Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Pilgrimage to Cythera
Dear friends and readers,
It is probably more than time for me to share my notes from this enjoyable conference at Asheville, North Carolina.
The first session I went to was on Thursday afternoon just after lunch (Panel 1, 12:30 – 2:00 pm): Terrifying Prospects and Psychological Landscapes: Visions and Vistas of the Gothic. This was the one where I gave my paper on “The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes”. I give the general gist of the two other enjoyable and concise papers: Robert Kottage (“Coining the Counterfeit: Truth and Artifice in Horace Walpole and his Castle of Otranto“) argued that although Walpole’s famous gothic “first,” is of poor aesthetic quality” (it does not succeed in doing what it sets out to), it’s a highly original work where we find massive pain behind the gothic masks. The characters are surrogates for Walpole, and the book an entirely serious attempt to express Walpole’s unconventional sensitive self; its themes are those of the gothic earnestly meant.
Jan Beerstraten (1622-66), Warmond Castle (1661) (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) — the secular historical landscape begins in mid-17th century
J. David Macey (“Panoramic Vistas and Prospective Deaths: Mary Hamilton, Munster Village and the Gothic Novel”) argued that Mary Hamilton employed unusual strategies in her novel: her characters retire to an estate and create a sort of Arcadia. Her novel is a Rousseauistic (many allusions to Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise) recuperative gothic wehre the characters try out tableaux of historical dreams against the nightmare of history. Prof Macey felt Radcliffe was influenced by Hamilton.
The second session I attended (Panel 7, 2:15 – 3:45 pm), “Animals in the Eighteenth Century.” This time two relatively brief suggestive papers. Killian Quigley (“Seemingly Divested of the Ferocity of His Nature: Dean Mahomet’s Imperial Wild”) discussed The Travels of Dean Mahomet, A Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of The Honourable The East India Company where the author championed the British presence in India. Mr Quigley suggested the presentation of the tiger in this book combined a de-mythologizing impulse with picturesque and 18th century Indian traditions.
This 18th century Royal Tiger Hunt clearly shows little compassion for the tiger (India, Rajasthan, Mewar, Udaipur)
Kathleen Grover (“Sense and Sentiment: Conflicting Views on Animals in the Writings of Descartes, Johnson, and Others”) discussed a shift in attitudes towards animals which encouraged people to empathize with them as having feelings equivalent in strength and quality to human beings; there was a growing anti-vivisection movement. She quoted to great effect some of Johnson’s writing.
Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), Portrait of Scottish violinist and composer Niel Gow (1727-1807)
The first plenary address was on a major theme of the conference beyond picturing: music, especially Scottish music. Professor and fiddler Jane MacMorran gave us a detailed survey of the modes and phases of “18th century Scottish Fiddle Music”. Basically she traced traditional Scottish music, the influence of sophisticated European art music (Italian) and local or regional forms. She or one or both of two of her students (also fine musicians) would play examples of each kind of music after she described its genesis, described it and told where it was popular. I really enjoyed listening to all the pieces, bagpipes, minuets, reels, gigs. The audience was just filled with people.
After the two first sessions, there was lively talk, sometimes supplementing what was said (on the development of animal rights and how far we have to go as yet), qualifying, objecting. In the session on the gothic, the political complexion of the mode was debated; in the session on attitudes towards animals we discussed how far we were still away from regarding animals as having an equivalent right to a life of quality. There was not much general talk after the musical lecture, but some specific questions. What was the kind of music heard in Scottish middle class drawing rooms in the later 18th century. What did Prof MacMorran mean to refer to by some of her terms? After the musical lecture, everyone adjoined to a reception area in the corridors overlooking the vast green landscapes around the hotel (appropriate to the theme) and we drank and had snacks and talked. Then Jim and I were fortunate enough to go into town to have dinner (Italian) with an old friend and new acquaintance.
Leicester Square, a Panorama
The next day began early, 8:00 am (Panel 3, to 9:30 am), and I went to a session whose subject was squarely that of the conference: “Anticipating the Long Eighteenth Century: Vistas in Literature and the Arts.” Three papers were accompanied by fold-out panoramas, scientific drawings, and plates commemorating events, city, town, and country places. Martha Lawlor (“As the Story Unfolds”) brought from the library where she is an Assistant to the head librarian the actual rare printed visions from the era. What I noticed most was that these were printed in small numbers and meant for an elite audience; what knowledge they did offer pictorially could not have spread far.
Panorama of the Battle of Sedan, Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Anton von Werner (British Library)
Linda Reesman (“Botanical Places and Poetical Spaces”) showed us images meant to accompany poetry by Coleridge (which idealized family, children, private sociability); she stressed how this poetry is nostalgic and shows his longing for childhood innocence. Kelly Malone (“Microscopic Vision: The Scientific Vision from the Other Side of the Lens”) showed us how people were disquieted (they had to question the validity of what they could see) by the perceived ugliness and totally different scale from the human one of the microscopic world, at the same time as it was influential and began an important useful journey in understanding the full universe (from diseases, to the structure of living things).
There really was not much talk afterwards as the papers were long and it had taken quite a time to get the power-point aspects of the talks to work. What there were were these panoramas from the rare book room of the Noel Collection spread out on desks. And people looked at them.
There was an Austen session, Panel 12 (9:45 – 11:15 am), “All About Austen.” Two excellent papers. Jena Al-Fuhai (“Gothic Letters: Austen and the Remnants of the Epistolary Novel”) demonstrated the Austen carried on using letters centrally in her novels; while parodying she retained, affirmed, re-created in her own idiom many gothic motifs we find in other novels of the era. Austen does not use letters as windows on the self so much as interventions in the stories which give rise to rupture and thus questioning (of the social order.) What was good about hers was the subtlety of her argument and her examples.
Anne Hathaway (who apparently embodies a modern desirable image for Austen) in Becoming Jane (2008)
Robert Dryden (“Knowing Jane: Pleasure, Passion, & Possession in the Jane Austen community”) basically talked about Austen fandom, how her readers are able to intimate narratives of her life that they fervently believe to be true because there is only the briefest suggestive evidence. She becames a portal, a site through which her readers dream of returning to an idyllic past. The audience afterward discussed the problematic questions of why Austen prompts this reaction, when the cult began, and why she appeals so, especially to women.
At this point there was a break for lunch; then Jim and I and many others went by three buses to the Biltmore mansion where we spent a long (tiring) afternoon. I felt the huge crowds I saw testified to how in the year 2012 the strongly hierarchical class-ridden society this Vanderbilt museum was run on is still central to American life.
A front view of the Biltmore castle (to the back are extension landscaped gardens)
It was telling to see that the rooms for display, the ones the family would have been least likely to use were the first we had to get through. Large with lots of flattering portraits, uncomfortable furniture and the visibilia of wealth and high connections. As we climbed higher, we saw evidence of family life (much idealized). Higher up the guests’ rooms (fancy, done according to color and thematic schemes), then higher yet the narrow corridors and bare rooms of servants. All the way down in the bowels of the building were the places the servants had worked very hard in, and a gym and pool for the wealthy visitors and family to use. In one room there were murals on the wall, evidence of a several day party where obviously the paricipants had gotten quite drunk at times. The prettiest things we saw where the gardens where much money is spent and time to make sure the tulips grow.
It was a mirror of what we were experiencing at Grove Park Inn. Where the 1% were served by those of the 99% docile or desperate enough to be let in. At Grove Park Inn I loved the landscape all around the many huge windows across its walls, and to see the super-expensive luxurious spa set in a vista of rocks; but the place never let one forget one was in this special rare environment only a tiny percentage of people get to enjoy. Jim remarked: “It’s a really glorious setting up in the mountains. People who bet on football refer to $50 bets as “nickels” and $100 bets as “dimes”. In that sense, the hotel nickeled and dimed us.”
I kept wondering where the people who worked in this hotel lived as the bus tours took us only through streets of exquisitely appointed Edwardian mansions. I did glimpse some apartment houses in the distance and hoped for their sakes there were supermarkets, reasonably priced malls, and other amenities (even physicians) to provide for their needs. They all smiled so while they wandered about the hotel, ever eager to help Jim and I (though one person did remind us that the people at the bar no longer had their tips included automatically in the bill — naturally she wanted to make more than $2.13 per hour).
As so often the slave cabins in US plantations now set up for tourists are torn down, so the places where servants must’ve gathered water in mid-century were no longer there (this photo comes from Pamela Horn’s study of the Victorian servant).
We could have done wine tasting and visited an artifcial village and shopping center on the other side of the huge estate; but as it promised to be much hype and was basically a place for the family to make money, we skipped it.
We got back in time to have a light supper with a friend at one of the many bars in the inn. Very pleasant.
Although blurred I show this image as it is from the production we viewed: the dancer has her arms arched to pump them up and down like a rooster
At 8 o’clock went with a group of people to a screening room where Gloria Eive and Colby Kullman played excerpts from a DVD of a production at the Paris Opera house of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes: Gloria and Colby discussed the music and (reactionary) meanings of the opera, and then we saw how in the Euro-trash version these were both delightfully parodied and rendered absurd (as when lead dancers imitated the gestures of chickens, hens, roosters) while wearing the extravagant costumes that are intended to make people numinous figures.
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Our long day was done and we returned to our room to read, have some white Riesling wine together, talk and then sleep.
For my third report, see South Central ASECS: Women Writers, poets & actresses and myths.
Read Full Post »