Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘cross-dressing’

johnadeyreptonformrshenryleighbathhousebyadlestrop
Bath House, for Mrs James Henry Leigh by John Adey (1755-1860, Humphry Repton’s son)

“Those cottages are really a disgrace. The church spire is reckoned remarkably handsome. I am glad the church is not so close to the great house as often happens in old places. The annoyance of the bells must be terrible. There is the parsonage: a tidy–looking house, and I understand the clergyman and his wife are very decent people. Those are almshouses, built by some of the family. To the right is the steward’s house; he is a very respectable man. Now we are coming to the lodge–gates; but we have nearly a mile through the park still. It is not ugly, you see, at this end; there is some fine timber, but the situation of the house is dreadful. We go down hill to it for half a mile, and it is a pity, for it would not be an ill–looking place if it had a better approach — Mansfield Park, Chapter 9

“… the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood — ” Persuasion, Chapter 11

Dear friends and readers,

I thought before going on to notes from my last conference this fall, “EC/ASECS: The Strange and Familiar,” I would devote a working blog to my project and thinking about “Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen.” After all this is supposed a blog focusing on Jane Austen.

For the past month, I’ve been slowly making my way through Austen’s famous six novels alongside many studies of the picturesque in landscaping, about landscape architects in her era and their debates, on how literary people, gardeners, historians have approached the mode (especially different when it comes to the use of enclosures to take the land from the propertyless and vulnerable), and how writers about Austen in particular place her and her novels in these debates. One might expect her outlook to change because the worlds of her books have different emphases, and since her stance towards life changed over the years: from (generalizing) a mildly rebellious, personally acid (as a woman) point of view to seriously politically grave and questioning, to acceptance, ever with irony, mockery of the very gothic mode she had loved, to late melancholy over what she wished she had known, and a new valuation of the sheerly aesthetic.

Yet I find broadly across the thirty years of writing life (1787-1816/7) a sameness, a steady holdfast to a point of view. This may be voiced as a strong adherence to judging what is presented as aesthetically pleasing or true by its usefulness. How far is what is created useful for those who live in or near it — use includes how much comfort and pleasure an individual can have from art, which seems to depend how far it works with the natural world (or against it, destroys the natural world), at what cost does this use come, and she counts as cost not only the removal of people and destruction or neglect of their livelihoods (especially in Mansfield Park and Emma), but how far it erases history or the past which she sees as giving meaning to the present through group memory and identity. She excoriates those who seek only status through their purchases and efforts, shaping what emerges from this motive as hypocritical at least as regards joy in all the aspects of the natural world, and disrespectful of animals, plants, whatever has been built. There’s nothing she despises more than someone who professes to love something because it’s fashionable — as say the gussied-up cottage. She has little use for celebrities: partly she is too snobbish and proud to chase after someone whose work so many profess to admire but in fact understand little of. To appreciate any art, no matter what it is, from drawing, to singing and playing an instrument, to curating (as it were) an estate, you must do it diligently and caring how it will turn out for its own sake, not for the reward you might personally get.

john_linnellgravelpitskensington1812
John Linnell (1792-1882), Gravel Pits in Kensington (1812)

This is what I found to be true of the implied author’s attitudes and to account for the treatment of pictorialism wherever it be found in her works. I began with the idea that she found very funny viewers, readers who approach art and judge it insofar as it literally imitates what happens in life: walking in the autumn or death of the year, sitting in a garden in the cool fall, working in a kitchen, aboard a boat — these three are the subject of aesthetic conversations, however brief, in, respectively Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion. Now I see she partly wants to take aboard critiques from characters who never forget the practical realities of life, so remain unable to engage with improbable conventions of design, typical scene drawing, and what’s left out and/or assumed. The aesthetically naive or obtuse reaction has something direct to tell us about what is the relationship of what is seen to person seeing. I originally saw in the gap between artistic convention in a medium and what it’s representing in real life as allowing for enjoyment in contemplating how the convention is just a convention and we could presumably choose another. So we are free in art. Now I’m seeing the importance of going outside convention, our own enjoyment of whatever it is, to understand ourselves better. Then we can do justice to others who may not be able to respond imaginatively on a sophisticated level but have other valuable traits.

john_cromemouseholdheath
John Crome (1768-1821), A Heath

This is a very serious or moral way of putting this matter but I think in what seems to be the beginning of an era of indifference to the needs of others, to previous understood relationships, to truth anything less is a further betrayal.
I found myself so strengthened by Austen as I went along (as I have been before) this time because in contrast our world outside is seeing remorseless attacks on the natural world, most people inhabiting the earth, worship of pretension, competition for rank and accumulation of money at whatever cost to others and group loyalty (never mind what to). A different version of these latter probably dominated the world-centers and made the later 18th century world the suffering-drenched place it was, but there were at the time groups of reformists, revolutionaries who were (to use FDR’s formulation) for a much better deal for all, even including animals.

georgemorland
George Morland (1763-1804), The Artist’s Cat Drinking

I’m going to hold back on working this thought pattern out in close reading of appropriate places in Austen’s books for my paper, and here just briefly survey one old-fashioned book published surprisingly recently (1996) for the way Austen is treated as knitted to and writing for her family.  Matey belongs to those who read Austen’s books as non-critical of her era, to some extent unexamined creations (staying away from “politics”), belonging to a closed small world of what I’d call rentier elites. I thoroughly disagree with most of this; I think Austen’s outlook to be so much larger than this, and critical of her world and family too, but Batey understands what is provable by close reading and relevant documents (which recent published critics seem not to). Matey’s book is good because Matey uses the particulars of Austen’s family’s lives and their neighborhood (and its inhabitants), their properties and how they treated them wisely.  She looks at how authors that Austen is known to have read or from her novels probably knew and how their topics and attitudes are treated in Austen’s books. Her documented sources  are books Austen quotes, alludes to, or are unmistakably part of her text). She researched about these common sensically and with discrimination, ever thinking of what is Austen’s tone as Batey decides whether this or that text or garden place or drawing could be meant to be part of Austen’s discourse.

background
Contemporary illustration: Box Hill

Each of the chapters is attached either to a period of Austen’s life or one or a group of her texts; they all have beautifully appropriate reproductions of picturesque landscapes; they all pick up on some aspect of debates on the picturesque in the era, often closely attached to, coming out of the particular Austen texts (but not always). “The Background” (1) tells of Austen’s family’s life briefly, how they lived in picturesque landscapes, how Edward the third brother was adopted by a rich couple who gifted him with immense wealth in the form of two country mansions and wide lands with all the patronage, rents, and power and education that came with that. The Austen family is presented as highly intelligent, wanting few personal relationships outside themselves (unless it be for promotion) and their gentry world. Austen wrote for her family is Batey’s assumption. We learn how Austen grew up inside “The Familiar Rural Scene” (2), loved Cowper, band egan her first long novel as epistolary narrative .  Batey dwells on Austen’s love of Cowper and how his poetry educated her into the kind of writing she did. Cowper is much quoted, how Marianne is passionate over his verse, Fanny has imbibed it in the deepest recesses of feeling and memory.

selbournetoday
Selbourne today —

Batey swerves slightly in “Agonies of Sensibility” (3): as she is herself politically deeply conservative, she makes fun (unexpectedly given how she’s presented Austen thus far) of the writers and the texts she says influenced Austen profoundly: Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther (where, I suggest, the hero kills himself as much because he has to live in a sycophantic court as any love affair he has), Charlotte Smith’s deeply depressed poetry and more desperate novels (highly critical of the social and political arrangements of the day): as with Cowper, Batey quotes at length and Smith’s poetry does justice to itself. Batey shows how the family paper, The Loiterer mocks “Rousseau’s half-baked” (her words) ideas. She goes over the juvenilia she can link directly to the family members: “Henry and Eliza” where she uses names and places of people close by:

nunehamcortneyhenryeliza
Lady Harcourt’s flower garden in Nuneham Courtenay (based on precepts in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise)

The same paradoxical pull-back shapes her “The Gothic Imagination” (4):  Batey talks of “the whine” of this material: the graveyard poets, the grand tour, Ossian, Blake. Batey does not take seriously any of this as deriving from contemporary anguish; her perspective is that of the aesthete (very 1950s American); she discuss the sublime from Burke apolitically, the lucky landowners, and even (or perhaps especially because ever sceptical). Samuel Johnson is hauled for his sceptical assessments (no sign of his Journey to the Western Islands). So Batey’s outlook on Northanger Abbey is it is about this “craze” which Austen saw through. Nonetheless, she quotes tastefully, and you can come away from this chapter with a much richer terrain and Austen text than Batey herself allows for. And she combines, so Smith’s Emmeline now comes in. She quotes from the effective presence of the abbey, the Tilney’s conversations on the picturesque and history, Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest as found in Austen’s text (amply quoted with illustrations appropriate).

the-bard-thomas-jones
Thomas Jones (1742-1803), The Bard

Batey has not heard of feminism but she does know these are women’s texts and includes a reproduction of an landscape by a woman I’d never seen before but alas tells nothing of the artist, not even her first name:

ladyleightonwatercolorplasnewddlangollenbaeyjalandscape
Lady Leighton, a watercolor of the gothic seat at Plas Newyd where the ladies of Langollen (a famous lesbian couple) read Ossian together (it was said).

I must start to condense. “Enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque” (5) and “The Beautiful Grounds at Pemberley” (6) contain a valuable discussion of Gilpin, who he was, how he came to wander all over England and write books on landscape and accompany them with evocative illustrations. She goes over the flaws in these (they are semi-fake, omitting all that is unpleasant, like exhausted hard-working human beings, and “eyesores” like mines), his theoretical works, of course the mockery of him (Batey is big on this). She does tell how Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price exposed the way these landscapes avoided showing how exploitative of the people and landscape products (for use) these enclosures and picturesque-makers were, but does not apply this to Austen: rather she quotes Marianne either engaged with the sublimely or critical of hypocritical cant. For the Sense and Sensibility discussion (where Batey stays on the surface again) she includes many lovely black-and-white and grey illustrations of real landscapes (ruins that real, i.e., crumbling buildings), tourist sites (Netley Abbey to which Austen’s family came). The productions for Pemberley are gorgeously colored: a Turner, a Joseph Wright of Derby, photographs of vast green hills. For Pride and Prejudice Batey simply dwells on the visit to Pemberley saying how unusually detailed it is, without asking why. She does notice Darcy has left much of the original placement of streams in place, and invites gentlemen to fish there; but how is it that every window has a gorgeous view from it, how did this come about, were these specifics originally related to some discussion (in a previous longer P&P) of how Darcy made the landscape never crosses her mind.

ilam
Batey thinks Ilam Circuit walk gives us a sense of what was to be seen outside Pemberley windows

No matter how much was “lopp’d and chopp’d” says Batey, we have all in place that we need.

Batey approves of the chapters on Mansfield Park, “A Mere Nothing Before Repton (7)” and Emma, “The Responsible Landlord” (8), because there is so much serious criticism of the picturesque which Batey finds herself able to enter into in the first (land should be useful, should honor history, the church). She has a fine thorough discussion of Stoneleigh Abbey which Mrs Austen’s cousin tried to take over when its owners died so took his aunt and her daughter with him, possession being nine points of the law: the letters are quoted and they feel like a source for Northanger Abbey. Repton’s work for the Austens as well as generally is done far more justice to than Mr Rushworth ever understands.

stoneleighabbey
Stoneleigh Abbey before (Batey includes an “after” too: all the animals, the gardening work are removed as unsightly)

Batey believes Mr Knightley is modeled on Austen’s wealthy brother, Edward, who did work his own land, who valued his cows, who was conscientious — within limits: she does not bring out how later in life Edward was among those who refused to pay for a share of improvements of roads as he himself would not profit from it (we can’t do that, must not share). She does not seem to realize the earlier portrait of John Dashwood is also Edward nor that Edmund (whom she also identifies with Edward) is more than a little dense. But yes Mr Knightley is our ideal steward of land, working hard to make sure all can get something from nature (though, let me add, some do get more than others as the pigs in Animal Farm said was only right), and has not bowed to fashion, kept his trees, his house in a low sheltered place, has not spent enormously for “an approach.”

It comes as no surprise that Batey’s last chapter, “The Romantic Tide” (9), does not concentrate on Persuasion or Sanditon. These do not fit into her idealization of wealthy mansions, landscapes of and from power (I’d call them) . The aesthetic debates of MP and Emma set in a larger social context do not reach her radar. Thus that the Elliots have lost their house as Austen’s sixth longer book begins, the money basis of the economy, of war (Wentworth’s business like William Price’s is when called for killing and grabbing the property of others) and increasingly transient nature of existence for the fringe gentry are not topics here. We begin in Upper Cross but move to dress and harps in Mansfield Park (Regency costume enables Batey to bring in Fanny Knight and Austen’s times together in London). The furor over cottages orne probably represents an association from Mary Musgrove’s house, but the details are now all taken from the satire on Robert Ferrars’s despising of large buildings, worship of cottages and hiring Bonomi (without further context) in Sense and Sensibility. Sanditon‘s seaside gives way to “the insufferable Mrs Elton’s” lack of a real abode, her origins in trade in Bristol, and Lydia Bennet’s vulgarity. Batey’s text turns snobbish itself.

Where originality comes in again is not the sublimity of the sea, but in how the Austens enjoyed themselves in summer after summer of Austen’s last few years on the coast, “undeterred by threats of invasion.” Batey thinks the source place for Sanditon Bognor, which made a great deal of money for its entrepreneur, something what we have of the fragment suggests Mr Parker will not do. Anna Lefroy’s apt continuation has him going broke but for brother Sidney, a hero only heard of in the extant text. Jane Austen, we are told, disapproved of challenges to the traditional way of life, was against exploiting sickness and hypochondriacs like the Parker sisters. Batey seems to forget Austen was herself dying but includes the idea she “had little time for the socialistic propaganda of William Godwin”! In Sanditon Austen is harsh towards Burns and (we know from her letters) was strongly enamored of Crabbe — he has a hard look at nature and the rural landscape. A Fanny Price, name and character type, the story of a couple separated as imprudent with no retrieval are found in Crabbe. However, as Batey acknowledges in her book’s last few paragraphs, in Persuasion Austen revels in Charmouth, Pinny, Lyme.

turnerlymeregis
William Turner, watercolor of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth — Austen stayed there in 1803 and 180 and Anne Elliot discusses romantic poetry with Captain Benwick there

Batey’s is a useful book if you don’t look in it for any perception of why Austen was compelled to write and the full complicated nature of her texts. If it seems to be, it is not much different from Janine Barchas’s comparable History, Location and Celebrity, recent, respected: Barchas’s book is not filled with matters of fact in Austen, but in other books (of genealogy), in Barchas’s case buildings Austen never mentions (interesting if lurid), in amoral people not connected to her except by chance of first or last names (of which Austen does not have much variety). A “proof” can hinge on a number: Thorpe and Catherine have driven seven miles to one place, well seven miles in another there is this other gothic place, and Barchas has her subject matter. Both give us historical context, and between the two, Barchas remains speculative, a matter of adding one speculation to the next, and then crowding them around a text that never mentions them; Batey has the merit of writing about texts and movements Austen discussed, alludes to, quotes from, places we know for sure she visited, lived in. Both have good bibliographical references and you can use them as little encyclopedias.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MPJulietStevenson

Dear friends and readers,

After shoverdosing on the MP movies, I followed up my intermittent preparation for the Montreal JASNA AGM, topic Mansfield Park, with debating with fellow readers what should be the topic for the student essay contest. The winner was:

Consider the role of silence in Mansfield Park. Sometimes silence is chosen, sometimes it is forced, and sometimes it just happens. The number of times the narrator remarks that people say nothing is quite surprising, yet the narrator too is silent on important points. And sometimes only the narrator fills the silence on equally important points, especially about Fanny. What do we learn from the silences of Mansfield Park?

One person had objected to the over-guided nature of most of the suggestions; I suggested one can argue that through silence one can possess one’s soul wholly and apart — as Elinor Dashwood argues (in effect) to Marianne (Chapter 17, Vol 1) in one of their disputes:

My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of the understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning. I am guilty, I confess, of having often wished you to treat our acquaintance in general with greater attention; but when have I advised you to adopt their sentiments or conform to their judgment in serious matters?”

Elinor keeps her views even if no one agrees and she never voices or even acts on them openly. One can keep a space for peace. But equally one can argue that silence is a weak weapon, indeed one that easily can be manipulated against you as in law and custom: silence assumes consent. Lucy could easily have taken Edward Ferrars: she preferred the new (false) eldest, Robert (made so by the mother’s will). (Shades of Mary Crawford at first, when she said she knew it was her way to prefer the eldest, and then at last, when she thought Tom lay dying, so Edmund would be the heir.) Which of Austen’s heroines is pro-active on her own behalf? Maybe Jane Fairfax with her clandestine engagement? Which speaks truth to power. Elizabeth Bennet to Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes firmly to mind. But then what if you have no opportunity, but can only possess your soul — Anne Elliot’s case for 8 years?

So, is silence a effective weapon or shield in lives where (as the narrator suggests at the close of MP) we are born to struggle and endure? Or is it counterproductive?

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

Silence. What is it like to be without Jim. It’s silence. And more silence. It’s he’s not here and there is no one I can turn to as any kind of replacement for the function he had in my life. Or for himself. Silence. He is not palpably absent; there is no sense of him except in my mind.

As I listen to Juliet Stevenson read aloud MP, it comes to me Austen is such a comfort because of her style and restraint. Stevenson reads the book exquisitely right. No over-reading, but not mindless or toneless. This steady graceful rhythm that enters my soul. Austere hard ironies are contained in it (strong stuff), pathos quietly conveyed (moving), and it soothes my soul because I can hold firm onto those rhythms. I manage to still my beating heart by holding to them. My rib cage doesn’t strain so. And the calm is not false for the words Austen uses are true to nature and human life.

Juliet-Stevensonblog
Juliet Stevenson, a little about her

Still listening as of 11/7/13.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

95Part4MrsGardinerElizabethatPemberlyblog
Mrs Gardiner (Joanna David) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) walking together at Pemberley (1995 BBC/WBGH P&P, script Davies

Dear friends and readers,

My final account of the Jane Austen Summer Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve two lectures, one panel, a play, a movie not shown, and the study groups to tell of. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the building was two floors, and two rooms upstairs were Netherfield and Longbourne, and two below Pemberley and Rosings, with the participants divided into four study groups. In the Longbourne room Virginia Claire Tharrington had spread out on several tables her collection of editions of Pride and Prejudice: she had tried to obtain a copy of every edition of Pride and Prejudice printed, including children’s versions, graphic novels, and translations. These were revealing to examine — covers, printing, packaging.

Perhaps of the panel on film adaptations, and time set aside to screen Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice (why that one was never said as there are more interesting ones), the less said the better, but as the panel and movie itself gave rise to some stimulating talk in the study groups and were connected to one of the two lectures, I’ll at least offer a general account.

On Friday night, a group of graduate students performed a play Ted Scheinman had adapted from Austen’s Juvenilia (mostly Love and Freindship and My Beautiful Cassandra). Years ago I’d seen Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s film adaptation of Austen’s mock play of Grandison (Manhattan), and I expected this re-making to be a burlesque amid some story with relevance to us today; instead the players mounted what felt like an 18th century afterpiece, wacky farce like Tom Thumb or the Dragon of Wantley. This kind of playlet was enormously popular in the 18th century and if Austen’s burlesques resembled those, she was intuitively recreating.

An attempt was then made to screen Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice. Alas, no tech person was available at all, and it seemed there had been no trial run with the DVD on hand and the computer. They were unable to get the two sound tracks running: one for voice and the other for music. The people involved did not know that there are three tracks used for the dance sequences in these films: one for speech, one for dancing, and one for synchronization. At first there seemed little regard for the reality we could not hear any of the words, but then when it became obvious the audience cared about that, attempts were made to make the DVD work – by enlisting audience members. Suffice to say that not many people had stayed for the film anyway (this was a crowd who knew the 1995 BBC/WBGH P&P and while obviously having seen Wright’s film, professing to dislike or disapprove of it), and the few who were there left before the end of a half hour. We stayed a bit longer as I had not watched the film in a while and knew a lecture on the costumes in it was coming up.

VisonaryOpeningSequenceblog

VisonaryOpeningSequence2blog
The visionary, softly musical, reflexive opening (2005 P&P)

The same problem was part of what went wrong with the panel the next day Saturday morning — absolutely no effort or money had been expended in tech help. This was supposed to be a panel on Austen and film adaptation. Inger Brodey had prepared a couple of montages of the same dialogue as dramatized across several of the P&P films, but with no tech person there, and no pre-rehearsal of the equipment, she was defeated by a lack of sound altogether or her inability to sustain the same size sequences. (Since paying people were paying $500, and most were paying, each there should have been money to set aside for this kind of help.)

This inability to do what was supposed the center of her presentation, was compounded by her insistence to at least two of us that we not prepare anything to say and her refusal to tell us what she had prepared as prompts for the audience to talk about. I asked three times. Another panelist who told me she had watched Wright’s film and taken a couple of weeks and prepared a short paper could not give her findings at all. Luckily Prof Brodey had ready more than her montages; she had picked several quotations. One of these asserted that no film could produce an experience commensurate with what a verbal text could present (an old-fashioned anti-film point of view), so I was able to present for 5 minutes or so the heads of topics of the talk I had prepared anyway, showing how Andrew Davies in the 1995 P&P had in fact used the resources of film (voice-over, flashback within flashback, montage) to create a genuine visualized and dramatic filmic epistolarity and interiority. I linked the episodes in the film which used this — from the end of the 3d part on — to the genuine epistolarity of the novel; and to uses of filmic techniques in other adaptations of other books. But when I tried to answer questions and explain simple terminology (language terms is one way of acquiring tools for understanding) like auteur, Prof Brodey objected so the discussion could go no further than the brief explanation.

Since audiences love nothing better than discussing films and seem to be more comfortable discussing details in them even if they lack adequate vocabulary, nonetheless when the audience was invited to talk, interesting talk emerged about the opening of Davies’s P&P with two males on horseback (Darcy and Bingley’s relationship) and how this anticipated the emphasis in the film on Darcy’s ordeal and a concluding scene where Darcy apologizes for Bingley for lying to him about Jane’s presence in London and gives Bingley permission to ask Jane to marry him, and further in the Pemberley study group, the two graduate students, apparently like many younger viewers, much taken by Wright’s P&P, continued the discussion in the Pemberley study group by showing how indeed Wright had focused not on Darcy’s journey, but Elizabeth’s. We compared Elizabeth’s gazing at Darcy’s portrait in the 1979 P&P (Fey Weldon), the 1995 and Wright’s and found Weldon and Wright’s to be much more focused on Elizabeth’s consciousness and Wright’s on her sexual desire.

StaringatStatueblog
Wright’s Keira Knightley is mesmerized by a statue whose gentilia are evident — Penelope Wilton the Mrs Gardener this time

At first the groups had been conscientious in responding directly to a lecture or panel before, or to the topic suggested for the hours (say Money and Land; or Mothers and Daughters) and the same people went to the same room, but by the third day the groups were breaking away to indulge in literary gossip about the characters as related to the people there at the temple and to try the variety of scholars in charge of a conversation as well as particular women who seemed to be stars in the Austin, Texas. I thought the topic of Mothers and Daughters most fruitful in both Longbourne and Pemberley. it’s a truth not universally acknowledged that one sees mother-daughter pairs at JASNAs and in the Longbourne group, we had three such pairs (including yours truly & Izzy). Many of the participants identified as mothers or at least discussed what was a good mother (or bad one), less talk about the daughter’s point of view — which I suggest Austen identified with. We did find an intelligent maternal figure in close alliance with Elizabeth and Jane in P&P: Mrs Gardiner who appears to be one of the original correspondents of First Impressions (the 1st title for P&P). The first volume begins with, and the second volume, ends with ironic and slightly bitter accounts of Mr and Mrs Bennet (in the second he says to console yourself you may die first) and the third with the Gardiner’s presence.

MrsGandElizabeth1979blog
1979 Weldon’s P&P: the scenes between Mrs Gardener (Barbara Shelley) and Elizabeth (Elizabeth Garvie) are given full weight

In the Pemberley group we also discussed free indirect discourse and how this affects our response to the characters and Austen’s narrator. Close attention was paid to the text so we could discuss where we might think Austen’s presence, where her narrator’s, and where her characters’ could be discerned. As usual it was asserted she invented this mode. Nonsense. It comes naturally to subjective novels and begins around the time epistolary narrative emerged as a dominant mode; the first person to use it artfully and consistently is Madame de Lafayette in her La Princesse de Cleves, which Austen would have known and was influential, much read and discussed by women readers especially, translated into English quickly. In general the Pemberley group’s leaders had prepared statements with either passages from the books, or sequences from a movie (Joe Wright’s was the favorite of the graduate students) picked out for everyone to discuss together.

The one lecture on the film adaptations was on Joe Wright’s 2005 P&P — probably the choice of this one had been to shore up memories of it for the one lecture on costume drama: Jade Bettin’s “The Placement of Waist.” She said the costume designer is charged with capturing the essence of a given character in a specific scene. An actress (or actor) or powerful presence on the crew can make a difference. In 1940 Greer Garson insisted she would not look well in the 1790s Empire line dress; the costume designer was Adrian (who did the costumes for the Wizard of Oz) and he acquiesced.

Notetrioblog
Darcy (Matthew Macfayden), Bingley — and Miss Bingley (Kelly Reilly) as first seen.

But the clothes in a film reflect just as much the specific time period (day, week) in which the film is made and aired. So Elizabeth I in armor before her armies one day, she was back into comfortable clothes until she told herself she had to do this. And the vision of the director or script-writer (and allowed budget of the producer). Joe Wright wanted a film with a contemporary feel so many of the costumes are in many of their parts inaccurate. Like Ang Lee, Joe Wright does not like an empire line, and Wright insisted on de-emphasizing the waist-lines of his heroines altogether. Prof Bettin took us through slides of the costumes of each actor revealing how each fit the character in the book, as Wright saw her (or him), as befitted the particular actor and also as a way of alluding to other movies and historical figures at the time. Wright did not want an effeminate film and dressed Keira Knightley in men’s clothes, men’s boats; only Rosamund Pike as the sweet Jane was allowed to wear apppropriate hats, a pelisse, and hair-dos. Kelly Reilly as Caroline was made into a feline sex-pot. The materials used were very expensive for some of the actors and characters: brocades, exquisitely textured dandy-like colors. Wright was trying for a mood too (Elizabeth barefoot on a swing). Prof Bettin remarked (in a kind of special pleading) we should remember that what we see in fashion plates does not reflect what real people usually wore; expensive clothes were precious and worn rarely.

AnneClimbingStairsblog
Beautiful, appealing, historically accurate — and a motif through the films of the heroine bringing home books in solitude — Anne Elliot would not have been so expensively dressed

From the Feature on the DVD of Wright’s movie I watched on my own long ago I know he does not like Austen’s book, much prefers DH Lawrence’s version of sexuality and thought letters the most boring of ways of telling a story. Other people in the audience seemed to want to object to this costuming on grounds of their own, but were given no time to voice their objections.

Doug Murray’s lecture, “‘The eyes have it: The male and female gaze in Pride and Prejudice”, was the last talk we particpated in. We had to go home directly afterward. As it seems to me it was the best of the group, Izzy and my conference may be said to have ended very well. It was done in Rosings, so Izzy and I missed but one room: Netherfield. Prof Murray’s talk combined interesting modern perspective based on some old-fashioned close-reading. He said he wanted to speak of the power of the humane eye; understanding the theorists of the gaze can enrichen our reading of Austen’s novels. Laura Mulvery famously argued that the gazes gratified by movies are those the male wants to see; it’s his eye that is pleased as the (young, beautiful, thin) female is the character gazed at. Foucault argued that in the long 18th century the gaze became a way of controlling people; they were the first to go in for surveillance in prisons; they isolated and punished any deviations.

95PPElizabethGazing1stStillblog
Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) opens P&P with her studied glance at Darcy and Bingley on horses below)

Prof Murray then discussed two of the novels. P&P is a novel with spies everywhere in which news follows fast. Lady Catherine is the interrogator of the novel; its panoptic center. Elizabeth needs escape from this, subverts her power by seeing for herself. Prof Murray thought Jane Bennet showed scopophilia, but it seems to me she tried hard to avoid the central light, and without money, once Bingley leaves the neighborhood. I’d say Jane is scopophobic. Anne Elliot craves invisibility in Persuasion where the panoptican is said to be Sir Walter. Now it’s Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay who don’t want to be seen. Again it seems to me the power center of Persuasion is Lady Russell (as the counterpart of Lady Catherine de Bourgh). Information in both novels felt as precious and sensible, but Lady Russell is not manipulating it the way Lady Catherine would like to.

AffectionateBathSceneblog
1996 Persuasion: Lady Russell (Susan Fleetwood) photographed rightly showing her concern for Anne (Amanda Root)

Tellingly (it seemed to me) this paper reflects our own paranoid era, with its massive spying on people which you could use against them. Prof Murray suggested evasion and privacy come at great cost. (Someone, not he, suddenly brought out the feeble justification for the massive surveillance of US citizens that we have to pay “for safety.”)

As Izzy remarked perhaps the best part of the conference was the good talk we had with like-minded people, the acquaintances we made, sense of common grounds of friendship. Another lingering after-effect is when I now watch the dancing in films set in the Regency period I can recognize what steps they are taking. This week watching Andrew Davies’s Vanity Fair, for the first time I was able to appreciate which dance he had chosen for the characters and why and how these were shot.

Zoomshotsblog

Well, we said goodbye to those we could and hurried back to our car for our long trip home.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Dear friends and readers,

The third letter by Austen to Anna in Todd and Bree’s introduction (see Letter 103) is a long detailed reaction to Anna’s 6 booklets (put together just as Austen did her manuscripts) in which we can view how Austen consciously thought about her own novels.

My dear Anna

I am quite ashamed to find that I have never answered some questions of yours in a former note. — I kept the note on purpose to refer to it at a proper time, & then forgot. I like the name Which is the Heroine? very well, & I dare say shall grow to like it very much in time — but Enthusiasm was something so very superior that every common Title must appear to disadvantage. — I am not sensi­ble of any Blunders about Dawlish. The Library was particu­larly pitiful & wretched 12 years ago, & not likely to have any­body’s publication. — There is no such title as Desborough­ — either among the Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts or Barons. — These were your enquiries. — I will now thank for your Envelope, received this morning. — hope Mr W. D. will come. — I can readily imagine Mr H, D. may by very like a profligate Young Lord — I dare say the likeness will be “beyond every thing”. –Your Aunt Cass is as well pleased with St Julian as ever. I am delighted with the idea of seeing Progillian again.

Wednesday 17. — We have just finished the 1st part of the 3 books I had the pleasure of receiving yesterday; I read it aloud — & we are all very much amused, &like the work quite as well as ever. — I depend upon getting through another book before dinner, but there is really a great deal of respectable reading in your 48 Pages. I was an hour about it. — I have no doubt that 6. will make a very good sized volume. — You must be quite pleased to have accomplished so much. — I like Lord P. & his Brother very much; — I am only afraid that Lord P’s good nature will make most people like him better than he deserves. — The whole Portman Family are very good — & Lady Anne, who was your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well with. — Bell Griffin is just what she should be. — My Corrections have not been more impor­tant than before; — here & there, we have thought the sense might be expressed in fewer words-and I have scratched out Sir Thomas from walking with the other Men to the Sta­bles &c the very day after his breaking his arm — for though I find your Papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book-& it does not seem to be material that Sir Thomas should go with them. — Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards 40 miles distance from Dawlish & would not be talked of there. — I have put Starcross indeed. If you prefer Exeter, that must be always safe. — I have also scratched out the Introduction between Lord P. & his Brother, & Mr Griffin. A Country Surgeon (don’t tell Mr C. Lyford) would not be introduced to Men of their rank. — And when Mr Portman is first brought in, he would not be introduced as the Honble­. That distinction is never mentioned at such times; — at least I beleive not.

— Now, we have finished the 2d book — or rather the 5th — I do think you had better omit Lady Helena’s postscript; — to those who are acquainted with P.&P. it will seem an Imitation. — And your Aunt C. & I both recom­mend your making a little alteration in the last scene between Devereux F. & Lady Clanmurray & her Daughter. We think they press him too much more than sensible Women or well-bred Women would do. Lady C. at least, should have discretion enough to be sooner satisfied with his determina­tion of not going with them. — I am very much pleased with Egerton as yet –. I did not expect to like him, but I do; & Susan is a very nice little animated Creature — but St Julian is the delight of one’s Life. He is quite interesting. — The whole of his Break-off with Lady H. is very well done. —

Yes — Russel Square is a very proper distance from Berke­ley St. — We are reading the last book. — They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath; They are nearly 100 miles apart.

Thursday. We finished it last night, after our return from drinking tea at the Gt House. — The last chapter does not please us quite so well, we do not thoroughly like the Play; perhaps from having had too much of Plays in that way lately. — And we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath & the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.- Your Aunt C. does not like desultory novels, &is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, & that circumstances will be sometimes introduced of apparent consequence, which will lead to nothing. — It will not be so great an objection to me, if it does. I allow much more Latitude than she does — & think Nature & Spirit cover many sins of a wandering story — and People in general do not care so much about it-for your com­fort. I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel enough acquainted with him. — You were afraid of meddling with him I dare say. — I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurray, and your picture of the two poor young girls enjoyments is very good. — I have not yet noticed St Julian’s serious con­versation with Cecilia, but I liked it exceedingly; — what he says about the madness of otherwise sensible Women, on the subject of their Daughters coming out, is worth it’s weight in gold. — I do not see that the language sinks. — Pray go on.
          Yours very affectionately J.Austen

Postscript: Twice you have put Dorsetshire for Devonshire. I have altered it. — Mr Griffth must have lived in Devonshire; Dawlish is half way down the County —

On this novel as a note Fanny Caroline Lefroy (Anna’s daughter) wrote:

‘The story to which most of these letters of Aunt Jane’s refer was never finished. It was laid aside for a season because my mother’s hands were so full she lacked the leisure to continue it. Her eldest child was born in October [1815], and her second in the Sept. following [1816] and in the longer interval that followed before the birth of the third [1818] her Aunt died and with her must have died all inclination to continue her writing. With no Aunt Jane to read, to criticise and to encourage it was no wonder the MS every word of which was so full of her, remained untouched. Her sympathy which had made the real charm of the occupation was gone and the sense of the loss made it painful to write. The story was laid by for years and then one day in a fit of despondency burnt. I remember sitting on the rug and watching its destruction amused with the flames and the sparks which kept breaking out in the blackened paper. In later years when I expressed my sorrow that she had destroyed it she said she could never have borne to finish it, but incomplete as it was Jane Austen’s criticisms would have made it valuable.’ Fanny-Caroline Lefroy, MS Family History (Hampshire Record Office, 23M93 / 85 / 2).

By these ‘later years’, however, Anna had evidently forgotten that she did make an attempt to continue with her story, for in a letter to JEAL, dated 26 October 1818, she says: ‘I am in the middle of a scene between Mrs Forrester & Mrs St. Julian — I hope I shall do it tolerably well, because it requires to be done so-I want to get a good parcel done to read to you at Christmas but you know how little time I have for any thing of that sort-‘ HRO 23M93/86/3. Fanny Caroline Lefroy, MS Family HIstory (Hampshire Record Office)

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

Possibly Anna Lefroy’s house

Although Which is the Heroine no longer exists, Lefroy’s Mary Hamilton (a short novella, published 1833/34, A Winter’s Tale (1841) and Spring Tide do exist, and I was able to read the first two to get some idea beyond Anna’s continuation of Sanditon, what Anna’s fictional gifts and preoccupations might be.

This short novella is a gem of genuinely felt emotion and examined thought (on Graham’s part, not Ross’s – Ross moves by his good instincts). In comparison to Austen’s Anna’s art is indeed strongly overtly emotional. Austen’s are emotional books, but the emotion is contained and presented through sharp dry ironies. The story is simple and even seems natural until you realize a host of improbabilities are part of it. The narrator, a young man become middle aged (supposed by his early 30s) returns from India after he has inherited one of two estates he grew up on and he re-meets the people he knew 15 years before. Harry Tracey is his name and he has inherited Knightswood. He had been given this place in India to keep him away from a cousin, Julia, now still unmarried. He half-imagines he will find and marry her.

Much of the story is told by Hannah, a servant in the old household arrangements, now living in a poor cottage alone. This makes the feel of the text Bronte-like – the interface, the backward glance taking the narrator up to the present. Through Hannah’s tale, Harry does find his Julia but now in love with a clergyman whom she asks him to help find a place for her young man and Harry does. But he also finds others whose fates surprise him: some marry sheerly for money and to be with someone of high status — the heir to Beauchamps — but the moral lesson is she is a bully (so he’s punished) and cold. One distant cousin, Mary Hamilton, a hanger-on, a kind of Fanny Price character, was shunted off to a distant aunt, and she was probably going to be in trouble. He discovers while she has led a life of deprivation, the aunt has been all kindness and the aunt is now dying, with Mary by her side. Of course Mary is a good person and they fall in love and marry.

Mary Hamilton is not filled with action and contains conventionally idealized the characters. The educational connections with older fiction is strong, there is much easy appeal. They read Mangnall’s Numbers in the nursery and the sense of the world is that of Austen’s: a few people who knon one another and stick together, only since we do have India as perspective and move through a couple of towns this mid-19th century world is not quite so small. It’s more in Anna’s attitudes of mind, the narrow fixation upon courtship and several related themes of money, class that her book harks back to Austen’s.

On the other hand, the mood is so strikingly different from Austen’s that I wonder what was the mood of Which is the Heroine. In the letter I copied out yesterday and shared it seemed that Anna was writing an imitation of Austen: I discern complicated patterns of relationship among many characters and a comic thrust. Sixteen years later (if the book was written just before publication) Anna has moved away from this sort of texture which is found (by the way) in Hubback’s continuation of Younger Sister, first volume as well as Anna’s own continuation of Sanditon

I was filled with sorrow for Anna and a sense here was a woman who had strong gifts which were never give a real chance to flower by coming before the public in any way. But then I discovered that Anna (to coin Caroline’s phrase from her memoir about their aunt on what happened to the family after Aunt Jane died), “lost the thread.” Anna’s A Winter’s Tale written in 1841 is embarrassingly bad, absurd. It’s a tale ostensibly meant for children, but its language is too adult; it’s a Christian parable set in the 1st century AD just filled with anachronisms; the moral is even silly; she is worried about what children will think about how Christianity excludes so many people from being saved and comes up with resignation — at least Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t go into laments over its cruel eschatology; it has the courage of perverse conviction. So it’s centrally lachrymose too. She has been influenced by historical novels and forgotten Austen’s conjuring her just to write of what she knows, to stay in real experience and probability.

Mary Hamilton makes a striking contrast to the book Austen describes. Which is the heroine has several groups of characters, they are variously and comically related. Rank. ceremony, money count enormously; we have grotesque characters in Which is the Heroine, and sentimental grave ones.

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

Though I cannot get back to Which is the Heroine since it’s been destroyed, I can say now that in Mary Hamilton Austen’s niece was concerned to justify and say how just fine and even better it is to be poor and deprived, to live a life of retreat such as is forced on genteel fringe women like herself (and also Austen) as long as you act generously for then you will have peace, and the fiction shows the world will reward you.

This is a laugh realistically. I remember in Dickens’s Bleak House how Mr Jarndyce tells Skimpole that the whole universe turns out to be a cruel parent to children with no kind responsible near ones right there. But it is in fact the topic Austen has at her core, only what she does is present fairy tales of rich men coming along much more persuasively and at the same time shows the vexations, poisons, distresses, and miseries of such existences stroke by stroke. In her letter to her niece she appears oblivious of any deeper theme in her niece’s (or for that matter) her own work.

Austen’s third letter then does prompt Austen’s own salutary self-appraisal in the words of Elizabeth (P&P, 3:12):

Jane: But why should you wish to persuade me that I feel more than I acknowledge?”
Elizabeth: That is a question which I hardly know how to answer. We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing …

What Austen is instructing her niece on are surface elements; there are some underlying assumptions (about how necessary it is to get a reader to believe in, immerse him or herself in a fiction), but all of a grossly literal kind. Austen concentrates on rank and class and literal probability, and she does not at all go outside an immediate apprehension of what is happening in the scenes she alludes to. It’s a narrow perspective relatively barren about themes or content in Anna’s or her own fiction.

Like Jane Austen herself, Anna’s characters wandered around the seacoast of southern England, the spas. Austen treats of these only as problems in verisimilitude. Anna’s female characters must not risk any untoward or too inviting behaviors. They should be above all discreet. Ireland won’t do but some of Anna’s Irish characters will.

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

Steventon Parsonage (Back view)

I also studied a number of Austen’s other letters to Anna, the letters right before and after letters 76 and 104 and discovered much alienation between Austen and Anna (indeed Austen did favor Fanny Austen Knight). they were not congenial in character; Austen does not care for Anna’s emotional character and genius and either ignores or wants to change it. Austen does worry about Anna’s future with some responsible caring words to her brother, Francis, but these are offset by words which blame Anna without taking into account why Anna makes the choices she does.

Indeed she burlesques Anna’s nature in a poem Selwyn is right to say is “mock panegyric” delivering “a mild rebuke” and “gentle warning.” I wonder if the girl saw it as mild and gentle. Austen uses geographical imagery to make fun of Anna. Her judgement “sound’ is also “Thick, black, profound.” She accuses Anna of being too friendly, lending herself out easily to people — a no no for a woman. In the memoir Anna’s brother did not tell who the poem was about. This poem was written right around the time of Letter 71 (Thursday 25 April 1811 Sloane St); Letter 71 uses the same language as the poem about Anna.

The later letters of Austen are cheerful, and many even ebullient. The characterization of them one comes across in most of the biographies as crabbed, old maid jealousies, and rebellious, and the like show people tire of them and don’t go through the second half. Indeed she is reveling with the “fun” she finds with Fanny (just like in Miss Austen Regrets). Nokes may have gotten his ideas about Austen’s character by concentrating on the second half.

But this by no means ends the wry and sharp and cold remarks, the hard satire, and these later letters show an older woman willing to inflict press on Anna what was pressed on her. She wants a community of women all right, but women that are like-minded with her, and that does not include Anna at least not as yet.

Some examples,

In Letter 75 (Thurs, 6 June 1811) we find Austen (tireless in this) trying to set up a community again but failing: “I have given up all idea of Miss Sharpe traveling with You & Martha, for tho’ you are both all compliance with my scheme, yet as you knock off a week from the end of her visit, & Martha rather more from the beginning,the thing is out of the question. It begins with disappointment that Martha cannot leave town until after the 24th (it’s 6 June) and how she hoped to see Cassandra at Chawton the week before. Miss Benn has written. On the other hand she likes Cassandra and Fanny’s bonnets and think “Fanny’s particularly becoming …”

Again at end “Anna does not come home till tomorrow morning – She has written I find to Fanny – but there does not seem to be a great deal to relate of Tuesday …

But there is this: Henry has visited and we are told it was “a great distress” to Mrs Austen that “Anna should be absent, during her Uncle’s visit — a distress I could not share. — She does return from Farringdon till this evening, — and I doubt not, has had plenty of the miscellaneous, unsettled sort of happiness which seems to suit her best” (LeFaye, 4th, p 201)

She would rather not have Anna here. Austen’s individuality did not suit. Nor did her stepmother want Anna when Anna was young. Austen is repeating the behavior of her sister-in-law (rejected in The Watsons in the portrait of the nasty sister-in-law of Emma who leaves her daughter home and lies to her to get out the house).

Letter 90, to Francis Austen (Sat, 25 Sept 1813, from Godmersham):

I take it for granted that Mary has told you of Anna’s engagement to Ben Lefroy. It came upon us without much preparation; — at the same time there was that about her which kept us in a constant preparation for something.-We are anxious to have it go on well, there being as much in his favour as the Chances are likely to give her in any matrimonial connection. I beleive he is sensible, certainly very religious, well connected & with some Independence. — There is an unfortunate dissimularity of Taste between them in one respect which gives us some apprehensions, he hates company & she is very fond of it; — This, with some queerness of Temper on his side & much unsteadiness on hers, is untoward. (p. 241)

Letter 94 (To Cassandra, Tues, 26 Oct 1813, Jane at Godmersham):

“I have had a late account from Steventon, & a baddish one, as far as Ben is concerned. — He has declined a Curacy (apparently highly eligible) which he might have secured against his taking orders — & upon its’ being made rather a serious question, says he has not made up his mind as to taking orders so early — & that if her Father makes a point of it, he must give Anna up rather than do what he does not approve. He must be maddish. They are going on again, at present as before — but it cannot last. — Mary says that Anna is very unwilling to go to Chawton & will get home again as soon as she can …”

Reading this Fanny Caroline Lefroy was driven to defend her mother and father:

My father although deeply attached to my mother was far
too high-principled and conscientious to take Holy Orders for the sake of being immediately married. Possibly he had not yet quite decided on his profession, at all events he was not ordained until three years afterwards. As to my mother’s reluctance to go to Chawton, sent away as she was to mark my GodMother’s anger with him, it was not possible she should go with any other feelings.’ —Lefroy Notes.

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

Miss Austen Regrets: Jane (Olivia Williams) and Fanny Austen (Imogen Poots) confiding in one another (movie based partly on Nokes’s reading of Austen’s letters)

Jane Austen does enjoy herself enormously with Fanny (Letters 9192, 11-12 Mon-Tues & 14-15 Oct 1813 p 245, 247, 249). There are many many references to Anna, and also to Fanny. Sixteen extant letters to Anna Austen Lefroy; 30 altogether to Fanny with only 5 surviving. They do show Austen’s loyalty to Fanny and a duplicity to Anna.

One example:

Shortly after Anna married, Austen had been to visit Anna and Anna, the newly wed, had gotten a piano and so proud showed it to her aunt. On 29 November (Letter 112) Austen writes Anna putting her off — Austen just has not one moment at all to visit Anna again. Perhaps not but I recognize something there in the overspeak she suddenly does several days before: a fragment on 24 November (111), Austen had begged off with the common excuse that you know how it is when you are in someone else’s house, not a minute your own. Really? The 30 November letter (113) which is the last of the series to Anna printed in Later anuscripts opens I now realize with Austen responding to what Anna perceived as disapproval: “I am far from finding your book an Evil I assure you.” Jane insists she read it right away and “with great pleasure.” Since we’ve not got Anna’s letter that prompted this we are left to grasp how bad Anna must’ve felt about something that got back to her. Like “why do you bother your aunt with this nonsense novel writing” — are you not satisfied with your husband so quick?

The rest of Austen’s letter seems so confidential and reassuring and goes on about Anna’s novel as if it were a budding masterpiece, but that same day she writes Fanny and betrays Anna (Letter 114). Totally other view: Fanny wanted to know what Jane thought of Anna’s house. Jane says papa will say and then we get this real niggardliness: “I was rather sorry to hear she is to have an instrument; it seems throwing money away. They will wish the 24G in the shape of Sheets & Towels six months later – and as to her playing — it can never be anything.” As if Jane’s playing was anything. One would think her own anguish when she lost her pianoforte might not have been forgotten. She goes on to
exclaim against Anna’s “purple pelisse” but of course she does not mean to “blame’ her — “nothing worse than it’s being got in secret, & not owned to anybody. She is capable of that you know …”

See Jane Austen’s Letters

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Chawton cottage, pre 1949 photo

By 7 July they were in the cottage at Chawton, joined soon afterwards by Cassandra and Jane. The effect on Jane of this move to a permanent home in which she was able to re-establish her own rhythm of work was dramatic. It was as though she were restored to herself, to her imagination, to all her powers: a black cloud had lifted. Almost at once she began to work again (Tomalin, JA 208)

Dear friends and readers,

We are back to the situation we had before the family settled into Southampton, Castle Square. Suddenly letters are missing both before and after Letter 60, and strikingly the situation has changed. See letters 58-59.

The two boys have left Steventon and come to live at Castle Square, Mrs J.A. (aka Mary Lloyd) who had been headed for Godmersham when last heard of is now back at Steventon.

This week’s letter registers a turning point even if the action took place outside the letter. After more than 7 years of wandering from rental to rental, even if the last at Castle Square, was shored up by Frank, it was a rental and not stable, Edward has made his long over-due offer of a home. Elizabeth had been dead less than 14 days, suggesting that he knew all along he had not been doing what he should and easily could have.

To quote Tomalin again

[Edward] now offered them a choice of two, one close to Godmersham in the pretty village of Wye, the other his bailiff’s cottage in Chawton village, the bailiff having died, and his widow being willing to leave at midsummer. Chawto could be put in order without much expense, and there was a garden, some outhouses, six bedrooms and garrets for storage (Tomalin JA 206)

The offer of Wye had been bruited when Austen and her mother talked of Alton as where they must now go since Frank’s wife and thus Frank’s income is going elsewhere, and is mentioned again with slight incredulity (“my mother actually talking of a house at Wye”). Also the mother having formed views on Digweed’s farm (remember him and all the struggles of Mr Austen to treat him right when they left Steventon).

The pro-active Austen we saw in the last letter (59) took action and she was so firm by being so frank that Cassandra destroyed all evidence. About what? what woman (I refer to the sister-in-law) should be allowed to take over 4 boys and leave them with her 3 children and go off herself to act elsewhere. What’s interesting here is how Edward allows himself to be bullied. NOt about sex, there he knows his rights over his wife, but everything else. In the portrait of John and Fanny Dashwood John is under the thumb of Fanny in the books, a point emphasized in the 1981 and 1995 film especially. Now Elizabeth gone, he listens to his sisters and does the right thing about them and his mother at last. We know Henry was there and probably James too. What a conclave it was, and I see Jane as effecting some of this because the two boys were sent to her and that was what she wanted, and they are going to Chawton despite the mother’s reluctance.

The worm turns, or to put it more softly, the younger sister showed her wisdom and was answered. She will get her reward: she will have a stable space and time to publish from. She did also have to be pro-active there – her angry letter to the publisher (which alas got nowhere) to get back NA (Susan). Henry’s notice lets us know it was after she began to save her money and prepare to publish a revised S&S herself that he first began to help her (needed help).

What moves me in this letter is how Jane Austen loves losing herself in this landscape: “We shall watch the light today, that we may not give them a dark drive tomorrow. I’ve not got time to scan in the passages (will do so for blog) but the stress is not on the boys, but all three of them in “noonshine,” her awareness of coming rain. I have seen that Itchen ferry — only it was in 1969 and again 1974 — probably a different boat but there was a ferry still nearly 175 years later. This is someone who does not enjoy social life; this is what she enjoys. It’s a poet’s spirit — though the lens when she writes her thoughts down is through the perspective of 18th century social oriented satire.

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

Southampton waters, early 20th century

As Christy (a long time member of Austen-l and ECW) has said, she and I are reading Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountains. The surface content of this letter by Austen — what Austen has to say about what she’s literally doing with her nephews resembles Anne Grant’s because Austen in a way is creating a world on paper — telling us how she is spending time with her nephews so we get a concrete picture of what they literally can do in their culture for fun, the time at church.

In the background are signs and glimpses of the manoeuvring going on as the arrangements for who lives where and how are now undergoing much change. They would have to some extent with Elizabeth’s death but now another aspect of her sudden absence is allowing the Austen women to assume a different place and relationship with their brother and nieces and nephews. Most of it is taken up by Austen’s taking care of the boys, details about them, with little turn away from other as she writes.

Diane suggests we see a child-like Austen here, one who is happy to enjoy the child’s world. I don’t see it as retreat in Austen but rather (like Tomalin says) that her family wouldn’t give her more responsibility. They give her an allowance to cover her personal needs and that’s it. She does not handle any finances; to take over more of the housekeeping would not change her tasks much only prevent her from writing. She is chaperoned still so no relationships with men outside the family’s approval can go on. Taking care of and keeping these boys cheerful is all she is allowed. So she does it right, not anv authoritarian but joining right in.

I do see child-like behavior in Austen in the later letters when she seems to be a rival to Fanny but again that’s the result of her not being allowed to live as an independent woman so she is gauging herself against this young girl. She is only given the unmarried daughter at home “to do.”

Letters are missing so we don’t know the struggle it took to be at the point where the boys are arriving on the coach:

Edward and George came to us soon after seven on Saturday, very well, but very cold, having by choice traveled on the outside, and with no great coat but what Mr Wise, the coachman, good-naturedly spared them of his, as they sat by his side. They were so much chilled when they arrived, that I was afraid they must have taken cold; but it does not seem at all the case; I never saw them looking better. They behave extremely’– well in every respect, showing quite as much feeling as one wishes to see, and on every occasion speaking of their father with the liveliest affection. His letter was read over by each of them yesterday, with many tears; George sobbed aloud, Edward’s tears do not flow so easily; but as far as I can judge they are both very properly im pressed by what has happened.

I note once again Austen discussing a servant (coachman) as a human being with equal individual rights as she. Apparently the lines are underlined. LeFaye does not think this was done by Austen, but the words underlined are precisely those it might please Edward to hear: They behave extremely well …” She is looking out for their physical health and the next lines show she is concerned for their emotional state.

Miss Lloyd, as described, sounds like a governess: “she is exceedingly please with them.” LeFaye thinks her a friend of Miss Sharpe; if so, note she’s staying with the Austens and Martha. A world of single women has been made at Southampton by them.

Then Austen entering into their world; she uses the “we” twice: I won’t type out the games, just note that it’s George who falls to “it” naturally. In each description of the children it’s implied that Edward is the deeper feeling person; we saw how he reacted adversely to whatever was the (bullying) ritual of changing clothes as a child; here he cries, he has on an old black coat; he is affected by the sermon; he inquires tirelessly about all sort of matters (see the end of the letter).

George is almost a new acquaintance to me, and “I find him in a
different way as engaging / as Edward. We do not wants amusements …””

Each time she stops regaling us with the boys, she brings her
awareness of how the adults are being strained to do something for them and showing the pressure in various ways, or we get a sombre detail Austen thinks it appropriate to keep from her nephews.

Mary Lloyd again making a fuss to call attention to herself: she “had not time to get them more than one suit of clothes.” Austen sceptical of what tailoring the boys are going to benefit from. Then back to Edward with his old black coat and pants.

Mrs J.A. had not had against time time to get them more than one suit of clothes; their others are making here, and though I do not believe Southampton is famous for tailoring, I hope it will prove itself better than Basingstoke. Edward has an old black coat, which will save his having a second new one; but I find that black pantaloons are considered by them as necessary, and of course one would not have them them made uncomfortable by the want of what is usual on such occasions. Fanny’s letter was received with great pleasure yesterday, and her brother sends his thanks and will answer it soon. We all saw what she wrote, and were very much pleased with it.

Now we see how letters are passed around to be read. I suggest the grateful brother is Edward. The absent (Fanny) is felt as present in this presentation of a letter.

Then what’s happening to other family members (the regulars) and friends: Catherine, poor woman, must marry: Lady Bridges the heroine because she’s the mother of the dead woman. Back to the boys:

Today Lady Bridges is the heroine of our thoughts, and glad shall we be when we can fancy the meeting is over. Then there will be nothing so bad for Edward to undergo. The St Albans, I find, sailed on the very day of my letters reaching Yarmouth, so that we must not expect an answer at present; we scarcely feel, however, to be in suspense, or only enough to keep our plans to ourselves. We have been obliged to explain them to our young visitors, in consequence of Fanny’s letter but we have not yet mentioned them to Steventon

The plan spoken of below is moving to Chawton (Wye was out Austen knew we saw in the last letter).

We are all quite familiarised to the idea ourselves;’ my mother only wants Mrs Seward to go out at Mid-summer. What sort of a kitchen garden is there?

Then the resentment/jealousy/discomfort of Mrs J-A (Mary Lloyd Austen) at the idea the Austen sisters will live in Kent. Last week too we saw how she is glad to lord it over these genteely poor women. And the mother seeking to make peace by speaking of Wye. Austen knows better: “It will be best as it is.”

This thought brings to mind her still strong desire to live in a community of women, one which included Miss Sharpe. That’s why this detail Anne has just given her mistress warning; she is going to be married; I wish she would stay her year. After all Miss Sharpe did not marry but she had had to give notice and Jane is thinking to herself maybe Anne will come to us.

Austen is not keen on anyone, and much less Miss Sharpe marry so we get this dismissive utterance:

On the subject of matrimony, I must notice a wedding in the Salisbury paper, which has amused me very much, Dr Phillot to Lady Frances St Lawrence. She wanted to have a husband I suppose, once in her life, and he a Lady Frances;

Jane hopes Cassandra’s group of mourners went to church; she Austen has gotten over the first ritual of grief: they’ve been to church earlier. George again the lively one, Edward the affected one

I hope your sorrowing party were at church yesterday, and have no longer that to dread. Martha was kept at home by a cold, but I went with my two nephews, and I saw Edward was much affected by the sermon, which, indeed, I could haye supposed purposely addressed to the afflicted, if the text had not naturally come in the course of Dr Mant’s observations on the Litany: ‘All that are in danger, neces­sity, or tribulation,’ was the subject of it. The weather did not allow us afterwards to get farther than the quay, where George was very happy as long as we could stay, flying about from one side to the other, and skipping on board a collier immediately. In the evening we had the Psalms and Lessons, and a sermon at home, to which they were very attentive; but you will not expect to hear that they did not return to conundrums the moment it was over

Back to remembering Mary Lloyd’s intense presence and demands for attention — she’s written pleasantly, more than Austen could hope.

And the last recorded detail of Monday the boys once more: George’s absorption when he is given something he can do, “industriously making and naming … ” paper boats, Edward again more depth, reading a novel by another woman novelist Anna Maria Porter — well Austen not yet a published novelist so I should not say “by another” but rather point out how she erases herself to let the others take central stage and observes them as when Edward was ‘twisting himself about in one of his great chair .. she’s alert to inner loss of some self-control under the impetus of shock and grief (the mother dead in the room).

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

Netley Abbey, interior of ruins

Tuesday is again heavily taken up by Austen’s time with the boys. She is reveling in the water party, the water, their time on the river, and cards, Netley Abbey. It does not hurt that she looks forward to Chawton.

The day began cheerfully, but it is not likely to continue what it should, for them or for us. We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74,8 and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine, but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay. I had not proposed doing more than cross the Itch en yesterday, but it proved so pleasant and so much to the satisfaction of all, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both the boys rowed great part of the way, and their questions and remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing; George’s enquiries were endless, and his eagerness in everything reminds me often of his Uncle Henry. Our evening was equally agreeable in its way; I introduced speculation, and it was so much approved that we hardly knew how to leave off. Your idea of an early dinner tomorrow is exactly what we propose, for, after writing the first part of this letter, it came into my head that at this time of year we have not summer evenings.

On the “inserts” or interruptions of these lyrical passages: of course Jane realizes how Cassandra must stay, and again she is no worm: Cassandra cannot think she likes it. But who is to be the woman of the house. She does think Cassandra pretends her good health and cheerfulness and would not be surprised at a “bilious” attack. Bad stomach from nerves. Who wouldn’t with so many children, a big house, a grieving man (“when the bustle of the first week was over, his spirits might for a time be more depressed; and perhaps one must still expect something of the kind”). .

The reference to Catherine Bigg is flat, but not so to Martha (after the boys section): Martha is clearly worried lest Austen’s having told others how she Martha did not want this arrangement any more she will lose chits with these people, Unmarried single women with no income must not displease anyone. And then the sentence on Chawton. I’ll dwell on all this separately below.

The letter ends on gifts from Cassanda’s putative mother-in-law; that is, had Tom Fowle lived. Remarkable how this relationship was kept up. Reminds me of India Wilkes in Gone with the Wind who takes to wearing widow’s weeds although she was never married to Charles Hampton. This too is a sign Cassandra took the opportunity not to marry. Mrs Fowles’s words show a real intimacy with Cassandra, she knows what Cassandra must be enduring.

A very kind and feeling letter is arrived today from Kintbury. Mrs Fowle’s sympathy and solicitude on such an occasion you will be able to do justice to, and to express it as she wishes to my brother. Concerning you, she says: ‘Cassandra will, I know, excuse my writing to her; it is not to save myself but her that I omit so doing. Give my best, my kindest love to her, and tell her I feel for her as I know she would for me on the same occasion, and that I most sincerely hope her health will not suffer.’ We have just had two hampers of apples from Kintbury, and the floor of our little garret is almost covered

So two hampers of apples. Such gifts turn up in Emma to embarrass Jane Fairfax, but they did not embarrass Miss Bates nor do they Jane Austen: “the floor of our little garret is almost covered.”

Food is welcome.

Diane I don’t see an abject old maid (as D. A. Miller has found in the fiction), but I do see a woman who has been made to compromise and find what joy she can within severe limits her world allowed her. We are all of us influenced by the era we lived in and family circumstances. We like to think we are individual and rise above it but when I (for example) contemplate my daughters attitudes I see two people shaped by the limitations and severities of 2000-2011; we were freer and with more opportunity for average people in 1960s. So Austen’s books are constrained and censored (she shows this when she is working towards publication) yes but not abject

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

Chawton today (as photographed in 2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

The important lines: “Of Chawton I think I can have nothing more to say, but that everything you say about it in the letter now before me will, I am sure, as soon as I am able to read it to her, make my mother consider the plan with more and more pleasure.”

We are missing what Jane said explicitly in the previous letter. We are missing what Cassandra said.

That means what they said contained material that was sore, about real family issues that mattered and hurt. It probably contained some of the negatives to moving there, and also why they should in despite of all this.

The sentence before by Martha:

Martha begs my brother may be assured of her interest in everything relating to him and his family, and of her sincerely partaking ‘our pleasure in the receipt of every good account from Godmersham.

These show Martha has made clear not only strong enough reluctance about the Southampton arrangement, but now about Chawton. In the event, she became a visitor, and did not live there with them.

The mother too is objecting. It can only be the nearness to Edward’s family. They don’t want to get involved in something.

The next line belongs here too: “We had formed the same views on H. Digweed’s farm.” Remember that? Mr Austen’s struggles to make his son treat Digweed right and that meant leaving him the farm to work at a reasonable rent. It seems that now the Austen sisters were intent on taking that place from Digwood. Digweed was one of the 99% then who had no power.

Alton was a real rent (300 guineas remember). Wye is right near a school, college and is damp — I remember from my readings of Anne Finch’s life. It may be Kent but Kent has its mud Digweed is one of the 99% of that age with no power.

To Chawton they will go.

Letters 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 & 59.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Lady Gaga, a mainstream image, twilight faux feminine innocence


Lady Gaga, performing masculinity

Dear friends and readers,

File this under a “and now for something competely different” category but please do not think it irrelevant to Austen who herself has become an numinous icon whose presence and about whom stories are told which have hardly anything to do with her books: the origin of her cult is in the publication of her novels even if it first took off in 1870 when her nephew unwitting produced the terms which would enable the cult to get started (see my “Continent Isolated: Anglocentricity in Austen Criticism:” Re-Drawing Austen: Picturesque Travels in Austenland [English translation of Italian title], edd. Beatrice Battaglia and Diego Saglia. Napoli: Liguori Editore, 2005. Pp. 325-338, and comment). Nor is the soft-core parodic porn irrelevant, for Graham-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies presents just such material.

I got into a conversation on Lady Gaga with anibundel whose insightful intelligent blog (I should have been a blogger) has been featured in Atlantic and who is my older daughter, Caroline. On one level (as my comment afterward, which I also include, suggests) Caroline-anibundel shows the pornification of our culture. Insightfully we see how not only the masochism of girl rock culture today, but also how women dressing as man are perform masculinity the way homosexual men dressing as woman are perform femininity. On another. we see an attempt to make oneself into one of these numinous icons (such as Marilyn Monroe and other celebrity women, including princesses have become). I don’t think Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta quite succeeding, and it would be interesting to understand why. I suggest Lady Gaga is not coming across as unguarded and enigmatic enough; there’s something pathetic going on.

Caroline-anibundel wrote as follows (suitably edited for this blog):

1. This is Lady Gaga’s biggest hit to date, “Bad Romance.” In it, she is trying to temper what was originally a wildly sexual piece into something (mostly) far more mainstream. (But note her microphone looks oddly like a dildo.) The faux old english ballroom setting was what caused me to ask if Dr.Who was going to suddenly materialize in his TARDIS. I apologize for the commercial at the front of this video. This is what network TV does now.
http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/video/lady-gaga-rocks-bad-romance-15025935
In comparison, here is the original video for “Bad Romance”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I

2.This is Gaga’s latest release “Edge of Glory” reworked for the piano, and performed in what looks to be the dining room in Downton Abbey. This should give you a good sense of the odd pretentiousness of the proceedings, and why I said it was a bit near-Great-Performances parody.

3. I am a touch irritated that I can’t find her rendition of “Orange Colored Sky” which was the best number by far. Sadly instead everyone’s pimping the “White Christmas with an extra verse” that she did from that same setting. This setting with a small jazz band was the best showcase for her voice. (Again, obnoxious 1min long commercial alert)
http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/video/lady-gaga-dreams-white-christmas-15025902

4. As to why people call her a Lesbian cross dresser, well, here. This was her summer release:

You’ll note there’s a tribute to Bette Milder and the mermaid thing (Gaga even appeared at one point with the fishtail in the wheelchair when promoting this video.) You’ll also get a sense of the “weird’n’wacky” outfits that Gaga wears normally. But the part that caught everyone’s attention was the shots in the cornfield. The “New York Italian tough” sitting on top of the piano that she’s singing to in her shift is actually herself, in male drag. Originally it was meant as a masturbation reference. Once she got wind that the most shocking part of the video wasn’t the odd outfits (and that no one under the age of 35 remembers bette milder) but that the idea of her in drag, she changed tactics and started doing all her public appearances in character as this new york italian tough who is gaga’s secret boyfriend from back home. That lasted maybe all of 6 weeks, which was when the next single came out.

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

Lately “she” has begun to appear without her signature frilly cap

My reply:

The first video and the last used masochistic and punitive imagery; probably the first “Bad Romance” was better as it had less gadgetry and more a single mood, but it is a woman (women) offering herself (themselves) up to men to do with as they please. Masochistic over-the-top. That’s softened in the mainstream by having the guys dance too, but the use of a dildo as the mike offsets that. Nos 2 and 3 are boring in comparison, but yes mainstream and she makes these gestures she assumes or wants to be part of her signature act/performance. She has a hoarse individual voice. I agree the plush stuff comes from PBS kind of masterpiece theater or other pop norms. Glamor is the pretense. The last video had some startling self-harm stuff. Her feet, the heels and ankles bleeding. Vagina dentata with naked behinds, all got up military style. I did see right away the person on the piano was her as well as the one seated. The image that came to mind was her offering to fellatio him (only “him” is her).

On the whole, the first and last are what’s called the pornification of mainstream by second wave feminist.

But you’re right. This is not a lesbian act. Nonetheless, the imagery is imagery gay people often find entertaining especially some of the uses of grotesquerie, of big and little.

The young girl — Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (I wonder if these are really all her names, it’s a parody of a type of naming) — is super thin and anorexic in Video 1 is very Italian New York. There is an attempt here at compensatory iconographies of victimhood. She is trying to make herself into one of these super-numinous icons — from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna, from Mary Queen of Scots to Princess Diana to Jane Austen: these are women who became female icons which function as symbols women and men pour their own needs into. In Lady Gaga, the compensatory portion is not strong enough; Helen Mirren for example, comes across as having iron in her veins, she walks the walk as they say, a queen, a Marlene Dietrich. Lady Gaga is too much the twilight princess.

So I don’t think Lady Gaga quite succeeds, and offer this explanation, but to tell the full truth, I am not really sure why. Maybe it’s more that she’s not bigger than life. Helen Mirren who I likened her to is a second rank icon. Beyond that though Lady Gaga doesn’t have “it” the way Madonna has — I saw through her act to the Italian New York teenager, just a little coarse who would otherwise be going for “big hair”,a large diamond ring, a Mrs and a nose job, to say nothing of a big house in suburbia and husband in a suit.She looks like Barbra Streisand too.

Digression and coda: The above conversation took off from something the admiral in our house said (our captain). His argument was originally about 18th through 20th century cross-dressing, cross-dressing on the UK stage and television (there’s still very little of it on US TV or the stage — except maybe these teen videos). He argued that there is a difference between a woman playing a man’s role and a woman in breeches part. Breeches part you have one sex dressing as the other and it was done so men could look at women’s behinds, calves, and thighs: it is not performing masculinity but rather calling attention to women’s legs, especially their calves and behinds; breeches parts please heteronormative sexually oriented people. When women played men’s roles in complete disguises (the way Sarah Bernhardt did Hamlet or Peg Woffington Sir Harry Wildair in The constant Couple) they were not sending up heterosexuality so much as literally trying to be men, suggesting a strong lesbian impulse which validates heterosexual norms. When Lady Gaga in that last video doubles herself as a woman before a man and a transvestite male, she suggests a lesbianism as she performs masculinity in her male guise just the way homosexual men dressing as woman perform femininity.


Peter Capaldi as Vera Reynolds (from Prime Suspect 3).

It’s a form of gay entertainment. It’s not normalizing but sending up.

Thus the admiral. I chose Capaldi in Prime Suspect 3 because he goes well beyond sending up. He makes the typology poignant-tragic.

Ellen

P. S. I apologize for the UTubes which did not appear. I am not good at making UTUbes appear. Those that are not here may be reached by taking the URL and feeding it into your Firefox (or whatever you use) and hitting “enter.”

Read Full Post »