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Posts Tagged ‘foremother poet’


The three covers before the TV series began

I woke to the patter of rain on canvas, with the feel of my first husband’s kiss on my lips. I blinked, disoriented, and by reflex put my fingers to my mouth. To keep the feeling, or to hide it? I wondered, even as I did so.
Jamie stirred and murmured in his sleep next to me, his movement rousing a fresh wave of scent from the cedar branches under our bottom quilt. Perhaps the ghost’s passing had disturbed him …

Dear Friends and readers,

As I’ve done before, although I’ve been blogging on the fifth Outlander book, The Fiery Cross, and the fifth TV series season, on my Ellen and Jim have a blog, two site because the series is just as much, perhaps more a creation of male film-makers (by which I mean everyone involved) as female, I want also to link in my review-essays here — the historical fictions are all of them very much women’s historical-romance fiction, and many of the directors, writers, producers are women, to say nothing of the brilliant actresses. It’s  also set in 18th century North Carolina.

I wrote four. One comparing the book and film season against one another and then in the context of the previous 4 books and seasons:


Ulysses’ story is much changed in the series; that’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded Jamie is bringing Ulysses to read (Ep 11)

Season 5: The Fiery Cross transposed and transformed

Then a second on Episodes 1-5 and a third on Episodes 6-11:


Claire’s over-voice narration binds together the 5th episode which moves back and forth from the 18th century to the 20th (Ep 5)

Outlander, Season 5: Episodes 1-15, Her Stories


Brianna and Claire walking by the ocean (Ep 10)

Outlander, Season 5: Episodes 6-11, Women’s Realm (birthing, birth control, breast-feeding &c); again anti-war, father-son-friendship Bonding

A fifth and last on the astonishingly good last (12).

Outlander, Season 5: Episode 12: The Rape of Claire


Claire’s dream: her beloved 18th century family & friends transposed to the apparent safety of the 20th century (Ep 12)

As I like to provide more than the links when I do these handy lists (I’ve done this kind of cross-blogging for Poldark, Wolf Hall, and a few other film series, let me add that beyond Gabaldon’s two Outlandish Companions (books 1-4, then 5-8), and the two books of The Making of Outlander type (Seasons 11 2; the Seasons 3-4), I’ve used for all my blogs since the first season began and I started to write about the books; wonderfully interesting and well written books of essays and encyclopedia like articles edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel: Adoring Outlander: fandom, genre, the female audience (just the first book, also called Cross-Stitch and first season); Outlander’s Sassenachs: gender, race, orientation and the other in novels 1-5 & TV, seasons 1-5) and written by her alone: The Symbolism and Sources: Scottish Fairies, Folklore, Ballads, Magic and Meaning, not to omit why the titles, covers &, up to book 5)


This covers the titles and covers of the books too

Ellen

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Elizabeth Bishop and her cat in a car

Dear friends and readers,

Of the many women poets I’ve written a foremother blog about, just now Elizabeth Bishop may be the best known — both for her poetry and about her life and letters. There is a recent consensus about her importance and transcendence (if that’s not too pompous a word). She is reprinted everywhere (though maybe her refusal to allow her poetry to be printed in all women anthologies has slowed down the dissemination); dozens of articles, several individual books, two biographies (at least). For this blog I recently read Megan Marshall’s partial autobiography, Elizabeth Bishop: a Miracle for Breakfast, and Zachariah Pickard’s Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetics of Description. It’s easy to learn supposedly little-known facets of her talent too: such as she also drew and painted, as in William Benton’s “Elizabeth Bishop’s Other Art” (New York Review)

It seems most of her pictures are of her travels; she liked to draw the places she lived in as a sort of visitor, or temporarily, her domestic spaces, and typical woman’s objects: so still life flowers presented from a overtly plain life angle:


Daisies in Paintbucket

From a very young age, she began to pile up awards— even when she had published little outside college newsletters or a slender number of poems. She is likened to the finest poets in tradition: as Emily Dickinson, about whom she wrote in a “poignant and pointed” review of a book of letters by Dickinson that has survived (Emily Dickinson’s Letters to Doctor and Mrs Josiah Gilbert Holland and also of Rebecca Patterson’s Riddle of Emily Dickinson (the riddle is Dickinson was lesbian). There she is also with Helen Hunt Jackson, Muriel Rukeyser, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath (in Vivian Pollak’s Our Emily Dickinsons: American Women Poets and the Intimacies of Difference). I’ve now attended and myself led two zoom get-togethers of poets and readers happy to spend two hours and more close reading Bishop’s poetry. In both we felt we had hardly started and gotten through too few poems.

Paradoxically, this means I can write rather less than more about her, and the way perhaps to add to what is known is pick slightly less frequently printed poems.

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Again with her cat

About her life, I think it important to know that she was the daughter of New Englanders, one of whom, her father, was from a wealthy and well-connected (Brahman) family, from whom she inherited a legacy that kept her afloat (precluding the necessity of work for higher wages), and enabled her to go to good schools where she made the right connections: Walnut Hull School to study music as a girl led to Vassar College (1929) where she wrote and met (among others) Mary McCarthy, Eleanor Clark (whose Rome and A Villa is one of the most brilliant meditative books about a place I know), and Marianne Moore who became a dear friend (never a lover apparently), who mentored Elizabeth and helped her publish. Like Bishop, Moore avoided controversy by erasing references to her gender beyond the obvious, steering well clear of telling anything explicit about her personal life, or overtly political. According to Kathleen Spivack, like many women writers of her generation, Bishop internalized the misogyny of the 1950s. I can understand why she would want to protect herself against prejudice and the judgmental tendencies of the wider public.

She had a difficult childhood: her father died when she was very young, and her mother was institutionalized; she lived with different relatives and it took time for these people to realize and act upon the apparent reality that the child was more comfortable with her maternal relatives though they were the less educated, and not part of forward-thinking circles. From her young adulthood on, she suffered badly from depression and alcoholism (she alienated people, she lost time from serious work), and her history includes several liaisons, some longer, some shorter, with the most important woman a Brazilian woman from a pre-eminent political family, Lota (Maria Carlota) de Macedo Soares. Bishop lives with Soares in Brazil for years; alas, over this relationship, Soares killed herself. An important friendship with a male poet was with Robert Lowell; Elizabeth became involved with his troubles with his wife, the writer Elizabeth Hardwick (whom Lowell treated very shabbily and whose letters he plagiarized). Very late in life Elizabeth became deeply involved with a woman much younger than herself. There is an equally complicated history from her young to her later years of academic appointments.

She not only does not write free verse; from an artistic point of view, hers is a highly patterned poetry, using formal and stringent rhyme schemes, stanzaic forms, with continual subtle uses of assonance, alliteration (sometimes she seems to drill down into rhythms of anglo-saxon prosody across a line). Annie Finch has written about how this formality, love of patterns, is a characteristic of l’ecriture-femme, women’s poetry (see Finch’s The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self and A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women). Sestinas, villanelles, double sonnets, repeating tercets (a poem using just three rhymes). Her poems with the most moving content convey their ideas and articulated feeling through close visualized description and the verse musical refrains. She is a foremother poet’s poet, loving repetitive structures, imitative sounds for moods and evocations.

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I’ve chosen a few poems where I kept my inability in this blog to replicate stanzaic forms demanding indentation visual pictorialism in mind, and which I fancy might be less known and are not too long.

The first, as a Trollope scholar, her brilliant meditation on the part of Trollope’s North America where he visits Washington, DC, during the civil war and projects the depression and despair Trollope felt while there, partly a result of what he saw in the city.


South National Mall, Washington, D.C. 1863

From Trollope’s Journal

As far as statues go, so far there’s not
much choice: they’re either Washingtons
or Indians, a whitewashed, stubby lot,
His country’s Father or His foster sons.
The White House in a sad, unhealthy spot
just higher than Potomac’s swampy brim,
— they say the present President has got
ague or fever in each backwoods limb.
On Sunday afternoon I wandered, – rather,
I floundered, – out alone. The air was raw
and dark; the marsh half-ice, half-mud. This weather
is normal now: a frost, and then a thaw,
and then a frost. A hunting man, I found
the Pennsylvania Avenue heavy ground …
There all around me in the ugly mud,
— hoof-pocked, uncultivated, — herds of cattle,
numberless, wond’ring steers and oxen, stood:
beef for the Army, after the next battle.
Their legs were caked the color of dried blood;
their horns were wreathed with fog. Poor, starving, dumb
or lowing creatures, never to chew the cud
or fill their maws again! Th’effluvium
made that damned anthrax on my forehead throb.
I called a surgeon in, a young man, but,
with a sore throat himself, he did his job.
We talked about the War, and as he cut
away, he croaked out, “Sir, I do declare
everyone’s sick! The soldiers poison the air.”

John Bowen argues that Bishop’s double sonnet gives us an epitome, the core quintessence of Trollope’s North America: Trollope’s mood, central attitudes to the war. Bishop saw the same city many years later and had the same take on it. It is not a cynical perspective but an accurate response to aggressive militarist people, an unpretentious disquieting vision. She takes words from Trollope’s letters and wove them into her verse.

The next poem inspired a novel by Lisa Weiland about Bishop.

Paris, 7 A.M.

I make a trip to each clock in the apartment:
some hands point histrionically one way
and some point others, from the ignorant faces.
Time is an Etoile; the hours diverge
so much that days are journeys round the suburbs,
circles surrounding stars, overlapping circles.
The short, half-tone scale of winter weathers
is a spread pigeon’s Wing.
Winter lives under a pigeon’s wing, a dead wing with damp feathers.

Look down into the courtyard. All the houses
are built that way, with ornamental urns
set on the mansard roof-tops where the pigeons
take their walks. It is like introspection
to Stare Inside, or retrospection,
a star inside a rectangle, a recollection:
this hollow square could easily have been there.
—The childish snow forts, built in flashier winters,
could have reached these proportions and been houses;
the mighty snow-forts, four, five, stories high,
withstanding spring as sand-forts do the tide,
their walls, their shape, could not dissolve and die,
only be overlapping in a strong chain, turned to stone,
and grayed and yellowed now like these.

Where is the ammunition, the piled-up balls
with the star-splintered hearts of ice?
This sky is no carrier-warrior-pigeon
escaping endless intersecting circles.
It is a dead one, or the sky from which a dead one fell.
The urns have caught his ashes or his feathers.
When did the star dissolve, or was it captured
by the sequence of squares and squares and circles, circles?
Can the clocks say; is it there below,
about to tumble in snow?

Written in 1937 while for three weeks in Paris Bishop seeks to capture the architecture of the place she is living in, uses the image of a star inside a circle to recreate the way Paris grew out from itself (as Hugo has it in his Notre Dame de Paris) here like a star-fish. We have the present grim winter time (the Nazis were making their inroads on Europe, whence the reference for a need for ammunition), with Dickinson’s image of hope now “a dead wing with damp feathers.” I love the way the registering of the fleeting and transient (a child’s snow fort becomes a child’s sand castle) becomes something eternally remade over the seasons, with the image of stone signalling Paris’s long history, its eternity in stone in its ancient buildings. The idea of time is carried through the second stanza: “can the clocks say; is it there below?” What there?

And for a last, this sonnet where I find Bishop keeping herself calm by making order and harmony through making a poem which can harnesses the very rhythms of her heartbeat and body as she writes and we read it. This is the way I read Jane Austen’s novels, say Emma: the orderly rhythm of her sentences, their elegance and deeply felt content within patterns soothes and keeps me calm, strengthens me. This is what Bishop is doing through her very finger-tips, her lips, her whole body healing. Is there any more beautiful evocation than that “moon-green pool” which reminds me of lines by Pope and Anne Finch [to be cited, and linked in]

And this Sonnet (1928)

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

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I conclude with a YouTube of Elizabeth Bishop reading a group of her poems at the 92nd Street Y in NYC in 1977.

Ellen

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A miniature portrait of Anne Finch when still young

You, when your body, life shall leave
Must drop entire, into the grave;
Unheeded, unregarded lie,
And all of you together, die;
Must hide that fleeting charm, that face in dust,
Or to some painted cloth, the slighted Image trust.
Whilst my famed works, shall through all times surprise,
My polished thoughts, my bright ideas rise,
And to new men be known, still talking to your eyes.
— in imitation of a fragment of Sapho’s

Friends and readers,

Well it was on June 30, 2020 that I posted a description of the four major sources of Anne Finch’s poetry as the foundation for my review of the new standard edition of her poetry by Jennifer Keith (and others), the opening of summer and hoped that in a few days I would post a description of the several other sources of her poetry that are known today. It’s now September, end of summer, with days shortening, temperatures dropping some, fall on the way. I have worked on and off all summer on this and (about a month and a half later) another review of an anthology of essays on Jane Austen and the arts. (I did teach and worked on projects, read with friends on line, wrote on the Net daily.) My problem with the review is the same: I have not the second volume, and thus many of the questions I have about the first I am told are answered in the second.

Some fundamental disagreements have led me to go back to all my original material so I can work from these if I must concentrate on just the one volume — I’ve very much enjoyed some of this because I’ve read in Anne’s sources for poetry (she writes many translations, imitations from the French as well as Italian, not to omit the Bible and fables), about women’s plays in the era, poetry by her women contemporaries, a few known to her and a few her friends. These sources will eventually form a third blog. For now the other manuscripts and printed books which contain further poems not found in the major four sources or found in different forms. I re-read and/or skimmed the books and articles I knew of, and read carefully for the first time the articles that have been printed since, especially a couple by Keith (which I found to be very good).

I’m nonetheless especially troubled by Keith’s refusal to accept as by Anne Finch unattributed poems outside the acknowledged sources, even where there is good evidence and several people (besides me) have argued in print are by her. I assume they do not print these at all in the second volume (as they do not print any in the first). On this what I can say is this erasure and refusal makes my site not obsolete; it is and will for some time still perform its original purpose: to add to Myra Reynolds 1903 edition (drawn from 3 sources, MS Northampton or FH 283, MS Folger, 1713 Miscellany, plus what she knew of of the minor others sources) and the Hinnant-McGovern edition of the MS Wellesley what cannot be easily found otherwise.

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Eastwell Manor (as it’s now called) today

The question is, what order should I list these sources in? group them as manuscript and then printed book? and within that, which seems the most important — to include poems clearly by her, some of which are remarkably good and/or interesting? in chronological order insofar as we can tell when they were produced or printed, or insofar as we can tell whether the poems by her found in them are early or late. On my site I attempted chronological order of their production/printing even if the book or ms appeared or was made late and still contains an earlier poem by Finch. I couldn’t tell when a manuscript was begun to finished so if it contained an early poem by her I listed it early. I’ll repeat that though it obscures interesting thematic connections as it’s the least subjective way of doing it.

Click on the links as you go because I have not written out all over again the detailed information on my website but linked it in here. This is the summary of all the findings from the minor sources that I neglected to write up in one convenient place at the time Jim and I built the website and I put all the materials I had on it. You will find some fine poetry by Anne and links to further poetry placed in the alphabetical index on the website.

I begin with a text and source and book I didn’t know of until I began this review, it is one that Keith will not accept as by Anne Finch:


From a modern production of Venus and Adonis — this is a highly sexual sensual work of art (see other images)

1683, an anonymous libretto for John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, a pastoral opera-like masque, French influenced, nowadays an online copy exists; the scholarly edition and everything about this piece you might want to know, especially if you are interested in its probably author, Anne Finch, may be found in James Winn’s “A Versifying Maid of Honor:” Anne Finch and the Libretto for Venus and Adonis, The Review of English Studies, 59:238 (2008):67-85.

1693, The Female Vertuosos by Thomas Wright, with a dedication to Charles Finch, third Earl of Winchilsea (Heneage & Anne’s nephew): 1 song, “For the soft Joys of Love no longer last”

1696 Miscellanea Sacra or POEMS on DIVINE & MORAL SUBJECTS. Collected by N. Tate, Servant to His Majesty. “Tis not that which First we Love,/But what Dying we approve”: Mr. Waller. London. Printed for Hen. Playfor in the Temple Change in Fleet Street. MCDXCVI. 12 poems set off from the others surrounding them by style and topic. After the 6th, the printer suddenly skips the “by the same hand”, and then returns to it for the eighth. Six are found in the manuscripts; I am firmly convinced the 6 others are also by her

1701 A New Miscellany of Original Poems On Several Occasions. Written by the E. of D., Sir Charles Sidley, Sir Fleetw. Shepheard, Mr Wolesly, Mr Granvill, Mr Dryden, Mr Stepney, Mr. Rowe. And several other Eminent Hands. Never before Printed. London. Printed for Peter Buck, at the Sign of the Temple in Fleet Street; and George Strahan at the Golden Ball over against the Royal Exchange in Cornhill. 1701. Attributed to Charles Gilden. According to Cameron, this volume appeared in July 1701. The editor could have equally been Nicholas Rowe, friend to Anne.

A very important and curiously put together anthology (someone has pulled sheets from it). There are 7 poems by her here, one deliberately (mis)attributed to Charles Finch (“The First Edilium of Bion”), and one anonymous (“The Retirement”). 2 more may be by her (To Mr Granville, A Dialogue). Several poems by Rowe, one to Catherine Fleming (Flavia) praising Finch’s “Spleen.” John Irwin Fisher has persuasively argued that the Bion translation from the French is by Anne Finch, “‘In Pity to the emptying Town,’ Who’s Who, Where’s What, and Who’s the Poet,” Reading Swift: Papers from the Fifth Muenster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, ed. Hermann J. Real (Muenchen: Wilhelm Fink, 2008):286-305; Iola Williams, Some poetical miscellanies of the early 18th century, The Library 4:10 (1929):233-37

MS Portland, Vols 19 & 20. Vol 19: 5 poems by Anne, one found no where else, written in her own hand, profoundly depressed (“The long the long expected Hour is come” — the visit was too short, Lady Worsley hurried away). These are earlier or pre=1713 Miscellany poems; this has the better version of “I on Myself Can Live.” Vol 20: 3 by her, possibly a 4th; my guess is these come post-1713 Miscellany or later in her life (when generally more cheerful)

1714 POETICAL MISCELLANIES, Consisting of ORIGINAL POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS by the best Hands. Published by MR. STEELE. LONDON: Printed for JACOB TONSON at Shakespear’s Head over-against Catherine-street in the Strand. MDDCXIV. 7 poems by Anne. Nos 1, 3-5, 7-9. No 11 (an 8th, and Sapho poem) possibly by her, and Nos 6 & 10 also. One poem to Catherine Fleming (Flavia)

MS Additional 4457: 7 poems by Anne. Around the time of the 1713 Miscellany, one dated 1715. This has a better version of the Twelfth Night poem. 2 appeared in Birch.

1717 Poems on Several Occasions, published by Bernard Lintot, London. Reprinted 1935, Pope’s Own Miscellany, edited by Norman Ault. Of 89 poems, 9 are by Mrs. Finch, 1 is placed separately, then 6 (1st calls her Mrs. FINCH, the third Lady WINCHELSEA), then an eighth attributed to her as Mrs. Finch, probably therefore an earlier poem by her which Pope took from a different manuscript collection. 3 to or for Pope. Especially beautiful “An Invocation to the southern Winds inscrib’d to the right honourable CHARLES Earl of WINCHELSEA, at his Arrival in LONDON, after having been long detained on the coast of HOLLAND” By the honourable Mrs. FINCH, pp. 118-123, found nowhere else.

MS Harleian 7316 10 poems by Anne, not all firmly attributed. Nos 1-3, 5, 9-10, 12-15. 3 poems to Catherine Fleming.

MS F-H 282, Heneage’s diary, written into a 1723 almanac. 1 poem. “A Fragment of a dessign’d Poem upon Pitty, found in a little paper written with in her own hand:’Pitty, the softest Attribute Above,’ unfinished, among her last verses. Very touching his copying it out side-ways 3 years after she died.

1724 The Hive. A Collection of the Most Celebrated Songs. Reprinted a number of times. No new poems, but found among others by Finch (attributed elsewhere) are Love’s Relief (also unattributed in 1714 Steele), 1 from M Harleian I find uncertain, and ‘Ye lads and lasses that live at Longleat’, pp. 262-4 (in MS 28101, it resembles her gay ballad to Catherine Fleming).

MS Additional 28101. 1 poem. On a Gentleman’s sitting upon a lady’s Cremona fiddle, pp. 262-64, “Ye lads and ye lasses that live at Longleat …” Possibly by Anne (see directly above).

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One of the source books Anne Finch poured over: Madame Dacier’s brief essay on and translations from what was known of Sappho

At last bringing together these printed books and manuscripts, with attributed and unattributed poems by Anne Finch (and a couple mis-attributed, as by Charles Finch or by a young child) in them all; some found in the major 4 sources or sources here (with attribution material), some found nowhere else; I see that in fact the number is not overwhelming. They are deal-able with. Having made this list in a single page format is firm groundwork, which will help enable me review the Keith volume.

There are 13 volumes, of which 7 are printed books, and 6 manuscripts. My hunch is except for the Bion (which is after all somewhat tedious), Keith will accept and print all the beautiful and fine long poems here not found elsewhere (e.g, and interestingly, all to people Anne cared very much about, To Lady Worsley, to Charles Finch, to Catherine Fleming) but not reprinting in the standard edition some of the shorter lovely lyrics and a couple of the earlier highly autobiographical seemingly religious meditations (especially 2 in the Tate) will be a loss because they help tell us about why she developed into a depressive person.

I could make a blog listing all the anthologies that Finch’s poetry has appeared in over the years and which ones, but I doubt anyone is that interested in the history of the printing of her poems — Keith’s second volume contains an essay which appears to be based on a study of this anthology tradition, which I assume will be accurate.

I will make a blog about her sources, for the sake of bringing out what she read and how large the number of her works are derived from her works (translations). She lived among books and landscapes, imagined and real. She also kept her memories and her latest poetry is embedded in the imagery and art and experience of her youth before and moving into her worst depressive years (mid-1690s to 1702 or so). But there is no hurry on this; it’s not for critiquing the volume though a lack of any realization or feeling for the woman’s real life and the deeply personal sources as well as political allegiances of all her poetry is (I think) also wanting from this new standard edition. That Reynolds did have or she tried for. I shall write about this de-personalization as an insistent erasure that disables us from making a consistent and vivid sense of her work

The Goute and Spider. A Fable. Imitated from Mon sr de la Fontaine And Inscribed to Mr Finch After his first Fitt of that Distemper

When from th’infernal pit two Furies rose
One foe to Flies, and one to Mans repose,
Seeking aboue to find a place secure
Since Hell the Goute nor Spider cou’d endure.
On a rich Pallace at the first they light
Where pleas’d Arachne dazzl’d with the sight
In a conspiccuous corner of a Room
The hanging Frett work makes her active Loom.
From leaf to leaf with every line does trace,
Admires the strange convenience of the place,
Nor can belieue those Cealings e’re were made
To other end than to promote her Trade.
Where prou’d and prosper’d in her finish’d work,
The hungry Fiend does in close Ambush lurk,
Until some silly Insect shall repay
What from her Bowells she has spun that day.
The wiser Gout (for that’s a thinking ill)
Observing how the splended chambers fill
With visitors such as abound below
Who from Hypocrates and Gallen grow
To some unwealthy shed resolues to fly
And there obscure and unmolested lye.
But see how eithers project quickly fails:
The Clown his new tormentor with him trayles
Through miry ways, rough Woods and furrow’d Lands,
Never cutts the Shooe nor propp’d in Crutches stands,
With Phoebus rising stays with Cynthia out,
Allows no respitt to the harass’d Gout.
Whilst with extended broom th’unpittying maid
Does the transparent Laberynth invade
Back stroke and fore the battering Engin went
Broke euery Cord and quite unhing’d the Tent.
No truce the tall Virago e’re admitts
Contracted and abash’d Arachne’ sits.
Then in conuenient Time the work renews
The battering Ram again the work persues.
What’s to be done? The Gout and Spider meet,
Exchange, the Cottage this; That takes the feet
Of the rich Abbott who that Pallace kept,
And ’till that time in Velvet Curtains slept.
Now Colwort leaves and Cataplasms (thô vain)
Are hourly order’d by that griping traine,
Who blush not to Prescribe t’exhaust our Gold
For aches which incurable they hold.
Whil’st stroak’d and fixt the pamper’d Gout remains
And in an easy Chair euer the Preist detains.
In a thatched Roof secure the Spider thrives
Both mending by due place their hated liues
From whose succeeding may this moral grow
That each his propper Station learn to know.
For You, my Dear, whom late that pain did seize
Not rich enough to sooth the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay
Nor yett so poor to fright the Gout away:
May you but some unfrequent Visits find
To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind,
Who by a tender and officious care
Will ease that Grief or her proportion bear,
Since Heaven does in the Nuptial state admitt
Such cares but new endeaments ot begett,
And to allay the hard fatigues of life
Gave the first Maid a Husband, Him a Wife.
(MS Folger, pp. 276-77, from La Fontaine,
La Goutte et l”Araignée, III:9, pp. 92-93)


Bifrons Park, Kent, 1695-1700 (unknown artist)

Ellen

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Knole, Kent, the house, begun in 1456, greatly extended c.1603, on a frosty December day

Winter. Blackout.

Quiet. The tick of clock
Shall bring you peace,
To your uncertain soul
Give slow increase.

The blackened windows shut
This inward room
Where you may be alone
As in the tomb.

A tomb of life not death,
Life inward, true,
Where the world vanishes
And you are you.

War brings this seal of peace,
This queer exclusion,
This novel solitude,
This rare illusion

As to the private heart
All separate pain
Brings loss of friendly light
But deeper, darker gain ….
— from The Land

Friends and readers,

It is truly hard to know by what image to represent Vita Sackville-West. If popular culture is our lens, she’s the wealthy gardener of Sissinghurst,


Sissinghurst Gardens

thrown out of Knole (above), after a long bitter fight to hold onto it; a lesbian about whom bad movies are made (Vita & Virginia, and The Portrait of a Marriage, not much better — except, and it’s an important except Janet McTeer intuitively and with probably study does manage to capture the inner better qualities of Sackville-West).  Despite the best efforts of lesbian and feminist scholars to help us appreciate the lesbian motifs of her art (see Lisa Moore’s Lesbian Arts, the Erotics of Landscape), and lip-service paid to acceptance of LGBTQ people, in fact lesbians in the public mind (if movies be any criteria) are seen as ludicrous somehow.  She loved Nicholson, her children, wrote poetry, explored earlier women, aspired to be trusted and respected by Woolf, but was an outsider:


Janet McTeer (Portrait of a Marriage)

The woman-in-the world, promiscuous self-indulgent aristocrat with the scandalous grandparents, parents, vehement liaisons, glamorous enough at age 26:

is at the center of Victoria Glendinning’s biography, which, in my view because she omits the literary part of Vita’s life (!), on the grounds the book would get too long, produces a thoroughly unlikable, not to say obnoxious, deeply reactionary woman.

But if the lens be what she wrote seriously, what she built (renovated) and gardened away on, her identity emerges quite differently; at a minimum caring for others she imaginatively identified with.  She is not primarily or just a novelist.  As with Woolf, there are big diaries, much travel writing, the book about Knole and the Sackvilles (before abridgement), and a book about country house, another on her garden and the land (in verse this time). She goes over the courtyard of Knole, showing how each element was functional at the time it was built, how beautifully appropriate the shapes, angles, and how they fit into another, into the earth’s landscape around them, and then carried on functioning across time. There are the remarkable non-fiction biographies, from Joan of Arc (long with a firmly built up world of 15th century France),

I was startled to realize what the point was. I tried to read it years ago in a mind-blind (?) heteronormative way. Sackville-West is drawn to this girl as a transvestite, as a lesbian, probably somewhat butch. Having watched the film Carrington (see my blog on the artist) the other night I am persuaded the way Emma Thompson looks early in the film – chunky, boyish, dense, determined — would be perfect for Sackville-West conception of Joan of Arc too. It is as a absolute underminer of female sexual conventions that Sackville-West is writing with sympathy and admiration. Similarly her portrait of Anne Clifford, the superpower Duchess in the 17th century. Maybe S-W would have loved Thatcher — for she is also politically profoundly reactionary.

to Aphra Behn, and Lady Anne Clifford (here I’m thinking of her edition of the diary and her unearthing of this woman who controlled and renovated castles in Northern England), Pepita (a biography, half fantasy, half hard headed of her grandmother). Among the best of this non-fiction work, her books on houses, and her literary criticism (particularly her defense of rhyme and formality in poetry, of the use of deeply personal felt material in a poem — contemporary poetry is too afraid of ridicule –, and the odd unusual angle or focus).

I particularly admired her analysis of what’s wrong with contemporary poetry: it was a Bloomsbury perspective: modern poetry (1928, a lecture she delivered) is inhibiting people from from producing the raw inward feelings that drive them — by its demand for balance, its strong embarrassment, so critics ridicule what distresses them about humanity. I know one complaint about the Bloomsbury people at the time is who wants to read about cripples, people mentally distressed &c. Beyond the fear of ridicule, the focus of contemporary read poetry and critics is too central, mainstream. What is wanted is a new angle, something oblique and truer to the inward material itself. Last there is too much worship of free verse; free verse itself uses rhythm, word assonance, all sorts of subdued patterns. She is justifying her own poetry but this manifesto reminds me of others by other Bloomsbury people. Last I love her call for “the dignity of pessimism.”

Then there are her literary biographies (shorter, one on Andrew Marvel), and fiction, and Georgic poetry of the seasons (her Virgilian book-length Land and Garden, once a best seller) .  She is a compelling, deeply appealing, strong artist, a major woman writer of the first into the second half of the 20th century. Worthy to study alongside her lover-friend, and sometime admirer, Virginia Woolf, and definitely belonging in the circles of Bloomsbury people.


Virginia as photographed by Ottoline Morrell, 1926 — caught as glamorously as Morrell could manage

To suggest how to get to know about the Sackville-West who matters in a blog, I’ll put the matter this way: first read Suzanne Raitt’s Vita and Virginia: The Work and Friendship, then Louise DeSalvo’s study of their writing in terms of one another’s aims, outlook, style, then the literal books by Woolf (Vita gave Virginia the dog, Flush, about whom Virginia wrote her marvelous biography; and Virginia wrote her fantastical biography Orlando, an experimental novel, as a way of expressing the complex realities of Vita’s life and art (“Lighting the Cave”). Then read all of Mary Ann Caws’s Selected Writings of Vita Sackville-West: she has picked out the highest moments of genius in the best works and beautifully described many others.

As a pair in life, they met in the early 1920s, became lovers for a while, 1925-28, traveled together. Vita made money for Hogarth Press, wrote best-sellers in not only fiction but life-writing – about herself, the famous ancient house she lived in (thought she should have inherited but excluded as a girl, quite like Austen’s Bennett sisters) and her grandmother. As of 1970, The Land and the Garden sold 100,000 copies (alas not printed by Hogarth Press as too big & complicated a book). In both their books we see their love of animals, and immersion in the natural world, deep respect for the past, deep past, architectural, geologic (Virginia), geographic (Vita)

Vita’s books are as central to the diptych. Sackvlle-West’s biographies and scholarly editions of the work of earlier women, beyond those I’ve mentioned, a life of the first successful female playwright, Aphra Behn, two of whose plays are still done — The Rover and The Widow Ranter (about a woman who lived in the colonies) – with the first truly readable novel about an enslaved man, Oroonoko. What Virginia called for in her Room of One’s Own, what her Memoirs of a Novelist asked for (what Virginia’s Miss Rosamond Merridew wanted to do for her brilliant memoirist, Mistress Joan Martyn), Sackville-West did for several early modern women. She brought them back from oblivion.  On her Anne Clifford and Woolf, see Nicky Hallett’s Ann Clifford as Orlando: Virginia Woolf’s historiology and women’s biography,” Women’s History Review, 4:4 (1995):505-23/

The subjective style, tri-partite structure, themes of Sackville-West’s gem novella, All Passion Spent are pure Woolfian, especially the central section, part two where we get these anguished memories of Lady Slane of how she came to marry Henry, what her life was like, that she loved him, but was defrauded of the life she wanted to lead. She was one who lived her life as a category: great man’s wife, she came with the luggage, was there to manage house, have children, and look good at dinners. Could not escape. So let me concentrate however briefly on this novel, offer another poem and then have done.


Wendy Hiller as Lady Slane, on her own at last – she plays the part of the gradually frailer woman impeccably

The novel is about someone who is suddenly (as it were unexpectedly, almost with surprise) feeling emancipated at age 88. As with Maurice, there is this gap between the outward life imposed on Lady Shane (that she lived) and the one we find ourselves in in her mind. How was it that she led the life she did? How as she led into it? Why did she stay? he was coerced, made to feel that her deepest desires were absurd, utterly unsuitable for a life’s quest; by her husband, not even given a studio to work at painting as an art (perhaps watercolors, he says, thinking perhaps of a kit on a table?). Funny how Henry never had to give up any of his hobbies – any of the things he enjoyed most. All Passion Spent is a strongly feminist book. In the case of Forster’s Maurice, the deeply troubled childhood and early manhood dramatized before us is something that could happen to a heterosexual male; it can be felt by any girl or women growing up who cannot conform, cannot understand she is (to paraphrase Alec Scudder) being “taught what is not the case” in order to get her to behave certain ways — performatively I’d call it. In the case of All Passion Spent, what happened to Lady Slane and also Genoux is particular to women. Men are coerced into doing things but often they lead to power, and positions in public life. Deborah, Lady Slane was made into a man’s instrument – she was lucky he was rich and powerful but everything was owned by him. Her body was his, where she lived, how she spent her time. No one ever gave a thought of any kind to Genoux; she was to be a servant of her siblings, and live a life of hard work, filled with trauma. She escapes to Lady Slane. Genoux loves her lady because we are shown Lady Slane was all kindness. It has flaws. It’s pastoral, an idyll, a kind of courtly entertainment in which there is no threat but the ultimate death. (Et in Arcadia Ego.) All the people Lady Slane meets are all courtesy and truth. There is a kind of dripping condescension towards Genoux. The attitude towards money is improbable (a function of S-W having been so rich).

From Winter once again

What have they,
The bookish townsmen in their dry retreats,
Known to December dawns, before the sun
Reddened the earth, and fields were wet and grey?
When have they gone, another day begun,
By tracks into quagmire trodden,
With sacks about their shoulders and the damp
Soaking until their very souls were sodden,
To help a sick beast, by a flickering lamp,
With rough words and kind hands?
Or felt their boots so heavy and so swere
With trudging over cledgy lands,
Held fast by earth, being to earth so near?

Book-learning they have known.
They meet together, talk and grow most wise,
But they have lost, in losing solitude,
Something — an inward grace, the seeing eyes,
The power of being alone;
The power of being alone with earth and skies,
Of going about a task with quietude,
Aware at once of earth’s surrounding mood
And of an insect crawling on a stone …

Nocturne:

Now die the sounds. No whisper stirs the trees.
Her patten merged into the general web
The shriven day accepts her obsequies
With humble ebb.

Now are the noiseless stars made visible
That hidden by the day pursued the track,
And this one planet that we know too well
Mantles in black.

Then, from the thicket, sang the nightingale,
So wildly sweet, so sudden, and so true,
It seemed a herald from beyond the veil
Had broken through.

The common earth’s confusion all unseen,
But worlds revealed in broad magnificence, —
That unembodied music third between
Sprang hence, or thence?

Nothing remained of the familiar round,
Only the soul ecstatic and released
Founted towards the spheres in jets of sound,
And died, and ceased.

But plangent from the thickets of the thorn
Broke other voices, taking up the choir,
While Cancer interlaced with Capricorn
In silent fire,

And all the harmonies were joined and whole,
Silence was music, music silence made,
Till each was both or either, and the soul
Was not afraid.

It was produced as a beautiful book with illustrations redolent of medieval woodcuts (subtly modernized).

                               Duncan Grant — Parrot Tulips (this image fits Lisa Moore’s ideas on erotic lesbian art ….

For my part, there is nothing I love more than to read for hours books by and on early modern to later 18th century women.  So I here support all Woolf’s efforts in the area of retrieving women’s lives and texts and Vita’s successes.

Ellen

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Frances Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford by Allan Ramsay

Come calm Retirement! Sylvan Power!
That on St Leonard’s lov’st to Walk,
To lend along the thoughtful Hour
And with the gentle Hertford talk …
— James Thomson

Gentle readers,

I don’t know how many years ago it was, probably nearly forty when, having fallen (so I thought) in love with the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and come across a poem by her, to her niece, Lady Hertford (shorthand for the above longer form), so grateful for encouragement, companionship, and Lady Hertford’s love of poetry and poets, that I bought from a catalogue an old-fashioned biography by Helen Sard Hughes, The Gentle Hertford: Her Life and Letters. When the old then sturdy blue book with its yellowing pages, and (to me then) delightful content arrived, I couldn’t put it down. It is made up of hundreds of documents, mostly letters and journals written by, shall we call her Frances or Seymour (that would be the modern style) to her mother, sister, friends, poets she supported, and many of theirs to her, which altogether transmit to the reader one of the kindest of women, gentle Hertford indeed, beloved (it seemed) by mother, husband, Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford, beloved son, George (who alas, died at age 19), and her long-lived daughter, Elizabeth (who eventually became a Duchess of Northumberland).


An early 19th century print, picturesque framing of St Leonard’s Hill, Windsor

Although a more moral set of people (as presented in these letters) you would have a hard time finding, the letters are not sentimental, foolish, or ignorant, but filled with wit, and the lively activities of an intelligent group of people living out the privileged lives of aristocrats in early to mid-18th century England. What I especially enjoyed were Lady Hertford’s letters to and from her friends, Henrietta St John Knight, Lady Luxborough (a quietly sceptical, proto-feminist picturesque poetry writing amusing women (who dared to leave her husband (who accused her of having an affair) and live for a while in a house without glass windows or closed doors, a poet in her own right, sister to Bolingbroke, and member of the Shenstone circle; and Henrietta Louisa Fermor, Countess of Pomfret, much duller, a seemingly boring woman, but for reasons I didn’t quite understand (I wasn’t there when they were face-to-face) very well liked by Frances and eliciting from her all sorts of trusted confidences. These women also exchanged verse epistles.

I did promise myself one day I would write about Lady Luxborough, and if I never wrote the essay she deserves (she has to her credit five sparkling poems, & one longish accomplished Georgic), I wrote a foremother poet blog where I reprinted of her three poems (she was called Asteria) you won’t find in print elsewhere, two of which are beautiful and filled with a rare depth of emotional intelligence. And I wrote about Lady Hertford and Lady Pomfret’s creation of a counter-universe, places for them to resist gender and other pressures, not an alternative life but a life inside a shared community of private identities.

Tonight I want to re-create the foremother poet blog for Frances (or Seymour, or Lady Hertford) I can no longer reach (until such time as I remove my ad-blocker). I began with her two best poems, first her rightly best known and savagely (or tragically ironic) story of startlingly cruel betrayal. It is even relevant for it is based on primal racial injustice: Inkle is European, rescued by Yarico, who is African as the tale begins:

Story of Inkle and Yarico: A Most Moving Tale from the Spectator (No 11).

A YOUTH there was possessed of every charm,
Which might the coldest heart with passion warm;
His blooming cheeks with ruddy beauty glowed,
His hair in waving ringlets graceful flowed;
Through all his person an attractive mien,
Just symmetry, and elegance were seen:
But niggard Fortune had her aid withheld,
And poverty th’ unhappy boy compelled
To distant climes to sail in search of gain,
Which might in ease his latter days maintain.
By chance, or rather the decree of Heaven,
The vessel on a barbarous coast was driven;
He, with a few unhappy striplings more,
Ventured too far upon the fatal shore:
The cruel natives thirsted for their blood,
And issued furious from a neighbouring wood.
His friends all fell by brutal rage o’erpowered,
Their flesh the horrid cannibals devoured;
Whilst he alone escaped by speedy flight,
And in a thicket lay concealed from sight!

Now he reflects on his companions’ fate,
His threatening danger, and abandoned state.
Whilst thus in fruitless grief he spent the day,
A negro virgin chanced to pass that way;
He viewed her naked beauties with surprise,
Her well-proportioned limbs and sprightly eyes!
With his complexion and gay dress amazed,
The artless nymph upon the stranger gazed;
Charmed with his features and alluring grace,
His flowing locks and his enlivened face.
His safety now became her tend’rest care,
A vaulted rock she knew and hid him there;
The choicest fruits the isle produced she sought,
And kindly to allay his hunger brought;
And when his thirst required, in search of drink,
She led him to a chrystal fountain’s brink.

Mutually charmed, by various arts they strove
To inform each other of their mutual love;
A language soon they formed, which might express
Their pleasing care and growing tenderness.
With tigers’ speckled skins she decked his bed,
O’er which the gayest plumes of birds were spread;
And every morning, with the nicest care,
Adorned her well-turned neck and shining hair,
With all the glittering shells and painted flowers
That serve to deck the Indian virgins’ bowers.
And when the sun descended in the sky,
And lengthening shades foretold the evening nigh,
Beneath some spreading palm’s delightful shade,
Together sat the youth and lovely maid;
Or where some bubbling river gently crept,
She in her arms secured him while he slept.
When the bright moon in midnight pomp was seen,
And starlight glittered o’er the dewy green,
In some close arbour, or some fragrant grove,
He whispered vows of everlasting love.
Then, as upon the verdant turf he lay,
He oft would to th’ attentive virgin say:
‘Oh, could I but, my Yarico, with thee
Once more my dear, my native country see!
In softest silks thy limbs should be arrayed,
Like that of which the clothes I wear are made;
What different ways my grateful soul would find
To indulge thy person and divert thy mind!’;
While she on the enticing accents hung
That smoothly fell from his persuasive tongue.

One evening, from a rock’s impending side,
An European vessel she descried,
And made them signs to touch upon the shore,
Then to her lover the glad tidings bore;
Who with his mistress to the ship descends,
And found the crew were countrymen and friends.
Reflecting now upon the time he passed,
Deep melancholy all his thoughts o’ercast:
‘Was it for this,’ said he, ‘I crossed the main,
Only a doting virgin’s heart to gain?
I needed not for such a prize to roam,
There are a thousand doting maids at home.’
While thus his disappointed mind was tossed,
The ship arrived on the Barbadian coast;
Immediately the planters from the town,
Who trade for goods and negro slaves, came down;
And now his mind, by sordid interest swayed,
Resolved to sell his faithful Indian maid.
Soon at his feet for mercy she implored,
And thus in moving strains her fate deplored:

‘0 whither can I turn to seek redress,
When thou’rt the cruel cause of my distress?
If the remembrance of our former love,
And all thy plighted vows, want force to move;
Yet, for the helpless infant’s sake I bear,
Listen with pity to my just despair.
Oh let me not in slavery remain,
Doomed all my life to drag a servile chain!
It cannot surely be! thy generous breast
An act so vile, so sordid must detest:
But, if thou hate me, rather let me meet
A gentler fate, and stab me at thy feet;
Then will I bless thee with my dying breath,
And sink contented in the shades of death.’

Not all she said could his compassion move,
Forgetful of his vows and promised love;
The weeping damsel from his knees he spurned,
And with her price pleased to the ship returned.
(1726)

The second I take from another perhaps too long (to modern tastes) epistle, this to the Countess of Pomfret, describing Frances’s life with her husband at their country estate called Richkings, in Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire (acquired 1739)

We sometimes ride, and sometimes walk,
We play at chess, or laugh, or talk;
Sometimes besides the crystal stream,
We meditate some serious theme;
Or in the grot, beside the spring,
We hear the feathered warblers sing.
Shakespeare perhaps an hour diverts,
Or Scott directs to mend our hearts.
With Clarke’s God’s attributes we explore;
And, taught by him, admire them more.
Gay’s Pastorals sometimes delight us,
Or Tasso’s grisly spectres fright us:
Sometimes we trace Armida’s bowers,
And view Rinaldo chained with flowers.
Often from thoughts sublime as these,
I sink at once and make a cheese;
Or see my various poultry fed,
And treat my swans with scraps of bread.
Sometimes upon the smooth canal
We row the boat or spread the sail;
Till the bright evening-star is seen,
And dewy spangles deck the green.
Then tolls the bell, and all unite
In prayer that God would bless the night.
From this (though I confess the change
From prayer to cards is somewhat strange)
To cards we go, till ten has struck:
And then, however bad our luck,
Our stomachs ne’er refuse to eat
Eggs, cream, fresh butter, or calves’-feet;
And cooling fruits, or savoury greens
‘Sparagus, peas, or kidney-beans.
Our supper past, an hour we sit,
And tlk of history, Spain or wit.
But Scandal far is banished hence,
Nor dares intrude with false pretence
Of pitying looks, or holy rage
Against the vices of the age:
We know we were all born to sin,
And find enough to blame within.
(written 1740)


From an old print of a Canaletto like painting (18th century) — called Green Park — as an example of the kind of picturesque painting Lady Hertford’s circle would enjoy

This is probably as much of her longer verse epistles as anyone today cares to read in one sitting. You see how she writes in the 18th century idiom for social verse and grave narrative. She imitates Pope, the popular verse styles of her time, at the edges belongs to the age of sensibility.  She was well-read in the poetry of her period; she will quote popular poems in her circle, refer to known characters in plays (Ariosto, Otway). Also the Bible. Further below, there are some examples of her “nature poetry.”

As to her life,

She was born and brought up at Longleat, child of the children of Thomas Thynne, first Viscount Weymouth (1640-1714), very close friends to (and sometimes monetary support of) Heneage Finch, later 4th Earl of Winchilsea, and husband to Anne Finch. Their son, Henry Thynne married Grace Strode, and Frances was one of their two daughters (the other was named Mary). Henry Thynne died young (1708), and his wife, Grace, went to live near Leweston, where among others, she was friendly with Elizabeth Singer Rowe (another poet of the era). All I have read about Algernon Seymour leads me to see him as a gentle sensitive man (he was later friends with Anne Finch’s husband, very patiently enduring Druidical names as he followed Heneage about in archeaological digs with William Stukeley, a respected 18th century “natural philosopher” also interested in depressive and hysterical states of mind) and I can quite see Algernon falling in love with Frances. While the high rank and political connections of the family in general would attract, their was not much money, and Hughes and others agree that Algernon’s parents loathed their daughter-in-law. They were probably intensely into ambition, prestige, and wanted much more money that she brought. They also resented very much that she would not send her son to a public school, brought him up tenderly lovingly at home – she refused to make a macho male of him.


Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford, later 7th Duke of Somerset by John Vanderbank

She was only 16 when she married him, but proved to be up to the demands of saloniere (a political as well as poetical one). Her husband had served in Flanders in the army, become the a Lord of the Bedchamber for the Prince of Wales, and she was an apparent success (well-liked as usual) as Lady of the Bedchamber to the princess, late Queen Caroline. Although she could manage life in London, she preferred what was called “rural retirement.” The poets she was patron to included James Thomson (The Seasons), and Richard Savage: she intervened to help save his life when he was (rightly) charged with murder. Isaac Watts dedicated one of his pious volumes to her. There exists a playful poem by Anne Finch protesting against Lady Hertford’s orders to the minor poet Laurence Eusden (“Hartford, ’tis wrong … “) commanding him to write a poem about a wood which includes only Aspin trees and King-cup flowers. After Caroline died, Lady Hertford spent more time in the Seymour’s country residences (they had it seems three), and she became more religious after her son died (I mentioned this above), from small pox in during his Grand Tour in Bologna. Her letters to her son are all a woman could be to a son, and knowing he died, they read to me so poignantly. She appears to have disliked violence, and war. There are several extensive correspondences: she loved imaginary friendship through letters. She was loyal to her friends and great-aunt.


“Italian light on English walls” (a line by Wm Cowper): this is a Canaletto reprint of the type this milieu of people might not have chosen — there are no upper class well-dressed groups of people socializing — I reprint it for the light

Are there any shorter poems? Here are some of her verses on the natural world. She uses the artificial poetic diction of her time but I think real feeling and seasonal change, the passage of diurnal time, comes through.  One Hughes quotes written in tetrameter for autumn contains these stanzas:

The changing leaves fall fast away
And all its pride is in decay.
Where blossoms deckt the point thorn
Now hangs the wintry drop forlorn …

Along the last enamel’d mead
No golden cowslip lifts its head;
Scarce can the grass its spires sustain,
Chill’d by the frost, or drench’s with rain.

She wrote Lady Pomfret during a period of illness (1741), some verses entitled To the East Wind, which include the lambs

But shiv’ring now and dull are seen
Bleating beside the racks for hay:
The blossoms from my pear-trees fall,
And naked leave the western wall.

That wall, which us’d to charm my sight
With varied blossoms adorn’d and gay
Can now afford me no delight,
Whilst you its glories sweep away:
If in my borders v’lets blow,
You bury them in flakes of snow

And as a last pair of couplets: Verses Occasion’d by Seeing the River Kennet Frozen Over:

Poor stream! held captive by the Frost
They current numb’d, thy Brightness lost;
Compell’d thy journey to delay,
And on these desart shores to stay …

Gentle reader, you owe this foremother poet blog-essay to a maddening incident that happened to me the other day. Studying Anne Finch’s poetry as I now am, and coming across her poems to Lady Hertford, I tried to reach the foremother poet column (I’ll call it) about her that I had put on a festival of poets sponsored long ago by a listserv called Wom-po, and found that I am cut off from my own work. Yes, the site these postings now appear on goes dark, puts a rectangle in front of me, which demands I remove my ad-blocker before I go any further.

I know that Frances Seymour, Lady Hertford is not a remarkable or wonderful poet — she was a warm, eloquent and supportive letter writer and friend. She was very much a woman of her era, from the Whig liberal super-rich circles. Hughes’s book about her is a labor of love as is this blog — for who she was, and for the values she lived by as seen in her letters and journals. I wish I had a friend such as she was to hers.

Letter to the Honorable Mrs Knight,
September 7th, 1731

Say, can you seriously intend
To deal unkindly by your friend,
And hasting from the peaceful Down
Return to sea-coal and the town
Without a transient visit paid,
To Marlborough’s neglected shade?
You know how welcome you would be
To all the house, but most of all to me.

Without you come you can’t conceive
How solitary here we live;
Yet cheerfulness we still maintain
Nor of the tedious hours complain.
When breakfast’s over out we rove
Around the terraces and grove,
Where flaunting woodbines spread around;
We lift their branches from the ground,
And tie them to some neighboring lime
Round which they may securely climb;
Or end the rose-trees, and divide
The suckers from their parent side.
Sometimes, where slow the river creeps,
And Babylon’s sad willow weeps,
To see if the new turf will grow
With anxious eyes along we go;
But when we find a sod is dead
Against the bank, or where we tread,
We grieve as much to see it fade
As toasts who find their charms decayed.
Thus we divide our morning cares
Till nine; then come in to Prayers.

Next to my closest we retreat
Where, after each has chose a seat,
I’m busies at my tent, the rest
Still sit or work, as the like best,
While Clavering reads the Gardener’s Toil;
When he should plant, when mix the soil;
The various kinds of flowers and fruits,
Which rise from seeds, and which from shoots,
Sometimes an author more sublime
Amuses and improves our time …

When Clavering till he’s tired has read,
We part, and next I comb my head
Then Beachy comes with careful look
To sing a Psalm and learn his book.

Again at two to dine we meet,
Our fare is plain, our dinner neat;
No seasoned dish allures our taste
To surfeit on the rich repast.
When we have dined we sit and talk,
Our walk concluded in we come
And each go to our sep’rate room.
We seldom work by candlelight,
But read, perhaps, and sometimes write;
Till called again to join in prayer
That God would make our souls his care,
Keep us from sin and all distress,
And our approaching slumbers bless.

Then sup, and with a cheerful heart
Converse an hour and so we part.

Now if our pleasures are not great,
You’ll own at least our life sweet ….
— Frances Seymour, Lady Hertford (1740)


Paul Sandby, Englefield Green, near Egham — this is typical picturesque plus shows us how this group of people liked to see themselves …

Ellen

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A page from the Folger Manuscript book of Finch’s poems (written up or in 1704-1709)

On my selfe

Good Heav’en I thank thee, Since it was design’d
I shou’d be fram’d but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu’d from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow’d they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they’re deny’d, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display’d
And in retirement I can have the shade.
— Finch-Hatton 283, pp 34-35 (printed first in 1903 Reynolds, pp 14-15), but taken from MS Portland, Vol 19, p 212 (located in Longleate)

Dear friends and readers,

Though now and again I’ve posted a poem by Anne Finch, or included her in a discussion here of women’s poetry, especially in the long 18th century, I’ve never attempted a foremother poet blog. I feel I know too much, and cannot see how I can contain what I know into a small enough compass that a blog-essay demands. I understand this suggests I am too much involved even now, some nearly 30 years after I first started to read and seek out and study her oeuvre seriously. See my website region for her. I am nonetheless going to write about her here because I’ve been asked to review the new standard edition of her poetry for Cambridge University Press by Jennifer Keith with the help of Claudia Thomas Kairoff and several other women scholars for an eighteeth-century newsletter.

On my desk is Volume I of II (the second volume to come out this coming January), hereinafter called Keith. I’ve found over the last month (I am going slowly partly because I am doing other things) that to do this in a genuinely evaluative critical manner I must go back to all my work and re-familiarize myself: this includes returning to all the manuscripts and early printed books her poetry appears in, and at least going over the history of the criticism and anthology tradition. And I’ve discovered that in this returning to the whole of this material for the first time in 16 years, I have reached a new phase in my responsiveness to this woman, her life, her work; if not detached, I am looking at it afresh.


A photograph of the ancient battered copy of Myra Reynolds’s 1903 edition of Finch’s poems, which I have worked with since I first bought it in the 1980s

Alas, I am become so alive to Finch’s many faults: among them, the unfinished crude nature of work she was not sure would ever reach public eyes, the unevenness of this material and other work she did prepare for publication. The reality that her lack of any confidence in her ability not to write good poems but to be judged fairly, to be read in an unbiased manner, without hostility to her as a woman, her fear of any exposure of her private life (which included bad depressions, anxiety-attacks, her husband and her Jacobitism, her uncertain status as unexpectedly she became a titled aristocrat) made her revise her work in ways that made it worse. She broke apart beautifully personal poems, rewrote some of her best strong lines (as possibly transgressive). I was long aware that in writing she obeyed the way poetry was written at the time: she may have feminized but she held to popular social verse genres. I think these stifled her poetic gifts. Finch needed not only to feminize them (which like other women in this era, she did), but to more daringly than she did, make them autobiographical and develop the simpler lyric forms. She could be effective in pindaric odes, in epistolary satires, but often she is not. Far from concentrating on her masks, we must go beneath and against the grain of these to drive down to where her soul is at. I agree with Keith she is a separate presence not equivalent to her “muse” and all the allegorical apparatus of psychology and landscape she divided her mind into in her poems, but find it is that presence insofar as it emerges and sometimes dominates that makes for her living poetry today.

I know this is not a popular or even accepted attitude among the women and the few men (mostly seeing themselves as feminists) studying Finch and her contemporaries today. They go at the poetry to prove Finch was admired then, built up an authority for herself (so wrote strategically) by the use of tropes and genres of the era — this fame or authority is what they value too.  Doing this made her poetry socially acceptable but not necessarily read or in reality  even then understood or sincerely valued. Who can today respond to the delusions of cautious 1790s Jacobitism? or a mausoleum of Beaumont and Fletcher techniques combined with naive ideas about monarchs and some memories of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night transvestite heroine to make a play? As with so many women of this and other eras, her religious poetry is often so dull, turgid (especially the paraphrases), so compromising, and there is so much of it.


Among the first pages of the Northamptonshire book (renamed by Keith) and what I called MS Finch-Hatton 283 (it was so called & numbered by the Northampton office) or Godmersham-Wye (because that’s where it was probably written out) you see the lovely scribal hand and somewhat older fashioned lettering of the first group of poems in this first ms. The earliest poem is from 1682, the latest 1704.

I also disagree with many things done by these new editors, above all that they chose the last copy text.  I chose either the first or the one I believe (and I maintain there are no protocols that enable the editor to escape subjectivity) is the best — though they prefer the Folger for their copy text to the 1713 edition of a poem. I prefer the book I called the Finch-Hatten manuscript (from the family names) or Godmersham-Wye (from where Anne and Heneage were living during the time it was written), which they have named the Northamptonshire manuscript (because the copy resides in the Northamptonshire documentary records office — I bought it as a microfilm, turned that into xeroxes). They refuse to rearrange the poems in any order other than the one found in the sources, though these orders are often happenstance, poems put in not chronologically (when they were written) but as they came to hand or by genre (if one could be found). The result, let me say here, is a standard edition that makes Finch into a writer of poetry no one will want to read for enjoyment or self-sustaining communing or even historically. She comes across as fragments disordered, repetitious; poems set out clearly in immediate contexts because of the notes in the apparatus but these contexts not themselves evaluated.

But I can’t make any start in thinking about my case and how to represent it until I put together and write out what I had in my mind when I made that website but never wrote up individually in one place: I never in one place described the sources of these poems. As a literal book historian, that is the first primary, literal context. And not just descriptions of these sources, but how many poems in them, which are authorized, or clearly hers, or probably hers, or worth perusing for possible (though not probable) attribution.

Why I did not write it out in one place at the time I put up the website (2002-4) I know not.  Maybe because it seemed so basic and fundamental in my mind.  Now I have had to rebuild a document from different places on the website because I forgot a good deal.  It will be a comparative document to work with or from. But I cannot put such a document onto the website since Jim died as I cannot cope with the technology without him. It is no longer publishable, if it ever were — by me, at any rate.

Whence this first of several working blogs. One may be me imagining Austen reading what of Anne Finch’s poetry was probably available to her.

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Wye College Kent (today), where Anne wrote some of her earliest and most beautiful (and melancholy) poems

In this blog I describe the four major authorized books: 3 manuscripts and 1 printed book.

MS Finch-Hatton 283 (so titled by the Northamptonshire office, now N). Although earliest poem in ms is 1682 (the nearly obliterated The Grove), I dated this elegant octavo book as begun in 1694, and no longer in use by 1704 (copied out much later than the previous and in a hasty hand, the poem upon the hurricane). The first poem copied out is “The Introduction.”. It has an index, is 143 pages and is described in Keith, pp cxxvii-cxxxii (who had the advantage of people in the office sending descriptions). I counted 59 items, 2 obliterated, so 57 items, minus 1 for which I preferred MS Portland 19 (“On my selfe”) so 56 items for an edition. I salvaged what I could of 2 of the 4 almost destroyed copies, producing pieces for two more texts, so from MS F-H 283 I have 57 poems. All but 7 re-appear in some version in MS Folger; so 52 items shared by both MS Finch-Hatton and MS Folger.

MS Folger (now F, so titled as owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library). I conjecture 1704-1709 for the years these were copied out. By no means were all of them written during that time. Anne and Heneage come to live at Eastwell & settle in permanently by 1704. A second manuscript book (MS Folger) begun, into which the following poems were all copied before Anne wrote the preface. It begins with dedicatory poems, and then a prose “The Preface” (a footnote at the bottom of the preface points to the insertion of Anne’s three pieces from the Italian of the Aminta, which has been decided on since she wrote the preface) and then we again have “The Introduction”. It consists of a series of poems, then two plays and then another series of poems. The handwriting differs in the different sections. No index. It’s not as elegant a book. This one has 68 new items because a 69th is always misprinted as three separated poems (“The Bird and the Arras”), beginning with the 1713 Miscellany where two parts appear, followed by Reynolds in 1903 where all three appear (as separate poems). There are 121 individual works (not counting the introductory poems by other people to her and not counting the two pieces of poems never copied out), 52 of which appear in MS F-H 283; 69 appear only in MS Folger. Of the 69 one is pasted over and not recoverable. There is also a 12 page break in the numbers (p 261, then p 273); one could conjecture there was a poem here which was pulled out. I have not counted these in the items as there is nothing to indicate that there was a poem there for certain. It’s described in Keith, pp cxxxii-cxl. 1706 could be a terminus ad quem for the time of the writing of these poems because the book does not include two Tunbridge satires (found elsewhere); the reference to Mons in “An Invitation to Dafnis is dated 1706.

Anne was slowly moving from the personally referential meditations (long and short) of her court years, and the striking songs (some so knowing and bitter about what it was like to be a woman in this misogynistic aggressive court) from the 1690s through early 1700s, the MS F-H 283 and the early MS Folger — to a much more apparently impersonal and ironic poetry. So she is moving from a later 17th century woman poet to writing these hudibrastic fables (out of translation work), impersonal Pope-like pastorals, and anacreontics in Prior’s gay amoral vein. She had works within the genres of mid-, to later 17th century poets; now she was working within the newer sub-genres of the early Augustan era. Why 1709? it is in 1709 we find Tonson publishing some of the later MS Folger poems, and 1709 is the last date in the MS Folger: “A Tale of the Miser and the Poet,” written in a kind of naturalistic doggerel which dominates some of her fables in the 1713 Miscellany and many of the comic poems in MS Wellesley.

Volume I of Keith’s edition is based on only the above two major source texts. And it seems they are determined to eliminate as many texts outside the major four sources as possible (as safest).

1713 Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, Written by a Lady (in 1714, her name and title appear). Written and or copied out and prepared for publication 1710-1713. Anne plans a book which she goes through with: it is basically comprized of translations and imitations, impersonal poetry and a very few personal poems whose real meaning or full or autobiographical significance has been obscured or cut away. It contains many poems from “the French” (La Fontaine, Madame Deshouliers, Racine, La Calprenede, Regnier), from Tasso’s Aminta, from Milton in the manner of Philips’ The Splendid Shilling), from the Bible. Out of 83 poems, 39 of which are new and not to be found in any manuscript form, 35 are fables and another 9 either imitations, translations, or paraphrases of other works; her earlier songs, pastorals, and meditations are censured and/or otherwise presented impersonally, the epistles mostly attached to occasions. Now the first poem is “MERCURY and the ELEPHANT. A Prefatory FABLE,” first line: “As Merc’ry travell’d thro’ a Wood … “ (see my commentary in the form of a posting to C18-l: “An elephant fretting to no purpose“). Anne used the concept of genre and the technique of translation and imitation as a sort of changing mask under or through which she attempts to express herself sincerely.   The impersonality of the poetry and Heneage’s elevation to the peerage gave her the courage to go through with it. This is a book which obscures her finest gifts and their source. It was the favored copy text of Reynolds; so many of the texts in Reynold’s well-meant, earnest, fine scholarly edition (for her era) represent the form a poem took in this 1713-14 volume.

MS Wellesley. 1714-1720. It was during this period that Anne and Heneage decided to gather together those poems by Anne which she did not wish to publish but which he and she wished to save. I think these were copied out mostly before Anne’s death as many of them may be dated before her very last illness (1718-19). This manuscript has been published and fully described as a manuscript annotated now twice: by Jean Ellis-d’Alessandro (introd., ed), The Wellesley Manuscript Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea. Florence, 1988 (Ellis-d’Alessandro Poems); and by Barbara McGovern and Charles H. Hinnan (as editors), The Anne Finch Wellesley Manuscript Poems: A Critical Edition. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1998 (McGovern/Hinnant). I was able to buy the MS from Wellesley as a paper xerox. There are 54 (counting the one which exists in two distinct versions as two) texts. There is a significant return to religious poetry precisely of the type that she wrote in MS F-H and printed in 1696 Tate, with the addition of a new “kind,” the impersonal dramatic narrative, altogether 16 (or if you do not count her epistle to Catherine Fleming which prefaces her paraphrase of Eccles) or 15 out of 53, only they are superior because chastened polished lyrics instead of cumbersome paraphrases of psalms. She also returns to ideas in MS Finch-Hatton and Tate and 1701 Gilden (“The Retirement”), to autobiographical poems, where she utters ideas like it was strange and wholly unexpected that she should end up living a life of solitude, cut off from society. Her childhood in Northampton with her maternal Haslewood relatives is presumably referred to here.

In the Wellesley MS Jacobitism, is not censured — though it no longer comes across as strongly as it did in Anne Finch’s earlier post-Stuart court years. Numbers of the poems are private, familial and enigmatic. Others are uncorrected or performed in the plain doggerel careless way. These plain unadorned poems may please the modern reader (some of them are very good), but the decorum and practice of the time show that they were (like the poetry of Lady Hertford and other educated women) intended for ephemeral consumption by friends. There is no introduction or preface; there is no attempt to group kinds of poetry. Indeed, the manuscript begins with page 49 (thus ruling out as a certainty that Anne and Heneage began in 1716 with “On Lady Cartret”). What were on pp 1-49 is anyone’s guess (perhaps more of Anne’s poetry but I doubt this). There is finally a wholesale variety of types (by no means is this an overwhelming devotional volume) — all of which, I think, argues that Anne and Heneage were treating this last book as a private depository for Anne’s poetry, not as a working source for a book to be published.

Anne and Heneage also placed in (perhaps as they got hold of them) earlier poems which had been left out of the MS F-H 283 and Folger because they were not at East-well: two from Wye College between 1702 and 1703, two written at Lewston to Long-leat, 1704, one from Tunbridge Wells, 1706, another to Ann Tufton, 1707-9, perhaps at Hothfield or Thanet House, four from 1712, two sent to the Hatton family, one to Pope, one on the death of Heneage’s old friend and companion at the court of James II. These appear interwoven with Anne’s latest poems which all appear to have written after the 1713 Miscellany and its 1714 reprint and up to the time of Anne’s death; they can be variously dated from 1714, 1715 (five poems are so dated), 1716, 1718, 1719, and 1720.

I assume the above will be the basis for Volume II.

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Amazon has reprinted one of the more interesting volumes in which we find both attributed and unattributed poems by Finch: the 1701 volume put together by Charles Gilden or Nicholas Rowe

I shall stop here and (I hope) inside several days produce a second blog for the poems scattered in printed and manuscript miscellanies, where some texts are attributed to Anne Finch and are clearly by her, others not as clearly attributed (“by the same hand”) but which the circumstances of the text itself, its content, and other contexts indicate to me they are clearly by Finch. I am going to include poems where the attribution is probable but not beyond doubt, and where the attribution is perhaps unlikely but still not to be altogether dismissed.

In the case of my review, I have the disadvantage that I do not have Volume II of Keith’s standard edition, but since she and her co-editors have made clear what are their attitudes I will by contrast include all the ms’s & printed books, for before and after those texts that seem to come from the second part of her career (as defined by Keith, beginning just around the time of the 1713 Miscellany).

More generally, since I often choose a different copy text, and reprint many of these (when they differ from Myra Reynolds, whose copy text was the 1713 while Keith’s is first the Folger), I hope my work will still be useful to anyone who wants to know what there is extant to know about Anne Finch. Their site is also surprisingly small; they are not generous in what they share. I have included all I could arguably say added to Reynolds.

For a glimpse at this material see Finch’s unpublished (I should have said mostly unattributed) poetry, taken from manuscripts and printed books of her era, and just beyond, e.g., the 1724 Hive Collection of Songs, an astonishingly good volume: its quality reminds me of the sixteenth-century collection England’s Helicon; it represents the best and most beautiful songs of the preceding generation. It includes no less than 16 poems which are clearly by Finch.

I end on a little known poem, never to my knowledge printed until it appeared on my website, from MS Harleian, probably by Finch on  traveling towards a visit:

Untitled Lines, from MS Harleian 7316, p. 69v.

We did attempt to travell all Last night,
The Moon was perish [sic] but the Stars gave Light
And Steer’d us to your Cottage fair & Bright.
We have brought you foreign Wine, Your friends to Grace
Wine that will Bask & Sparkle in their face
As also purest Nance,* the Flower of France
Will make a Parson & a Butcher Dance
We have likewise brought a Flash of Rumm
I dare to Say the best in Christendom
But best of all because it’s Safe come home.
I have Viewed your Cotage, could I call it my own
I’d Scorn a Spanish, nay a Brittish Throne,
And Sway my Scepter, & here reign alone.

Ellen

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Drawing Room at John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street, London


Bee Rowlatt, Dear Mary, In Search of Mary Wollstonecraft

Dear friends and readers,

I continue my account of the talks and interviews variously recorded at the Chawton House Lockdown Literary Festival last weekend. We’ve covered Friday and half of Saturday, May 15th and 16th; today we’ll have the second part of Saturday and Sunday, the 16th through 17th.

I have a new observation to apply to all the proceedings: as I watched and listened I began to notice that almost all the women (all the speakers but two were women) had remarkably similar backdrops. At first, the tasteful cream-white room with its bookcase on one side, perhaps a window on the other seemed real, but a while, it could not be that all the people would be in a room with a bookcase to the side, all the rooms of a light creamy-white.

What fools you at first is they are not exactly alike. Some women seemed to be sitting and looking down at notes from time to time; others seemed to be standing up. Some people didn’t have it — Caroline Jane Knight didn’t — she came across appealingly in the way upper class Brits know how – she can tell seemingly charming/frank stories of this house as she grew up in it, and perhaps it was thought more piquant to give her as background a room in Chawton House; Devoney Looser didn’t conform either. But most did.

I now also add the titles of fiction and a brief description of one of the talks about fiction that were part of this festival in the comments to this blog — as I can see people are reading these blogs.

I began with Alison Daniells, whose YouTube went on line at 3 pm British summer time. She talked of Elizabeth Knight, who, very unusually for a woman, owned Chawton House and the surrounding properties in the earlier 18th century. She was not the elderly Knight woman who was kind to Jane Austen, but an ancestress (1674-1737) who, unlike most women at the time, inherited a vast property and its income. Despite the law of coverture (explained by Daniells) and primogeniture, sometimes a woman could end up owning a family’s property – basically when there were no direct sons or sons-in-law and when there was no entail put on the property (as became popular in the later 18th century).

We were told of Knight’s two marriages and then her pro-active behavior on behalf of controlling her property, doing with it as she wanted, and also exercising a right to vote. Apparently a woman could vote in some circumstances in the later part of the 17th and early 18th century.


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) by John Opie

Louisa Albani. 5:00 pm British summer time, is an artist who created a short video where she expressed through visual pictures Mary Wollstonecraft’s experience of Paris and during a visit to Versailles in 1792. She was directly followed by Bee Rowlatt, interviewed by Clio O’Sullivan.

Rowlatt has written imitation of Richard Holmes (who literally followed in the footsteps of his biographical subjects in a book called Footsteps): In Search of Mary Wollstonecraft Rowlatt tells of her trip following Wollstonecraft as Wollstonecraft reports in her brilliant travel book, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Rowlatt did some research (though she said that was not her emphasis) and her book includes why Mary was there –- not clearly told in the superb, melancholy, and picturesque book; Mary was working for her ex-lover, Gilbert Imlay. American, then smuggling silver and goods stolen perhaps from aristocrats. She had had a baby by him, which baby she took with her, and also a maid (whose name is never mentioned). She had tried to kill herself when Imlay left her and her baby, took up with another mistress and resumed his amoral peripatetic existence. She was partly trying to maintain contact with him, but also trying to build a new life for herself, to rescue a relationship, and to explore Scandinavia, which Rowlatt did too and describes. Mary never found the silver (which had, ironically justly) been in turn stolen; the captain won a legal battle in court. Imlay was also smuggling arms out of Paris – working all ends this unscrupulous man.

Rowlatt read aloud some of the beautiful pieces of peaceful description in the book. Mary did recover her health. Rowlatt talked of Godwin’s biography, how it functioned to hurt Mary’s reputation for a couple of hundred years – myself I think she would have been erased altogether if not vilified so that Godwin’s book is not what was to blame. Rowlatt remarked that the suffragette Millicent Fawcett was the first person publicly to defend Wollstonecraft after a century of sustained vituperative misogynistic attack. Men & the upper classes in general (she was a socialist for her time, very like Paine in her outlook) must’ve seen in her book real danger.


A Valancourt book

Devoney Looser, a Professor of English at Arizona State, at 6:00 pm, “All the Janes.” She is writing a dual biography of Jane West (1758-1852) and Jane Porter (1774-50). Looser pointed out that in Austen’s era thousands of books were published and hundreds of them by women, who often wrote novels, but not that much fewer than men (men 300 to women 295). Women more prolific than men. She did not say if all these were in English.

Everyone knows about West’s A Gossip’s Story, where one of the dual heroines is called Marianne. What was interesting to me was that Jane West may also have written a another novel influencing Austen’s beyond Sense and Sensibility. (Looser never mentioned Caroline de Lichtfield, but I didn’t expect it – she may have mentioned de Stael). West though also wrote a novel called Ringrove (1827), which seems to be an imitation of Emma, the motherless rich heroine. Devoney has published an essay with someone else “Admiration and Disapproval before Jane Austen: Jane West’s Ringrove, Essays in Romanticism, 26 (2019): 41-54.

Jane Porter was much better known than Austen during Austen’s lifetime and since, especially for her children’s books and for adults The Scottish Chiefs (1810). Where she lived is now crumbling down or flattened altogether. Her sister, Anna Maria Porter (1778-1832) wrote historical fiction too. Jane Austen wrote her brother Edward about this sister’s book, The Lake of Killarney. Stainer Clarke, the librarian (the one so easy to despise for presuming to encourage Jane Austen) encouraged Jane Porter to write the same romance for the royal family and she did, Duke Christian of Luneberg.

Looser suggested had Austen lived maybe she would have changed her mind, because she liked money (the pewter comment was trotted out). To me to say this is to misunderstand the source and nature of Austen’s art. She couldn’t write such a romance as her whole stance towards life, towards what kinds of writing she could do that was valuable and she enjoyed doing, her determination to ground herself in moral comic truth by writing of what she knew, precluded such book.

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On the third night I started earlier in the evening (US EST time). Perhaps it is well to recall here that research in this library and museum from a scholarly standpoint is far more about 18th century women writers or the 18th century matters affecting women in general. For fans it’s a shrine for Austen but in the library room she is rightly and naturally among dozens of women.


A promotional photo

Caroline Jane Knight, 11 am 4th great granddaughter of Edward, 5th great niece of JA, began the day. She is probably the present heir to the house, and seems (since Sandy Lerner pulled out) to be shaping what the house will become — much more popular in orientation. She told us of how she grew up in the house, its rituals; she stressed that her family didn’t feel rich, and many branches of the Knights lived in the house at one time, each with its own living quarters, rather like a rabbit warren. Since the opening of this house to the public after the Jane Austen Society became involved and Sandy Lerner endowed it so richly for many years (herself paying for the hugely expensive restoration), the house is becoming a local community and British public community space as well as place for AGMs, Austenian and other 18th century women.  There was little about Austen’s books —  I wondered if she had read them much until lately.

In her talk she made it clear she knows she lived a privileged life. Nonetheless, the house as described by her sounded like some castle where there’s a court and everyone in lives in little crowded corners. It is true that these mansions were at times turned into the equivalent of hotels or apartment houses. She looked very strongly made, and I wondered if she rides? (is a horsewoman). She was very upbeat. See my blog on Devoney Looser’s review of her book, Jane and Me.

Caroline Knight was followed by Martin Chaddick, at noon, telling us of the supposed secrets of Chawton House –- he had photographs of the house before it was restored. First built in 1583-1590; the Knight family failed to provide an heir after Sir Richard Knight; it was passed to other branches of the family where the owner would change his named to Knight as did Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen, after he was adopted. He said he was researching house and its actual occupants, and started with how many had this first name and that; his work was that of a genealogist. You can read the literal history of the place at wikipedia.

In a third connected talk (about the neighborhood), at 1:20 Katie Childs and Lizzy Dunford discussed the village around the house in a similar practical local history fashion.

To turn to Austen’s contemporaries and other women writers, Kimberley James, began at 1 pm; she is the Collector and Manager at Gilbert White house. She spoke about the friendship of Hester Chapone and Gilbert White as seen through their letters. We learned of how they met through Hester’s brother, John Mulso, who was at Oxford when Gilbert White arrived. All three very intelligent people; White trained as a barrister. The two men became very close and from ages 20-70 Mulso wrote letters to White and there we find the history of this pair of people as friends. In 1745 Mulso brought White to meet the Mulso family, and Hecky and White hit it off. Gilbert tried to pursue a career at Oriel, Oxford and gardened. Hester married in 1760 but her husband (Chapone) died soon after, and she had the liberty and desire to live in London middling society where she met Elizabeth Carter who introduced her to Elizabeth Montagu; she became part of several circles of learned ladies, among them one surrounding Samuel Richardson, author of Clarissa and Grandison. Mulso died in 1790 and until then his letters describe these groups of people as Hester and Gilbert interacted with them. Then there is silence.

Chapone’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind went through 6 editions; his Selbourne is a nature writing classic. I was disappointed in this talk because there was little on the content of either book, not even any quotations from White’s delightful poetry-in-science.

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We come now to the two best talks of the last day: first, with no pictures: EJ Clery, 2 pm. Professor at Uppsala and author of a biography of Henry Austen. Clery said she had come to discuss literary societies. “All great writers need a gang” she began. Literary societies are about nostalgia, purpose conservation, they have archives, a shared love of books. The Jane Austen Society (of Britain), however, began 80 years ago, with the aim of restoring the small house Jane Austen lived in with her mother, sister, and friend, Martha Lloyd, and the throwing out of a grate from a fireplace. In 1949, we find an inscription on Chawton, which commemorates when the society and hopes for restoration began. Basically we owe the existence of the house still to Dorothy Darnell (1877-1953), who founded the society in 1940; it was at first a small gathering. Dorothy Darnell was also an artist (1904-1922), studied with Nicolson and exhibited in Royal Academy of Paris; she painted portraits; Emily, a sister, married (1856-1949), went to the Royal College of Music. We are in the period of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Dorothy’s sister, Alice Beatrix Darnell (1873-1995) was made chairman. A Rev Darnell was involved too. Carpenter who paid for an estimation; the Duke of Wellington at the time agreed to have his name used in the restoration of the small building.

Clery gave portraits of other early members of the JA British Society. Dorothy knew the writer Elizabeth Jenkins (1905-2010), Cambridge educated, wrote novels, 6 biographies, a very retiring, who destroyed her first novels. Elizabeth the Great is her best known book; she worked for Victor Gollancz during the war years, and chronicles her society in her writing and editing. She had no money, but was connected to upper class people and in Oxford, Mary Lascelles (1900-1995), one of the first scholars to produce a solid close reading of Austen, involved herself, RW Chapman (1881-1960) worked with Jenkins; they wrote Catherine Mecalf, that they need trustees, wanted to give prize, to produce annual reports In 1950 came the first one: 8 pages. 1938 appeared the first published articles about Jane Austen that became the traditional article in the journals (edited by Jenkins). At some point, Edward Knight agreed to sell his house for 3000£. The rooms became shrines, but meticulous research went into the making of them.

As to the Jane Austen Society journal reports, it is regularly published, each on average 100 pages, 10 articles, reports of talk (with much solid antiquarian research), reports from groups. David Selwyn edited them at first, and slowly a house of research was built: it’s from these reports Clery’s first information about Henry Austen> TABCorley and Clive Kaplan: Corley was an economic historian, had 4 children, a widower; Caplan involved with founding of JASNA. (My biography of Henry Austen as a blog is based on these men’s essays). Then Brian Southam and LeFaye built and expanded the society more to become what it is today. She told us where we may access the volumes nowadays: http://www.janeaustensocietyfreeuk.com/index.html and memsec@jasoc.org.uk

Now a YouTube of Gillian Dow, where she speaks for herself, but I’ll add a description too in case you want some notes:

Gillian Dow, who used to be the manager of Chawton House, has returned to Southampton University, and is writing a book on John Murray II (1778-1843) and his female authors, supporters, his networks. The Office at 50 Albemarle Street is above (the top of this blog). Bryon’s memoirs were burnt in that fireplace. She went there where literary gatherings once held (and Byron’s Memoirs deliberately burnt, Germaine de Stael once there, Scott too); also did research at the National Library of Scotland. She calls these women his 4 o’clock friends. JM2 was the son of John Murray I, who started the business in 1763. Gillian Dow read the letters of the women whose books he published or who tried to be published. David McClay published a good book just on Murray in 2018.

The story: 1793 JM2 inherited the business; he established The Quarterly Review in 1809, published landmark works, among them Byron and Austen. Egerton had published Austen’s first 3 novels; 1815 she resolved to go to Murray (much more prestigious, a publisher of literary books), and was offered 450£ for Emma with copyrights for S&S and MP; she and Henry refused (calling Murray a “rogue” in one letter), and published on commission, paying for production and distribution costs. Murray also published (1804) Genlis’s Duchess de la Valliere; radical women’s books, novels, listened to Caroline Lamb; went on with travel books, Heman’s poetry, an early woman scientist’s books; Susan Fevrier, Frankenstein; he was a supportive man. So it turns out Murray was no rogue (and Henry not such a good businessman); they made much less than 450£; 530 were remaindered at 2 shillings. The women he was involved with include Maria Graham (1785-1842), Sarah Austin (1793-1867), who followed her husband to Germany, kept in touch, provided Murray with a sort of readers’ reports, for example on someone she is asked to translate (1830). A third woman, Louis Swanton Belloc (1796-18881), who wrote a 2 volume biography of Byron; she was a translator, turned Cranford into French, Maria Edgeworth. She supported her husband and 3 children, was aggressive asking Murray to support this or that woman.

In the zoom period answers to questions included: unlike Austen most of these women did not work with brothers or come with male relatives on their behalf; yes, women are more likely to be translators. Very fashionable French readers liked to read English. Yes the women knew one another.

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Joshua Reynolds, The Ladies Waldegrave (sewing), 1780

Janine Barchas, 5 pm. The lost books of JA. Prof Barchas went over cheap reprints, embarrassing covers, lousy translations (mostly French, Italian and Spanish), and unreliable texts of Jane Austen’s novels. She presented herself as caring for these books and this readership but her tone was one of laughter. She showed mawkish covers and titles, saying we should regard these books as beacons in the darkness to readers left out, readers who need a chance to rebel. She was implying ideas about the readership of such books about which we know very little. The covers amused her, as did small grotesque female dolls called bobble heads (almost memorably ugly they are so distasteful) which she interspersed with the covers. I thought about her book on Northanger Abbey from where she claims to unearth as places she argues central to NA for which there is no evidence in the book, none; they are described as seriously chilling gothic places though are in fact highly problematic sensationalized tourist attractions.

Jennie Bachelor 6:00 pm, who was the first Chawton House fellow, and is now a professor of English at Kent University. Together with Alison Larkin, she has published a part craft, part critical and historical reading book on Jane Austen and Embroidery. Wollstonecraft regarded the perpetual sewing activity by women as oppressive, but many women (she said) did and do not. Austen appears to have taken pride in her sewing, and showed an avid interest in clothes.

Bachelor went over the kinds of materials you find in (considered as a type) Ladies Magazines: novels reviews, foreign news, advertisements, fashions, plates, poetry, but also frequently patterns for embroidery, but endlessly cut out for use (with no instructions — you were expected to know what to do). Her dissertation and an article she published includes some of the kinds of fiction found in these books: in one from 1790s, tale of shipwreck, we read of a Mrs Brandon attached to a Mr Willoughby; in 1802 a Case of Conscience has a Mr Knightley who marries an obscure orphan boarding at a school. Charlotte Bronte one of the later subscribers. These issues would be bound up (rather like single plays) – they were never meant to be kept.

Bachelor said she was very frustrated because she could find so few patterns, hunted for them, and then one day came across an issue with six. She started a Great British Stitch-in –- devised craft projects for all levels of ability, skill, some patterns for historically minded, others mixed media. She showed us a reticule made from embroidery. Among those who contacted her was Alison Larkin, from Yorkshire, they met and dreamed of a book. Sections organized with histories, biography, novels – an embroidery muff makes her think of Tom Jones. Well the book happened and she was here to show it to us.

The festival for me concluded with Hilary Davidson, at 7:00 pm, telling us of her Dress in the Age of Jane Austen. She traced the changes from exaggerated fashions of mid- to later 18th to a new apparent simplicity of dress for a while, until again a new set of exaggerations emerged (1830s). Sewing was very important; these were social acts. She studied women’s account books. They bought and wore differently textured clothing. How did women keep warm: they wore flannel underwear, a riding habit, woolen dress and habit, shawls, mantles, a pelisse, a spenser. Cossack trousers came in 1810 as armies crossed Russia and vice versa. From India lace-making, net machines, silk slips. She looked at Edgeworth’s Belinda’s depiction of assembly carefully. She showed us and analysed one of the covers on Margaret Drabble’s many women’s novels of our own era.

How did people use clothes in the Regency period and just after was the kind of question she asked herself and tried to answer. What exactly was stylish and why? What is meant by vulgar? Were you self-creating or ludicrous? Clothes represent complex identities are represented: she wanted to know how women experience these identities and the clothes that projected them?

And so it ended.

Ellen

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In one of her poem’s a heelpiece to a lady’s shoe (18th century of course) speaks

Her self-description: “a Traveller or Pilgrim, wandering about from House to House, in order to partake of the Benevolence of such good People [to her friends living in Windsor Forest] as you are … ” (ie., poor but honest & chaste) … Our real Worth must depend upon Our Selves (her brother, the Revd Olivier Jones and herself)

Friends and readers,

I thought the first couple of my new fore-mother poet blogs would be on women’s poetry which Austen could have read — and what’s more liked. There is no picture of Mary Jones (1707-78), so I have prefaced this with a pair of 18th century shoes and placed at the end a depiction of “a dreamer” as envisaged by a mid-18th century French poet, but we know a good deal about her outward life, and who she was related to, who were her friends (among these, Charlotte Lennox), where she lived, where she published. Her one Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (Oxford, 1750), which included verse, letters, translations, had a subscription list of 1,400 (some of them of high rank, many in the “fashionable world”) She had a place in Oxford literary circles, where she met Samuel Johnson, who called her “the Chantress” (her brother was Chanter at the Cathedral) and would quote Milton’s Il Penseroso to her: “Thee, Chantress, oft the woods among/I woo.” Her poetry and writing were praised and she seems to have been personally liked. Thomas Warton said of her she was “a very ingenious poetess … and, on the whole, as a most sensible, agreeable, and amiable woman.”

I’ve chosen three poems: first to Lady Bowyer, the friend  who helped her plan and publish her book by subscription: an intelligent and amusing poem:

An Epistle to Lady Bowyer

How much of paper’s soiled! what floods of ink!
And yet how few, how very few can think!
The knack of writing is an easy trade;
But to think well requires — at least a head.
Once in an age, one genius may arise,
With wit well cultured, and with learning wise.
Like some tall oak, behold his branches shoot!
No tender scions springing at the root.
Whilst lofty Pope erects his laurelled head,
No lays like mine can live beneath his shade.
Nothing but weeds, and moss, and shrubs are found.
Cut, cut them down, why cumber they the ground?

And yet you’d have me write! — For what? for whom?
To curl a favourite in a dressing-room? .
To mend a candle when the snuffs too short?
Or save rappee for chamber-maids at court?
Glorious ambition! noble thirst of fame! —
No, but you’d have me write — to get a name.
Alas! I’d live unknown, unenvied too;
‘Tis more than Pope with all his wit can do;
‘Tis more than you with wit and beauty joined,
A pleasing form, and a discerning mind.
The world and I are no such cordial friends;
I have my purpose, they their various ends
I say my prayers, and lead a sober life,
Nor laugh at Cornus, or at Cornus’ wife.
What’s fame to me, who pray, and pay my rent?
If my friends know me honest, I’m content.

Well, but the joy to see my works in print!
Myself too pictured in a mezzotint!
The preface done, the dedication framed,
With lies enough to make a lord ashamed!
Thus I step forth, an Auth’ress in some sort;
My patron’s name? ‘0 choose some lord at court.
One that has money which he does not use,
One you may flatter much, that is, abuse.
For if you’re nice, and cannot change your note,
Regardless of the trimmed, or untrimmed coat,
Believe me, friend, you’ll ne’er be worth a groat.’

Well then, to cut this mighty matter short,
I’ve neither friend nor interest at Court.
Quite from St. James’s to thy stairs, Whitehall,
I hardly know a creature, great or small,
Except one Maid of Honour”, worth them all.
I have no business there – -Let those attend
The courtly levee, or the courtly friend,
Who more than fate allows them dare to spend;
Or those whose avarice, with much, craves more,
The pensioned beggar, or the titled poor.
These are the thriving breed, the tiny great!
Slaves! wretched slaves! the journeymen of state.
Philosophers! who calmly bear disgrace,
Patriots who sell their country for a place.
Shall I for these disturb my brains with rhyme?
For these, like Bavius creep, or Glencus climb?
Shall I go late to rest, and early rise,
To be the very creature I despise?
With face unmoved, my poem in my hand,
Cringe to the porter, with the footman stand?
Perhaps my lady’s maid, if not too proud,
Will stoop, you’ll say, to wink me from the crowd.
Will entertain me, till his lordship’s dressed,
With what my lady eats, and how she rests:
How much she gave for such a Birthday-gown,
And how she tramped to every shop in town.

Sick at the news, impatient for my lord,
I’m forced to hear, nay smile at every word.
Tom raps at last — His lordship begs to know
Your name? your business?’ — ‘Sir, I’m not a foe:
I come to charm his lordship’s listening ears
With verses, soft as music of the spheres.’
‘Verses! — Alas ! his lordship seldom reads:
Pedants indeed with learning stuff their heads;
But my good lord, as all the world can tell,
Reads not ev’n tradesmen’s bills, and scorns to spell.
But trust your lays with me — some things I’ve read,
Was born a poet, though no poet bred:
And if I find they’ll bear my nicer view,
I’ll recommend your poetry — and you.’

Shocked at his civil impudence, I start,
Pocket my poem, and in haste depart;
Resolved no more to offer up my wit,
Where footmen in the seat of critics sit.
Is there a Lord whose great unspotted soul,
Not places, pensions, ribbons can control;
Unlaced, unpowdered, almost unobserved,
Eats not on silver while his train are starved;
Who, though to nobles or to kings allied,
Dares walk on foot, while slaves in coaches ride;
With merit humble, and with greatness free,
Has bowed to Freeman, and has dined with me;
Who, bred in foreign courts, and early known,
Has yet to learn the cunning of his own;
To titles born, yet heir to no estate,
And harder still, too honest to be great;
If such an one there be, well-bred, polite,
To him I’ll dedicate, for him I’ll write.

Peace to the rest — I can be no man’s slave;
I ask for nothing, though I nothing have.
By fortune humbled, yet not sunk so low
To shame a friend, or fear to meet a foe.
Meanness, in ribbons or in rags, I hate;
And have not learned to flatter ev’n the great.
Few friends I ask, and those who love me well;
What more remains, these artless lines shall tell.

Of honest parents, not of great, I came;
Not known to fortune, quite unknown to fame.
Frugal and plain, at no man’s cost I eat,
Nor knew a baker’s or a butcher’s debt.
O be their precepts ever in my eye!
For one has learned to live, and one to die.
Long may her widowed age by heaven be lent
Among my blessings! and I’m well content.
I ask no more, but in some calm retreat
To sleep in quiet, and in quiet eat.
No noisy slaves attending round my room;
My viands wholesome, and my waiters dumb.
No orphans cheated, and no widow’s curse,
No household lord, for better or for worse.
No monstrous sums to tempt my soul to sin,
But just enough to keep me plain and clean.
And if sometimes, to smooth the rugged way,
Charlot should smile, or you approve my lay,
Enough for me — I cannot put my trust
In lords; smile lies, eat toads, or lick the dust.
Fortune her favors much too dear may hold:
An honest heart is worth its weight in gold.

(wr, 1736, published 1750)

This second poem manages to put her genteel poverty into a acceptable yet real perspective:

Soliloquy on an Empty Purse

ALAS, my Purse! how lean and low!
My silken Purse! what art thou now!
Once I beheld — but stocks will fall —
When both thy ends had wherewithal.
When I within thy slender fence
My fortune placed, and confidence;
A poet’s fortune! — not immense:
Yet, mixed with keys, and coins among,
Chinked to the melody of song.

Canst thou forget, when, high in air,
I saw thee fluttering at a fair?
And took thee, destined to be sold,
My lawful Purse, to have and hold?
Yet used so oft to disembogue,
No prudence could thy fate prorogue.
Like wax thy silver melted down,
Touch but the brass, and lo! ’twas gone:
And gold would never with thee stay,
For gold had wings, and flew away.

Alas, my Purse! yet still be proud,
For see the Virtues round thee crowd!
See, in the room of paultry wealth,
Calm Temperance rise, the nurse of health;
And Self-Denial, slim and spare,
And Fortitude, with look severe;
And Abstinence, to leanness prone,
And Patience, worn to skin and bone:
Prudence and Foresight on thee wait,
And Poverty lies here in state!
Hopeless her spirits to recruit,
For every Virtue is a mute.

Well then, my Purse, thy sabbaths keep;
Now thou art empty, I shall sleep.
No silver sounds shall thee molest,
Nor golden dreams disturb my breast:
Safe shall I walk with thee along,
Amidst temptations thick and strong;
Catched by the eye, no more shall stop
At Wildey’s toys, or Pinchbeck’s shop;
Nor cheapening Payne’s ungodly books,
Be drawn aside by pastry-cooks:
But fearless now we both may go
Where Ludgate’s mercers bow so low;
Beholding all with equal eye,
Nor moved at — ‘Madam, what d’ye buy?’

Away, far hence each worldly care!
Nor dun nor pick-purse shalt thou fear,
Nor flatterer base annoy my ear.
Snug shalt thou travel through the mob,
For who a poet’s purse will rob?
And softly sweet in garret high
Will I thy virtues magnify;
Outsoaring flatterer’ stinking breath,
And gently rhyming rats to death.
(1750)


A print from Oxford, 1870s

She was born and grew up in Oxford. Her father was Oliver Jones of St Aldate’s, Oxford; her mother, a member of the Penn family of South Newington. In one letter Mary gives an account of her family. She grew up and was educated alongside her brother, eventually the Rev Oliver Jones (c 1706-75) at Oxford; his friends were her friends as she lived with . She was educated at Oxford, could read French and Italian and was translating from Italian at age 16.   There is a frequent sting in her poems as an outsider, the excluded woman. She does complain of the way “outsider” women were treated, but there seems to have been little overt anger. She seems to have thrived among groups of friends, especially women.  Among the poems by her I’ve read is a kindly one, “After the Small Pox,” seemingly addressed to a friend who has survived, but lost her outward beauty;” her poem about a great house is a comical sketch of hurrying to have dinner and become warm again (addressed to a friend, Charlot), “Written at Fern Hill, While Dinner was Waiting for Her. In Imitation of Modern Pastoral. ”

Printed books which contain some of her poems include British Women Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century, edd. Paula A. Backsheider & Catherine E. Ingrassio; British Women Poets, 1660-1800: An Anthology ed. Joyce Fullard (this is the best of the anthologies as Fullard has exquisitely good taste and an eye for living vivid poetry). Alexander Pope’s influence is often cited but I find the content and tone resemble far more other women’s poetry.  Much detail may be found in Roger Lonsdale’s short biography at the opening of each of his selections in The Eighteenth Century Women Poets (Oxford paperback). See wikipedia. In an Eighteenth-Century Archive, many more of her poems may be found (you will see why her poems were widely read in her milieu and she was so liked).

I call special attention to and conclude with her moving poem in grieving for the death of a beloved friend:  Verses to the Memory of Miss Clayton (click for the whole poem from which I type the concluding stanzas)

Still, but for Thee, regardless might I stray,
Where gentle Charwell rolls her silent tide;
And wear at ease my span of life away,
As I was wont, when thou were at my side.

But now no more the limpid streams delight,
No more at ease unheeding do I stray;
Pleasure and Thou are vanish’d from my sight,
And life, a span! too slowly hastes away.

Yet if thy friendship lives beyond the dust,
Where all things else in peace and silence lie,
I’ll seek Thee there, among the Good and Just.
‘Mong those who living wisely — learnt to die.

And if some friend, when I’m no more, should strive
To future times my mem’ry to extend,
Let this inscription on my tomb survive,
‘Here rest the ashes of a faithful friend.’

A little while and lo! I lay me down,
To land in silence on that peaceful shore,
Where never billows beat, or tyrants frown,
Where we shall meet again, to part no more.”

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Jean Francois Gilles Colson (1733-1803): A Dreamer

Ellen

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Jo (Maya Hawke) and Amy (Kathryn Newton) dressing in opening scene in the 2017 Little Women (scripted Heidi Thomas, directed Vanessa Caswill)

Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day … In front of them the sky now showed itself of a reddish-yellow, like a slice of some semilucent stone behind which a lamp burnt, while a fringe of black trees with distinct branches stood against the light, which was obscured in one direction by a hump of earth, in all other directions the land lying flat to the very verge of the sky. One of the swift and noiseless birds of the winter’s night seemed to follow them across the field, circling a few feet in front of them, disappearing and returning again and again — Virginia Woolf, Night and Day, Chapter 15)

Friends and readers a Winter Solstice/Christmas blog:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
“We’ve got father and mother and each other,” said Beth contentedly, from her corner …. (Chapter 1)

Of course everyone remembers the opening line of Little Women, and (I hope) the opening sequence, where though the March girls are feeling they are among the deprived, are led by their ever vigilantly alert to the worst-misfortunes-of-others mother to go to a downright starving freezing family, sitting in rags in a hovel in the pitch dark, the mother having recently given birth to baby and give them their Christmas dinner (Chapter 2).

But did you know that Christmas is a recurring incident in Alcott’s famous book, like winter, brought back repeatedly, most of the time (as in Austen) as a way of creating realistic time, so fleetingly, and but crucially too (this very unlike Austen), dwelt on at length so as to provide vivid vignettes of camaraderie and carefully mitigated disaster, and sweet human togetherness.


Little Women — iconic scene of girls gathering round mother to be read too — here though it is a telegram (1970 BBC LW, Angela Downe as Jo, scripted Denis Constanduros)

When Mrs March receives a telegram from the civil war front urging her to come to her husband who is very ill, it is mid-November, and much of ensuing desperate, generous, and comic action occurs in the cold, dark and snowy winter, including Jo selling her long hair to get up money for the mother’s train fare. The father comes home as a “Christmas present,” and the first order of business is to sit down to “such a Christmas dinner” as anyone would revel in (“the fat turkey was a sight to behold … so was the plum pudding …”, and all sit down round the fire, drinking healths, telling stories, singing, “reminiscing,” foregoing the planned “sleigh ride” until another day (Chapters 15 on and off through 22)

I had remembered from more than one Little Women movie (I’ve seen at least 7) the putting on of a play around Christmas, as a separate time, but looking at my old book for adolescent girls (Grosset and Dunlap, illustrated by Louis Jambor) I find Jo’s writing of plays, acting and directing in an amateur theater are all part of the opening sequence. The play, as we all recall, is an “Operatic Tragedy,” the story of a stalking villain, Hugh, who hated Roderigo, loves Zara, with cabalistic outfits, comic gothicism in five fun acts (Chapter 2)


Laurie (Peter Lawford) gives Jo (Katharine Hepburn) some kittens for Christmas (1931, LW, George Cukor)

When Jo goes to New York to become a professional writer, the season is again November, and her first meeting with Mr Bhaer (she learns to call him Professor only much later) is during the Christmas week when she is feeling especially lonely, and so is he, and they agree for her to read to him “these pleasant little Marchen together,” while he teaches her German. They read Hans Christian Anderson together too, and unexpectedly to Jo (but not to us) her “big, muddy, battered-looking” “Christmas bundle” arrives, “so homey and refreshing” that “I sat down on the floor and read and looked and ate and laughed, and cried, in my usual way.” “The things” are “just what I wanted,” and “all the better for being made instead of bought,” which must exclude “the books father had marked.” Mr Bhaer gives her “a fine Shakespeare … one that he values much.” “Poor as he is,” he has made a present for every person in the house, servants and children too. Downstairs “they got up a masquerade;” Jo is at first not going to go, “having no dress … ” but “some old brocades” are remembered, a loan of “lace and feathers” takes place, and Jo goes as Mrs Malaprop in her mask.” This is all in a letter which ends very happily with Jo’s vow to “take more interest in other people than I used to” as Marmee has advised (Chapter 33).


Jo (Winona Ryder) and Prof Bhaer (Gabriel Bryne) pouring over manuscripts and drawings in their New York lodgings (1994 LW, scripted Robin Swicord, directed Gillian Armstrong)

I have here emphasized how the earlier part of the book are more didactic and more obviously aimed at adolescent girls. The later part (once called Good Wives) shows a change of focus to include young women, especially when the book turns to Jo’s career as a writer in her parents’ attic and life as a single unmarried daughter in the house. And in the text, Christmas drops out of sight, and Jo meets her beloved teacher once again not in winter, but years later in the mud and rain of spring.

Izzy and I intend to go to Greta Gerwig’s new Little Women, which begins with Jo in New York, trying to sell a manuscript. Laura, my other daughter, has already seen it and will be publishing her review for Elite Daily on Christmas Day. Despite a probably valiant attempt to update the book, and turn Little Women into wholly adolescent girl/adult book (see interview of Gerwig by Gabrielle Donnelly), Gertwig will not be able to lift the material too far from the original to stay true to its ethics. For her too (LW is my sixth of ten most influential books) this is a seminal book, one she can hardly remember not knowing, so often and so far back has she been reading it.


Meg (Emma Watson) Jo (Saoirse Ronan) Beth (Eliza Scanlan) and Amy (Florence Pugh) (2019, LW, Greta Gerwig et aliae)

I signed up for a course in Louisa May Alcott’s books, where we will read all Little Women (using the Norton Critical edition), her Hospital Sketches (Applewood) and a Long Fatal Love Chase (Dell). I’ve blogged on Anne Boyd Rioux’s Meg Jo Beth Amy: why Little Women still matters and on Louisa separately in Writing for Immortality.

So this is a looking forward to next year meditation too: I’m torn whether to buy the Norton (with its young girl picture) or the two Library of America volumes, edited by Elaine Showalter in paperback.

To conclude in the spirit of Alcott:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

— Mary Oliver

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From Previous Years:

For Christmas in Jane Austen’s novels and letters, her 18th century perspective


Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth supposed reading Jane’s letters the winter after the Christmas visit of the Gardeners (who took Jane off to cheer her up, 1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies, directed Simon Langton)

For Christmas at Trenwith and Nampara: two occasions at length in the Poldark novels


Christmas at Trenwith, Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, frightened, first visit, questioned by Caroline Blakiston as Aunt Agatha (Poldark, 2014, Season 1, Episode 4 — corresponding to the last quarter of Ross Poldark

Ellen

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This is my favorite of all the fictionalized iconic images of Austen — it’s found in the gardens of Chawton House I’m told, 20th century, the sculpture Adam Roud who says it “represents” Austen as “daughter and sister as she walked through town” (see commentary and video)

A windy wet day? her head held high

Jane Austen was very much aware of her birthday, probably each year it came round. On at least two of such days, she wrote a poem upon the occasion, remembering. The finest is the one remembering the death of Anne Lefroy, a nearby companion-friend (however older and however this friend was instrumental in preventing her developing a true love relationship with Tom Lefroy, causing Austen at the time and for several years after much grief). At the age of 55 Anne Lefroy died from a fall from a horse on December 16th, in 1804. Four years later, in the fiction of the poem, to the day, Jane Austen wrote this elegy:

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday

The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–
The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, thy captivating Grace!–
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–

At Johnson’s death by Hamilton t’was said,
‘Seek we a substitute–Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead–
None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee–unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgent Power,–
–Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!–
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.

I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!–
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.–

I listen–’tis not sound alone–’tis sense,
‘Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.

She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!–Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.

Her’s is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.–

Can ought enhance such Goodness?–Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.–Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.–the Vision disappears.

‘Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!–

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness–Reason, spare.

In the poem Jane says she has “mix’d emotions” on her “natal day” in 1808. On that day 4 years ago she knew she would never lay her eyes on Anne Lefroy again; her friend had been “snatch’d away.” An unexpected accident is a great blow. So now a day which gave her “Life & Light & Hope” is an occasion for feeling penetratingly a “bitter pang of torturing Memory.”

She then remembers her friend’s powers, what she valued her friend for: “Talents, Temper, mind . . . solid Worth . . . captivating Grace.” A friend to all, an ornament to the human race. This is going very high, but Austen likens Anne Lefroy to Samuel Johnson, and says that like him, when Anne Lefroy died, there was no substitute, “No second best . . . “None can remind us even of the Man.” (I read this phrase in Boswell’s Life of Johnson and that may be where Jane read it too.)

Vainly she searches. Not there, nowhere around her, only a “vacant space.” And so she says, she will conjure up a vision of her. “Fancy” is much kinder to us, an “indulgent power” — Austen’s idea of hope here is unlike Pope’s ironic witty utterance: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast/Man never is, but always to be blest.” Cool distance has become melancholy shivering: “Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!” Thee here can be Austen herself, probably is. So she turns to Fancy.

What does she remember. Not literal looks. Rather the woman’s psychological nature, their friendship, an asserted love for Jane herself, a voice harmonious I’m tempted to remember Emma Woodhouse who valued modulated voices unlike Mr Martin’s, but Austen knows better than to stay here: it’s what Anne would say, “sense . . . Genius, Taste & Tenderness of Soul . . . genuine warmth of heart without pretence,” and we cannot ignore the turn away from sensuality, sexuality, in that “purity of Mind.”

We are given a panegyric like Austen’s brother gave her: neither of them ever “misapplied” their Tongues, spoke and reasoned “on Virtue’s Side. In spoken words, Anne Lefroy sought “to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,/Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain — ” This is Popian poetic art: antitheses used for emotional instead of ironic reinforcement.

Can anything go beyond this? Yes. That she liked Jane, was “partial to her” from her “earliest years.” No small thing. Jane asks Fancy to allow her to see Anne Lefroy smiling with love at her. But no, “the Vision disappears:” “Tis past & gone — We meet no more more.” This “Cheat of Fancy” over a Tomb is short.

The poem ends with Austen hoping to be united to her friend once more after death, the dream many have had of death. There is a medieval picture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in a glass case) where we see pairs of friends clutching each other against a flowery flat green background; rows of these from top to bottom. Perhaps she says this terrible pain of having had her friend die, which creates a union of memory in her mind augurs a “connection” to be. She asks Fancy to “indulge this harmless weakness,” for that’s how she regards this idea.

“Reason, spare.” Reason, a deeply felt of reality from knowledge of experience tells her otherwise. Jane was not a religious woman.

This is almost a repeat of what I wrote on December 16th, 2011, when I was as yet unwidowed, and had not felt the true bereftness of grief. At the time I had not as yet visited Chawton House Library (as it used to be called), and only seen Chawton cottage once. Now I’ve been to Chawton cottage twice (once very thoroughly) and particated in a four day conference on Charlotte Smith at Chawton House Library.

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Romola Garai as Emma playing the piano after returning from a very ambiguous experience in an assembly ball (2009 BBC Emma, scripted by Sandy Welch), the most recent of the heritage-faithful type of adaptation (see list)

I have not yet found a way to blog regularly on Austen; my scheme to blog once a week on a book like Paula Byrne’s in the event turns out to be unworkable; I feel as if I’m using the book too invasively; one or two blog reviews a book is for most of them the ethical way to go about it. I had thought of collecting news items and did so this week:

1) the latest Emma movie, as written about most intelligently by Caroline Hallemann in a Town and Country article (followed by the latest Royal Scandal);

2) the latest “Jane Austen find” by Devoney Looser, as in fan fiction, really a letter possibly by Mary Russell Mitford. It’s behind a paywall at the newly semi-pop (trying for this) dumbing down TLS as “fan fiction or fan fact”, followed by some secrets hitherto unknown about Oliver Sacks. Mary Russell Mitford was a writer and neighbor, & is discussed perceptively in the most recent issue of Persuasion, ‘Jane Austen and Mary Mitford: A New Appraisal” by Azar Hussain (the essay not one of those online, alas). See also Oliphant on Mitford, Austen and their first biographers.

3) Janine Barchas at the Blarb for a Los Angeles publication, where she presents as a new find an essay on Arthur’s Miller’s (dreadful) radio adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It is not quite a new find; several years now I heard a full paper by Sylvia Marks on this adaptation; here’s a summary from an earlier blog here:

Sylvia Kasey Marks’s paper was on the 20th century great playwright, Arthur Miller and the 18th century forger, Henry Ireland. She discussed them as both appropriating the work or understood persona and style of someone else. In the early phase of his career Miller wrote radio plays, and some of these are dramatizations of someone else’s novel. She demonstrated that in Miller’s case we see him consistently change his original to fit his own vision. Unlike Ireland, Miller was not trying to find a new space in which he could create something unlike what others were writing at the time. He was building his career and operating within a considerable group of constraints (which include pleasing the audience). Sylvia told the whole sad story of Ireland, including a conflict with his father, and how we may see popular attitudes towards Shakespeare in some of Ireland’s writing.

It seems to me there’s nothing for it but to take the time out periodically and read a good book on Austen or by one of her near contemporaries (or on such a contemporary) and write a good review. It comes down to picking a book.  I will be returning to view and write about Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Anna Lefroy’s continuation, once again Chris Brindle’s filmed play and at length,

4) soon to air on PBS, Andrew Davies’ interesting (if finally a failure) attempt at modernizing extending and yet keeping within the Austen canon, Sanditon

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Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s portrait of Marie-Gabrille Capet (1798) — L-G specialized in portraits, at which she was very good, and which paid — early on she married unhappily and quickly left her husband so had to support herself

Last I have been developing blogs on actresses once again and first up will be Susannah Maria Arne Cibber (1714-66) and then fast forward to Barbara Flynn. I’m reading an excellent concise artistic biographical study of Adelaide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) for my first woman painter. Foremother poets are a intimidating cornucopia, but if I include prose-poets, maybe Virginia Woolf as seen in Night and Day (a very enjoyable insightful and underrated novel) will be my first — not that Woolf needs me to blog about her.

Ellen

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