defied the taboo and now tried to live unto themselves. They find they are miserable; they cannot take the loss of respect everywhere and cannot find enough in one another without preying on one another.

**************************

The intensely in love Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) writing, thinking, looking at the audience (2007 ITV Persuasion)

To conclude by situating Self-Control generally: it exists somewhere between Austen and the Brontes. Brunton is developing the English tradition and keeping away from the subversive of the gothic and away from the Catholic (French) or radical Enlightenment and yet her interest or subject is the same. Without meaning to she makes a telling contrast to the French novels of the period, far more than the decorous Austen. Brunton makes an instructive comparison with the English novel in general by other women (Smith, Edgeworth, Austen) and the French novels of this era (Genlis, Cottin). Brunton’s book is quite a ride though. Beyond novels, she also has some plays: Moore’s Gamester and depictions of older women in plays of the era.

Brunton herself seems to have no knowledge of the French novels in Self-Control, no references to Rousseau which is telling. Austen did have that knowledge, did know the French, was herself a far more secular writer as was Smith, Edgeworth, Inchbald (a Catholic), Burney. For me the closest in tone and effect to Austen’s quiet is Charriere’s brief novella; the closest in character types and stories are found in Burney. The subjectivity is yet another version of the kind of thing one finds in Inchbald and Radclfffe — they either do not or cannot see as readily clearly what they are showing as Brunton can. And all these women were either French or influenced by the French.

I can see that Austen would see this as her rival and wants to dismiss it. It’s not the closest thing to her type texts that exists in this era; but I can see why Self-Control might be attributed to Austen (which it was).

Finally, as I read I compared it to Trollope’s powerful Clarissa-type tragic novella, Linda Tressel. Linda is destroyed by the hounding of her aunt, which feels truer in many ways. The harassments are not tricks, but incessant berating, and it makes more sense of it. Trollope’s mother/aunt is someone drives the girl this way because she hates her to have sexual fulfillment or any measure of power or control. Resents it deeply.

Ellen

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Shell Cottage, Goodwood house, a creation of Louisa, Emily and Sarah Lennox (with more than a little help in the way of installation from their workmen)

Dear friends and readers,

Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts: Erotics of Lesbian Landscapes — and flower arrangements. This blog could be read alongside Amy Clampitt amid thrushes as both come from my reading the same Women’s Review of Books issue (Martha Vicinus, 29:1 (Jan, Feb 2012) as context. Moore’s volume is a companion to Donoghue’s Passions Among Women; both identify a pattern of life in the 18th century they call lesbian spinsterhood and claim was recognized by contemporaries. it reinforces or further supports sense from Austen’s letters that she loved Martha Lloyd more strongly than un-erotic friendship and the depiction of Charlotte Lucas contains memories of their parted relationship (see Letter 61). The value of Moore’s is her reading of texts and art, her identification of women and how her perspective has general application. This time I linked in the Lennox sisters as seen in Tillyard’s book, Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832; its adaptation into a mini-series, Aristocrats (which I loved as a kind of Little Women) and the Illustrated Companion to that (shell work!). This because we have another woman’s world which shows the same aesthetic patterns as those found in Moore and yet only one of the women was (possibly) a (closet) lesbian.

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Moore’s four women are Mary Delany, letter writer and respected artist of botany and flower making (1700-88); Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland(1715-85); Anna Seward, the poet and letter-writers (1747-1809); and Sarah Pierce, educator, writer (1767-1852). Moore finds in all these women a lesbian orientation which none of the women were permitted to follow openly, for one was coerced into marriage when young to an old man (Delaney), another was pressured to marry a rich powerful man who enabled her to become an important patroness of the arts (Bentinck). Like Donoghue, Moore makes a strong case and as with Donoghue, I can see Austen’s patterns with Martha, Anne Sharp and her sister more than conform to some of these Moore describes: they are closely similar.

This way of seeing Delaney makes sense of her urging Burney to become a lady-in-waiting to the queen and not being able to see how it was a death-in-life to Burney. Delaney even doubled-crossed Burney by going behind her back to the queen to get this to happen. Burney wanted to marry.

Obvious phallic detail from one of Delaney’s passion flowers

What most interested me was Moore’s interpretation of the flower and sea-shell art. I know that upper class women made these sea-shell caverns, had these picturesque caves built on their properties. I begin to see that Louisa Lennox, the sister who married the rather silly Irish man and lived all her life near her sister Emily who became Duchess of Leinster and supported the younger one, Sarah, when Sarah was ostracized for actually trying to live with a man she loved (he though took advantage of her real need and vulnerability) may reveals a hidden lesbian and sibling-erotic pattern. Louisa especially shows little interest in males and doesn’t care that her husband is child-like and obedient. One would have to read the letters to see what Tillyard might be discreet over here.


Lady Louisa Lennox by George Romney — a telling outfit? Louisa cared more about Emily than anyone else and Emily was fiercely loyal to Louisa.


Allan Ramsay (1713-84), Emily Lennox, Duchess of Leinster

Seward has long been seen as a lesbian from her relationship to Honora Sneyd (who was married to Maria Edgeworth’s father, who proceeded to impregnate her continually until she died). In Belinda, the treatment of Lady Delamar (who may stand for Honora Seyd), especially the fascination of the heroine with her breasts reveals a lesbian intensity and frustration. (See Patricia Smith, “Lesbian Panic in Narrative Strategies,” Modern Fiction Studies, 41 [1995], pp. 567-605.) What is generally known of Seward is how she cared for her father, inherited his money and used her disabled state to justify a life of retirement and socializing by writing to others.

Sarah Pierce was enabled not to marry because her brother supported her; he copied out some of her poems which would not have survived otherwise and they are love poems to other women, her friends.

We can reinterpret these artistic patterns of flowers, the letters and what has seemed “curiosities” and oddities (the shell work) become natural when we simply open our eyes to the strong gender element in the art.

Like Donoghue, what is valuable here is Moore’s book makes us understand yet other women. What this book seems to demonstate is how centrally gendered is art, and how art that we discuss as somehow universal is not and not only shaped by a particular culture but the product of the sexual outlook, experience, orientation, feelings whatever you want to call it of the artist. Using Moore’s perspective could not only shed light on the Lennox sisters’ lives but the botanical drawings and travel book and life, Chicoteau’s Chere Rose: A Biography of Rosalie de Constant (1758-1834) and imagery and activities of women in Ann B. Shtier’s Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science, Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860

Ellen

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