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Posts Tagged ‘Diana Gabaldon’

Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall in Starz’s Outlander Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall before Castle Leogh, 1945

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Castle Leogh, 1743

I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days — my hair standing on end the whole time …

Impelled by an irresistible presentiment, you will eagerly advance to it, unlock its folding doors, and search into every drawer –but for some time without discovering anything of importance — perhaps nothing but a considerable hoard of diamonds. At last, however, by touching a secret spring, an inner compartment will open–a roll of paper appears–you seize it–it contains many sheets of manuscript — you hasten with the precious treasure into your own chamber, but scarcely have you been able to decipher ‘Oh! Thou–whomsoever thou mayst be, into whose hands these memoirs of the wretched Matilda may fall’ — when your lamp suddenly expires in the socket, and leaves you in total darkness … Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, NA, Chapters 14 and 20)

Dear friends and readers,

Having finished listening to Davina Porter read aloud (remarkably well) the whole of Diana Gabaldon’s historical romance, Outlander, I’m ready to go forward with watching the second season, adapted from Dragonfly in Amber. I’m studying both the series of romances and the film adaptations as examples of what has happened to popular historical romance in an era where the prestige of historical fiction has gone way up. Historical fiction and post-colonial historical romance have again for some (as the forms did in the Victorian era) become an instrument of political import (mostly post-colonialist). At the same time there has been a fierce backlash against feminism and liberal attitudes towards homosexuality (lesbianism, tranvestism), and fascist ideas gaining ground, i.e, violence as a means of solving problems, individual liberty and thought are out, women are there as mothers, wives, sisters, not individuals in their own right. That’s why Gabaldon needed a 20th century woman in her book so she should have agency.

How does this relate to Austen: this sort of book, the romance, especially gothic and implicitly political, ambivalently feminist were the kinds of books she read and praised as works genius — Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith, Francis Burney, Maria Edgeworth — in a novel she rewrote endlessly in an attempt to combine satire of the form while embodying its truths persuasively, i.e., Northanger Abbey.

As a prelude, I’ve gathered up all the blogs I’ve written thus far on Outlander so I can refer back to them, and so my readers can see what has been our findings about this genre and film adaptation thus far:

Outlander: a cross between Frank Yerby’s Border Lord, DuMaurier’s romances, Sophie Lee’s Recess, Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, and epistolary subjective novels

Outlander and Poldark: Horsfield’s scripts; problematic parallels towards violence towards women & rape

Outlander 1: Sassenach and Craig Na Dun; People Disappear all the time … Radcliffe Redivida

1 Outlander 2 and 3: Castle Leogh & The Way Out: DuMaurier Redivida

1 Outlander 4 & 5: The Gathering and Rent; as a Descendant of Waverley

Outlander: 6 and 7: Garrison commander; Wedding Nights (2): tapestry

1 Outlander 8: Both Sides Now; The Long  night of the Wedding: magic

1 Outlander: 8 & 9: Reckoning; Both Sides Now, the historical sublime, Romancing History; 2:1 Through a Glass Darkly

1 Outlander: 10 & 11: Pricking of My Thumb; Devil’s Mark; babies & witchcraft; again the question of genre

1 Outlander: 12 & 13: Lallybroch and the Watch: you can’t go home again; gender roles transitioning

1 Outlander: 14-16: The Search, Wentworth Prison, To Ransom a Man’s Soul, Finale; The issue of torture

catrionabalfe

I have read fans were dismayed by the choice of Caitriona Balfe — I find her very appealing. At no point does she have the lightly mocking jocular tone Gabaldon uses for her heroine.

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Inverness where the novel opens

A few thoughts on Gabaldon’s novel:

Problems: in the present time sequences Gabaldon is American and has no idea how to write British dialogue or thoughts. She uses the phony language of 1950s romance as I remember it: Frank Randall calls Clare a wench; characters beam at one another; they are roguish. She has been influenced strongly by the 1940s British movies and this is reflected in the films in the way the opening new honeymoon scenes are done and the opening scenes of the second season when she has returned pregnant in 1948 after Culloden has happened but she somehow does not know what happened exactly, not even who won. In the opening sequence in the UK there is supercilious tone of half-mockery at reading people; a shallow amused jocularity and descriptions of what no British woman really did in the 1950s when they shopped. Gabaldon seems to think that genealogy studies are serious historical research — or she assumes her readers do. It may be this tone is intended to function like that of Lockwood in the opening of Wuthering Heights (supercilious and faintly ironic), but he never aims his irony at sensitivity, history itself and so on.

Oh and no one reads anything at all – except as part of a profession. The film did counter this gap in the book with literary allusion (all added in, poetry from Donne, Robert Louis Stevenson) and downplayed the heroine’s irony towards her husband’s literary research profession — though presented her as slightly bored by him, and the renewed marriage not quite working (so said the heroine in her voice-over). Gabaldon herself is clearly (I concede) drenched in the history of this period and all sorts of book leaning, biography, chronicles (disguised or referred to in her companion most cavalierly, sprezzatura and all that – she never sleeps, does no housework &c&c)

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Escape — Claire perhaps wanted to disappear — through the stones

At each deviation and choice the film-makers are better. They keep the significant and resonating lines unerringly. Her story is what makes the book in a way, and her characters are somewhat re-conceived. Litereally the mini-series is close. Her heroine has never had a political thought in her head. Gabaldon is also a master of romance style; she sustains eloquence about love; her dialogue is naturalistic once Claire moves back in time and to Scotland. The Scottish dialect does not feel like pastiche. They add “Madam” to Black Jack’s speech and sudddenly Randall’s is an 18th century male voice. Gabaldon’s strengths come out more too: she’s good at describing love-making, at erotica. These passages are important for today’s historical romance for women, as the love-making is told from a woman’s point of view (foreplay emphasized ….)

There is self-reflexivity. Clare comments how in romances the “bad male” of romance is never rooted in any local reality; Gabaldon feels she does this by her post-colonialist story of the vicious English against the Highland Scots, the corrupt Jacobite courts. She also (I think consciously) wants to give us a heroine who struggles against forces of nature: so we have Clare fighting a wolf and subduing and killing it! It’s very much a woman’s book — if you can get into this sort thing. Today I’m going to try Daphne DuMaurier’s King’s General for a while to see if I can in her case for the summer term as I have to send in a proposal for this coming summer by Feb 10th! DuMaurier is a political innocent in comparison. The 21st century Catherine Morland would read both. — in preference to “real history,” which Martha Bowden in her Descendants of Waverley does not have that much use for either. Phillippa Gregory gobbles it all up to spit it out as historical romance: she has done that for Margaret Tudor too. The book as Emily Nussbaum wrote of the mini-series it’s mirroring our time. Anne Stevenson, one of my favorite 20th century women poets, has also written about the book favorably.

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Claire being taught how to kill with a knife

There are some troubling patterns of violence and humiliation across the first season which is much more emphatic in the book: the subaltern hero is intensely punished. The last two episodes of the mini-series are horrifyingly abusive of Jamie Fraser: he is tortured into submitting to anal sex, his spirit to resist broken by breaking his hand, the merciless flogging. I had realized his back shows horrific treatment too, well, this a pattern in the book too: the ritual humiliation of the heroine (occurs much more weakly and not as centrally) is nothing to this. I asked izzy about Games of Thrones, and she said yes and they are killed off; in Agents of Shield these central and subaltern central heroes go through enormous emotional turmoil.

I had noticed this pattern in Tudor dramas on film: the men took the place hitherto reserved for the heroine, and took it that the Henry 8 story appeal was the ability to show masculinity of a very different sort than the modern controlled invulnerable (unattacked mostly) hero, but maybe not. In Outlander this fits the (mild or undeveloped very much )post-colonial perspective, an unintended consequence inheritance from Walter Scott. Poor Jamie can’t go home again even: the result an unmitigated disaster. I’ve grown to like Jamie Fraser, have bonded with him and to some extent Claire (the text is strongly offset by the mini-series, its tone and especially Caitronia Balfe’s intelligent performance). I find myself very anxious as the story moves from distraught catastrophe to distraught catastrophe. I know this was the appeal of Poldark: I liked the central hero and heroine (and secondary ones, Elizabeth and Francis, too). In Tolstoy’s War and Peace I bonded with some of the central characters. It’s a sina qua non finally for loving a book — though one can love the imagined author as a substitute.

I found a long scene describing a childbirth very good. IN the depiction of Lallybroch, Jamie’s home, in the film instead of a long series of scenes of life in such a country place there was yet another action-adventure inserted betrayal: the book here is good. Both women’s point of view. At the same time the insistence on violence as an answer to problems becomes yet more overt. It’s not simply the book shows a man violent to a woman and her learning to accept just that once, but there are repeated instances of problems solved by violence. The idea is when there is no other way. I have said I think there are situations where the other side will not respond except through violence. To me the argument slavery was dying by itself ignores human nature plus the actual situation. I think the present administration thinks they can do what they want as the American people, especially democrats are utter cowards, despicably lukewarm (that’s how they see the desire to reason and negotiate). But many many instances should not turn violent; that makes for more violence — which does happen in the book: a man forced to give up his son whom he has been beating mercilessly by violence on hi then turns in our hero, so he may be hanged; our hero’s friends then set fire to his house or him (it’s not clear).

There is an obsession with defending violence as a way of solving problems (really — the belief is you force people to do things and then they retaliate if they are not scared any more), but also sheer pain, and combined with the at times faux at times earnest post-colonialism, it is an exploration of torture from the point of view of the horrors of the experience. You are not meant to be inured (as can happen and discussed by Susan Sontag in her Regarding the Pain of Others). This book sold widely in the US, is enormously popular. I’ve already mentioned the ceaseless attack on homosexuality through the depiction of Black Jack Randall — it’s kept up as mockery of effeminate males.

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Again the mini-series is an improvement: there are added and emphasized males who are thoughtful, gentle: like Willie — and favored

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Ned Gowan’s role as poet-lawyer is built up enormously — he appears only in the collecting of rents briefly and in the court scene in the novel — so the film-makers recognized this violence as a problem in the novel

In the final sequence of novel Jamie is humiliated personally (made to do submissive begging) and he feels he has to tell this to Clare: we get a depiction of torture which condemns it on all grounds and shows how it is basis of a tyranny (as Eleanor Scarry discussed in The Body In Pain); beyond that in the telling why someone would kill themselves after they escape even years after they escape (as Primo Levi and others who spent time in extermination and German concentration camps). He lives in dread of Randall and has nightmares. In the mini-series the emphasis was on a man raping a man, in other words sexual, and the discussions (such as they were on popular websites run by professionals, very discreet) focused on see how men are raped too (so it almost became a show revealing women lying in another direction — they pretend only they are raped) though to do the film justice it was also deeply anti-torture. I could not get myself to finish one of books Jim was in the middle went when the cancer had affected his brain to the point he couldn’t read, Speaking About Torture, edd Julie Carlson and Elisabeth Weber. Looking it at now I find essays on “What Nazi Crimes tell us”, how torture is represented, the “rituals of hegemonic masculinity” John Yoo, the torture memo and Churchill. I find it used in studies of torture where it is suddenly introduced with insufficient information. At first I thought it referred to the purpose of torture (as defined in such studies) to through pain and terror “drive the victim ‘beyond the borders of death into [a state of speechless] nothingness; well, that is what Black Jack Randall has done to Jamie and it is Claire who must give him an identity again, a sense he’s alive, pride, should live; the idea of ghosts on the mind is part of the meaning and in the second season and Dragonfly In Amber Jamie is haunted by nightmares of Randall getting hold of him again.

Before the book ends there is a (to me) odd decent moral set of lessons: Claire seeks comfort in “confessing” to a priest and we see him calm her conscience over bigamy; try to give reasons for God having sent her back to this era. As with Austen and other popular books I’ve read two chapters before the end you get the characters discussing the moral of the adventures, of this time-traveling. She clearly believes in God, that this is a just universe with rewards and punishments and yet a moralism about life as a journey and self-development through helping others and so on is suddenly put before us credibly. The discussions include can she stop Culloden for then the people who are supposed to be killed won’t be? the responsibility of changing history. At this point the book is silly.

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Murtagh listening to the priest, Claire and Jamie in the monaster

The book ends with Claire and Jamie leaving the monastery through walking through a cave which has warm restorative mineral waters — like a spa, only dark colored, a mirror. This coming up from a recess is directly Sophia Lee and Ann Radcliffe material, only enhanced here by the sensual delights of love-making. The center of romance is the love story. They will go to Rome where he has connections and could get a position, be safe, and they work to prevent Culloden. Murtagh who we have learned once loved Jamie’s mother and regards himself as Jamie’s second father goes with them.

crossingthehighlands
Crossing the Highlands together

I realize now I have listened to Porter read aloud the whole of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as translated by Maud — she provides brilliant reading of that too. I recommend her to lovers of books read aloud by tape, CD, MP3 or download.

Ellen

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Central hall for The Gathering (Outlander 4)

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Repeating scene for Rent: the line of male tenants bringing money or barter to Ned Gowan (Outlander 5)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been asked to review an excellent book, Descendants of Waverley: Romancing History in Contemporary Historical Fiction by Martha Bowden. I have begun reading it; and, though Bowden does not instance Gabaldon’s Outlander (nor for that matter Graham’s Poldark), I realize the Poldark and Outlander novels are two of the many-great grandchildren of the Waverley novels.

inside
Nineteenth-century edition

penguinoutside
A Penguin

For Gabaldon this is by way of DuMaurier, who also indulges centrally in romancing, allusive textuality, and fantasy myth-making.

kingsgeneral
The Civil War politics of this novel makes it link as well as the time-traveling of DuMaurier’s The House on the Strand

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King’s General centers on a heroine (she is the subjective presence) who is crippled and must stay in a wheelchair thereafter due to an incident involving the wild ferocity of her lover, Rashleigh, in battle

I don’t want tonight to dwell on these artful and literary elements, but rather something more obvious: Episodes 4 and 5 of the mini-series cover a sliver of Gabaldon’s book, Outlander (Chapters 10 and 11, Oath-Taking and Conversations with a Lawyer) with intense elaboration so as to build a picture of a rich Scottish cultural world worth living in, and its many pleasures for men and women alike. Gabaldon and this mini-series show how the English colonialist armies, and resulting Scots and English protection rackets impoverished a subsidence people, and sought to exploit, kow, and punish them at every opportunity.

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Scottish farmers homes burnt, crops destroyed (Rent)

This is the post-colonial tapestry of the series that allures and interests me. Though I’ve put the first two of my blog on the first season on Outlander on my general cultural blog (Sassenach, and Castle Leoch and The Way Out), I feel these two episodes belong with 18th century matter. There is little movement forward of the story; instead what we get a dramatization of the reasons for Culloden, and how it came about. All Scott’s Scottish history Waverley novels center in some aspect of the Scots rebellion, dwell lovingly on its traditional culture, and if they come out on the side of progress, toleration, enlightenment (reason, “scientific” or probablistic explanation). Gabaldon differs mostly through the heroine’s perspective which is to try to stop this disaster for the Scots from happening. Through flashforwards (we could call Claire’s memories), we learn from Claire’s 20th century husband, what happened at Culloden.

explaining
Claire (Catrionia Balfe) and Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) on the field of Culloden (Rent)

The film-makers take Gabaldon’s anti-British point of view on board and make it stronger

scotsmancrucified
The band come across two crucified (tortured) dead corpses of Scotsmen

What I enjoyed was the loving recreation of Scots culture for two hours, and threading through these of continuing slow development of a friendly and trusting relationship between Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan): where she keeps him company, tends to him, and he in turn rescues, tries to understand Claire who he stops from a wild impossible escape to nowhere:

Jamie: “How far did ye think ye’d get, lass, on a dark night with a strange horse, with half the Mackenzie clan after ye by morning?
Claire: “Won’t be after me. They’re all up at the hall. And if one in five of them is sober enough to stand in the morning, let alone ride a horse, then I ‘ll be most surprised.”
Jamie: “Running away on a whim just because the men are drunk? On a whim?
Claire: “You know I’ve wanted to leave here for weeks. And I know exactly how many sentry posts surround the castle. And I know how to make my way through the forest and find the road back to Inverness.”
Jamie: “Well, that’s a very sound plan, Sassenach — Or would be, did Colum not post extra guards through the woods tonight.”

There is a real lyricism in their relationship with seeps across the episodes. It’s hard for me to capture that: it has to do with the feeling generated between the two, the words used, gentle and yet reaching out, and how the camera captures them talking and their body stances when in the same area. In these episodes this extended to Claire and Ned Gowan, Claire and her first meeting with the British officer who was disguised as a working person in one of the Scots villages (but turns up at the end offering to take her back to England in effect, rescue her from this Highland culture), and Claire with the women. With Dougal the atmosphere is testy and aggressive; by contrast with Frank her husband, their is a quiet blandness that is secure and feels peaceful but does not seem to go anywhere. In the 1940s scenes she is ever walking away or smiling enigmatically as he talks on ever so kindly but no poetry in it.

Many details are added but none contradict the thrust of the novel. My favorites are the conversations of the witty, thoughtful lawyer, Ned Gowan (played exquisitely well by a favorite actor of mine, Bill Patterson), with Claire. He may appear to tell her much, but only confirms enigmatically when she is beginning to see: she had thought Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) was sluicing off money for himself (a second extraction from the deluded tenants) when he is gathering funds for an envisioned coming campaign. As when they speak a John Donne poem together:

claregowan

Claire: Absence.
Absence, hear thou my protestation against thy strength, distance, and length.
Do what thou canst for alteration
BOTH: For hearts for truest mettle.
She: Absence doth still and time doth settle.
He repeats: Absence doth still and time doth settle.

The verse also functions to let us know Claire is still missing Frank, longing to re-join him in the 20t century.

I’ve suggested the dramaturgy of Outlander is so much better than many of the episodes of the new Poldark and studying the scripts for these episodes has suggested to me why: Gabaldon’s film-maker trust her text. They feel no need to fill it out, to change the characters, to complicate the action by having parallel lines of stories, all quickly juxtaposed, lest we get bored or restless. They luxuriate in the text. There is time to develop the contradictions in relationships: it is humiliating to Jamie to have to strip his shirt off as an exhibit to seduce people into giving money, and his uncle must tear it off the first time; when Jamie threatens not to participate, the uncle threatens and pulls rank.

Time is taken out to develop a “sub-palate of colors: for example, while on the road the color of the sky is white, the land pastel, all softened shades to create a mood of quietude in the land and sky. And the characters emerge inside the patterns:

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Jamie addresses Claire against backdrop of tree designs

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More than once Claire voices how much she likes the culture even though it is so masculinist — she is forced to listen to continual male boasts about crude sexual prowess (they do this at her).

Gabaldon and her writers after her are comfortable in making Claire in continual danger: when she tries to escape from the gathering she is stopped twice by men seeking to rape her; when Jamie sleeps outside her door to protect her, his action is not superfluous. It ought to be troubling that Horsfield and her crew are far less comfortable with Graham’s transgressive women, and turn them back to domestic creatures (see Scripts & Problematic parallels). Gabaldon has no cruel vindictive women — which slant is added on to the Poldark snobbish women by Horsfield — and no salacious sluts; Horsfield unlike Graham and the 1970s writers find no excuse for promiscuity on the part of a woman.

The feminism here is again in Claire’s casual relationships with other women: in these episodes of Scottish highland culture, she seems to enjoy herself with the women even when they soaking dyed cloth in heated piss

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She as yet is willing to help Leoghaire attract Jamie (though female rivalry over the hero will come soon and be as strong as we find in Poldark) and this is used to bring out beliefs in love potions.
And she is deeply useful from her experience as a nurse in WW2. When during a boar-hunting in the Gathering, one man’s chest and thighs are severed by a boars tusks, and he lays dying in his chieftain Dougal’s arms, it is Claire who thinks how to ease the death by prompting from him memories of boyhood, home, and the beautiful places longing to live conjure up:

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Claire: “Geordie tell me about your home.”
Geordie: “It’s near a wide glen, not far from Loch Fannich.”
Claire: “What’s it like there? I’ll wager it’s beautiful.”
Geordie: “Ah, ’tis.”
Claire: “In the spring Yes?”
Geordie: “The heather’s so thick, ye can walk across the tops without touching the ground.”
Claire: “That sounds lovely.”
Geordie: “Wish I could be there now.”
Dougal: “Oh, you’ll be there soon, lad.”
Geordie: “Aye. Will ye stay with me?”
Dougal: “Aye.”
Claire: “Yes.”
Dougal: “There you are.”
Claire: “There.”

In a scene directly afterwards when he visits her “surgery:”

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Dougal: “You’ve seen men die before and by violence.”
Claire: “Yes. Many of them.”
Dougal: “Ye’ve done a fine job here as healer. Mrs. Fitz would have ye sit for a portrait if it was up to her. And, uh, I wanted to thank you personally for what you did for poor Geordie up there on the hunt.
Claire: “In truth, I did nothing. I wish I could have helped him.”
Dougal: “Ye did. Ye took him to a peaceful place, and that’s all any of us can ask when we pass …”

clarie

He then requires her to come out on the rental journey with the band. She earns her place as strong, pro-active, competent woman who in effect competes with men in all areas — but sex. She is more than the token woman taken on the road.

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Riding out (The Gathering)

And of course, as I’ve said, in the over-voice, female perspective, control of the movement in time.

As the confines of the castle walls faded behind me like a bad dream, I took my first full breath in weeks. I had no idea where this journey would lead me, what opportunity might present itself. I could only hope it would bring me closer to the standing stones of Craigh Na Dun. If so, I was determined to reach them, knowing this time I must not fail.

Ellen

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“But you must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy the ancient housekeeper up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. . . . [Y]ou listen to the sound of her receding footsteps as long as the last echo can reach you—and when, with fainting spirits, you attempt to fasten your door, you discover, with increased alarm, that it has no lock.” (Austen, Northanger Abbey, 158-59).

The above images two remain my favorite of all the stills of Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood: Jennifer Ehle walking along in the countryside meditatively, with a melancholy retreat feel into nature (1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies); Hattie Morahan looking out to sea and painfully enduring what seems a long loneliness ahead (2008 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies). The passage from Austen’s NA, probably using Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or a Tale of Others Times as part of what is parodied and yet taken seriously is also one of my favorites

Friends and readers,

Since I wrote about Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy, or the Ruin on the Rock (1795) here (some months ago), I’ve been wanting to recommend two further later eighteenth century epistolary novels I and another friend on my small WomenWritersAcrosstheAges listserv @ Yahoo read together last year on their treatment of women’s issues in the 18th century still of relevant today, Sophia Briscoe’s Miss Melmoth; or the New Clarissa and the anonymous Emma, or The Unfortunate Attachment: we read them because they have both been linked to Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, whose The Sylph (1778) we also read.

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The latest The Sylph cover and edition

Prompted by the appearance of two new Austen films, P&P and Zombies and Love and Friendship (aka Lady Susan) as well as shoverdosing on a Scots TV production of Gabaldon’s Outlander, in reaction almost against, I recommend these 18th century epistolary narratives as well as The Sylph and Sophia Lee’s powerful gothic, The Recess (1783) as a better way to acquaint yourself with Austen’s world and context.

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MissMelmoth

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Hermione Lee reading one of Clarissa’s letters, a perfect image for “the New Clarissa” as it is all writing and receiving of letters (1991 Clarissa, scripted by David Nokes)

The first in time is Miss Melmoth; or, The New Clarissa (1771) by Sophia Briscoe, about whom little is known beyond that a second epistolary novel written in the following year was attributed to her (The Fine Lady, 1772), that The Sylph has attributed to her (a receipt for payment is in her name) and that the Critical Review and Monthly Review commended these novels as superior to some average they disdained, “entertaining,” amusing,” “not corrupting,” “instructive” and capable of “arousing powerful emotion.” She is also sometimes said to have been Scottish. Unfortunately no one has yet published a summary, and although I made intense notations on the letters (and they are in the archives at Yahoo) as we went through them (two novels which we read over some 6 weeks), I never put them together coherently.

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A jumble of stories within stories, images left in the mind, something of the feel of Miss Melmoth (from an exhibit of 18th century women writers, including Austen, held at the NYPL, NYC)

What was most remarkable were not so much the on-going front continuous unfolding of the main characters, but the inset back-stories as it were, what was told all at once and intensely when one woman would sit down and tell her history to another, or one of our heroines report what she had heard of a new character in the novel’s history. I was struck by how seriously the novel took death emotionally; how the loss of a close relative or friend affects someone’s life irreparably. The front stories projected a sympathetic account of how women needs other women friends.

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Whit Stillman includes such an image in his Love and Friendship (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, both in his previous Austen movies, and Beckinsale played Emma for Andrew Davis’s 1996 Emma)

One of the inset histories was a hostile depiction of a woman whose elopement with a rake turns out so badly that she is driven to become a lady’s maid who then betrays her young mistress by marrying that mistress’s domineering shallow father and becoming herself a tyrannical step-mother; another, a deeply empathetic depiction of a stranded widow. The novel reveals a tenuous security for all eighteenth century women of whatever rank. A desperate need for marriage however painful that condition may turn out.

Emma

The second in time was published anonymously, Emma or, The Unfortunate Attachment (1773); it has (probably wrongly) been attributed to Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, and the modern edition by Jonathan David Cross continues the attribution. We agreed that all three novels (Sylph, Emma, and Miss Melmoth) were written by different people because the styles were so different. Emma; or the Fatal Attachment has far more stilted and wrought style than either of the other two, and its central story is the plangent and tragic one. This novel has many Richardsonian twists and turns, and again I wrote about the letters as we went through, ironic and juxtaposed section by section (and these annotations are in the archives). Its subject is coerced marriage; in this novel a previous attachment has gone so deep and the new relationship despite all efforts on the part of the heroine and reinforcement of social norms by her relatives and friends a violation.

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Saskia Wickham as the harassed Clarissa stopped in the streets, hounded for debts she doesn’t own (1991 Clarissa)

Beyond what Gross writes of it, in her “Richardson and some Richardsonian novels,” Isobel Grundy (Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, edd. M.A. Doody and P. Sabor) writes of how the heroine is harrowed by the death of the previous man, shows she is capable of loving two men at once, includes a friend who offers “a strongminded feminist critique of wifehood,” and depicts a retreat to “a desolate domestic wasteland” (pp. 227-29). Again a deep sense of precariousness in life for women is conveyed.

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Both Miss Melmoth and this Emma (as well as The Slyph) have multiple correpondents who write to one another and receive responses; both happy endings (as does The Sylph) but what happens along the way is not negated. A chime of many voices and presences.

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Outlander 2014
Catriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall now Fraser (2015 Outlander, variously scripted & directed) — upon her finding she has been transported to 18th century Scotland

I’ve been prompted finally to describe Miss Melmoth and Emma, or the Unfortunate Attachment and refer back to The Sylph because I’m almost finished with the 16 part mini-series film adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels as the closest thing I’ve come across to Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times, a journalistic epistolary novel (the letters very long and only by the two sisters), to my mind the first self-conscious genuine gothic in English literature (1783). (This wikipedia article will lead you to good material on Lee and her novel, which deserve a long blog of their own. I also read it with a another friend on Eighteenth Century worlds @ Yaoo, and postings are in those archives. I have no room here lest this blog become overlong.)

Gabaldon’s book (or books) are a kind of cross between Frank Yerby “The Border Lord” type romances, with time-traveling fantasy taken from Daphne DuMaurier’s House on the Hill; a Dorothy in Oz longing to return to Auntie Em turned into a resolute desire to stay (Claire is told to click her shoes before the stones and recite “there is no place like love” in her efforts to return to modern England); and a plot-design which exploits overall Scottish history, Highland cultural artefacts and the Jacobite 175 rebellion and patina of 18th century English politics. They read somewhat woodenly but if you have watched the mini-series for a while and go back, you find they make good script ideas and dialogue for a TV film. If you want to understand Gabaldon’s Outlanders the books to read are Helen Hughes’s The Historical Romance and Diane Wallace’s The Woman’s Historical Novel. The distance between Gabaldon’s book and the literate eloquent script and remarkable realization reminds of the distance between the 1978 mini-series Love for Lydia, and H.E. Bates’s sub-Lawrentian novel.

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Craig Na Dun (the magical stones which hurl the heroine back in time)

The mini-series reaches out to contemporary wishes for spirituality by involving megalithic stones and the natural landscape in its depiction of “spirituality” and the nature of its characters. The central character, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser (two husband’s names) is a nurse from WW2 – this seems all the rage on these mini-series, nurses – is presented as pro-active and strong, a female hero who is as effective in action-adventure and yet needs rescuing, all the while doing a woman’s jobs of caring. Then you get plenty of blood, death, violence for the men. This is precisely what we find in Lee’s two heroines, Elinor and Matilda, Mary Stuart’s long-lost daughters, who learn to love as abjectly and erotically as Claire. The Scottish landscape and myths about the Highlands serves both Lee and Outlander.

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Castle Leoch (an actual ruin in Scotland)

The mini-series and Lee manifest the same attempt at an exploration of male high adventure (Lee is much influenced by Prevost) through the cyclical art, use of voice-over (daringly by the men too) so sensibilities of l’ecriture-femme movie-style. Some of the scripts were written by a woman who was also the executive producer, Anne Kenney. I do love all of this, Lee and the mini-series, the Scottish landscapes captivate me too.

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Very popular in French: Le Souterrain, ou Matilde (1788)

I like to think and even assume that Austen read all three of these semi-realistic epistolary novels; there is some evidence in Northanger Abbey to suggest that Austen had the fantasy The Recess in mind when Henry Tilney produces his mock-gothic narrative for Catherine as they ride into the Abbey.

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Felicity Jones and J.J. Feilds as Catherine and Henry approaching the abbey (2008, Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

I was also prompted to tell of these novels finally because two new Austen movies have just come out, the utter nonsense of Burt Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a film adaptation of Seth Graham-Smith’s burlesque gay mash-up, and Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, a blending of Austen’s Lady Susan with her juvenilia burlesque, Love and Freindship. I link in a group of reviews in comments.

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Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet could easily be slotted into Outlander, or be either of Lee’s heroines

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Lady Susan in mourning

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When I’ve seen the two new movies, I will write about them, but from what I’ve read thus far, you will learn far more about Austen’s world, get closer to her values and assumptions by reading any one of these four novels. And yet how close, how alike are the photos, the pictures stemming from both movies to the appropriate photos and covers of these four later 18th century novels, and stills from movies made from and appropriate illustrations for Austen’s novels. At the same time some essential element of sanity, of ironic perspective, of true ethical compass is either not there or muted. See comments for full disclosure or elaboration on this.

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Again Jones and Feilds as Henry and Catherine, with Catherine Walker as Eleanor Tilney between them, this time all discussing Ann Radcliffe and “real history” as they walk through a real wood (this one happens to be in Scotland where most the film was done).

Ellen

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