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AViewofBoxHillSurrey1733GeorgeLambert (Medium)
A View of Box Hill, Surrey (1733) by George Lambert

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember. Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years. (Opening voice-over of Outlander, from Gabaldon’s novel, script Roger Moore)

Dear friends and readers,

This series of blog notes on the talks I heard will be even less representative than usual since I arrived late Thursday afternoon, too late to hear any of the Thursday sessions, and left Saturday afternoon before the women’s caucus luncheon ended. I was driving myself to Pittsburgh, a five hour plus trip for me, so did not try to come after teaching ended later Wednesday afternoon, but rather set off on Thursday around 11 am. I knew I should aim to return before dark on Saturday. I did enjoy two lunches and two dinners with friends, went to both receptions, renewed acquaintances and made a couple of new friends. I bought Norma Clarke’s Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street. For my own records and if anyone wants to peruse heads of topics within panels, and some details of some of the papers I heard, I offer two blogs’ worth of notes.

Thursday (March 31st) while I was driving there: I regretted missing “Literary History and Life Writing: The Development of Non-Fiction in the 18th century” (the panel began 8 in the morning, and had papers on theatrical biography and lives of Johnson); “In the 1720s …” (this was a panel beginning at 9:45 am, had 8 speakers, and must’ve revealed intriguing set of connections); “Widows and Working Women: Making a Living in the 18th century” (11:30 am, panel I would have loved to hear for the topic and especially a paper on “the widowed Anna Dorothea Therbusch,” a woman artist). In the afternoon I would have chosen one of the two panels: “Psychological Trauma in the Long Eighteenth Century” (II, 2:30 pm). The first included how to express trauma; on war, torture, Burney’s masectomy; Goethe’s Werther, and on people who might be considered failures). The second was called “Women in Motion: The Figure of the Female Traveler in 18th century Literature and Culture” and had papers on Sophia Lee’s Recess, Lady Anne Barnard’s orientalism, Indian women travelers, and Burney’s Wanderer). How I would have enjoyed and profited from these. I reached the hotel while the last panel I would have chosen was just about ending: “”Inside the Artist’s Studio” (4:45 pm, in Rome, the art marketplace).

But I was up bright and early on Friday (April 1st) and listened to the round table panel “against the novel” (8 am, chaired by Scott Black and Andrew Jarrell). I chose it unlike many of the round tables, the titles of the participants’ papers were cited, so I had an idea of what might be discussed. My interest was stirred because too much is still perhaps made of the realistic novel in literary studies. The session suggested among younger scholars, this is no longer true.

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Ian Watt’s famous book is still at the center of discussions: this is the cover of the first paperback edition

Two stood out among the short papers. Nicole Wright discussed an emergent genre at the close of the century: (ostensibly) non-fiction lives of lawyers, and one in particular, the anonymous Life of a Lawyer, which is a sort of Horatio Alger story, boy begins as orphan and ends Lord Chancellor and is presented plausibly, a believably imagined individual. These reveal that the professional lawyer often came from below high gentry. Ms Wright suggested these faux and real autobiographies are preoccupied with the problem of facts: is this factual, can you know what is, with the lawyer practicing scrutinizing facts. I’ve read of the sweeping changes in the court system where at the opening of the century lawyers were not regularly present at trials, to the end of the century where attorneys for the defense and prosecution and the rigamarole we are used to, with defendants making statements on their own behalf had begun. Rachel Carnel talked about how students today relate to secret histories. Ms Carnell suggested such back stories, digressions, fragmentations, non-linear narratives, anecdotes attract readers today. Since I have been reading and teaching Fielding I was very interested in Ms Carnell’s use of Fielding’s theorizing of the novel where he seems to veer towards realism (at least probabilities, consistent time, space) all the while he speaks ironically and himself practices many devices which treat his book as a book in front of the reader.

The talk afterward included Max Novak inquiring why one of the panelists thought Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel (a target in this session) came out of the cold war, and was told that the book is “suggestively anti-communist” because it promotes individualism. Prof Novak said, to the contrary, Watt’s book is itself Marxist, and was written in the context of the Leavis’s close reading, high moral elite approach to reading. I admit that for me it seemed the panel’s tendency was too strongly to dismiss the value of all gains in psychological, social truths, and shapely art of the “new novel” partly because the panelists themselves favored or were working on non-realistic fictions. One audience member reminded everyone that continental criticism valued the English novel because it observed people in their everyday life, the intimate, particular, is seen as valuable to know about.

As I am just now also reading about on disability, and would like to study its representations in 19th and 20th century fiction and life-writing much more, the four longer papers given in “Disability Narratives” (9:45, chaired by James Farr and Stan Booth) engaged me.

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A recent Oxford edition of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year

Erin Peters discussed texts that presented what we might call post-traumatic stress disorder after the English civil war. Writers were paying attention to invisible wounds, looking to how to cope with trauma. No longer was attributing such suffering to God’s punishment enough. Ms Peters read soldiers petitioning for pensions. They are looking for therapeutic remedies to avoid “self-murder.” Advice includes friends’ care and frequent conversation with trusted friends. Psychological impairment may be said to be central to Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Inward care is needed to relieve the distressed mind. These writings show people taking such afflictions seriously, and trying to construct stories for relief of trauma the way people do for grief in our era.

Travis Chi Wing Lau discussed Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year as an early groping towards immunology theory. HF moves from stories to statistics and back again, describing quarantine crews, burials. The problem for the world of the book is all forms of prevention seem to fail: religious beliefs and rituals and what was called medicine didn’t work. Daniel Crouch discussed how typography, uses of punctuation, blank spaces on a page were used to represent disability in several texts. Francis Hopkinson had written about fonts and sizes of letters and symbols used expressively so this idea was understood. Mr Crouch showed where the architecture of a page itself was set up to record feelings about disabilities.

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Anne Elliot visiting Mrs Smith and Nurse Rooke (1995 BBC Persuasion)

Maureen Johnson’s paper on Austen’s Persuasion used the word disability to discuss how Austen shows certain social disabilities function like stigmas in society: these include Anne as an older haggard spinster; Captain Benwick as a grieving semi-widower, Hargrave grieving over the death of a friend. The novel has aging people, and people who fake illness (Mary Musgrove) and we have one seriously physically disabled character: Mrs Smith seems unable to walk; her condition is exacerbated by her poverty and widowhood, two more social stigmas or disabilities. Corey Goergen’s paper focused on the unbearable sadness, the emotional pain of debilitation in the later writing of Dorothy Wordsworth as found in her journals.

A prisoner in this quiet room
Nature’s best gifts are mine
Friends — books — and rural sights and sounds
Why should I then repine? —

She had Alzheimer’s or some form of senile dementia but her writing also has many of the expressive features of women’s writing, which included reflecting through structure a fluid concept of the self. Dorothy is not anxious about her identity; she writes with great spiritual intensity. We must avoid reading her as if she was some Shakespearean holy fool. She is communicating obliquely “more than 35 years of close intellectual and imaginative companionship” and writing startlingly accurate poetry about her state of mind. This set of verses comes near the end of her papers:

My tremulous fingers feeble hands
Refuse to labour with the mind
And that too oft is misty dark & blind.

The talk afterwards added much to what had been said already. Chris Mounsey asked if words have to be reshaped to reflect disabilities?. To Erin he said the movement she is describing is from demonizing to therapy, and we should look to see how the tone of a piece changes, and tone towards the person suffering when the language of blame disappears. One problem in Defoe we see is how the readers can misinterpret in terms of what they already know. Chris suggested at the core of the problem of writing disability is the use of the word “normal.” Another member of the audience suggested that a study of the history of medical narratives shows mostly narratives of triumph where the person is cured. He said we need to overturn these falsifying patterns, see pain as normal, and that all personalities are at some level fragile.

I’ve been so interested in Scottish literature and Scottish identity the last few months that I went to “Upstairs, Downstairs in Scotland through the long 18th century.”

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Kinross, the house as photographed when it was recently sold once again (for a huge sum)

I stayed for two papers. Clarisse Godard Desmarest described the life of Sir William Bruce (1630-1710), a Scottish gentleman-architect, who built a grand house famous today: Kinross. Bruce was rewarded for his loyalty to the Stuarts after the Restoration, and plans were set afoot to build a beautiful house, and surround it with remarkable gardens. He was founding a family dynasty. She then covered what is left of the letters of Bruce’s first wife, Mary Halkett, to show us that a great deal of the successful implementation of the owners’ scheme is owing to her force, diligence and tact. Ms Demarest covered many details of what was built, planted, what trophies are there.

Mark Wallace’s paper on “High Life Below Stairs” was on the intersection of class conflicts: while he began by describing Edinburgh clubs and elite social life, his focus was eventually on how the upper classes ended the customs of giving servants vails (big tips). Mr Wallace described changing attitudes of mind towards pleasure and workin Edinburgh; that volunteerism was part of its social ethos. The Edinburgh clubs promoted philanthropy, reading and writing; they worked to mitigate some of the miseries inflicted on people during lowland clearances, and the destruction of the highland culture. They wanted their organization to outshine the English. At the same time they were seeking shore up the hierarchies that kept them in power. The claim was giving vails disrupted social intercourse (especially visiting) between the upper classes (because they cost too much, because servants drank too much when given money), and the practice was with rigorous repression discontinued. Hypocrisy cannot be denied as these clubs (however decorously) used alcohol themselves during festivities which were seen as enacting masculine bonding. For these elite groups it was a question of how to manage servants (repressing pride and any “licentiousness”) so as to network comfortably and conveniently in their own houses, but we and the middle and lower classes then could see brought to the surface class tensions and how servants lived disciplined marginalized lives. Mr Wallace described an often-cited and often-performed farcical play, Garrick’s High Life Below Stairs which presented these problems through satiric parody, in effect making light of serious issues. I thought of the falsfications of the enormously popular Downton Abbey while at the same time it dramatized class conflicts and showed us the vulnerability of the servants to the power of their masters and mistresses.

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The Lisbon Earthquake (1755, modern representation)

I then hurried to the poster session on the 17th floor lobby area and walked from poster to poster talking to and listening to innovative interactive ways (using software programs) the various instructors/professors were teaching students how to do research, about the 18th century. After lunch, Felicity Nussbaum read aloud the Presidential address by Srinivas Aravamudan, “From Enlightenment to Anthropocene.” I feel sure this post-colonial and cosmopolitan meditation on geological epochs, different philosophical approaches to history (including the popularity of vast tomes of encyclopedic books), geology and geography (climate change), and time itself, centering on the figure of Giambattista Vico while along the way writers from Voltaire to Montesquieu, the Lisbon Earthquake, the formation of the European mountains, were discussed, will be published. I’ll say only that I was attracted to the outlook of read text, which seemed justifiably pessimistic in the way it approached the time when (perhaps) earth’s people will have so changed the earth that our species can no longer survive on it and go extinct. The contemporary illustrations chosen were illuminating as also portraits of individuals less well-known now.

The long day ended with the panel on which I gave my paper: John O’Neill’s “The Eighteenth Century On Film” (4:30-6:00 pm).

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Jim and Jinny Carter, he dying from his unjust imprisonment (1975-76 Poldark, scene not in the source book nor in 2015 film)

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Captain Blamey and Verity at the ball, he blaming her for not being willing to flee with him (alluding to Wentworth to Anne Elliot, Persuasion, not in the source book nor 1975-76 films)

Mine was the first paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 40 years on.” I demonstrated a plethora of 1960-70s films have been re-made within this time-frame and that with a couple of exceptions, the new films are using real or fantasy history to create a past with different emphases from the one realized earlier in order to project and/or construct an imposed or perceived group identity intended to allay insecurities of our era. I used the Poldark pair as a particularly lucid example of typical changes: the 1970s mini-series series dramatizes exploitative inexorable conflicts along class, political and gender and generation lines. Far from from presenting a strong community identity as way for individuals to solve their lives’ problems, the older mini-series centers on characters presented as individuals escaping – or failing to escape from – invisible coercive and sometimes unjust norms (prisons). The films identify with the radical, the rebel, and take a strongly feminist (sometimes anachronistically so) stance. The 2015 series reveals a single script-writer using film technologies to make mythic matter for an idealized perceived indwelling heroic community identity as a solution to individual problems. The women are now subordinated to, work for their families and working businesses, and their children, wherein they find their meaning and safety. The parallel for the first series is The Onedin Line, where there is much trust in existence itself, high scepticism towards religionm trust in technology; the parallel for the second Outlander where characters live in a spiritualized landscape, what happens in life mysterious, often monstrous, and the future something to be guarded against, potentially dark and grim. The actuating idea is people need to hold together, stay in a single imaginary space, and yet experience is centrifugal, now and again the strength of community as powerful when united against single or small groups of much more powerful individuals is shown to be a delusion.

Jennifer Wilson’s paper was on Alan Bennett’s use of diary materials (Greville’s and Burney’s especially) for his film, The Madness of George III. She suggested he has done this again for his film adaptation of his play, The Lady in the Van.

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Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings as Miss Shepherd and Bennett (Lady in the Van, 2016)

Ms Wilson played clips from The Madness of George III showing how the rhythm of the scenes mirrored the movements of the diaries, and also how effective unusual camera work, close-ups especially. She talked of how Nigel Hawthorne’s performance was much enhanced (as would be Maggie Smith’s).

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The opening prologue and over-voice of Claire, deeply regretful and yet thrilled remembering 1945 from her perspective of 1743 (Outlander 2015)

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Jamie MacTavish and Claire now Mrs Beauchamp (the first of many mutually nurturing rides in extremis together)

Courtney Hoffman argued that Outlander is a “feminist film text,” that the film used voice-over, montage, and a female gaze to break down the strong tendency of action-adventure romance to give us a male story. Instead we have story of female agency, based on a woman’s memory; Claire’s two voices, one from the present which turns into past and the other in the past which becomes the present are in charge, are shaping what we feel and what we see. Claire is pro-active, often controls what is happening. The mini-series overturns our gender expectations.

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From Belle, the white and black heroines sewing together (Belle, 2013)

Steven Thomas’s rich paper covered several eras of films about slavery as well as several types of slave narrative films. There are commercial films meant to please large audiences, often majority white: these include plantation dramas of nostalgia, with the displacement of the fallen south onto a guilty (villainous, trangressive) woman (e.g., Birth of a Nation, Jezebel, Gone with the Wind). There are the evangelical and nationalistic films (funded by religious groups), linear in narrative, with redeemed and/or heroic protagonists (Amazing Grace, Roots, Jefferson in Paris). Some commercial films are aimed at African and African-Americans too: anti-plantation films, Blaxpolitation; they exploit voyeurism, fantasies of violence, “both” sides are transgressive and cruel (Mandingo, Cobra Verde, The Legend of Nigger Charlie). Unfortunately the films least well-known are often the truest to what was the experience of slavery and its politics. These include the 1960s and 70s Marxist films analyzing the political economies, dramatizing corrosive and destructive policies, using complex social antagonisms of all sorts (Tamango, The Last Supper, Burn!). Mr Thomas seemed to think finest as a type are the Pan-Africanist films: these layer memory, history, are de-centered and communal narratives, sometimes African in origin (Ceddo, Daughters of the Dust, Sankofa). Mr Thomas found more hope in the sense of education of viewers in the more widely-distributed “new” movies (very recent costume dramas, combining motifs (Lincoln, Belle, 12 Years a Slave, Toussaint Louverture, Tula: the Revolt). He offered lists of books, and articles on historical films, heritage, films about slavery, black cinema.

Though we did not have much time afterward, what talk we did have was stimulating. People seemed most interested in Outlander. Someone objected to Ms Hoffman’s thesis on the grounds that Claire is continually imperilled, often assaulted, near raped, and repeatedly saved in the old-fashioned way (in the nick of time) by her lover-husband from the past, Jamie MacTavish. I suggested what was strikingly innovative was how Jamie was given the over-voice most of the time in the second to last and penultimate episodes. In these it is he who is imprisoned and tortured (making the film politically relevant today) by Claire’s husband now in the past presented as a repressed homosexual cruel man who whips mercilessly and then seduces, rapes Jamie repeatedly until Jamie’s sense of self is shattered and he is giving in sexually to his abuser. This material transgresses almost every taboo on the presentation of masculinity in most films. People asked Mr Thomas questions soliciting information mostly, but there theme of a black community came up and he praised those films which do show us such communities, how they form and function. He said he is in the midst of publishing a collection of film studies, one of which will be his own paper. A woman came up to me at the close of the session and told me she is publishing a book on film where she has an essay on the two Poldarks where she basically offers the same perspective I did. Hers is not yet published. Mine will soon be up on the Net on a group blog maintained by a consortium of university and commercial groups (ABOPublic is its name).

And so the academic and scholarly sessions of Thursday and Friday that I attended ended.

BAL5239 The Shrimp Girl, c.1745 (oil on canvas) by Hogarth, William (1697-1764) oil on canvas 63.5x50.8 National Gallery, London, UK English, out of copyright
William Hogarth, The Shrimp Girl (1745)

Ellen

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AristocratsConversation

From the 1999 Aristocrats mini-series, scripted by Harriet O’Carroll, directed by David Caffrey, based on Stella Tillyard’s Aristocrats

Dear friends and readers,

Just back from the ASECS (American Society for 18th Century Studies) conference in Los Angeles, and having listened to what was said in three sessions on the problem of what is history, conveying it, what is happening to presentations in books and classrooms, and novels, I thought of a proposal for a panel I’ll never send. Perhaps as a group of ideas it might spur others to think about this:

I propose a panel where in papers people discuss where the new historicism and post-modern attitudes have taken us? how has an insistence that history is to be found in the local nuanced often unrecorded doings of relatively powerless people in their personal lives and contemporary highly sceptical attitudes towards the possibility of uncovering a semblance of accurate enough truth affected what is written in respectable histories and what appears in historical fiction? The background includes the dropping of all history courses as a humanities and/or social sciences required course in many colleges. Since much that the ordinary person learns is conveyed through film, what is happening to historical films? The overt self-reflexivity of prize-winning Booker Prize and Whitbread type books and the increasing popularization of costume drama (brief scenes, little coherent thoughtful dialogue), with an increase in romancing and fantasy (time-traveling) influenced the TV mini-series, a central core place for such films. Are uneducated viewers further miseducated or do they view what they see with a sophisticated perspective?  I invite papers on modern monographs, narrative and specialized history, historical fiction in novels and films.

We should remember how people build their identities by their sense of the past and where they get that. The images for Aristocrats find their real origin in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, and he was much influenced by the Gainsborough Studies 1940s costume dramas, for example.

BarryLyndon

A fancy,
Ellen

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Mr.-Turner
The iconic image based on a painting by Turner like this:

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Dolbadern Castle, 1800

Dear friends and readers,

I’m glad to start our new year off with a hearty recommendation: don’t miss Mike Leigh’s latest film, all 2 and a half hours. It’s a loving recreation insofar as this is possible in a film of the early to mid- 19th century environments and places one can imagine Joseph Mallard William Turner spent his waking, sleeping, socializing, eating, walking, networking and painting hours in (1775-1851). Visual and psychologically absorbing experiences. A touching lifelong story (don’t believe nothing happens), with other stories suggested along the way. The world of the early 19th century seems to be recreated. Lots of Turners too.

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The studio (Timothy Spall as J.M.W.Turner, directed & written by Mike Leigh, with many other producers

For those interested in Austen or the later 18th century into Victorian period, the film is a visual delight as well as now and again teaching you this and that about epitomizing things, customs, manners, clothes of the era. I do not remember Leigh reveling in recreation so since High Hopes. My favorite moments were the visits to shops and when first Turner alone and then with his lady-love, common-law wife apparently, land-lady and then bed-mate and congenial companion Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) go to have their photos taken by one of the new cameras.

There is one small problem or fault in the movie. I use the term “small” ironically. Leigh’s got Turner’s career a wee bit wrong. In the movie you get the distinct impression that all his life Turner painted wild partly indecipherable unrealistic, barely discernible pictures of tempests and bare landscapes:

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What Turner is famous for

that while at first he cares about money, most of the time and especially towards the end he’s a mid-20th century Bohemian kind of guy whose one thought is to share his work with the British nation for free (he’s going to give his rooms full of pictures to the National Gallery).

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Recently there was an exhibit at the Tate Gallery where a number of critics waxed ecstatic under the aegis of this theory. Not so said John Barrell in an important column in the LRB (24:18, December 18th), where he suggested the curators of the show know better. For 2/3s and more of Turner’s career he painted perfectly discernible picturesque paintings of more than landscapes, of buildings, of country houses, of ruins, of life going in rural environments; beautiful drawings of sites of memory (Tintern Abbey) in the English and European countryside, towns (as seen in the second still I took from the film).

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Turner, Ruins of Dunblane Abbey, Scotland

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Turner, Drachenfels, 1817

Lucerne by Moonlight: Sample Study circa 1842-3 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
This study of Lucerne by Moonlight (not in the movie) is dated 1842

In the film there is a reference to Thackeray as a typical non-comprehending contemporary. Barrell quotes a long piece by Thackeray praising Turner strongly for representing the new technologically based world (Leigh gets that right) and showing real understanding of the painting technique. Leigh mocks Ruskin far too much too. Turner cared very much for financial success and wanted to be understood insofar as others could understand by his contemporaries. Barrell argues that the very late so-called modernist paintings are unfinished.

Nonetheless, the film survives not including the great variety of Turner’s paintings. That great variety is embodied in the production designs of the films. And there are plenty of landscapes, sublime and from the last part of his career. Leigh suggests the politics of the Royal academy and Turner’s need to sell his pictures to customers who come to his salon and whom he has to visit and spend time with.

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Paul Jesson as William Turner, the father, with geologist & patroness, Lesley Manville as Mary Somerville

James Fleet is brilliantly part comic as Turner’s rival (the picture he is seen painting is one I’ve seen at the National Gallery)

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as is Martin Savage as the impecunious Benjamin Hayden (whether he was so impecunious I don’t know). Clive Francis is the eager-to-please-the-public Sir Martin Arthur Shee.

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Leigh creates this world Spall as Turner lives in through having so many different characters show up across the film, many played by fine actors from British TV — Sylvestre Le Tousel is Turner’s mother. Everywhere we turn more people: at a concert, playing Beethoven I spotted Raquel Cassidy the actress who plays Miss Baxter in Downton Abbey (now she’s upstairs playing the piano rather than downstairs sewing). David Ryall as a footman, Fenella Woolgar as Lady Eastlake, James Norton playing the clarinet badly, Simon Chandler as Sir SomebodyorOther, Sinead Matthews as Queen Victoria. And so it went. Leigh also captures the slow changes in technologies. from travel in coaches, to steamboats to the new railway. We see Turner from early middle age to old age, the film moves from from the time his father comes to live with him, then dies, until Turner’s own death.

He is far from idealized. He is probably made far more inarticulate than the real Turner was – though every once in a while Spall comes out with a concise statement about art in general and his own. While Turner is tenderly loving to his father, we see that he left his wife or a woman who regards herself as his wife (played by an actress who has been with Leigh since High Hopes, Ruth Sheen) and does not help his daughters or grandchildren at all. The really poignant figure of the film is his woman servant, Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), who serves him endlessly from dawn to dusk, whom he fucks and buggers at will and never shows an iota of respect to.

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Half way through the film he marries Mrs Booth a middle class woman running a lodging house at Margate afer her second husband dies and we see he is all courtesy to her, gradually becomes friends, treats her well and when her second husband dies, courts and then gently takes her to bed, respecting and living with her as a husband; they are congenial. She sells her house and moves to Margate which is near the sea to accommodate his painting habits.

Mr-Turner

The penultimate scene of the movie is of this ex-boarding house lady after she sees Turner though his death (thus she is widowed three times) washing a window and looking out at the sky remembering Turner saying “The Sun is God.” She is a cheerful woman, one reason Turner stays by her. But the movie ends on Hannah, aged, ugly, worn, finding the house her master goes to for weeks, and realizing he has been living with this other woman. She is too mortified to come in. She is last seen after his death, a shattered servant wandering about his house, about to be thrown out – -grieving for him. He never treated her decently because of her class. The movie presents him at the moment of death remembering her (he utters his pet name for her, “damsel”) — softening what is very hard.

There are many vignettes slices of life of the time. Among the last scenes is that of a beggar-woman prostitute lying dead in a pool by the gutter, probably a suicide. The authorities cover her with a blanket. There are also concerts and drawing room eating and drinking and conversation abut scenes of working people in the streets. These juxtapositions reminded me of High Hopes and I thought I’d rent that one again.

The movie made me ask the question, what is a historical film? Was I enjoying it because it was so self-reflexively a costume-drama well done with many of my favorite actors? Maybe because it did move so slowly — and the scenes of conversation moved so deliciously normatively (none of this 5 second vignette coming to a melodramatic climax and then move on), it felt real enough? Or was it seemingly authentic decor? Period costume, antique furniture, other props? How does one convey history? because in a way this was pastiche. Was it the the sense of space that was presented naturalistically? In fact some of the scenes where Turner goes off to paint seemed to me frozen concoctions (CGE) based on paintings I’d seen in books. A crowded fore- and background and then the scene with the moving camera work at various angles like our eyes? or the acting? it moves naturalistically and often it seems that nothing much is happening except of course our attention is held by small events.

For those who love Turner it’s a feast as we do glimpse many of his paintings and are reminded of others.

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An engraving of Lancaster Sands

Richmond, Yorkshire (from the Moors) 1828 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Richmond, Yorkshire Moors, 1828

Some reviews: Mark Kermode, the Guardian; Sarah Turner of PopinsomaniacRoberta Smith, an art critic in the NYTimes

Ellen

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Duchess2 (2)

Duchess2 (1)

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The Duke (Ralph Fiennes) raping the Duchess (Keira Knightley) and a moment afterward (Saul Dibbs’ and Amanda Foreman’s The Duchess, screenplay Jeffrey Hatcher 2008, one source for which is The Sylph, published 1778)

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Anonyma2
Our anonymous heroine witnessing one of countless rapes in Anonyma (2008), adapted from Marta Hiller’s A Woman In Berlin (first published 1945)

Dear friends and readers,

The last few weeks I’ve been immersed in two books which ought to be better known to English readers, Georgiana Spenser, the Duchess of Devonshire’s one novel, The Sylph, published anonymously in 1778, and the German diary now Englished as A Woman in Berlin and known to be Marta Hiller’s one book, also published anonymously 167 years later. They extend our understanding, our definition (if you will), the terrain of rape.

About four years ago I finally wrote the paper I should have written in 1980 (when I wrote my dissertation) on Richardson’s Clarissa; it took me 30 years to get to the point where I could discuss what riveted me when I first read Clarissa at age 18: “Rape in Clarissa,” which I subtitled from its heroine’s words, “What right have you to detain me here?”, surely not that you have raped me once? (it is that first rape that makes Lovelace assume he has the right to detain Clarissa).

In this recently thoroughly researched paper (if I do say so myself), I outline the two basic types of rape that most discussions of rape are subsumed under:

1) simple rape: an event where someone is compelled to submit to, or participate in, a physical sexual interaction which includes fucking, sodomy, fellatio or cunnilingus. Central is a loss of agency or control which occurs when the first onslaught is an event that goes well beyond the target’s expectations;

2) aggravated rape: a situation where the rapist uses extrinsic highly visible violence (weapons), where there are multiple assailants, a high degree of brutality and/or beating, or where there is no prior relationship between victim and rapist.

The problem is these definitions both demand the woman reject the sex, they both assume she has agency. All too often she does not. She cannot just say no. This is of course true of chattel slavery. But that condition is often ignored as now over with. In The Sylph and countless rapes in A Woman in Berlin, Georgiana and Hillers present two other all too familiar set of circumstances today where saying no is ignored: when a woman is married and cannot get out of the marriage; during war.

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From the appalling experience of sex shown us from Georgiana’s POV on the first night of her marriage to the Duke

Georgiana Spencer’s novel was regarded as scandalous for many reasons; one not discussed is that in several scenes sex is forced on her heroine when she clearly does not want it; she has been insulted by seeing her husband with one of his mistresses; he has attempted to fool her into going to bed with Lord Biddulph, his fellow-rake, now a creditor; he has himself insulted and berated her when she does not hand over the rest of her jointure or refused to go to bed with this creditor once again. Her heroine, Julia, married of her own free will but in an arranged way, as an exchange of property and money between her father, Sir William Stanley, and after some months when she has been treated corruptly she clearly does not want to have sex with him, and it is forced upon her. In the scenes in the novel where Biddulph attempts to have sexual intercourse with her, had he succeeded might fall under the rubric of simple rape, except the situations have been set up by Stanley is Julia as payment for a debt. So they extend the definition of marital rape.

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From a scene as the armies invade: the women flee into a basement; they are heckled as “Frau Hitler” and raped …

The nameless journalist heroine of Hillers’ book tells of the entry of the Russian armies into Berlin in late April 1945, and takes us into mid-June when the war is declared over. Yes there are countless (truly) rapes where women are beaten into complying, brutalized, humiliated, but there are as many where the women seem to comply, do not fight the men off and yet others where they allow one man to take over their body nightly in return for food and protection from ceaseless rapes by other men, but all the while writhing within, silently bearing it until the war situation comes to an end. This presented by Hillers as continuous rape. After the declaration of war new rapes occur less often, but the women are still answerable with their bodies. For weeks afterward they are driven like animals to do heavy physical labor by the occupying males (who while supervising, needle, heckle and try to get them to have sex with them in return for favors) for food. Sex slaves. In both sets of cases, the scenes are dramatized so that we shall see the woman complies at the same time as what is happening is rape.

Both books are the only books by these gifted women because both anonymous authors were excoriated (vilified) for writing them. For telling. The books show that apparent compliance is no criteria for saying that the act of sexual intercourse was not rape. The women are subject to their society which redefines these experiences of rape so as to by law declare them not rape (marriage) or by custom silence or shame the women who were subjected to them. While some of what the women think in both novels can be aligned to what a hostage is led to mouth when she finds herself the victim of hegemonic values which she takes on as a protection for her self-esteem, the physical acceptance of the act is accompanied by self-alienation, disgust, an intense desire to get away at the first opportunity. At the close of The Slyph Julia knows peace only when she returns home to her father. The anonymous heroine is relieved when her protectors (she takes on two) are gone, but she is immediately confronted by her continuing need for food, an incessant preoccupation in the diary and to return to a profession where she can be independent and eat, she attempts with others to recreate a press and write again, very stressful and against great odds (e.g., not enough paper).

In both cases a film adaptation has now been made. Saul Dibbs’s and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Duchess (with Amanda Foreman as advisor) tell the story of the life of the Duchess using perspectives taken from Foreman’s and Georgiana’s books. For example, when one of Georgiana’s extravagant wigs were set on fire. (In the film she is drunk out of despair and collapses.) They blend easily as The Sylph mirrors a number of events known to have occurred in Georgiana’s life (sometimes represented in a reversal, as in the novel the Duke loses egregious amounts of money while it was Georgiana who lost extravagant amounts). Rape figures centrally in the film: Georgiana’s first night with the Duke is made to feel like a rape (she is his property); he rapes her after she finds him in bed with her paid companion-friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell): the three stills above are taken from that scene where the camera shows us the rest of the house hearing her cries and doing nothing. We feel she is violated when her child by Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) is taken from her. Little of this is discussed in reviews of the film; its genre, costume drama, frames it as romance and it’s easy to find stills of Keira Knightley in fabulous hats from it, often looking virginal. Here is a less familiar pair: the Duchess despairing and drunk just before her headdress is set on fire from a fallen chandelier:

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I regret to say the 2008 film, Anonyma, written and directed by Max Faberbock loses the value of the book. It has great power and that lies in the opening half-hour where there is recreated what it’s like to be invaded by an army in just these specific circumstances: you are in a city that is ruined by bombing, the people whose “side” you are said to be on have basically lost (Hitler’s suicide is announced about 40 minutes in). The POV is our heroine’s, Anonyma (that’s what’s she’s called) played by Nina Hoss. Faberbock and she and all concerned convey the terror and brutality — rape is what the women suffer hideously — brutal and ugly and slow: these rapes don’t happen all at once; there’s time for women to try to get commanders to stop the men and they refuse (“my men are healthy”). But rape is only one aspect of what’s experienced: filth, destruction, eating filth, destroyed houses, rooms, things, children hidden and sudden and quick deaths as people are simply shot or there is a barrrage of fighting with guns. Faberbock is very willing to use black screens to convey darkness. But what happens within the first 40 minutes is the film becomes a love story — as the diary never does. We are asked to believe our heroine overlooks the way the major who becomes her long-term bed partner refused to stop his men and other horrendous acts when she first met and appealed to him. The film vindicates masculinity conventions and beliefs about women (such as they do not mind rape when not accompanied by harsh beating or death).

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From the close of the film where we are presented with a silent adieu between the major who was our heroine’s central protector-rapist

The way Anonyma is described on IMDB is so distorted as to be comical — it imposes this sentimental meaning on what’s happening ludicrously — Lore must save her people; she learns to rely on what she hated. Roger Ebert wrote an intelligent review; so too one appeared in The Guardian. Also I have come across nothing in the press which discusses the sex in The Duchess truthfully, much less any awareness of its debt to The Sylph. So the rest of this blog will be a brief account of The Sylph and A Woman in Berlin as rape stories.

There is much more one could say about both, I am treating them from this point of view as it is central to them.

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The first page of the first edition quotes Pope’s Rape of the Lock

The Sylph is a multi-voice epistolary fiction. Sir William marries Julia because he can’t get her any other way and by her letter we see that he is imposing on her values and norms which are a kind of violation of her feelings. He in short is not in love with our heroine — nor is she in love with him. She recognizes he is a stranger to her. when she gets to London, she is immersed in an amoral world and meets Lady Besford who urges her to have affairs, only be discreet: a mild version of Madame de Merteuil who in Les Liasions Dangereuses is enisted by Cecile’s mother to teach her daughter (recently it’s been recognized that Valmont rapes Cecilia the first time and controls her by blackmail — he’ll tell her mother — thereafter). Lady Melford is the helpless good mentor. Georgiana’s is an anti-libertine libertine novel, a critique of the adulterous disloyal world frankly presented. Early scenes with her husband (as Caroline Breashears wrote — she read with me and others) “the complexities and violence of the bed chamber.” A miscarriage is callously dismissed. Julia is taken as a sex object, impregnated, encouraged to have liasions discreetly so her husband can too. He returns from the opera which he attended with one of his mistresses and refuses to account for his long absence, insisting immediately on his marital rights which Julia now find distasteful because done with false words (hypocrisies). The Sylph is an anonymous correspondent who offers to watch and monitor her behavior — to the modern reader he feels like a stalker; there’s something insidious in his demands she reveal to him, a stranger, her inward thoughts. (Admittedly Julia-Georgiana does not take his presence this way, but agrees to subject herself to his judgement in order to protect herself.)

We have several inset stories. One is told early on by Julia’s father about his past and that of her mother. It is an exposure of the evils of primogeniture, marriages arranged sheerly for money. A story of Lord D who finds out his wife, Lady L, had taken a lover and challenges that lover to a duel and is killed by him presents duelling as murder in disguise. In another in-set story Georgiana makes it plain how rape can work. The aristocrat Montague tries outright to rape a lower middle class girl, Nancy; when Montague is thwarted, he removes her fiance by persuading Will to join the army, fomenting rebellion in Will, catching him deserting, and having him flogged — is it any different than say a court intrigue where the king or powerful man manipulates a lower courtier to allow his wife to go to bed with him? This is also a parable against flogging — against the terrible inhumane treatment of the lower classes. We are really made to feel how much flogging hurts.

As the novel progresses and Sir William gets deeper and deeper into debt he successfully pressures Julia to give up a proportion of her settlement (what she is supposed to live on in widowhood, and what could support them if he becomes a bankrup); it does no good, he is not grateful; he does not pretend even to love her — she no longer deludes herself his lust is love. Another sex as rape scene is implied and he returns to the gambling tables. On one level this is a portrait of unhappy marriage, what a marriage for sex and at a price ends end up in. As such, it may be an original novel — is there any other that in a middle class type novel shows this level of reality — deeply distraught and disillusioned young woman does not know where to turn. There is an allusion to Pamela Andrews as a pernicious book because it leads women to believe they can win a worthy man by withholding sex; we can also assume Georgiana was thinking of this central English novel. Julia finally encounters the Sylph at a masquerade ball and it becomes apparent he is a male who is after her too.

It is when she goes home thinking she is with Sir William she discovers he has sent Biddulph in his place in an attempt to delude her into going to bed with this man. William is then enraged with her for refusing Biddulph. part of the scene where Biddulph is disguised comes from the old canard that sex is the same in bed in the dark and it doesn’t matter what individual you are with. It’s an old bawdy joke, masculinist, and presented misogynistically in the Renaissance chapbooks and fabliau from the 15th through 18th century. Shakespeare uses it in Measure for Measure. We see it in comic plays where people jump into bed with the wrong people and have sex with them. Behn uses it. Since the conventions of verisimilitude are in play in The Sylph too, Georgiana does try to account for this by having Biddulph try to imitate Stanley’s behavior and Julia be puzzled. But she relies on her acceptance.

When Stanley comes in enraged and now demands that Julia turn over the rest of her settlement (jointure) he is particularly corrosive over her “prudery.” Stanley comes as close as he dares to offering Julia to Biddulph in lieu of the money he owes Biddulph: “I have but one method (you understand me) though I should be unwilling to be driven to such a procedure” (p 177). To do this break all norms for masculinity. Note he is willing to force sex himself on Julia anyway – no respect for her chastity, for himself as a proud male owning females, no concern for any pregnancy she might have. Let us acknowledge this is another form of rape – the selling of one’s acknowledged “woman” (wife) to another man and coercion of her. This motif turns up in novels otherwise not in imitation of one another: the wife in D’Epinay’s Montbrillant find her husband’s creditor in her bed and her husband waxing violent when she refuses to have sex with this man; in Edgeworth’s Leonora the vicious heroine plots to go to bed with someone to pay her debts (she is married). How common then was this? In Georgiana’s case it was she who was deep in debt so it might not be herself she is pointing to: her husband openly had Lady Elizabeth Foster, her companion so it seems reversed.

The novel is brought to an end when confronted with bankruptcy, and unable to cope with negotiations and an utterly (to his thinking) shamed life, Stanley kills himself and Julia returns home. If the novel had ended at this point we would have a very anti-marriage novel. Caroline wrote: “Moreover, it would be a convincing novel inspired by events in Georgiana’s own circle. In the introduction by Jonathan Gross, he notes that Lord Stanley’s gambling debts and suicide were inspired partly by the debts and death of John Damer (husband of Georgiana’s friend Anne), who shot himself in August 1775. Instead we have a sudden turn into idyllic romance, with Julia’s friend and sister marrying ideal young men and the Sylph turning out to be a suitor who had been rejected by her father because he had not the rank and money of Sir William. This is not Millenium Hall where the women built a life out of a female community together.

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2005 edition, translator Philip Boehm

Continued in the comments: a parallel reading of A Woman in Berlin: first half; second half; denouement.

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General thoughts placing both books in a woman’s tradition of books. For the 18th century:

Georgiana’s Sylph is a book much influenced by French novels and is a critique of the ancien regime too. If we posit there is such a thing as a libertine novel, (say — I came across this title this morning –, Crebillon’s Le Sofa, or Diderot’s Le Bijou (about a necklace’s adventures) — this one shows us the attitudes of the libertine novel and world, but is critiquing it. That is what LaClos claimed to be doing: he claimed he was not on Valmont or Madame de Merteuil’s side but exposed them to enable us to condemn them. This recalls Richardson’s writing outside his novel about Lovelace, and Georgiana’s Stanley and Biddulph are clearly modelled on Lovelace.

But it is Madame Riccoboni’s novels I call attention to where one heroine is raped while unconscious (drunk), another commits suicide; and most significantly in the decade after The Sylph: Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichfield is nowadays available in English translation on line is significant here. Isabelle de Montolieu did the astonishingly brave thing of showing a girl coerced into marriage refusing to go to bed with the man that night. It made open and clear in novels for the middle class that coerced marriage is rape. The man is a Colonel Brandon type (S&S is based partly on this novel I am convinced of it) and so does not force her, but he could. Montolieu punts by having his looks improved and them fall in love by the end (heroine betrayed by a Willoughby type). Trollope has heroines commit suicide rather than go to bed with a man distasteful to them, but he makes them so bad looking, and the women forcing it so sadistic, it does not seem ordinary as it is in Caroline de Lichtfield. The only other novel I know of that does this in the 19th century is Sand’s Valentine, and there the young man does try to force her. She throws him out and finds herself a pariah. Caroine de Licthfield is a 1780s novel — again after the Sylph, but not much after.

In both the 18th century and until today it is common for novels to be about women who fake rape; only very recently have women written about real rape (see my bibliography and notes for “Rape in Clarissa”).

As to Hillers’ book it belongs to European books written after WW2, often in the middle to later 1940s: all extraordinary, especially the journals by women (and men, Primo Levi’s for example) from Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia, 1943-44 to Elsa Morante’s Historia, to Ingeborg Bachman’s poetry and Christa Woflf’s Cassandra and Four Essays. They were often either ignored upon first publication, or heavily criticized, framed by some aspect of the woman’s life. None of these are about rape, though Morante includes it. The European women’s books often rise to a level the UK people don’t — bombs are not the same as occupation (which as we know can bring genocides): I don’t mean to to be frivolous but I read the first Poldark novels coming out of UK in 1945 after Graham’s years as a warden on the beaches of Cornwall; Simone de Beauvoir’s is another extension of the kind of book WW2 prompted. Here are some reviews first published years later,

http://arlindo-correia.com/eine_frau_in_berlin1.html

From Joseph Kanon:

That population was largely female and the dramatic events here are rapes — repeated rapes, group rapes, violent rapes, accommodating rapes. It has recently been the fashion to think of rape as a military tactic (as it was in Bosnia), but here it appears in its more familiar aspect: crude men seizing their spoils of war, as barbarous as Goebbels had promised. The most commonly accepted figure for rapes committed in Berlin during the first weeks of the Russian occupation is around 100,000 (calculated by hospitals to which the women turned for medical help). ”A Woman in Berlin” shows us the actual experience behind those abstract numbers — how it felt; how one got through it (or didn’t); how it brought its victims together, changing the way they saw men and themselves; the self-loathing (”I don’t want to touch myself, can barely look at my body”); the triumph of just surviving.

from Ursula Hegil:

A Woman in Berlin is an amazing and essential book. Originally written in shorthand, longhand and the author’s own code, it is so deeply personal that it becomes universal, evoking not only the rapes of countless German women in 1945 but also the rape of every anonymous woman throughout war history — the notion of women as booty. The book’s focus is not on the Nazi rampage across Europe but on its aftermath, when 1.5 million Red Army soldiers crossed the Oder River and moved westward. More than 100,000 women in Berlin were raped, but many of them would never speak of it. “Each one of us will have to act as if she in particular was spared,” Anonymous writes. “Otherwise no man is going to want to touch us anymore.”

Anonymous was an editor and journalist. Her voice is unlike most other voices from that period: She probes, refuses to look away. Nearly half a century ago, when her diary was first published in German, it challenged the postwar silence and all it concealed: guilt, lies, defensiveness, denial. . . .

The others hardly discuss the topic of rape; one is a slur, attempting to suggest the book is a work of ficiton. All life-writing is dramatized, shaped by themes and aesthetic considerations

http://arlindo-correia.com/eine_frau_in_berlin.html

The above are mostly in German; the last two by women discuss rape centrally, Linda Grant discussing “mass rape”; Cressida Connolly how the women talked together and coped with the situation by talking of it in ways unthinkable usually (undoable), as jokes; Joanna Burke tells us of a survivor.

http://arlindo-correia.com/161103.html

Atina Grossman’s academic paper sets the book in the contexts of real documents from the time — showing by the way the book is non-fiction, telling an accurate truth as the author experienced it.

Ellen

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