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Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Lennox’

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Giovanni Volpato and Louis Ducrois, The Temple to the Sybil at Tivoli, 1750

Thus is a people gradually exhausted, for the most part, with little effect. The wars of civilized nations make very slow changes in the system of empire. The public perceives scarcely any alteration but an increase of debt; and the few individuals who are benefited, are not supposed to have the clearest right to their advantages. If he that shared the danger enjoyed the profit, and after bleeding in the battle grew rich by the victory, he might shew his gains without envy, But at the conclusion of a ten years war, how are we recompensed for the death of multitudes and the expence of millions, but by contemplating the sudden glories of paymasters and agents, contractor and commissaries, whose equipages shine like meteors, and whose palaces rise like exhalations? — Johnson, Thoughts on the Falkland Islands

When her mind was discomposed … a book was the opiate that lulled it to repose … Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest (from handouts)

Dear friends and readers,

At long last my report on the EC/ASECS conference, whose topic was “The Familiar and the Strange.” Not only have I been delayed, but I will have but two blogs as I missed some panels, and was not able to take down papers from all I attended. I will offer the paper titles of those that sounded especially intriguing that I missed and surmise others might like to know of. Here I also take the step of quoting from some of the excellent handouts I came away with. How relevant are all these 18th century texts, and how they come together under a post-colonial perspective. As usual the reader must remember these summaries only offer a gist of what was said.

I chaired one of the panels of the first session, and I hope it’s acceptable for me to say of my panel, “Finance, Affect, and Gender,” (Friday, 9:30-10:15 am), the papers were excellent, fit together well, and the talk afterwards stimulating. Michael Genovese, “Strangers and Credit in Addison and Steele,” was part of a project where he focuses on the ways in which talking about money and talking about affect intersect with one another. He talked about the early periodical press, especially Addison and Steele, and Defoe’s writing where what is mapped is a relational rather than individualistic form of selfhood. People who are debtors and creditors react through communal sentiments as well as financial exchange and obligation. He suggested such mixtures are with us still; for example, a 20th century commercial about how friendly housing mortgage people in a company are. Sympathy is used to mitigate and soften money relationships from whence people gain status and power (social capital), and this makes catastrophe more bearable. In these texts forms of behavior are adopted which channel feeling. Steele makes the point that this is analogous to textual relationships where the writer owes as much to the reader as the reader owes to him. Some practical results include seeing the “dishonest debtor” as unfortunate, rather than a criminal; through adding sympathy imprisoning someone (which makes it impossible for the person to make up the payment) can be presented more convincingly as destructive as well as irrational. In effect too the subjective response of a creditor (i.e., anger, frustration) is diminished so some form of mutual benefit can emerge from an unlucky transaction.

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From the BBC 1996 Moll Flanders (scripted Andrew Davies): Moll (Alex Kingston) in partnership with another woman

Kristin Distel’s paper, “Bastardy, Shame, and Property: Moll Flanders, Crime and the Governess as Entrepreneur.” She began by pointing out that Defoe’s governess is not a realistic depiction. She is there to serve as a sort of pawnbroker where illegitimate pregnancy and theft are equated. She can operate a profitable business because she understands how to cope with shame through impudence. Shame is, she noted, is a discipline, a social and psychological tool rendering women powerless: they are led to internalize humiliation (this is Foucault). Thus they are kept in subjection. People in this era perceived that crime was on the increase: population was on the increase; options for paid work were limited. Suicides increased; women were indicted for theft more than men (she suggested punishments were actually lenient). We see Moll and her governess work together to survive, for profit, theft becomes their trade. Their vocabulary emphasizes (without explaining) “success” and while they report, they ignore name-calling like “shameless,” “immodest” and “unblushing.” She then looked at how by contrast punishment for women for illegitimate children, especially if the baby died, was remarkably harsh. The way the law was formulated the presumption was infanticide if the baby died; women did naturally try to miscarry; they would give away their babies when they could. Here in Defoe’s fiction the governess’s help is crucial as Moll suffers much more from this socially induced natural fear than shame. The two threads of Kristin’s talk came together as she discussed the ending of the novel where our heroine’s financial success frees her from fear, shame, and dependence.

NIGHT. Now Ev’ning fades! her pensive step retires, / And Night leads on the dews, and shadowy hours;/ Her awful pomp of planetarv fires, / And all her train of visionary pow’rs./These paint with fleeting shapes the dream of sleep./These swell the waking soul with pleasing dread; /These through the glooms in forms terrific sweep, / And rouse the thrilling horrors of the dead!/Queen of the solemn thought – mysterious Night! /Whose step is darkness, and whose voice is fear!/Thy shades I welcome with severe delight, / And hail thy hollow gales, that sigh so drear!/But chief I love thee, when thy lucid car /Sheds through the fleecy clouds a trembling gleam,/ And shews the misty mountain from afar, /The nearer forest, and the valley’s strream: / And nameless objects in the vale below, /That floating dimly to the musing eye, / Assume, at Fancy’s touch, fantastic shew, / And raise her sweet romantic visions high … Ah! who the dear illusions pleas’d would yield, /Which Fancy wakes from silence and from shades, /For all the sober forms of Truth reveal’d, /For all the scenes that Day’s bright eye pervades! — Ann Radcliffe

Rivka Swenson’s paper, “Making the Darkness Strange in Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. Darkness is what we expect in a gothic, and this novel begins in a dark wild flight, but as it progresses what emerges is the story of a man who has run away to the forest, a young girl who writes poems to the night and finds a manuscript which tells of an imprisoned and therefore murdered man. In the book flight and a transcendant darkness beyond society’s eye are embraced. The last third of the novel does introduce a good man living in tranquillity whose name means light, but in the novel as a whole safety and quiet are found in obscurity. Rivka then talked of the female sublime, suggesting that we replace Caspar Friedrich’s familiar male staring into the iced distance with a female. We move from Aristotelian/neoclassical ideals to Burkean. Adeline’s poetry moves from evening and darkness to the coming of dawn, but Radcliffe’s prose leaves her in the dark still night where meditation provides intense inspiration to write the book.

There were lots of questions for Michael. People brought up (as a counter-examples) the story of Yarico and Inkle where he sells his beloved; he cannot feel a personal connection for someone of a different race and such low status; in Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling, sentimental characters show no interest in money. On Kristin’s paper, Did not Moll feel overwhelming Christian guilt at turns in the novel? how does that relate to the secular idea of shame?

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An illustration from an edition of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho: The Devil’s Bridge

I went to the session on Samuel Johnson (10:30-11:15) chaired by Anthony Lee. Greg Clingham’s “Sex and the City: Johnson’s Erotics of Reading,” was a meditation on one of Boswell’s striking metaphors: Boswell says that he’d write after his mind became strongly impregnated with Johnson’s “ether.” He was looking at the ways erotic content is redirected into reading: he loved conversation and worked hard to convey the talk. Johnson’s male biographers presented Johnson in ways that kept him separate from sex; yet sex was ubiquitous in Johnson’s life, not glamorous, not scandalous, rather human: from his wife, Tetty, to his relationship with Hester Thrale, Hill Boothby; he was comfortable with the prostitute, Bet Flint. When he writes of Rochester, he is not content to stay with the vigor of his colloquial wit, but looks at the poet’s mind, tracing a sexual degeneration and debasement: Rochester died at 31, exhausted. Dryden’s poetry is not overtly erotic, and yet we find Johnson reaching for a female metaphor to describe it. In Rasselas Johnson looks at sexuality in the harem of Pekuah where her assumption of agency enables her to triumph during her imprisonment. The question is, Are the demons of depression and loneliness (both Johnson and Boswell’s) kept at bay by fantasies of conversation in this biography? Well, Jorge Luis Borges saw the erotic in Johnson and Boswell from the depth of a human heart and mind on display.

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Reynolds’s famous portrait of Johnson, reading, taking in a text ….

John Radner felt his paper, “Johnson in the Hebrides,” was in conversation with Greg’s. Johnson and Boswell began their trip as teacher and pupil, substitute father and acolyte, and came back as an intertwined subject and writer of the biography. The two shared fantasies; both missed other friends and longed for letters and must’ve kept up journals for their later twin books. Hitherto Johnson with Boswell talked of his guilt, his wide range of knowledge not being used, but the sort of grim tone Johnson often had was lifted and he was usually gay, sort of off-duty and yet out of the trip came the Journal of the Western Islands Johnson had argued that traveling was a waste of time; civilized and barbarous people are the same. He had talked of Culloden as sheerly pernicious for all, but when he met a clan chieftains, and they talked of all sorts of intimate beliefs, he changed his mind. This unfamiliar experience and place for two men in an evolving love relationship produced great books as an unintended consequence. This morning I was thinking Wordsworth and Coleridge are a parallel male pair.

Anthony Lee’s “Strangely ‘sudden glories:’ Johnson, Hobbes, and Thoughts on the Falkland Islands was journey through a series of startling utterances by Johnson strongly relevant to our political situation today. He was delving complex words in various relationships. He began with Johnson’s strong disapproval and refutation of authoritarianism as found in Hobbes. He inveighed against Junius for the falsity of a man who won’t reveal who he is (a sneak), or anything about himself. Both men’s laughter is rejected on the ground that “one of the proper works” of a great mind is “to help and free others from scorn,” comparing themselves “only with the most able.” Johnson’s animus at Milton (a republican) comes from his repugnance at demonizing. In Johnson’s Falkland Islands we find this castigation: the colonialists are “men who, without virtue, labour, or hazard, are growing rich as their country is impoverished; they rejoice when obstinacy or ambition adds another year to slaughter and devastation, and laugh, from their desks, at bravery and science.” (I thought of Trump’s vile tweets at scientists, professional learned people, at John McCann.) Then Tony quoted Addison and Steele on the meanness of “laughing at our own dishonour.” Tony suggested that Johnson’s idiom is both transparent and opaque. What Johnson admired was a life commitment.

Johnson and Boswell would have liked the talk however brief afterward. Many in the room were Johnsonians who know each other well, others new to Johnson, some there from studies of Johnson’s friends and associates (Frances Burney, Hester Thrale). We stayed into the 15 minute interval.

Then I went to lunch with friends who were also going to Mary Ball Washington’s (George Washington’s mother) house (a small museum nowadays, but set up as closely to what the house was as time elapsed with all its changes allows).

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1941 print on a postcard

I could make out how dependent this white woman was on her black slaves, how surrounded by them, and thought to myself how do you make people accept such a status and stealing of their lives. The evolution of the house’s rooms was explained. So too that she was long lived and (as Austen might say) held up admirably under the vicissitudes of her eventful heroine’s life.

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Agostino Brunias’s “West Indian Creole Woman with her black servant” (the frontispiece for Lyndon J. Dominique’s edition of The Woman of Colour)

I arrived late for the early afternoon panel I had planned to attend, “Politics and the ‘Other’ in the British and American Novel (2:30-3:45 pm). I was able to situate myself and begin taking notes only for Emily Kugler’s paper on the anonymous epistolary 1808 The Woman of Colour,” which she called “Beyond the Marriage Plot: Friendship and Creole Companionship.” The novel is about a mulatto young woman, Olivia, whose father sends her to Britain to be married to a rich white man in order to provide himself with grandchildren who are only one-quarter white and to provide her with a high status husband. She writes to a friend. The model is Charlotte Lennox’s 1790s epistolary Euphemia where two woman friends pour out their hearts to one another and themselves literally travel, one across the Atlantic, both through typical women’s lives. In Lennox’s novel Euphemia has to endure an irresponsible and stupid husband. We travel to Canada and discover a colonial place which is contested. Maria Frawley, the second heroine has an absurd guardian who tests her; she manages to be obedient and gain a measure of space (to be let alone). The happy ending is they are reunited, but their lives have been badly damaged. Lennox’s is a pessimistic book predicting a failed patriarchal empire. By contrast, Olivia disobeys after she discovers that her father’s choice for her was already married, even though she loves the man because her marriage was bigamous: she refuses to remarry and returns to Jamaica. There is much anguish over skin color, much exposure of “how civilized behavior comes from the body” (a quotation from Dominique’s study, Imoinda’s Shade where he discusses the novel), of what passes as love, over trying to understand these communities. She helps her maid who is more vulnerable than she, and sticks steadfastly to widowhood! Her correspondent, Harriet, ends a suicide (Emily likened the character to Goethe’s Werther and suggested the lesson to be learnt was the danger of too much sensibility), but Olivia ends up free and independent, lasting into old age, caring for a little boy. Both novels show women seeking to make an identity and life for themselves, caring very much, in need of sister-friendships.

I’d add both novels show the intermix of cultural and gender relationships in evolving new-old countries, the problems of race and status intersecting with law and custom. Emily did not bring up that in Lennox’s novels the two women are sufficiently in love with one another to be considered lesbian, so another dimension in Lennox’s novel matches the unexplored because over-idealized slavery issue in the anonymous optimistic book. It’s an interesting exercise to think about which stories are withheld in both novels, hinted at but never told. The traditional story of the unmarried (virginal or not) white heroine, no matter how oppressed, at the end marrying, with a contented future (or not), cannot teach us much, however alluring they may be.

From Nick Dear’s screenplay out of Jane Austen’s Persuasion:

Mrs Musgrove: ‘What a great traveler you must’ve been, ma’am.’
Mrs Croft: ‘I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and in different
places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never was in the West Indies – we do not call
Bermuda or Bahama the West Indies, Mrs Musgrove, as you know.
Charles Musgrove: ‘I do not think mama has ever called them anything in the whole course of her life, Mrs Croft. [Interior. A Great house, night, around a dinner table]

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One of the last stills in the 1995 BBC Persuasion (scripted by Nick Dear): Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) has found some fulfillment and independence aboard her husband’s ship, doubtless on its way to either to East or West Indies ….

Ellen

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View of the Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli by Louis Ducros and Giovanni Volpati

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith a 2nd report on the EC/ASECS conference held 12-14 November at West Chester University, Pa, with the broad topic of networks. I ended my 1st report with the lecture after the Friday business lunch (Sondra Jung’s talk on the chapbooks adapted from, and 18th to early 19th century history of illustrations for Richardson’s Pamela). There was a great variety in approach (from close-reading of a poem to wide-ranging discussions of archives), and kinds of topics (from building a park and landscape to writing an poignant epistolary novel whose places are mapped).

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Johnson reading by Joshua Reynolds

My love of Samuel Johnson’s writing and interest in life-writing about him led me to choose “Samuel Johnson’s 18th century social and intertextual networks,” chaired by Anthony W. Lee, for the first Friday afternoon session (1:30-2:45 pm). I arrived late to William Coulter’s paper on Johnson’s “Lives of Dryden and Pope.” Prof Coulter suggested that Dryden aimed at making Homer easy to read, available while Pope was seeking intense respect for his finished polished (elegant) text. Dryden had cast his fate in the theater, then turned to journalism and at the last, translation. By contrast, Pope began with pastorals, translations of Pope’s earliest idyllic texts, moved to his translations from Homer. This is traditional, non-commercial (seemingly). Dryden was involved, while Pope existed at a distance from day-to-day raw politics. Prof Coulter felt that despite Johnson’s acerbic comments on Dryden’s career moves, he preferred Dryden’s poetry to Pope’s. In Christine Jackson-Holberg’s “Munich: Quixotic Encounters: James Elphinston and Charlotte Lennox and Johnson,” she showed an interplay of texts. Elphinston, still known for his attempt to establish a system of phonetic spelling, was an irascible man of undeviating rectitude who translated Johnson’s epigraphs; he was hypercritical and reviewed Lennox’s translations and editions of French writers’ correspondence in ways that infuriated her.

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A later reprint of Lennox’s edition

Although Johnson promoted Lennox’s work, he remained loyal to Elphinston for the sake of their friendship. Anthony Lee discussed “the Johnsonian poems of Arthur Murphy.”

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Arthur Murphy (1777) by Nathaniel Dance

Prof Lee quoted Arthur Sherbo on the value of Murphy’s lives, essays, verse, and translations and argued that there is strong intrinsic poetic merit in Murphy’s 1760 “Poetical Epistle to Samuel Johnson” where Murphy responded to an attack on him by Thomas Franklin who translated Sophocles’ tragedies. Murphy’s poem is about himself, uses Pope, Boileau and the dialogic form to defend and demonstrate Murphy’s writing characteristics. Prof Lee quoted from and close-read Murphy’s poem.

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For the second afternoon session I chose “Research in Progress” chaired by Jim May. Peter Briggs discussed John Dunton’s “Puzzling self-representations: Hidden in Plain Sight.”

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One of John Dunton’s publications: The Night-Walker

In 1691 Dunton commenced publication of his Athenian Mercury, which was immensely popular; but he published other texts. In his oeuvre in general Dunton anticipated Tristram Shandy in his various zany voyages through space, time, including through his local neighborhood. Dunton had married Elizbeth Annesley and as long as she was alive, they stayed solvent, but not long after her death in 1696, the business collapsed.

Jack Fruchtman Jr discussed how Sophie de Condorcet and her work, especially “Letters on Sympathy” helped foster the development of moral and revolutionary sentiment.

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Sophie argued people possess an innate moral sensibility which enables them to do “the right thing.” She disagreed with Adam Smith on the force and centrality of sympathy. the goal of education is to develop virtue, talent, enlightened values. She agrees with Rousseau that civilization has done more harm than good; she develops thought out of Locke: if a man already rich cultivates his wealth further, is he obliged to share his excess, she would say yes. In 1792 Condorcet called a national convention and was elected but soon after as a Girondist was expelled, and persecuted; she visited him, corresponded with him using a secret code. She saw that the revolution had gone all wrong, and tried to understand how and why. She rejected cold rationality and was appalled by Robespierre’s cults and processions.

In her “Making Do; Public History, Local Archives and Atlantic Print Works,” Emily Kugler told us about her exploratory adventures in fascinatingly diverse archives researching women migrants, servants, those sold into slavery, and those who published their writing. As her career took her from San Diego to Brown University, she attempted to follow women around the UK empire, to capture their everyday experiences. Emily was part of a Middle Passage project whose main focus was West Hampshire, and she helped build a website which enabled her team to better understand the people shaped by imperialism. She researched Mary Prince (an especial interest),

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Susannah Moodie, Elizabeth Freeman, Catherine Sedgewick.

Norton

The abolitionist movement was transnational, and included women with literary ambitions: Eleanor Eldridge, Frances Green, Phyllis Wheatley; she discovered networks of widows, women having trouble obtaining their legacies or property, arising from issues of class, race. She wanted to locate the voices of such women

Wayne Hanley told us of his experiences researching archives in Paris one summer. His focus was Michael Ney, who rose to be one of the French Marshalls under Napoleon, and first Prof Hanley narrated Ney’s life and execution.

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Bibliothèque Nationale de France

He then described the libraries he worked in, some of the difficulties modern procedures using the Net create. he went over problems of access, of permission, what can happen in the case of private family papers. Which reading room is the most comfortable, which archive set up most efficiently, which building most redolent of the century.

At this point the sessions were over for the day; there was a reception (coffee, snacks, and a cash bar for wine) and then people went out to dinner. I was happy to go to dinner with a friend to a local good restaurant.

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Hannah Webster Forster’s The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton

The next morning, Saturday we began promptly at 9 at the university itself. The session was chaired by Ted Braun and was called “The Eighteenth-Century Version of Email and Social Networks.”

Leah Thomas discussed Hannah Forster’s 1797 American epistolary novel, The Coquette. Peter Sanford, a libertine male seduces Eliza Wharton, a flirtatious young woman; he has no intention of marrying her (as beneath him), marries someone else while as his mistress she is gradually isolated; she becomes pregnant, gives birth, and dies shortly thereafter; no one attempts to go to her to help her. Leah’s title included the phrase “Circumscribed Communities:” what she showed was the correspondences of the letters are situated in places along postal routes in New England. Leah showed how the postal routes improved over time, how many more places were included, how much more frequent the letters. If you map (draw graphs) and work out the percentage of letters between particular correspondents, you can gauge the importance of the place a character writes from and how it relates to other places in the story. Looking at the story from the perspective of who sent what, where and how many letters, you learn about the boundaries of the groups,and how Eliza’s community fails her. Only two of the letters have a day indicated — they are on a climactic final Tuesday. The novel is not long, it’s a sad affecting story, and is still read.

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In “The Prince Franz Network: International Contacts in the Building of the Worlitz Palace and Park,” John Heins, himself a research librarian in the National Gallery of Art, took us on a journey through the life, friends and acquaintances of Leopold Friedrich Franz Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) as he built, developed and improved his extraordinary house, gardens and landscape in Germany. Franz had wanted to marry a woman for love, and retire from public life, but had been prevented and fulfilled himself through this building Prof Heins provided thumbnail portraits of all the people along the way: including Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmansdorff (1736-1800), the great art critic Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) with whom Franz spent and studied 13 years (the correspondence between these two men was destroyed by Leopold because Wincklemann was homosexual); Charles-Louis Clerisseau, a French draftsman (1721-1820); Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1716-1799); Nelson and emma Lady Hamilton at Naples; Goethe (8 times) who said “the Gods allowed this prince to create a dream.” We learned of English and Italian influence; the specifics of their particular values, of agricultural and building techniques, how many years the building took, where he traveled to (Naples to see Vesuvius and Pompeii) and how long. It seems a huge number of people lived on his property whose fate he controlled. So there were multiple complex relationships behind this architectural masterpiece.

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Theodore (Ted) Braun told us about a little corner and one aspect of Voltaire’s vast correspondence. Voltaire wrote untold numbers of letters of which over 10,000 have been preserved; there are over 70 volumes. By the time Voltaire was aged 40 to 44 he had produced a number of tragedies, written and published Le Henriade, Zaire and other tales, his philosophical letters, the Letters on England, to Newton; then two imprisonments in the Bastille led to Voltaire’s exile from France. Few critics have wanted to discuss how Voltaire was an envious man who prevaricated against his rivals to slander them. Among those he attacked was Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pomignan; Ted told of how Voltaire had never seen or read Pompignan’s play, Didon, and yet wrote a blistering critique of it. Ted then turned to Voltaire’s continual health problems: Voltaire’s letters are filled with a dread of coming death; he half mocks himself but he also thinks he is dying; and there are many ironic and metaphoric passages about his dying (piece by piece) and (great) suffering; he wrote his own epitaph at age 42.

There were a number of questions about Worlitz, Franz, and the people John Heins had discussed. People asked about the post office in the US and the maps Leah had used. I asked what was Voltaire’s illnesa and Ted said we don’t know.

It was then time for the first coffee break and some continental breakfast (juice, rolls, cakes, and fresh fruit too).

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Jean Raoux, “A young woman reading a letter”

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Frances Abingdon as Prude in Congreve’s Love for Love by Joshua Reynolds

Dear friends and readers,

This is the 2nd of 3 reports on the papers I heard at the Nov 6th – 8th conference of the Eastern Region division of ASECS at the University of Delaware. I hope it won’t seem utterly narcissistic if I concentrate on the two panels whose papers were sent in response to my Call for Papers, or placed on my panel as closely connected; as I went to both, and took good notes on both, if I ignore them I will not have much more to say about the conference’s papers. So, to begin with, here’s the call for papers (and early thinking on this topic). For the record, including my own, 7 proposals were sent in, 6 became papers.

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Charlotte Lennox, an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after a portrait by Joshua Reynolds

CSmith
Charlotte Turner Smith by George Romney

The first panel occurred mid-Friday afternoon. The first paper was Sue Howard’s “Chronicling the Liminal State: Fictional and Non-Fictional Expressions of Married but Separated 18th century Women’s Experience.” Hers was a tale of two Charlottes, Charlotte Lennox and Charlotte Smith, both married, both mothers, both badly treated by domineering husbands (Smith’s a lot worse); they both supported themselves and their children by writing and both separated from these husbands but could not escape the husband’s rights, say in Lennox’s case to determine what schooling her children would have, and in Smith’s, his right to come and take all the earnings she had from her and beat her with impunity. Lennox was 30 years older than Smith. In the 1770s Lennox wanted to live with a friend and was thwarted; she wanted to try for a theatrical career, again thwarted. In the 1790s she wrote begging letters to her husband on behalf of her son. He would not support them; he tyrannized over her and yet took her earnings; they did not sleep together. True, he was not violent and did not intrude himself into her presence without warning her first. Ms Howard felt that Lennox handled her situation well by not allowing this private situation to become widely known; she used her novels to express her happiness and show the the vulnerability of women indirectly. Her last novel, Euphemia, an epistolary one, which takes place partly in the US, is the most open: Euphemia’s husband takes their son into the wilderness and loses him; she gains financial control, a separation from her husband, US laws were more favorable for women. Charlotte Smith’s was a devastating experience: her husband ended in a debtor’s prison where she had (it seems) to join him; he inflicted 12 children on her, had mistresses, threatened her life. She was fiercely frank about the autobiographical sources of of the misery of the older married women in her novels (surrogates for herself), and aggressively angry in her sonnets over the way the courts, the lawyers, and society in general treated her complaints and demands. Smith was criticized severely for her radical political opinions and presentation of a rape in Desmond. Ms Howard suggested that over time Smith was forced to write more indirectly, and that when she became more elusive her novels improved (she instanced Old Manor House, and The Young Philosopher).

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Self-portrait of John Flaxman when young

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Ann Denman Flaxman, painted by Henry Howard in 1797

Marie McAllister’s subject was the real correspondence between John Flaxman (1755-1826) who became a successful sculptor, draughtsman and painter, and his eventually bethrothed, and later wife, Ann Denman. they left love letters they wrote before marriage, a journal of their tour together. The love letters tell the story of a young couple where the girl’s parents are fiercely opposed to the marriage, because they felt his status was low and he would not make enough money. The letters read like a novel of the era; the lovers see themselves as tormented people; there are incidents of misunderstanding and she breaks off with Flaxman at one point. An uncle and aunt intervene, the couple are permitted to court at a distance, and eventually they do marry. The letters are poignant, melodramatic, show intense reveries; the language used is that of novels partly because they had no other language with which to encompass their emotional extremes. Ms McAllister quoted these letters to great effect. One cannot say this paper was about women living alone but it showed the mores and economic circumstances and social realities of the era.

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Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood standing by the window of Barton Cottage (1995 S&S)

I have since revised my paper, “The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in the Jane Austen canon,” and sent it to Persuasions on-line to see if this Jane Austen periodical will publish another more detailed and somewhat differently focused version of the paper. I’ve also been encouraged to write a book proposal on the topic of The Anomaly and call for papers by someone at a well-respected academic press; at that time I will revise my paper so as to fit the topic more closely. What I wrote was a survey of the way widows and widowers are treated in the Austen canon: in her novels, in her letters, and what we see in the contemporary family documents. I have uploaded it to my space in academic.edu for anyone who wants to read it: The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in the Austen canon. A few snippets:

In a recent study of widowhood in the ancien régime, Bardet remarks the obstacle to understanding the condition of widowhood is what we have are sociological studies badly served by sources (7) … The Austen canon, her fiction, letters and contemporary family documents, mirrors these distortions and adds a few, but is valuable because of her strict adherence to social verisimilitude and the successful attempt of some later Austen relatives to save her relatives’ life-writing.4 Thus widowhood is as common as marriage in the novels: at least 19 widows , and nine widowers. …Her particular limitations must be noted. Her fiction depicts the genteel … she often refuses to believe people are ill and confronted with mental suffering she spits out mostly caustic and wry references … There is though a realistically enough rendered depiction of these circumstances and of the social mores and instinctive behavior shaping the reactions of the widowed to make visible probable conditions and their motives from the standpoint of how the afflicted characters cope and the social advantage or damage (and it is mostly damage) they or others close to them bring upon themselves and others. In her female characters, a fear of widowhood pervades the novels … while the widows we remember are well-heeled and menopausal, Austen has three widows in need of security, with children, in tenuous circumstances. Most of her widowers are an even eagerly marrying or marriageable bunch … a saturnine perspective contrasting or and confirming Austen’s unmarried and married women’s anxieties emerges: [three central widowers] are suggestively presented as having contributed to the early deaths of their wives … The fictions include central now widowed people who themselves make unwise remarriages, and the fiction’s plot-design hinges on how a new marriage is ruining the other central character’s lives (or so they feel)… Austen also pays attention to the relationship of the widowed with their children, and how the absence of a moderating parent influences the fate of these children …Several of Jane Austen’s wives and widows’ calamities parallel those of her great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Weller Austen who writes about the calamity she experienced and exposes the injustice of the primogeniture system … The letters of Jane around the time of Henry’s first wife’s death and for a year or so after need a thorough re-seeing to understand what is fully going on …The frequency of death in people’s lives from a young age in Austen’s era is not enough to account for her uses of widowhood or obsession with the deaths of women in childbed .. she delineates and attacks not just those who confront their disasters with strong sensibility to show the high price such people and their involved relatives pay for feeling and/or finding themselves in vulnerable places in the social and economic arrangements of the later 18th century.

See also Bereft: of Widows (in Austen), aging with poem on Jane Kenyon; widows as disabled.

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Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) and Anna Howe (Hermione Norris) talking of a single life (1991 Clarissa)

The second or continuing panel occurred on Saturday morning at 9. In her “The Protestant Nunnery: Richardson’s Take on a Proto-Feminist Term,” Dashielle Horn discussed Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (to advance their education, opportunities, improve their lives), mentioned Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall (there was not time to discuss it but its content is relevant), and went closely over Richardson’s proposal for a Protestant nunnery in Sir Charles Grandison. Astell was seeking to help women personally develop themselves; Richardson a solution to the problem of single supposed non-productive women. Astell thought a moral and practical education cold enable women to be fulfilled and useful. Sarah Scott develops a feminist Utopia. Richardson recognizes the plight of women: his Clarissa’s sees marriage bleakly and finds the single life preferable; the harsh severity and exploitation she meets with makes her want a refuge, but the presentation of a nunnery in Grandison seems in the service of controlling women, of serving society; the women are regarded as having failed in life.

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Elizabeth Kemble in Southerne’s Oronooko

Elizabeth Keenan Knauss’s paper, “Unbounded: The Many Empowered Women of Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko” presents women characters living outside the traditional roles of wife and daughter, and given ususual positions of power. Marriage, it’s suggested, is a kind of slavery; in this colony where there is a slave rebellion, women experience agency, e.g., the Widow Lackett. Other women characters are hunters rather than hunted; they choose their husbands; they would rather be an anomaly than lose their liberty. She interestingly told how the many female characters broke with passive stereotypes; Imoinda takes control of her situation by killing herself. The fantasy empowerments reveal where in life women have no power.

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A young servant girl plucking a chicken (follower of Nicolas Bernard Lepicie, French, 1735-1784)

Lastly, Joanne Myers discussed Jane Barker’s vocation in her prose fiction. Only recently have Baker’s texts become available, and the interest has been her loyalty to the Jacobite cause. Ms Baker’s argument was that Baker achieved autonomy subjectively, from within by her commitment to her religion. The conversion experience is an assertion of selfhood and virginity the center of her strength. There is much ambivalence in the writing, suffering becoming beauty is pathological perhaps. Myers conceded that Toni Bowers has seen in this kind of intangible fidelity to self a pseudo-choice, a painful escape from life.

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Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh bullying Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth Bennet (1979 P&P by Fay Weldon)

Before and after both sessions there was much talk about the status of women who were without men. It was suggested that women lived in groups or with another woman or that a lady’s maid was of paramount importance to her as a protection, essential helper, and to give her more status. People thought that there were more women living without men than we realize. The problem of violence (by implication) rape was brought up: a woman without a man was a target for thugs. People were (of course) interested in women who were able to exercise power. Older women and widows were thought to be powerful; but my research suggested the powerful widow was rarer even than widows left a good deal of money. Some did carry on the business they had exercised with or by their husbands, but many sought to remarry. Since there were no papers on actresses, as a group they didn’t come up, but they do fit into the anomaly and they exercised power in building a career, in moving about when they had to, in creating a reputation. The fantasy element in books dramatizing women’s communities was talked about, women dressed up as as men, in breeches’ parts on stage; how in many novels middle class women were represented. Institutions were usually set up to control women, not help the individual “find herself.” There was little talk about the stereotypes of the era which depicted women alone hostilely and cruelly, and hardly any talk about the real emotions of such women living alone (whether widowed, or never married by choice or as a result of the society’s response to her, or separated); we did discuss how women who were beaten terribly were often still expected to carry on living with a husband.

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Sad journey, by Raffaele Faccioli (1845-1916).
Italian painting of a widow forced to move with her child

Today I thought I’d read an essay on the legal status of single adult women, and found an essay whose title suggests the author was going to discuss the legal status of married and single women, but after a paragraph stating with that in theory the single woman had the same legal status as a man, and that this was not in practice true as women had no place in public law (they couldn’t hold office, couldn’t be on a jury, &c), the author said since marriage was the goal of the majority and most did marry, she would devote her essay to the legal status of married women. I judge that there were far more single unmarried adult women living alone, spinsters, divorced, separated, and widowed women than has been supposed. It was in their interest to keep themselves invisible: many may have lived quietly with other women; there has been startling little effort to discuss them as a group, which is going to be the start of my book proposal. This is fertile ground which could open up new areas of research and kinds of women’s lives.

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Patricia Rutledge as Mrs Peachum (Beggars’ Opera)

Ellen

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