Posts Tagged ‘renaissance’

Paul Sandby (1731-1809) The Magic Lantern

Dear readers and friends,

My second report on the papers and talks I heard at the recent EC/ASECS conference (see Money, Feeling and the Gothic, Johnson and The Woman of Colour). I’ve three panels, a keynote speech and individual papers to tell of. Of especial interest: a paper on hunger towers (the use of hunger as a political statement has reversed itself); on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (favorable!) and Mary Shelley’s Valperga, out in a good new edition; it’s about (among other things) a struggle between tyrannical autocracy and liberal democracy … just our thing …

1861 Illustration of Dante’s Inferno: Ugolino grieving over his starving dying sons

For the last session on Friday (Oct 28th), I went to the “Adaptation” panel chaired by Peter F. Perreten. Erlis Wickersham’s “Goethe’s Use of Traditional Hunger Tower Motifs in Gotz von Berlichingen. The historical background of the motive brings out the astonishing reverse use made of death through hunger today. Hunger towers were a visible symbol and reality that told people looking at them that the powerful family (or group) or political person has imprisoned someone so that he (or she) shall die a horribly painful death from slow starvation. Erlis said they were common in medieval landscapes. A very cruel form of murder. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is in Dante’s Inferno: Ugolino who was imprisoned with two sons and two grandsons. Schiller’s play is less complex than what happened historically, which was an instance of torture, of unspeakable inhumanity during the last days of the feudal system. Schiller alters this so that it becomes a chosen hunger strike. Schiller is showing us a new state of mind, a way of conveying a deep disapproval, a rejection of life as then lived. Kafka’s early 20th century story, “The Hunger Artist” presents a scene of people watching a man die for entertainment, a sort of paradigm mirroring aspects of humanity. The most recent example is found in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games: she depicts a grimly impoverished society, a dystopian culture. Those who win a primitive unfairly manipulated contest receive more food and comforts. Its heroine, Katniss Everdeen represents the strength of idealism. Hunger becomes a weapon against oppression, a defiance of the existing social order. Escape though seems to be impossible in this hunger-haunted world. Of course what should happen is ample food be supplied to all.

I had not realized the expressions on the faces of the actors in promotional shots for Hunger Games might suggest they are hungry ….

Sylvia Kasey Marks,”What did Playwright Arthur Miller do to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?” Helen Jerome was the screenplay writer for the first of the film adaptations of Jane Austen in 1941, a fairly successful P&P. The typescript is in Texas. At the time Miller was between jobs, his greatest plays had yet to be written, and one way he made money was to write radio plays He does not seem to have known much about the 18th century or its texts, and he used this Jerome adaptation in 1945 to write an hour-long radio show. Sylvia felt Miller had not read Austen’s novel: he is unaware of Elizabeth and her father’s warm relationship, of the witty use of letters. Miller made many more changes, some silly (Lydia gets drunk on raspberry punch), and a few subtle cruelties here and there. Miller also panders. But the play has as its theme a willingness to reject the past; the characters say that they never told the truth in this house for 10 minutes. We need to have a ruthlessness against the past that holds us.

Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot grieving over her letters (2007 Persuasion, scripted Simon Burke, it’s just possible to see Persuasion as a breaking away from the past that holds us in its grip)

Linda Troost gave an insightful account of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I enjoyed her paper because when I wrote my blog I could not find one review or blog which took the movie at all seriously or praised it; most people could not get beyond its mockery of aspects of heterosexual romance, and seemed to regard the piece as inane trivia. I reviewed it as a flawed work (see my The Violent Turn), which attempts a mirroring of our modern preoccupations with violence as a solution to all our problems; there is some serious gothic: a deep disturbance over the human body, it whips up disgust with nature, and (as Frankenstein, the ultimate origin) has an obsession with death. Linda took it on its own terms, which she appeared to enjoy: Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a great warrior, Wickham’s desire for power, how Elizabeth saves Darcy. I was aware of how many scenes in the film still keep the pivot or hinge-points of the book,and how the costumes quoted other films, Linda brought out many jokes through intertextual borrowing from other films

The kind of breakfast scene so typical of Austen films

The familiar Darcy proposal to Elizabeth becomes a violent duel, complete with swords and axes

The day was over; there was a reception for Linda Merians, who had been the secretary of the society for so many years, speeches, drinks, and then I went to dinner at a nearby Asian fusion restaurant with a friend.


Wm Hogarth (1697-1764), The Distrest Poet (1736)

The early morning session, Bibliography, Book History, and Textual Studies chaired by Eleanor Shevlin was marvelous but I doubt I can convey why because the fun was in the minute changes people make to their texts, the interest complicated questions of profits from copyright, and one woman’s thwarted attempt to sell her book of letters for money.

Jim May discussed Goldsmith’s multitudinous revisions, big and small, in his poems “The Traveller and the Deserted Village.” Jim began with how in the Clarendon edition of Pope, the editors chose to use the earliest possible text, a pre-publication copy, on the grounds that incidentals don’t matter. He then moved to Arthur Friedman’s edition of Goldsmith which shows a feeling for a very complicated text. For Goldsmith writing was rewriting. He rewrote other people’s adaptations, translations, introductory material. He would revise and revise and revise his own texts. He would respond to critics by revising for the next edition. The problem for readers is they don’t understand Friedman’s system of annotation (Lonsdale’s is easier to follow). You can trace Goldsmith’s thought by paying attention to these small changes.


Nancy Mace asked if Robert Falkener was aanother music private or a principled revolutionary, bringing otherwise unaffordable music (sheets) to “the masses?” It’s a story of 18th century conflicts between open access and protection of private property (musician and composer’s profits). In 1760s we find Falkener’s name on harpsichords as a builder; then then begins to produce music sheets. Printers had preferred to use engraved pewter plates; Falkener recognized printing from movable type was much cheaper. Music had been selling for shillings and so many pence; Falkener sold his sheets for a penny a piece. Music trade brought suit three times and courts sided with plaintives. It was in 1777 music regarded as texts was covered by copyright. Falkener used arguments like Handel’s work had been in the public domaine, he raised the troubling question (by then) of monopolies. She looked at the case of Love in a Village which led to a series of lawsuits, claims and counterclaims (Bickerstaffe, or Walsh or Pyle)and finally the; court more or less sided with original or first owner. Meanwhile Falkener had lost but he carried on printing: 8 of the most popular sheets, from a popular operetta). The problem with claiming his purpose was to reach more people falls down when you realize these people could not afford even the cheaper sheet music.

Michael Parker discussed “the unknown career of Harriet Woodward Murray, a Maryland Woman of letters. Prof Parker edited the poetry of Edmund Waller and is now working on a biography, and in a letter by Alice Mary Randall he read of her friend, Harriet Woodward (1762-1840) who produced a book called Extracts. He then came across a 2 volume set of Extracts attributed to someone else, which he recognized from the earlier description. The book reflects the preoccupations and tastes of genteel American who is a great reader; she moves from gaiety to piety, to trying to help impoverished and African-American people. She includes Shenstone and poetry of sensibility, Shenstone himself had gathered poems by his friendsHe told of her parents, who she married, the planation where she grew up, where she lived later upon her marriage, her good friend, Catherine Nicolson Few (1764-1854). Harriet’s husband had lost a great deal of money, so Harriet wrote this book and Catherine attempted to get up a subscription list of 380 individuals for 456 copies, 156 of which were women. Frederick Green of the Gazette printed it. The friendship between the two women seems to have lapsed, and Harriet tried to sell the books herself. In fact few took their copies, mostly family members and the profit was $30. In this century most of the copies were destroyed by a descendant by mistake. The family was related to the family behind Daisy in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.

The room was full and there was a lively discussion afterwards — about American culture, the realities of selling books by subscription, did writers stay with the same printers? Nancy reminded us that music was a luxury business: middle class people learned to play instruments, and most money was made selling instruments. The audience did not care about the quality of the printed sheets. The composer had to sell his music through a fee; there were no royalties then.

Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), Staircase by Night (1848) — I felt an appropriate image for Wright’s poems (see just below)

Catherine Ingrassia’s keynote address, “Familiarity breeds Contentment: (Re)locating the Strange in 18th century women writers” was basically about how to go about changing the canon so we can bring in 18th century women writers hitherto not studied. The new technology and editions make it possible to study minor women writers for the first time: we can have the texts from ECCO and Pandora online. She had two lists of words: those signifying familiarity are pleasant; those signifying strangeness, hostile. The period saw the first editions by women of their poetry, first biographies; they were attacked too. But obstacles to a woman writing are many, from family obligations, to impoverished widowhood. To use the old anthologies is to repeat the same mistakes as often editors rely on a previous edition. Now we have tools to use like the Cambridge Companions to Women’s Writing: books which offer ideas on how to approach the texts we have. There were anthologies of women’s poetry, miscellanies by individuals, often writing in solitude without much opportunity to make money. Catherine read aloud to us poems by women of the 18th century, one a widow with 2 daughters, another by a spinster. She chose a poem about a battle, about Culloden (great defeat and slaughter), about a riot in Bristol; women wrote poems about widowhood, homelessness, hungry children, wives thrown into prison with their husbands (not male topics). Among the better known women mentioned were Mehetabel Wright (about the death of a new born child). I’ve written a foremother poet essay on her life and superbly strong verse. Catherine ended on Eliza Haywood as a good candidate for major treatment in a course, highly topical, daring in her treatment of same-sex relationships. There is a six volume set of her works; an Approaches to Teaching volume.

The discussion afterward did not turn on the question of the quality of Haywood’s work, but rather the problem that since in many colleges, there will be a course given in eighteenth century literature and/or history at best once every two years, which of the traditional authors should you eliminate so as to make room for Haywood? It’s not as if the canon which is so recognizable and familiar to us is at all familiar to the undergraduate, who you might like to attract to a study of 18th century literature, culture, art. It was then time for the business lunch.


It was at this point I found myself unable to take substantial enough notes to report on the afternoon consistently. So I’m going to conclude on noting for those like myself interested in three papers on women writers or artists, with brief summaries of three papers in the last session. Alistaire Tallent’s paper was on “Stranger than Fiction: How a Slanderous Novella Made Mademoiselle Clairon a Star of the Parisian Stage (I know how important these memoirs are for actresses’s careers and reputations — see my The Rise of the English Actress); Joanna M. Gohmann’s “Paws in Two Worlds: The Peculiar Position of Aristocratic Pets in 18th century Visual Culture” (especially as a cat lover I regretted not hearing this one) and Caroline Breashears, “Novel Memoirs: The Collaboration of Tobias Smollett and Lady Vane” (Constantia Phillips, Lady Vane’s life appears as an interlude or insert in Smollett’s Peregrine Pickle, utterly non-conformist, an instance of scandal life-writing).

Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), Le chat angora — those familiar with later 18th century painting will be familiar with paintings of women aristocrats with their pets (not always accurately rendered, often placed in the position of a child or among children)

XIR64477 The Cat's Lunch (oil on canvas)  by Gerard, Marguerite (1761-1837); Musee Fragonard, Grasse, France; Giraudon; French, out of copyright
Another Gerard: The Cat’s Lunch


Mary Beale (1633-99)
, Portrait of a Girl with a Cat — the salacious ones are remembered but the appearance and accuracy of most (like this) testify rather to how animals were increasingly treated as companions to owners and their children

“Giving Voice to the Persecuted” (3:30-4:45 pm) was the last session, and chaired by Sayre Greenfield. Ted Braun gave a full description of Olympe de Gouges’s L’Escavage des negres, and its first production (deliberately played badly). He also placed it in the context of Gouges’s passionately-held revolutionary beliefs: it might fail as theater (it’s an excessively sentimental heroic romance), but not as an anti-slavery tract. Gouges asked direct resonating questions (how can we behave so miserably, deplorably to these people?!). She spoke on behalf of the oppressed, revealing the worst cruelties, asked for equality for women. For her efforts, she was reviled and guillotined.

Jennifer Airey’s paper, “A temper admirably suited to Enthusiasm: Sexual Violence, Female Religious Expression, and the Trial of Mary-Catherine Cadiere (1731)” was about a young nun who was probably taken gross advantage of by her confessor; she sued him for rape, he was acquitted and then accused her of witchcraft. She was using a relgious vision to give her cultural authority. It was a cause celebre, pornographic pamphlets, and anti-catholic propaganda appeared. Both people were in danger of fierce physical punishment. The real story ended in his death and her disappearance from the world’s stage; but Mary Shelley re-worked the story fictionally in her Valperga in the characters of Beatrice, an orphan who becomes a prophet, and Castruccio, a tyrant prince (see Mary Seymour, Mary Shelley, pp 251-53). After a prolonged sexual assault Beatrice goes into violent convulsions, and has visions which Shelley sees as empowering her. Shelley also flirts with heresy by suggesting an actively malevolent God.

An excellent new edition by Stuart Curran is reviewed in Romantic Circles — “the novel dramatizes a struggle between autocracy and liberal democracy that spoke to its era and now our own

Christine Clark-Evans’s “Colbert’s Negro/Negres Slave Mothers and Montesquieu’s Climatic Mothers: Motherhood in the Code Noir and Of the Spirit of the Laws,” was the last paper of the day. She spoke of the harsh treatment of enslaved mothers (no right to anything, least of all their children) who were abused concubines, forced back to work immediately after giving birth. Theories of mothers and motherhood (Roxanne Wheeler has a book on this) ignored. Montesquieu was against slavery and in his work said that only through vicious slavery could you clear the land and produce sugar at a profit; he described the horrible treatment of enslaved black women.

We stayed to talk though we had run out of time. Ted said one problem with her play is decorum deprives her slave characters of authentic voices. Jennifer suggested Shelley asks if nature is inherently evil, with God an incompetent adminstrator. Shelley’s Last Man we find God treated as love.

And so a fine conference ended.

One of the worst things that happens to Greer Garson as Elizabeth is she gets mud on her shoes and dress (this in 1941) — this is after all a Jane Austen blog



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Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game (left to right, Lucia, Europa, Minerva Anguissola, 1555)

Vigue: “In this painting, Lucia is on the left. She has just killed her opponent’s queen. The other player is Minerva, who is lifting a hand, perplexed and rather serious, since she has nearly lost the game. The young Europa smiles openly in the center, enjoying the situation. The psychological rendering of the figures is perfect. The expression of the servant gazing at the game is also remarkable. Occupied in her domestic tasks, she nevertheless has time to notice matters affecting the girls. This painting reveals Anguissola’s human spirit The young women are wearing elegant silk clothing with lace cuffs, high collars with a ruff, and necklaces and tiaras with precious stones and pearls adorning their heads. Anguissola paints a landscape in the background that adds depth to the painting. The canvas has a soft light throughout, with the indistinct, misty landscape in the background characteristic of Northern Italian painting in a technique called sfumato. The drawing is solid and the strokes of color are not very detailed, but rather suggestive and subtle, as is the case in Flemish painting. This can be observed in the complexions, in the magnificent golden highlights on the sleeves and in the highlights on their pearls … Vasari was profoundly impressed at its vividness, to the point where he assured readers that the girls might begin speaking at any moment. Chess was reserved for men of the nobility or upper classes. Anguissola did not paint her sisters sewing or embroidering, but rather exercising an intellectual activity, that is, playing chess … “

Lucia Anguissola, Self-Portrait (1558)

Exhibition catalogue of Italian Women Artists: Lucia portrays herself sitting down in elegant but modest attire. She wears dark clothing under which appears a white blouse. In her left hand she holds a small book (a Petrarchan or prayer book) … The same format and sense of silent detachment in this self-portrait can be found in a similar drawing by Sofonisba of Lucia … [Flavio Caroli suggests Lucia] is ‘reclined in a remote suspension of the heart … The attention given to the psychological element and the ‘movement of the soul’ falls squarely in the Lombard tradition, and is traced to the studies made by Leonardo … with respect to subtlety of feeling, in her own introversion, as well as human understanding, Lucia is not less talented than her sister … ‘

Friends and readers,

In recent years, no less than three biographies have been written about Sofonisba Anguissola (1535/6-1625), about which four argumentative, passionate, and insistently corrective reviews have been written (one of them embarrassed by the biography under review); she has had an exhibit dedicated to her (and her family), been a central painter of an exhibition of Italian Renaissance Women Painters from Renaissance to Barque, figured in another wider exhibit of Women Artists, 1550-1950, and at least three academic essays, two in peer-edited journals, where she is taken to stand for important trends and forms of creativity for women, for the Renaissance, a third in the Woman’s Art Journal, have appeared. She is discussed in detail in six of the surveys I’ve consulted, was the subject of early 20th century articles about a relationship with Michelangelo and Philip II, to omit passing mentions and casual reproductions of a few of her portraits in others. Yet when when one starts to compare, there is much contradiction, attributions disputed, dates tentative, much not known about her (how many sisters did she have, what were their names, did two or three paint?), and the whys and wherefores of what is known not clear.

I take Sofonsiba’s somber, contemplative, and self-aware characterization of her subjects, and Lucia’s psychologically acute depictions of vulnerable, guarded nuances to be a core cause for the embattled defenses I’ve come across. Although Sofonsiba tends to warm colors amid the darkness of her sitters’ outfits, neither sister paints overtly emotionally warm, sensual, smilingly open (compliant? available?) women; raped, sexually inviting, castigated, vengeful or humiliated women are not part of their repertoire — as they are in most early modern Italian painting. Dare I say this makes some viewers and students of art turn away? (Find this boring?) Sofonisba and Lucia are rather concerned to show themselves as contemporary non-mythic women of high culture and status:

Sofonsiba of herself at the spinet

Sofonsiba repeats a self-reflexive motif in this inset intriguingly individuated intense mother-and-child painting she has painted within the larger frame of herself at an easel (c. 1556)


While Sofonsiba is said to have spent at least 21 years in the Spanish court at Madrid and painted many portraits, little has survived of this; Lucia died young, and her and her sisters’ most compelling (alive) portraits left are those of one another and their siblings, servants, pets, e.g, Sofonisba’s rendition of the family with a nervous poodle:

Said to be Amilcare, the father, Minerva and the one brother, Asdrubal (c 1557)

This panel by Lucia may be of Europa (the inscription is uncertain):


The vastly superior content, technique, accuracy of their portraits of people close to them or ordinary people (not always named) may be seen in comparing Sofonsiba’s Prince Charles of Austria (c. 1560)


to the density of apprehension in Sofonsiba’s “Husband and Wife:”


There are no extant or recorded landscapes, but there are remarkable drawings made by Sofonsiba, presumably at a young age:

of herself on white and blue paper

And here and there enlarged reproductions of detailed work in Sofonsiba’s painting:

Said to be from a portrait of Bianca Ponzoni (Anguissola?, c. 1557)


Sofonsiba’s life patterns resemble Garzoni’s and Gentileschi’s: sudden escapes or at least movement away from her family, long periods on her own here and there, with commissions from a court or courts as her support; she differs in having married late in life (so no pregnancies) two husbands, one political or arranged and other a seemingly sudden a love match. The intensity or genuineness of emotion here finds a parallel in the emotions felt and portrayed in the tight-knit continual painting and drawing of one another seen in Sofonisba’s early years.

The home and birthplace was in Cremona, their father, Amilcare Anguissola, not himself a painter but someone who recognizing his daughters talents’ cultivated them, had them study under the portraitist Bernardino Campi. There is an introverted self-reflexive mirroring in Sofonisba’s complex portraits of herself painted by Campi.


Biana Ponzona was the mother’s name; and may be painted by Lucia here:

The image also could be of Sofonisba before she went to the Spanish court (the inscription is a later one)

There were possibly five or six daughters, Sofonisba, Minerva, Europa, and Anna Maria. Only Elena did not paint; she is said to have became a nun:

Elena as a nun by Sofonsiba

The one brother, Adrusbal, did not paint:

This may be Adrusbal or a young nobleman: he does have the large family eyes

Nancy Heller supplies information about the sisters beyond Elena, the nun: Minerva died young too; Europa and Anna Maria married and painted religious works as well as portraits.

This is said to be of Minerva, by Sofonsiba, she is made much harder and more extroverted than Lucia’s Minerva (see below) — and wears matching rich red jewelry.

The records for Sofonisba’s individual career begin when she was 15. Two letters from Amilcare to Michelangelo at the time, show Amilcare bringing Sofonisba’s talent to Michelangelo’s attention, after having received encouragement. It’s said Michelangelo asked for a portrait of boy crying: whence this drawing said to be her with her brother bitten by a crawfish.

Sofonsiba (?) with her brother who it’s said has been bitten by a crawfish — he is one upset little brother

Documents suggest that when Sofonisba was 24 (1559), Philip II asked for her services as a portraitist, whence she left Genoa (where she was at the time) and went to live at Guadalajara. Eleven years later (1568), after the death of Queen Elizabeth of Valois whom Sofonisba had painted:


it’s thought that Sofonsiba took charge of the education of the Infantas, Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela. At any rate later visits show a remembered relationship and Sofonisa may have painted

Catalina Micaela, sometimes called the Lady in Ermine.

It was supposed an honor when after thirteen years at court Philip married Sofonisba to a Sicilian nobleman, Fabrizio de Moncada, who died three years after that when his ship was sunk (pirates are mentioned).

Two and one half years later she also defied a custom which tended to decree that widows (especially without children) not re-marry and while on a ship married the captain, Oracio Lomellini. She had asked no one’s permission, and to criticism is said to have replied: “Marriages are made in heaven and no on earth.”

The couple settled first in Genoa in 1584, where Sofonisba continues to paint and perhaps teach painting. She was then visited (or herself visited) the Infanta Catalina Micaela with her husband, the Duke of Savoy. Fourteen years later (1599) the Infanta Isabel Ciara Eugenia visited Sofonisba there.

We know that by 1624 she was living in Palermo because Anthony Van Dyke visited her there on July 12th. A year later in November she died, and was buried November 16th, in San Giorgo dei Genovesi, Palermo.


No specific events of Lucia’s life are known; her name repeated in the family group as a painter, trained like the others:

By Lucia Anguissola, said to be of their sister, Minerva (c. 1558-60, see above for Sofonisba’s)

Vigue: “Minerva was … was represented in three works by Sofonisba: The Chess Game, Family Portrait, and a portrait in which she is wearing two bracelets, a red coral neck-lace, and a pendant of the goddess Minerva (Museum of Art. Milwaukee). Minerva was a painter, but she also wrote. Filippo Baldinucci (1681) stated that she was an excellent write, both in Latin and in the common language, but that she died in the flower of her youth. The composition of [Lucia’s] portrait shows a great affinity with the tondo of the young Europa Like the portrait of the women’s mother, this one is somber, though the background is ochre instead of the dark green Lucia usually employed. The light is diaphanous and the brushstrokes evocative and subtle, especially in the lace on the shirt and the fine white strings against the dark dress. With its light background, this portrait emanates warmth …

Perhaps to fill out her portrait Lucia is credited with studying music, Latin and the humanities according to the plan of Baldassare Castiglione in his Courtier. There is a series of consistent comments which suggest intelligence, and her portraits of herself show that: we are told that she liked music, enjoyed playing chess (whence the famous picture), and reading. Lucia signed her portrait of herself reading a book. She also signed this portrait of Dr Pietro Manno as a hard secular man:


Lucia is also credited with painting a Virgin and Child which recalled Raphael (all tenderness). One can see a (as art critics have said) her softness of approach in color and brushwork in the extant pictures. I am attracted to the melancholy of those of her pictures that have survived. She was mentioned by Antonio Palomino (1655-1726) in his Lives and by Filippino Balducini (1681). In his Vite, Giorgio Vasari says Lucia had comparable expertise with Sofonisba, and it is he who wrote that when he visited her father in Cremona in 1565 Lucia had died, with words that imply recently.


One last self-portrait (black-and-white reproduction) of Sofonsiba of herself

I began my reading and some research for this blog by wondering why, and ended understanding how and why Sofonsiba especially but also Lucia have sustained respect and adherents over the centuries.

Germaine Greer suggests that Sofonsiba was Lucia’s teacher, that she escaped being subject to her father or a ward of the Spanish king by marrying; that is, it was she was initiated her first marriage. She may have married the second time to maintain a form of independence (182-86). Elsa Honig Fine portrays her as pro-active for herself and holding her own in her interchanges with powerful royalty (8-10). The Italian Renaissance Women Painters entries go over the complex iconographies that can be allegorically teased out of both Sofonsiba and Lucia’s extant works who were making identities for themselves — aristocratic, proud, and loving one another (106-24). Heller further suggests that Bologna and its environs manifested an exceptionally liberal attitude towards female citizens, with Bologna accepting women students as early as the 13th century and connects this to the high culture of Anguissola sisters (16-17).

In their Women Artists, 1550-1950 Nochlin and Harris cannot say she was the equal of Titian in variety, color, achievement in her portraiture, but insofar as her form of commissions and position as a woman painter (what she could paint) permitted in his league (106-8). Peterson and Wilson quote a diary entry by Van Dyke in his Sketchbook after his 1624 summer visit to Sofonsiba late in her life:

While I painted her portrait, she offered me advice as to the light, which should not be directed from too high as not to cause too strong a shadow, and many more good speeches, as well as telling me part of her life-story, in which one could see she was a wonderful painter after nature (26)

I end on the intensely felt life caught in these two details from both women’s paintings: Sofonisba’s laughing or grinning young girl in the The Chess Game


and Lucia’s delicately fingered hand holding her book:


The implied early close-knit family story is touching in the way of the Brontes. We may hope Sofonsiba’s older years, after her second marriage and departure from the Spanish court, were good.

My next subject will be Mary Beale (1633-99) who held her own in the Restoration English court. See my first series for an explanation of this project and who has been covered thus far beyond Giovanna Garzoni and now these Anguissola sisters.


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It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman [‘Anne Bullen’] was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the charges against her, and the King’s character … The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned … and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinour depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general … (Austen, The History of England, which unfortunately omits Mary Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, doubtless for reasons of space)

Dear friends and readers,

Though my daily presumed following remains at 83 (a mere drop of electrons in cyberspace), and on average I get about 200 hits a day, I here announce a new matter as if it might be influential.

When I studied medieval literature, I was told that imaginative literature did not value (nor was there money in copyright) literal originality of character and story, but everyone took from basic understood matters: 3 central ones were the matter of Arthur (still with us and producing new fiction and art), the matter of Charlemagne or France (this has gradually ceased, and its texts descend from Roland, as Orlando Furioso, Jerusalem Delivered), and the matter of Troy (Greek and Roman mythology and characters, viable until the mid-20th century and opera). The Renaissance and Shakespeare turned to contemporary short fiction in vast collections, mostly Italian in origin, Greek romance of the 3rd century.

I propose a fifth: the Tudor matter. These are all those familiar stories and characters which begin with Henry VIII, his court, his wives, and conclude with the death of Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Tudor I. It encompasses the stories of Mary Stuart (a foremother poet).

All these matters are open to endless re-doing and interpretation. Maybe we should credit the re-invention of this history as so much imaginative matter to Sophie Lee in her The Recess (1783, one of the first gothic and historical fictions), the first to tell the later parts of the Tudor matter as about the rivalry of Elizabeth and Mary Stuart through Stuart’s twin daughters; Walter Scott in several of his novels (Kenilworth, The Abbot, The Monastery), and Schiller in Mary Stuart. I’ve been deeply engaged by Renaissance women since I was 13 when I got my first adult library card and took out two fat tomes from the adult library, the lives of Jeanne d’Albret and Marguerite de Navarre (the latter woman as one of the acquaintance-friends of Vittoria Colonna part of a many years study). And this past couple of weeks in what spare time I had I’ve read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (both, both won the Mann Booker prize), watched and blogged about Robert Straughan’s mini-series (the best PBS has aired in years), and been disappointed by the RSC stage play in NYC.

As everyone paying attention to this cultural phenomena thinks he or she knows, Mantel meant to rewrite Robert Bolt’s untenable idealization of Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons out of a couple of recent decades of scholarship re-formulating our view of Thomas Cromwell as no longer the corrupt complicit thug (as so indelibly played by Leo McKern).

I suggest here she had another source, or at least another kind of inspiration: women’s historical romance and feminist biographies, her stealth heroine out of Eric Ives’s The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, and the idea of re-visioning Philippa Gregory’s bringing out of the shades and into public memory, the almost forgotten Mary Boleyn, not to omit Jane (whom I reserve for anther blog, on Julia Fox’s biography of Lady Rochford). There’s nothing unusual here: women have been crediting as their source prestigious male books from Fanny Burney’s list in her Evelina, to Virginia Woolf who seems never to have read a woman contemporary, to Ann Patchett who attributes her Bel Canto to Mann’s Magic Mountain, when it’s clearly rooted in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. Mantel also followed the rule for success for women writers by having a male hero as her surrogate.

Tonight I want briefly to defend the version of The Other Boleyn Girl directed by Justin Chadwyck, screenplay Peter Morgan, lavish production, done in HD (very early for this) with an expensive cast of brilliant actors, seemingly limitless budget for costumes, production design, locations. A commercial success, it was lambasted by the critics — by contrast to Wolf Hall, which has been praised as much as Brideshead Revisited (to be sure the 1981 mini-series) itself. It’s not a profound or great movie, but it is competent and has enriched and changed some of the directions of Tudor matter ever since.


The question of course is which Boleyn girl is “the other:” answer, both.

Mary Boleyn (a contemporary Tudor portrait)

Scarlett Johansson turned into luscious yet nun-like Mary Boleyn on her way to Henry’s bed (ever obedient to her family’s aggrandizing will)

I’d like to admit that my first reaction as I began to watch was as adverse as the most sneering of the reviewers at the time. The film presented the woman as at once all powerful (machinating openly, and especially both Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) pressuring men by telling them home truths that undermined their masculinity:

Anne Boleyn (contemporary portrait)

In Columbia PicturesÕ/Focus FeaturesÕ The Other Boleyn Girl, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman, pictured) schemes not only to take the bed of King Henry VIII, but to become queen as well.  The film is directed by Justin Chadwick from a screenplay by Peter Morgan, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory.  Alison Owen produces.  Executive producers are Scott Rudin and David M. Thompson.
Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn actively manipulative schemer to become Henry’s wife

The romance trope also duly includes the idea they are helpless against demands of men that they have sex with them, follow their ambitions, even though they are stronger and smarter and foresee the destruction of what might make their children have long and valued and contented lives: if you are paying attention, there are more “other” Boleyn women beyond Jane Parkman, married off to George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. Lady Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother, who lost her son, daughter and a third daughter exiled in disgrace from court; Sir Thomas, her husband, died two years after the execution of George and Anne


Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn as the highly intelligent strong faced woman who tells off her feeble corrupt husband, Sir Thomas (played by a weak Mark Rylance) but does not defy him

Gregory and after her, Peter Morgan, turns Katharine from the usual pious resigned stone into a woman who suffers intensely in childbirth and when she sees her Henry take up with Anne Boleyn very seriously asks him forthrightly if he means to break up his kingdom’s order and his marriage because a specific woman has denied him (fucking)


Ana Torrent as Katharine eschews cant piety, and

Yes the film also followed the exaggerations of the conventions of historical romance since Madame de Scudery wrote her Clelia, giving sumptuous and expensive visual realization to what has been used to give women’s historical fiction a bad reputation.

But as I carried on watching, by the time I came to the end I saw that it had all the considerable strengths and offering to women of characters surrogates which account for the continued strength and relevance to women readers of this form, and of historical biographies of women. This was clinched for me as I witnessed the closely similar unflinching presentation of the beheading of Anne (which I now think Wolf Hall 5 imitated)


I said to myself, if we (Mantel) can revise Cromwell the ruthless instrument of Henry VIII, turning England into a groups of people seemingly unable to fight back against state terror tactics, into a basically deeply human man, deeply engaged in throwing off the hypocritical cover-up superstitions of a fanatical Catholic regime, why not revise Anne – and Mary, Katharine as a wounded angry woman, bring in the mother of these two sisters, as an intelligent thwarted one who would have done better by her son and daughters — though in this version (as in Wolf Hall) Jane Boleyn is again the spiteful sexually frustrated product of a coerced marriage, and Norfolk a ferocious non-thinking monster (Bolt, I remind my reader, had Norfolk as well-meaning if obtuse, a loyal friend to More, indifferent to religion but not friendship).

Mantel has been doing and taken seriously for what Diana Wallace says most women’s historical fiction does: re-constructing marginal figures, bringing sexuality into play as an unspoken deep motive, extending what affects public life: Anne’s plight in both films, but made more central in The Other Boleyn (as all the births are showns as hardships, dangerous, out of the control of the woman) is she cannot will a healthy boy. The difference is Mantel centered her re-vision on a man who was once in public power and changed the nature of the English state church. Much more important than any woman writhing in childbirth (which we see Anne and Mary do more than once), and weep when either what emerges is stillborn or premature, or for whatever reason is rejected by the father (as when Henry VIII rejects his illegitimate healthy son by Mary Boleyn because he is now intent on gaining Anne).

The depiction of Anne is not one people will admit to finding likable. She is too performative — too amoral. A friend suggested to me she was a kind of Becky Sharp; I thought of Austen’s Lady Susan, Trollope’s Lizzie Eustace.

Another serious flaw derives from the attempt to make the film have wide reach (people who might not know or remember the details of the Tudor debacle). This probably led to the film-makers making the characters far too explicit. It is an exaggeration to present Anne as in councils with men and family members leading some plan — women didn’t do that. Every norm and punishment prohibited it. The explicitness with which sex was discussed was not done, unreal, improbable. What Mantel and Straughan have is literary tact — the difference between Richardson’s Grandison and Austen’s Mr Knightley is literary tact. So in Wolf Hall (the mini-series) Jane Seymour sits in on one council, but it is to ask advice, not to take any lead, and to seem to obey. If she is manipulative and ambitious, we must pick it up from the actress’s face.

From Wolf Hall, Kate Philips as Jane Seymour appealing to her brother Edward (Ed Speleers) for advice

We might fault Mantel for adhering to the conventions of good woman=docile and loyal (Liz Cromwell), presenting the hardship and pain of parturition discreetly, off-stage.

One might ask (and such romances implicitly do), if Anne is (and in histories seems to have been) ambitious and successfully manipulative (she is implicitly that in Wolf Hall — that’s what Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn is there to tell Rylance as Cromwell), so are most of the men — only this film they are mostly depicted as weak, and with misguided hubristic aims (Norfolk too), with Bernard Cumberbatch as the complicit courtier-husband, Carey,

He can dance but no more …

and Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford, if well-meaning, equally supporting the Henry regime, at least not active on behalf of either Anne or Mary, but waiting in the wings (as it were) to become good husband material for the remmants left of the Boleyn family rescued by the maternal power of Mary

This film ends with an exulting intertitle that Anne and Mary won after all when Elizabeth took the throne (another part of the Tudor matter is the story of Henry’s last intelligent wife, Katharine Parr who brought her up too)

Henry (played by Eric Bana who admittedly from the feature seems to have known little of the history) is presented as weak before women, duplicitous, stupid, sexually predatory, with some attempts at different kinds of shots.


This is the kind of historical romance where you are shown an evil world careless of women and children, where the only decent safe option is retreat. History tells us Mary did this twice in life, first with Carey (who did die), and then with Stafford for which she was severely castigated by her family, funds cut off from the pair, with the implication they were miserable. Well we don’t know that and they did live a long time and died in their beds.

The 2008 Other Boleyn Girl (there is another, earlier, 2003, which I hope to watch and comment on as an added comment to this blog soon) comes with features almost as long as half the film. These showed the care for and beauty of the cinematography (the many angled intriguing and sumptuous shots), how effective the costumes, and the uses of production design far shots in landscape, and heritage places. The actors in both sets of features talked about their roles. The actresses were made to feel central to their characters was their sisterhood; Jim Sturgess was told that the explanation for George’s behavior to Jane Boleyn (he would not have full sex with her) was he was gay, over-sensitive, and was nearly driven to incest because Anne feared that Henry could not give her the healthy “seed” for a boy.


He is shown as shattered by the pressure and terrified and protesting as the axe came down on him. This differs from the written records of the executions, but are they not biased in the direction of decorousness on behalf of the king’s “justice.” Chadwick said was he was aiming for was emotional immersion in family politics and fierce individual psychologies. As with the contrast between say Winston Graham and Daphne DuMaurier’s Cornish histories, Mantel’s book (like Graham) and Straughan’s film insofar as six hours allows roots and embeds her Tudor in the politics and wider social and economic realities of the Tudor era, while Gregory’s book (like DuMaurier’s King’s General, Jamaica Inn, and both the 2003 and 2008 films) keeps central focus on inward subjective private life.

The film begins with a married pair and three children (Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn walking, Anne, Mary and George playing in the grass) and ends symetrically (William and Mary Stafford walking, Mary’s two children by William or Henry and Elizabeth Tudor playing in the grass). Cyclical like woman’s life writing, like their experience of life. It would have been far greater to show the second set of children later on, but the soft-focus trope of refuge is too urgent.



I agree with Jerome de Groot (Consuming History), Helene Hughes (Historical romance) and the seminal essay by Miriam Burstein (on the typology of women characters in historical romances and history) that the key to the traditional approach to women figures (pre-feminism let’s call it) is to value the woman who is loyal above all, wary, stays in conventional roles, preferably at home; she is rewarded (as is Mary Boleyn by Gregory and in a way by Morgan) unless she drops dead from disease (Mantel’s Liz Cromwell). But I admit I often identify with these women. So part of the revision of Anne’s character comes from that. But by no means all: Anne argues ferociously with Henry in this film — this is born out as a “tempestuous marriage” by older historians like Scarisbrook on Henry VIII and Eric Ives too. Mary attempted retreat with Carey and then with Stafford in the historical record.

As I recently defended the Hampstead novel: women’s domestic themed fiction, women who write primarily to and for other women so as to forge imaginative connections and support, I have here at least explained and briefly explicated this well done women’s historical romance film.


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anna karenina 2012blog
Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina (2013)

Dear friends and readers,

Although 20th century awarding of recognition for achievement in movie-making may not seem appropriate for a blog intended for matter Austen, 18th century and women writers, artists, and I admit I write just about all my film studies blogs on Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two; nonetheless it is rare that an art that can so exquisitely capture aspects of life’s fantastical array of qualities be treated on TV with the equivalent of “Hail Stupidity!” so that Pope’s Dunciad becomes relevant. Since I went to most of the movies I saw with Izzy, it’s no wonder I agree with her favored list, and her assessment of the prize-receiving fool’s gold and the way the program was handled.

I am just now listening to a recording of a dramatic reading aloud of the whole of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; the reader is Davina Porter, and I see how brilliant and right was Matthew MacFayden as Stiva. And Knightley was as good as ever I’ve seen Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan. Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for actress in a leading role (Haneke’s Amour). No one dared not vote for Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. I assume the grave seriousness of the film was embarrassing to the voters. The great genius of film-making, Ang Lee, walked away with 3.

Still for the most part the choices and proceedings merit:

O Muse! relate (for you can tell alone,
Wits have short Memories, and Dunces none) [620]
Relate, who first, who last resign’d to rest;
Whose Heads she partly, whose completely blest;
What Charms could Faction, what Ambition lull,
The Venal quiet, and intrance the Dull;
‘Till drown’d was Sense, and Shame, and Right, and
Wrong— …
In vain, in vain, — the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow’r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primæval, and of Chaos old! 148 [630]
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain, [635]
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ethereal plain …


What new movie in a paying movie-house did I see this year in the movies worth seeing and great? The only ones that remain in my mind are Coriolanus, last February; Alfred Nobbs, last March. I admit since we go to HD operas, I don’t get to see enough new movies.


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Dear friends and readers,

As a follow-up to my blog on the subject of rape and a personal turning point, I thought I’d write about a reading and discussion of Anna Banti’s powerful fictional memoir, Artemisia we read together on Women Writers through the Ages in 2004. 

Anna Banti (1895-1978)

At the time I knew the central story was the rape of Artemisia Gentileschi (early modern woman painter,1593-1656), and I was aware how the story gripped me and that few people beyond me were posting about the book.  Since reading so much on rape and writing my paper, Rape on Clarissa, I’ve seen why, more deeply into the novel, the writer’s life and, particularly, the painter’s life and works:  Gentileschi is known for her violent pictures where (obsessively it seem) women take graphic revenge on men.  Like others I find tthese distressing and (this may just be me) over-theatrical, but they are powerful, vivid, memorable.  Gentileschi also identified herself with Clio, muse of history (she was determined to tell her tale, she went to court) and so I preface this account of a great 20th century Italian writer and book with her Clio:

But it should be remembered that since torture was commonplace before the middle 19th century point of view spread that it’s abhorrent and does not produce true testimony, Artemisia Gentileschi was toruted to see if she was telling the truth when she had the courage to accuse her rapist. That in her case the rapist was an apprentice who might have been pressuring her father to insist on a marriage and thus promote himself.  That her later marriage was ruined, her daughter estranaged from her.

I discuss two other versions of this story beyond the real one (with trial papers) in Mary Garrard’s art history non-fiction study, Susan Vreeland’s 2001 novel. In the comments you will find a discussion of a film adaptation by Agnes Merlet and an essay on Banti’s novel.

Banti uses the rape to make a statement about WW2 in Italy and its aftermath; Vreeland to make a modern feminist vision.  Alas, the movie brings us back to sexual exploitation.  We see parallels with George Elliot’s Romola, a Victorian historical novel set in Florence as a center of Renaissance art, and remember that Banti translated Virginia Woolf. I bring in Atwood’s historical Jane Eyre tale of immigration to Canada and a girl accused of murder, Alias Grace, and Nuala O’Faolain’s frank novels and memoir about modern independent women.

Valentina Cervi as Artemisia in Merlet’s film


First what the introductions to my editions told me:  I read Anna Banti’s Artemisia in Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo’s translation into English, had and dipped into Giuseppe Leonelli’s Artemisia (Italian text) and (from a visit to a museum and exhibit a while back) had Mary Garrard’s study of Gentileschi as an early modern woman artist.

Banti herself was an important literary figure across the 20th century and Artemisia while her most famous book is by no means her only good or important and interesting one. She wrote novels, short stories, journalism, translations, including one of Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room.  Essays about her compare her to the greater women writers of our time, e.g., Marguerite Yourcenar.  At the same time she survived in her society by marrying her professor, Roberto Longhi, an art historian and critic and throughout most of her life she was overshadowed by him.  In Italy she was much conflicted over feminism.  I did buy myself a third slender book, an MLA texts in translation (really in English), The Signorina and Other Stories, translated by Martha King and Carol Lazzaro-Weis, which has several stories by her, and two of them closely resemble Byatt’s ("Uncertain Vocations," realistic, and "The Women are Dying," mythic archetypal). In the introduction to the MLA texts in translation series, Carol Lazzaro-Weis compares Banti’s work to that of Margaret Atwood.

Artemisia Gentileschi brings us back in time to early modern Europe.  While I enjoyed reading a recent novel based on Renaissance documents and supposedly bringing before the reader Renaissance women, Tracy Chevaliar’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, the book did not recreate the kinds of presences I have come across in surviving Renaissance women.  They had a hard lot and, except when very lucky, lived a rather desperate existence amid sordid demands;  there is little sentiment in most of the letters they left,a great deal of guarded posturing.  The only letters that move differently are those meant for some very private friend where the writer felt no one else could or would read the letter (highly unusual as letters were not seen as someone’s private space and property which individuals had a right to have).

The key event of Gentileschi’s life about which there is a long document is her father’s apprentice’s rape of her, her father’s accusation of him, and the trial.  Mary Garrard reprints the whole of the extant papers and letters which connect — in English as well as Italian.  These provide a not all that surprising look into the daily behavior and mores of the period.  Suffice to say that Gentileschi was herself accused of being "a whore" herself:  she did succumb to providing sex for this apprentice after he raped her in the hope he would marry her; it was only months later that her father became aware of what was happening.  (In Madame Roland’s autobiographical book she tells of her father’s apprentice exposing himself to her, sexually harassing and frightening her, but not going so far as to try to rape her.  She hid what happened lest she be blamed, but the memory remained with her as so anxiety-producing lest he try again that while she was waiting to be guillotined, she could write about it with distress.) 

There is also involved a woman who lived with the family, a type I have become familiar with:  she’s there as a sort of chaperone/servant/marriage finder.   Gentileschi and her father paid a high price for this attempt to gain restitution and revenge.  Torture was simply part of what went on in all trials and Artemisia was herself tortured at one point to make her "tell" the truth — or test the truth of what she said.

There is also the issue of Gentileschi’s non-reputation and absence from records for several centuries after she died.  It’s hard to find all her pictures and really account for a lot in her life since shortly after she died, her work was dismissed.  While alive she got in the press of the period (such as it was) the extravagant praise women artists of various types often got (over speaking, making them into extraordinary creatures); when dead, that such women were not taken seriously (except in the cases of some women writers by other women writers) comes clear as the woman disappears from collections of lives and whatever books are written about the earlier period.

So many central issues of our own time, a woman of our own period and one from an important earlier one are here.  The European Renaissance remains an important almost unique phenomenon across the histories of the world just simply on the basis of the sciences and technologies that were able to grow in the neutral spaces and cities and courts of the time even if you discount all else, something not easy to do.

And now I realize just about everything about the original rape, the devastating court trial, and the aftermath for Gentileschi (it hurt her life and spirit ever after) is commonplace.

A rare quiet scene of women in a group:  Gentileschi, they wash a Biblical boy, St John the Baptist. They do have power over him 🙂

To the novel-memoir.  It’s a short book and there were just four postings by me — over four weeks.  I did also read the American author Susan Vreeland’s 2002 fictional memoir called The Passion of Artemisia and will describe that briefly at the end of this blog.  The second week there wasn’t much so I’ll combine them.

Pp. 3-40: Opening segment, first week:

What I found particularly impressive:  the movement back and forth between the author today and her subject in the early 16th century.   Banti elides pronouns so that when you are into a sentence where she is speaking of herself, you find you have been maneuvred into reading a sentence on or thought by Artemisia.  The effect is labyrinthian, not just inward but outward.   The author is in the Boboli Gardens, Rome (I think) where she is standing amidst ruins.  Her 100 page draft manuscript of a novel on Artemisia Gentileschi has been destroyed.  Her ruin is that of her heroine the story of whose rape and the trial and relationship with her father and brothers is told in retrospect through the mind of Artemisia who is brooding on the events that have just and are occurring around her.

This makes the narrative move backwards:  the barbarism of early modern Europe is the barbarism of the second World War and the reader today extends it to the barbarism going on in Iraq and other places in the world over the last few decades.  I thought of the massacres in Africa because of the slaughter of civilians by one another; this week Jim and I watched an old film, Alan Resnais’s Night and Fog, a forty minute documentary on the death camps of World War Two which did something to make me remember that in fact the horror of these did  surpass the typical concentration-slave camp of our century in that the aim was mass slaughter and the behavior crazy-nightmarish in wild ways.  The barbarism of the people Artemisia is surrounded by and what she has known lies at the heart of the book, including the roles of Tuzia, her father, Agostino; one sentence runs (in English):

"She did not have the strength to hate her  violent, cowardly lover, the go-betweens, the false witnesses, Cosimo, Tuzia, and all the apprentices, washerwomen, models, barbers, painters, parasites:  people who seemed to have scarcely ever have noticed her ever since she was a child and who instead had followed her hour by hour, substituting her actions and movements with unrecognizable ones in the presence of the judge. Today she feels guilty, guilty as everyone wishes her to be . . . (1995 Bison Artemisia, trans D’Ardia Caracciolo, p. 25). 

I found very effective the suggestive details of scenes where the man come to jeer Artemisia (e.g., on p. 23).  We see how Artemisia turns to painting pictures of Holofernes and Judith out of her trauma and misery. There is no emphasis on anger, maybe even no sense of it beyond the images painted.  We are told of grief.  The story opens:  "Do not cry" (p. 1). Artemisia is ever holding back intense terrible endless crying: "She must wean herself from it if she does not want to die of grief" (p. 26).

Just a detail from Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes: look at the womans’ face; the clothes are richly painted, so too her hair and skin

She is separated off from other women who do not help her.  They move away.  She is locked in the house as a shameful thing.  She wants to stay in the dark — this image goes back to the beginning of subjective poetry and stories of early modern Europe through 18th century epistolary novels and poetry by w omen to studies of archetypal imagery in women’s novels today, e.g., "If only the dark would last forever, no one would recognize me as a woman, such hell for me, woe to others" (p. 25).

Beyond the theme and presentation of the story, I was taken by the sense of recreating the world of Italy in the early modern period.  Romola went up in my estimation in the sense that the opening and some of the descriptive set pieces reminded me of George Eliot’s work.  The same sorts of details, the same ambiance, the same use of female figures: Cecilia, Giovanna.  Banti evokes heat, climate, rain, old things, a world which treasures each object, the way light feels., the father-daughter:

Frederick Leighton, a Royal Academy painter, illustrated for Romola

I probably though responded more immediately and readily to the movements into present time:

 "’As of you really cared what I have lost!’  I find a clean stone on which to sit down. Another day of wartime is drawing to a close.I am tired and the avenues in the Boboli   gardens are like one huge latrine. Around     the meager fountain that was originall a plaything for the rich, ten women are fighting over the water, but I pay them no heed.  I am a repentent bully trying to  make amends, and Artemisia’s third  excursion is haunting me" (p. 22).

The use of "Artemisia" here is of interest.  She is assumed to be a strong woman, a strong voice, someone who will not be dragged down to the pit nastiness (detraction), malice, sex, gambling, sycophancy that is the court and town.  Rochester chose that name with care.  Now Orazio Gentileschi named his daughter Artemisia so Banti didn’t invent her use. It’s ironically and straightforwardly important as Artemisia is a survivor, no matter how dogged.

I looked up Artemisia in my Oxford Companion to Classical Literature and it says:

1. Early 5th century BC daughter of Lygdamis, ruler of a Carian kingdom which included Halicarnassus, and after his death regent of his kingdom.  With five ships she accompanied Xeroex on his invasion of Greece in 480, and is said by Herodotus (himself from Halicarnassus) to have shown bravery and resource at the battle of Salamis.

2.  Sister and wife of Mausolus of Caria in whose memory she built the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus c 353 BC. She instituted a literary competition in which the most famous rhetoricians of the age took part, including Isocrates and Theopompus, who won the prize.

Having done considerable reading in writings of early modern Europe, particularly women writers, I know that the associations and changes made in classical figures are often as important as any original legend.  However, today when I looked into my copy of The Golden Legend (a huge compilation of legends popular in medieval through early modern Europe), a dictionary I have of Christian and classical lore of the period (which rarely fails me) and good ole’ Robert Graves’s solid 2 volume, The Greek Myths (which also goes into later permutations), I couldn’t find anything on Artemisia.   Clearly in the 17th century the charge and frisson the name had is being used by Rochester — and probably avoided by Anne Finch.

pp. 40-85:  Second Week

In this week’s instalment Artemisia manages to move out of the imprisoning existence she endures after the trial to where her husband is living. We get a sense of the world of Italy very thickly once again — a subsidence desperate world of the early modern period where people eek out a desperate living taking in one another’s washing (part joke alert). Artemisia is emerging as a strong woman, stronger than her husband; yet she needs him and that she has a husband means much to her. Her friends were no substitute; the painting does not protect or give her enough pride.

Banti has not tried to present Gentileschi’s painting except insofar as the subject represents her trauma, depression and anger. I had hoped to get more about the art itself, her imagined world, how she sold and produced it too. The book’s relative lack of interest in these things made me connect it to Eliot’s Romola again. In Romola what engages Eliot is theological and political conflict, or the world of art.

Again Leighton shows the male central as Romola looks at his work

With Banti, the fascination is with women’s issues through a depiction and reliving of an early modern woman.

Banti’s book is in some ways the memoir Gentileschi might have written had she been born in the 20th century. There is an interest in recreating life-writing. You can see this in Banti’s merging herself with Gentileschi.

Gentileschi, Minerva (perhaps Anne of Austria)

pp. 85-132, third week

Antonio, Artemisia’s husband, retreats from her. As far as I can tell, he is presented as a weakling, and she is resentful of his weakness.  I say as far as I can tell since we are told about their dialogues indirectly and also these are not recorded in detail.

All this is of interest.  She is avoiding giving us the raw hard details of what Artemisia said, but rather only gives us to understand that Artemisia couldn’t help herself but say ugly things, felt remorseful, but went ahead berating (?) the man after all. Artemisia doesn’t seem to understand that Antonio is probably deeply ashamed, humiliated, at having a wife who has been on trial for having been raped (and the sex between her and her father’s appentice was repeated many times as she kept hoping he’d marry her).

I underlined some of this:

"His hands look dirty against the white cloth.   Dirty but light.  This Artemisia remembers  and it tears at her heart like something that has been lost; those hands, when they  caress, are as light as feathers [she remembers them as beautiful then] She carries on talking, accusing, so as not to feel moved, and she raises her voice and listens to herself  in horror, within these walls which goad her  into cruelty and spitefulness" (p. 83)

He leaves her.  He runs away in the night.  How many times I’ve heard of a man just disappearing.  Mostly it’s presented as a treacherous act.  Here we see it is cowardly but the only way he could survive without committing suicide or hating himself daily since at home he meets scorn.

This breaks many stereotypes.  The heroine is a woman who can’t respect her husband because he doesn’t behave in a powerful aggressive way, calculating and therefore successful in the world, because he makes her ashamed because she knows what others will think and it agonizes her to see him failing..  She lashes out at him. It’s not that I haven’t seen this before:  in Trollope’s now filmed He Knew He Was Right the married wife openly despises and is vituperative to her husband on analogous grounds, but we are (I submit) not supposed to like her particularly.  Many real women would probably feel this way, but I for one am very put off by it. I feel for Antonio who is after all doing his best — he does go out to work even if his attempts seem to her feeble (he sells rags and does very marginal things like most people of the world then — and maybe now). 

It is consonant with what I have read of real Renaissance women.  I felt about The Girl with the Pearl Earring and most other historical novels set in the Renaissance with a heroine at the center that it was false because the heroine was so soft, so submissive, openly sensitive. My experience of many Renaissance women is they were a hard bunch; life was hard and if they were to survive they became obdurate, and did take on the sneer of the world against someone  who was openly vulnerable or didn’t succeed in the marketplace for prestige and place (by which one got money but this not a money-driven world in the way ours is).  So this is right or accurate of Banti.  Artemisia is then the hard mean kind of woman who in many novels plays the witch-role, only here she is not a witch, she is simply what people are.

She appears to get a chance, is invited to live in Naples and escapes from the humiliating imprisonment her reputation enforces on her in the north.  There she gives birth and begins to succeed as a painter. Banti makes sense of the paintings beyond the release of anger and revenge in painting men being beheaded.  The intense luxury, ostentation and  sheer showing off quality of much of the painting of the period (it can be very offputting once you see it sociologically as propaganda of the super powerful, intimidation and showing off of the bourgeois) becomes a projection of Artemisia’s own values and longing.  She wishes she were rich and powerful. 

She is a driven lonely woman too because it emerges her daughter did not sympathize with her, but broke away.  Artemisia sent her to a convent (with much difficulty got  her in) and there she was able to carve outa personality which rejected all her mother stands for artistically.

"At the age of twelve she would walk around with lowered eyes, but she was able to  tell you what everyone was wearing.  Sherefused to ever sit at table with Diego [the  man Artemisia hired and who is a submissive  lower class type but helps her], and on one occasion she spat in his soup. There is no reply from Artemisia; she is immeasurably distant, light years away [I have     to skip] I have forced her to subscribe to the  role of an imperfect, unmarried mother, of an artist of dubious quality, of a proud but weak  woman who would like to be a man in order to escape herself.  And I have dealt with her  as one woman to another, lacking manly  respect.  Three hundred years have not taught me to release my companion from her human errors … And now I am unable to rouse her, to make her talk, with these memories of unhappy motherhood, the usual topic of women’s conversation"  (p. 111).

My response here, is I wish it was the usual topic. All I’ve usually met with is lies when women talk of their relationships with their daughters, false prettifying assertions patently untrue.

Gentileschi, Judith and Maidservant

Artemisia lives in a world of contacts but is alone and lonely.  Throughout we see that she does engage in groups of women; in Rome she sits and sews with them; in Naples they help her with her house and the childbirth.  It’s contacts and the occasional festival-type event she pulls off and invites people to that enable her to carry on her career.  Is this an image of our world today? Or a 1947 variant on it?

One thing:  no one can accuse this book of being sentimental.


pp. 126-68:  The Journey, fourth and last week:

I found this and the very last part (concluding pages) of next week’s section the most moving parts of the text. These are the last two sections of the book.  In this week’s Artemisia is told her husband, Antonio, has returned with  "dark-skinned" woman and wants her to divorce or free him so he can remarry.  She suffers terrible agony over this betrayal.  She cannot get over it, and she decides to flee the place where this is happening.  She will go join her father in England. The rest of this week’s section tells of her long arduous journey. Our conclusion begins in England.

Her silent agon, the roaring in her mind which no one but she knows of is rendered exquisitely beautifully. The simple statements about her and her thoughts about Antonia, the "dark-skinned woman" and all around are plangent, e.g., "This cautious immobility comes form a long acquaintance with suffering, although she has not yet realized just how much she is suffering" (p. 128)  She does think of this other woman as "this unique, heart-rending example of humanity" (p. 130).  Many of the metaphoric passages reminded me of metaphors I’ve come across in women’s literature repeatedly.  For example,

And in the depths of her heart, as on the gray sand secretly disturbed and marked by the waves, she saw themarks left by this thought which she had faithfully kept and inscribed all these years (p. 130).

It’s this idea of stone, of rock, of burning sands, of the mind as this endlessly enduring hard strength.

In another her mind is described thus:

She was coming back from such a great distance, where she had received such terrible blows and lightning bolts that her eyes seemed dreamy …  (p. 131)

There is perception about Francesco as a male: "he likes nothing better than acting as head of his  family, feeling bound up with and necessary to  the material life of others (p. 129).

Men too become what the patterns of pride offer them by society.

Then there’s "What terrible masters words turn out to be" (p. 131).  These words she is told about her husband drive her into "exile."  She is exiling herself to "satisfy her despair . . . She was so harsh in passing sentence on herself that she did not realize that she was waiting for someone, or something, to prevent her in some way from carrying it out" (p. 132).

But no one does.   Francesco would like to go. Her daughter is so cold and unconcerned, so caught up with her own life now.  She reminded me of Matilde from De Stael’s Delphine.  I felt for Artemisia.

The journey gave the book a real sweep: Banti really captured the way daily life to a traveller might have felt in early modern
Europe.  The depiction of the boat part seemed as good as what we read in Atwood’s Alias Grace.  The vignettes of the people, of the places, each figure caught and then Artemisia seen too.  She is "at the mercy of new brutal needs" (p. 138).  From the outside she would not have been a sympathetic figure:  Were I to have seen her I probably would have been put off:  "She takes refuge more and mor as the days pass in adopting a puerile sullen attitudes, as though she were a sick child whom no one wants to play or live" (p. 139).

She also liked her trip.  She liked not being anywhere in particular and moving on, the transience of it. She is happy to arrive anywhere too.  I know that’s contradictory but it’s what she’s feeling.  She is surprized she has a reputation — and pleased. In her mind she writes imagined letters to her husband. The details so swiftly got done, concise, and resonant reminded me of Austen:  she suggested a good deal in throw-aways and through irony:  "Insignificant events like a child having a bad fall …" (p. 159). Again:  "Afterwards she recalled having seen a puppy, no, a small cat, very frightened, at the sparkling carriage  window" (p. 167)

At one point she hits out at a beggar, takes her revenge for having been a woman and because she’s tired of being one (p. 163).

And then she moves on from Paris. 

Banti seems to specialize in heroines who are not in contact with other minds. This is true of the Signorina and her husband and the heroine in "Uncertain Vocations" and hers. Artemisia is actually slightly unusual for not focusing on art and a desire to create art from a passionate idealistic standpoint.
Artemisia is very like Virginia Woolf’s The Years. 

Kay Spark’s Eurydice, found on a site dedicated to Virginia Woolf

Banti’s book may have a more or less conventional plot-design, but its texture is that of Woolf’s book, particularly as the heroine begins her voyage and throughout this to the end of the novel. The article I read about Banti’s translation of Woolf which turned Banti into someone who didn’t appreciate or couldn’t come up to unconventional modes was unfair. There is real likeness between the inner quality of Banti’s novel and Woolf’s prose style, language is continually transforming itself.

I found the book most alert and alive when suddenly Banti herself speaks as herself as novelist recreating the burnt memoir or emerges out of and then into Artemisia again.  Perhaps this gives us license to see in the hard burning frustrated Artemisia — not sexually particularly but from the point of view of having power, career, respect, and maybe true or real friends rather than acquaintances to spend time with and contacts — a surrogate for Banti.  I don’t know; it’s not explicit.

The movements out of Artemisia and into the narrator and back again are done in the same indirect way so you only realize what’s happening slowly.  It was in such moments that I really began to underline lots of passages as worth rereading and contemplation and meditation. A few choice passages:
We are playing a chasing game, Artemisia and I . We also try to catch one another,  not without laying snares … She spills a
whole bottle of ink onto my papers. And  then we look at each other.  She has become very suspicious about this period of her life in Naples, the turning point of her career, uncertain whether I will remember what I had written … (p. 95)

It’s just before this that someone is characterized as horrified by what Artemisia has become:  "a she-bear, a wild animal;" the birth experience has not broken and softened her; she is "a woman who has renounced all tenderness, all claims to feminine virtues, in order to dedicate herself solely to painting …"


"She is a women who wants to mold her every gesture on a model of her own sex and time, a respected noble model — but cannot find  one … Artemisia will have to be content with improvising her own methods and rules, with sowing the seed for them that will produce, whenever it it may be, the fruit which could satisfy her present thirst, but  which does not yet exist …" (p. 99)

I as read think to myself the models are still not here which are based on a woman’s life.  Artemisia has had to give up her daughter to get this far — the daughter rejected her.

Her behavior with others resembles her behavior with Antonio:

"And she goes too far, she threatens reprisals against vague enemies who insult her because she is a woman on her own, who want to give her a bad name, who want her dead . . . "  (p. 100)

This long sequence of passages is brilliant.  Above we see a woman everyone hates driven to this through her own frustration with the indifference and unemotional nothingness of all around her.  We are made to feel for the type in previous novels who is made just a horror.

I was moved by this description of her feelings:  she has

"that inexhaustible surge of stubborn hope of someone who continues to nurse the incurably ill"  (p. 108).

This is what Fanny Burney did while her husband lay dying  As he was literally expiring she began to cover his body with cold wet clothes, fighting death inch-by-inch over a corpse.

I thought this touching:

"I limit myself to the short span of my own  memory, condemning my presumptuous idea of trying to share the terrors of my own epoch with a woman who has been dead  for three centuries" (p. 111)

Artemisia now older and successful in the worldly way journeys back to Rome.  We are told of how emotionally miserable and wretched she is, something she keeps from everyone; what she cannot keep from them is the exhaustion of her spirit this causes. It’s draining to keep up such an act of sheer coolness.  Well when she begins to wilt under the heat, the burdens, and her attempt (ironical in context) to "formulate a witty concise sentence to express" her sense of how it is to be alive  as a middle aged woman,

"it hits her like a physical blow, so real as to make her want to rub the bruise.  People pay no attention to a woman of forty-five if they do not know who she is:  a double blow" (p. 121)

Germaine de Stael’s Corinne is not dead; we are seeing a Corinne in Artemisia except that the feelings are presented not in a direct and idealized way, but through the real experience of a psychologically believable situation.   Imagine the real Corinne:  she would have been just as this Artemisia inside; she would not have been adulated even in the beginning, not for real.  It would have been all apparent admiration and real envy. Note the look of anxiety in the sybil’s face on the cover of the modern book:

For myself as an older woman it’s more like what O’Faolain presented in her memoir, Almost There, and novel, My Dream of You.  I don’t writhe for power and success, partly because I don’t value the admiration of "the world." I can’t see why anyone would want it particularly as it won’t pay the rent or buy clothes or provide emotional happiness of an intimate inward sort which Artemisia does want too.  I can make it with one man, though like Kathleen it does hurt getting old and uglier and not desirable anymore to  most.  I don’t deny because I have seen too often and on one occasion felt "that intoxcating pleasure of admiring [oneself] in the eyes of others" (p. 105).  In this remarkable passage Banti says this is necessary to
"a woman such as she, always more inclined to give and surrender than observe and compromise.  It is not jealousy or envy,  but the cold certainty that she does not count for anyone since she did not count for that young woman.  She feels now as if  she has been stripped of everything, talent, presence, beauty, fame; and even of that triumphal ability to repent and pine away,  a state into which she has sometimes dreamt of withdrawing with the dignity of a betrayed queen.  Repentance appears  now as a luxury which is not longer for  her, an ostentation of early youth which she can no longer permit herself now that she  has a daughter, two servants, a house, these malicious friends and visitors; and no one to protect her, she who can protect no one.  She grows peevish, starts to feel sorry for  herself, loses her composure … "(p. 105).

Here out of this hard portrait Banti draws aspects of the familiar pathetic heroine of romance (still with us), the raging "she-queens" of tragedy (still with us — remember Elizabeth Taylor playing Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and also the dying pining heroince (Clarissas).  Artemisia cannot afford these luxuries.  She must carry on, and it wears her, she grows peevish and loses it.  She lashes out.

In this context Banti is able to do justice to why fights between women seem so venomous:

"No one can hurt her as much as another  woman:  this is what she ought to have explained to those men who were perahps amused at  the conflict between the two painters.  ‘Look at those two women,’ she should have said, ‘two of the best, the strongest, two who most resemble exemplary men’  See how they have been driven to being false and disloyal to one  another in the world that you have created for your own use and pleasure.  We are so few and so beseiged that we can no longer recognize or even respect one another as you men do.You set us loose, for fun, in an arsenal  of poisonous weapons . . . (p. 107).

Banti’s presents these thoughts as if all women saw their state this way, when in fact many simply buy into the male world and judge other women by its values and perceptions of them.  Has any woman friend said to you as a woman, How much money did you get for it?  Or judged your living room by its furniture?  Here we have Lots’ Daughters actually giving themselves to this old man: he offered them up to a mob; he valued them not at all; they get themselves pregnant by him. Yuk and disgust:

Gentileschi, Lot’s Daughters — to me a horrible story, the old man who first offered his daughters up to a mob, then how they went to bed with him, faute de mieux.  What kind of puntive women-abusing imagination conjured up this?  The picture is in the Baroque heroic sumptuous luxury vein that sold so well in the 17th century. Note how our attention to called to the women’s vulvas and the space between the man’s legs too

Banti’s book may have a more or less conventional plot-design, but its texture is that of Woolf’s Voyage out and Years, particularly as the heroine begins her voyage and throughout this to the end of the novella. I’m now persuaded that the article I read about Banti’s translation of Woolf which turned Banti into someone who didn’t appreciate or couldn’t come up to unconventional modes was unfair.   Another good book compares Banti’s Artemisia to Woolf’s Orlando.



Vanessa Bell, Flowers

On the stories and Vreeland’s The Passion of Artemisia:

I’ve read two more stories by Anna Banti:  "Uncertain Vocations" and "The Women are Dying."  The first, like "The Signorina," emphasizes the frustration of a young woman who wants to play the piano and allows herself to be led into other occupations which the world approves of far more than practicing the piano. These include socializing, family life, and marriages that she doesn’t enjoy.  By the end of the story the heroine has allowed herself to become engulfed by having children with a man who has little money or earning power.  You might call it a woman’s "Enemies of Promise."
"The Women are Dying" is very peculiar and since I read it at 3 in the morning yesterday when I couldn’t sleep I probably
missed something as I came away feeling it was unclear what had happened.  I’m not sure it was me altogether as this is yet another story (like Artemisia, "The Signorina" and "Uncertain Vocations") where the focalization is oblique. We are told indirectly about what conversations occurred through characters’s memories and feelings about them; the event is always offstage and we are in its aftermath.

The events are half-magical.  It’s an allegory in the modern way:  I suppose some might call it science fiction, but I’d call it moral fantasy.  Basically the men in a society suddenly develop a gift of second memory which allows them to return to the past and enrichen their minds and (I think, not sure) live much longer.  The women are second class citizens, left out, without this gift. They are dying while the men have this gift of returning life.  The metaphor is used throughout to figure forth actual second class citizenship and disdaining of women’s gifts, dismissal and marginalization.  Women are given no power.  It’s more than a feminist fable for it’s about the power of the imagination and the mind and how women are deprived of what makes a poet and gives that poet immortality.

Artemisia is slightly unusual for not focusing on art and a desire to create art from a passionate idealistic standpoint.  It’s true it’s thwarted utterly in "Uncertain Vocations" and only emerges at the mid-point of the woman’s life (and at the end of the story) in "La Signorina."  Still it’s what’s longed for.

L’inclinazione, the cover illustration for Vreeland’s Passion of Artemisia

I finished reading Vreeland’s book a couple of nights ago.  I recommend it as inspiriting reading.  As Fran says, it was written with the aim of countering recent (and perhaps older) interpretations of Artemisia as just another half-Tess of the  ‘Urbervilles, sex-starved, if raped in the first place, wanting sex with this man ever after.  My copy of Vreeland’s novel included an afterward by Vreeland and some quotations from an interview where she says she intended to vindicate Artemisia from the view that all Artemisia’s pictures are rooted in a desire for revenge, in passionate resentment.  

Vreeland gives the reader a sense of a woman’s community to which Artemisia Gentileschi belonged.  It is fragile, made up of but a few women, most of these not living necessarily close to one another, some of this simply the product of Artemisia remembering an encounter in the streets with a desperate beggar.  Vreeland does paint Artemisia’s relationship with her daughter as one fraught with strain:  Vreeland’s Palmira is, like Banti’s, someone who is not interested in the imagination, who has an ordinary and somewhat closed mind, but she is also the daughter of her mother, feels for her mother and (actually this is more believable than Banti’s) through time and proximity the two are something of a half-loving ambivalent team even if the daughter marries and we know will leave her mother.

The book is upbeat and (paradoxically) not as "poetic" in conception as Banti’s.  It does not end with Artemisia’s death but her father’s and we are asked to believe that in the end she forgave him and there was a kind of meeting of the minds.  It follows the outline of Banti’s with respect to Artemisia’s relationship with her husband, but Vreeland’s husband leaves Artemisia with the much more usual motive of wanting mistresses, being bored and jealous of her; he does not seem weak or susceptible to despair.  

Vreeland’s book is a lesser text than Banti’s:  the motives are throughout coarser, more pragmatic, more (I don’t know what other word to use) philistine.  I just feel people are not this easy to pigeonhole and felt the pigeonholing was aimed at a reader who would join in on these motives or see them as understandable.  We had scenes of intense jealousy between Pietro’s mistress who meets him originally when Artemisia hires her as a model.

I did like some of the upbeatness, particularly the several chapters where Artemisia is painting and Vreeland moves into trying to conceive of what she felt.  It is studded with suddenly passionate statement and dialogues about how art is fulfilling, meaningful, and scenes of good feeling between characters who suddenly find themselves with someone with a heart, intelligence, someone congenial and sincere, scenes of characters getting together to laugh or tease or be genuine. 

Some statements (to me) gave away Vreeland’s idea about art: at one point she says "some things are too raw" to be put in art; one has to wait it appears before putting these things’ in and has to transform them to be less raw.  There’s a didactic impulse at work here:  our heroine asks of a story is "there any harm" in it?  Others I underlined because they appealed so.  The scenes are too long to type out, so here’s just one sudden statement:

I couldn’t understand it.  If a person loves something above all else, if he values the work of his heart and hands, then he should naturally, without hesitation, pour into it his soul, undivided and pure.  Great art demands nothing else.

Many of the chapters are named after people, particularly Artemisia’s women friends, women she encountered, and her subjects for painting.  At the close of the book we return to a friend in the convent who said at its open that God and man had abandoned her.  Graziela somehow manages to die in charity with the world she leaves — though she is glad to leave it.  Vreeland has Gentileschi disliking making pictures of Lucrezia which are falsifying of women’s emotions after rape.  Like Banti, her Gentileschi does like and want luxury and pomp.

While the plot-design follows Gentileschi’s life much like Banti’s, Vreeland allows herself fun Banti doesn’t.  Gentileschi
gets to meet Michelangelo.  There is apparently correspondence between Gentileschi and Galileo (at least Vreeland says
there is), and out of this Vreeland invents freely a deep relationship of people who reach out to one another in a world of narrow uncomprehending people.  "L’Inclinazione" is presented as painted with Galileo in mind.  Vreeland has read Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter and we get Galileo feeling bad about leaving his daughter in that awful place.  Vreeland had many many more sources readily available to her than Banti.  Gentileschi stays with a kind couple in Genoa and we get to visit Genoa in this period.

There is a long vindication of Donatello’s Mary Magdalene.  This is a statue of a desperately thin agonized aging beggar
woman.  Vreeland makes this image stand for a much more adequate image of truth about women’s lives that Gentileschi could not make herself since her clients wouldn’t pay for it. Gentileschi has trouble getting into see it:  as in many scenes, she is insulted as a whore and has to pull strings to get past a guard. She then writes about it and her memories become part of the skein of thought that goes into the relationship with Galileo which includes passages against the church.

Banti lacks this kind of specificity and somehow or other I think this shows both women’s strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve meant to suggest that  Banti’s book is finer than, somehow deeper and more alive as a text in itself than Vreeland’s.  Vreeland’s is a rhetorical performance, but Vreeland’s is certainly worth reading.  Since I remarked yesterday on how the word "feminism" is now losing all meaning, I’ll backtrack on myself and say this is a truly feminist text.  Vreeland shows us a creditable woman with real feelings who wants to live her life freely and fulfill her talent, who  establishes an understandable relationship with her daughter; she vindicates her heroine against the slanders and masculinist wet dreams still hurled at her; she vindicates her art and art in general. 

Famous self-portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi

As with O’Faolain’s My Dream of You and also Atwood’s Alias Grace all three of which I read sometimes in the dead of night, I rose from Vreeland’s text feeling better, comforted,  sometimes laughing at the wit or remembering a particular lovely passage, from having come in contact with a woman who sees the world through the eyes of decency and calmness, who is not corrupted, who is intelligent and has thought things through consistently in her own individual lights.  Banti eludes us much more; she’s much more in pain; her "cri de coeur" is too strong for her to emit it in ways that get round her lyrical melancholy book, so the book remains or retains the tragic soul.  I was sorry when both books  ended — though somehow much more moved by Banti’s.


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Dear Friends and readers,

Some time in late August it was that a CFP was placed on C18-l for papers on the topic rape in the 18th century, and despite my real engagement in my book topic (Seeking Refuge: the Sense and Sensibility Movies), I found spontaneously and irresistibly, the makings of a proposal for a paper on Rape in Clarissa came to me, and it was accepted, with little fuss.  A month later I worked my ideas out more coherently, and by October said proposal was done and on my website.

Clarissa struggling to attack or free herself from Lovelace after the rape (Clarissa, BBC 1991)

With what seemed magic ease, I was able to find just the right book on rape itself (Susan Estrich, Real Rape) and informative, useful books and essays on rape in novels (e.g, especially Nancy Paxton’s Writing Under the Raj), earlier eras, and movies (including  Marita Sturken’s  Thelma and Louise, studies of something called Rape-Revenge-Horror movies, and a lucid refutation of the notion these are feminist movies sympathetic to women), plus novels and memoirs about rape in the 18th through 20th century, and movies either relevant to Clarissa as a book or to sexuality in the 18th century. 

Thelma and Louise; the adventure outside conventional life begins when a man means to rape Thelma, and Louise stops him by shooting – and killing him.

(If anyone is interested, I’ve appended a list of the primary books and movies I read and watched over this past fall and early winter.)

What I did over the next couple of months is fit into morning drives, interstices of time (breaks) and many evenings reading these books on and of rape.  Not all: I read other books and did others things in such intervals of time.  But I did manage to cover more than I thought when in middle December I finally finished teaching for the fall, and had seen all the Andrew Davies’s movies I planned as context for his Austen films.

A favorite still from Davies’ He Knew He Was Right:  Priscilla talks with Emily

It was then that I began real work in earnest.  I spent all free days I could (it was between terms) rereading Clarissa, reading a number of 18th century novels, essays on these, and watching my chosen 18th century films  — there was a cross-over as a number of them were by Andrew Davies (e.g., Moll Flanders).  I had written postings to Women Writers across the Ages and Eighteenth Century Worlds (listservs on Yahoo) on and off about rape as I read at night, but now I began to work out my thought and found the people writing back (mostly women) enomously helpful.  Someone told of me a book that became important to my thinking, Alice Sebold’s Lucky:  it begins with a graphic harrowing account of how she was raped.  I also found good essays centrally on the trauma and experience of rape on JStor and Project Muse and bibliographies.

I felt driven by my topic, deeply engaged with a strong emotional investment like that I had (though not as unthinking) when working on my disssertation on Clarissa (Richardson, Romance and Reverie).  And then it happened, to be specific two things happened. I felt that for the first time after all this while I understood Richardson’s book, at its core.  I found words to express and was able to say to myself how the rape functioned centrally in the novel, to wit, in Lovelace, Richardson was portraying a rapist in the novel and laying bare the values that lead into the creation of such a personality; in Clarissa, what can enable a woman to throw off the enslavement and vicious world determined to subjugate her, refuse the tabooed identity, work through trauma and recovery, to liberty — though in her world this liberty can only exist away from everyone, in death.

She tells him she prefers to be left alone, to live single

For the second:  I came across in a couple of sociological studies descriptions of rape, and understanding of its transformative aftermath that included my experiences from age 12 to 15.  I have on my other old blog (Jim and Ellen have a blog, too) tried to articulate, find words to express what happened to me. I know I never quite said it.  I doubted it would free me and feared anyone reading the specifics would dismiss them and/or scorn me.  That would sear my mind.  I didn’t try to retrieve or safe it.

Now at long last 51 years later, after that ghastly humiliating, never-to-be-forgotten May 26th afternoon, I am validated in my own eyes. I was not to blame then or for the repeats; it happens to many other girls to the point that it’s one of three central categories or descriptions of rape in a paper called "Psychodynamic Considerations" of rape.  I cannot find words to express the relief I have felt.

Susan Sarandon as Louise on her journey

This is then probably the most important paper I’ve written or will ever write – for I finished a final draft this afternoon. It is very good. It’s probably too long as it is supposed to be 17 minutes. Mine is probably more like 22 but I have more than a month and half to let it go cold and come back and sweat out 4 minutes.  Tomorrow I’ll practice reading it and then put it away.  Jim has put it on the laptop with its stills.

So what would I like to do tonight?   I don’t want to anticipate what’s in it beyond the above thesis and a definition of rape.  Rape may be divided into two types. 

Simple rape is an event where someone is compelled to submit to, or participate in, a physical sexual interaction which includes fucking, sodomy, fellatio or cunnilingus. Its central feature is loss of agency or control which occurs when the first onslaught is an event that goes well beyond the the target’s expectations.  This kind includes university gang-rape, until recently marriage, anything that uses surprise, a group that is coercive.  I’ve now read many women who are susceptible to bullying experience this repeatedly. I did several times.

Unsuccessful as well as successful rapes of this type are actionable but for much of the above everything is done to make the girl feel she’s at fault, she consented. It protects the the customs of subgroups.  This is the one Polanski’s of Samantha Gailley fits into.  It includes the one where there’s heavy drinking and drugs. 

I define aggravated rape as a situation where the rapist uses extrinsic highly visible violence (often with weapons), where there are multiple assailants and/or a high degree of brutality and/or beating, or where there is no prior relationship between victim and rapist. This is the one that gets to court.  

For the rest of this blog, those are interested, I’d like to tell a little of the content of a four books, 2 18th century (Mary Hays’s Victim of Prejudice and Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni’s Lettres de Juliette Catesby a son amie, Henrietta Campley), 2 recent (Alice Sebold’s Lucky and Debra Puglisi and Marjorie Preston’s Shattered), some general conclusions in a couple of books I’ve read (Nancy Paxton’s Writing Under the Raj — which I can’t overrecommend) and Jocelyn Catty’s Women Writing Rape), and finally a tentative conclusions..


A later work by Mary Hays: biographies of women, her contemporaries. The book to buy is Gina Luria Walker’s The Growth of a Woman’s Mind.  There is a splendid website dedicated to her.

Mary Hays The Victim of Prejudice (1799)

I finished this almost astonishing (except I know that radical voices on behalf of women came into print in the 1790s where what is said is similar to what enlightened minds say about women today) slender novel, The Victim of Prejudice by Mary Hays.  Published in 1799, it’s a kind of cross between a thorough secularized rewriting of Richardson’s Clarissa and female version of Godwins’ Caleb Williams.  Mary Raymond is raped in the manner of Clarissa: finds herself surrounded by her pursuer’s friends, in his house, drugged, and raped (there is a modern instance of this, just about 32 years ago:  Polanski in the house of Jack Nicolson drugged and anally raped [twice] a 13 year old; circumstances include a complicit mother hoping for a job for her daughter, though too stupid to imagine what it could lead to; Angelica Huston in the house and finding the girl "sullen" refusing to help, &c&c.  Mary Raymond is also called "sullen" by those unsympathetic to her inner turmoil.

Like Clarissa, Mary wants out the next day and insists this man has no hold over her whatsoever.

But it differs considerably: Mary is not a paragon, and she is the daughter of a woman who herself "fell" through seduction and became a streetwalker and came to the point she was assisting a man who murdered someone and was herself imprisoned and hung.  Mary is brought up by the man who once knew and loved this woman but who she refused to marry on the advice of relatives who thought he wasn’t good enough for her.  Like Fanny Price, brought up in this household, or better yet, Lucy Steele, she finds her guardian is a teacher and he takes in two male pupils. When she reaches puberty, she and one of them are in love and her guardian knowing his father will not allow a marriage, insists she leave and live elsewhere.

This is the first rung of prejudice hurting Mary. She is brought up not to understands sex at all, and finds herself pushed to behave in manipulative ways (what Barbauld saw as education for a girl — the novel intersects with Barbauld’s letter on appropriate secondary eduction for girls).  Her suitor, young man, William is sent away, but he does not remains loyal; like Valancourt in _Udolpho_ he becomes dissipated; unlike Valancourt he is not brought back to virtue upon seeing Mary again.

Mary descends continually after her guardian dies. She cannot make a living for herself and endlessly owes money to people as she treis to support herself without marriage.  She is then lured by the powerful who lived in her guardian’s area and has pursued her because she refused him, and raped. After that she tries to tell the truth to everyone like Clarissa and never meets any kind people but is regarded as polluted and prostitute and at risk of being raped again.

She flees and tries to support herself again, again fails. She ends up in debtor’s prison and finds herself confronting amazement that she is unwilling to sell herself for money.  Her guardian had a servant who remembers her and tries to help her, but he is (like in Godwin) very much hampered by the lords around him and can’t make ends meet and dies.

Eventually Mary is rescued for a couple of years by a couple and she and her guardian helped long ago when they were thrown out of his curacy because he wouldn’t obey the behests of the vicious landlord type in the area (the one who raped her).  In this last part of the novel the text resembles Caleb Williams in its direct questioning of the social order.  The male ex-curate dies and then his wife, she because terrified that she cannot make it in the world and support her children, never having been taught to.

At last exhausted Mary dies.

Eleanor Ty’s introduction is something of a disappointment because she dwells on the class and property issues when it seem to me the central ones are sexual for both Mary and her mother.

I discovered that I had two essays by Mary Hays in my house:  reprinted in The First Feminists: British Women Writers 1578-1799 are 1) an essay for the Monthly Magazine where she argues women are as intellectually capable and emotionally competent as men, but miseducated and given no opportunity to develop their talents or strength of character.  Indeed discouraged strongly from this. Over this month or so I’ve been reading in the literature of the 17th and 18th century and especially in the 17th century I see how women were really treated in effect as secondary animals (for breeding, for family aggrandizement).  The second 2) is the essay in the Monthly Magazine where she daringly argued that the system of demanding a reputation for absolute chastity for women is pernicious in the extreme:  unreal, unfair (she shows that when they fail this test they are outcast and turned into a hollow destructive world), blinding.  I was interested to find in the essay she says this sexual faultline and injustice supports the "system of property" and goes on to expose that.  Like Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, and numbers of other radicals, men and women both, she did not give up on the principles or ideals of the revolution even if the results became themselves horrific, retrograde, or useless in many areas. Not all, for the documents signed and the new codes put in place in some realms remained.

Essays from Monthly Magazine, her poems, letters, diaries, writings by friends and contemporaries, modern works on her, and much more all in The Idea of Being Free


Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni’s epistolary novel, The Letters of Juliette Catesby to her friend, Henrietta (1752)

It is actually available on Amazon for $14.00. Riccoboni had a full interesting life: mismarried to an actor, she dumped him, and took up with a woman friend; after acting as a career didn’t work out, she turned to writing plays, then novels. Her famous one is Fanni Butlerd, a powerful slender volume of letters by a woman who has been deserted by her lover.  She also translated from English (e.g., Fielding’s Amelia).

Here is the story as summarized by Joan Hinde Stewart:

It consists of "Lady Juliette Catesby’s account in letters to a confidante [Henriette Campley] of her relations with Milord d’Ossery. Engaged to the young widow Juliette, d’Ossery unaccountably abandons her for Jenny Montford. Upon Jenny’s death about a year later, he again pursues a now perplexed and disgruntled Juliette. Eventually, he writes her a long letter explaining why he had suddenly transferred his suit to the less comely Jenny: having drunk too much during dinner at the home of Jenny’s brother, he seduced or raped her (it’s not clear, she was drunk from a party, 15 years old and it was the very first night she had left the convent for "adult" life), and when she became pregnant, he married her. She gave birth and, forlorn, died of consumption a few months later. Now a widower, d’Ossery repents his errors; Juliette relents, and the two wed-a happy second marriage for each. (60)"

In an essay by Stewart called "La Lettre and L’interdict’" (it’s in French), Stewart compares this novel to Adelaide de Souza’s Lettres de Lord Sydenham (which I have read): both have a one-sided correspondence. In _Catesby_ all letters are by Juliette but for two letters, and a couple of notes by Ossery, and one striking note by Jenny (telling Ossery she is pregnant and terrified of the shame she expects will now fall on her).  Stewart argues that this kind of one-sided correspondence allows the novelist to put out of the reader’s mind tabooed material the novels meant indirectly to present and a victim’s convenient death paving the way for the success and happy ending of the main characters. She suggests such one-sided epistolary novels are intuitively chosen to do this. It’s my theory (and my essay was published) that Austen’s S&S was an epistolary novel and mostly written by Elinor with striking long letters to invisible correspondents or to her by the characters who tell of their past or confess (Brandon and Willoughby) or are satirical ironic texts (John Dashwood, Mrs Jennings and Nancy Steele in part three), with two important letters by Lucy (still in the text).  Stewart’s theory would suggest that Austen chose this originally intuitively to place the two Elizas stories in the background, and in the case of Eliza Williams her death leads to Delaford Abbey belonging to the Colonel, his having the living for Edward and thus the happy ending.

Stewart says there are a number of French novels in the era where this kind of ploy exists.

I agree that earlier audiences and readers seem to have dismissed Eliza Williams except as evidence of Willoughby’s bad character and until Patricia Meyer Spaces not pointed out how the ending depends on the exploitation, forced marriage (and thus marital rape in a way) and then death of Eliza Brandon.  But since the 1970s people have been paying attention, and the most recent film adaptation of S&S brought one of the back stories to the stage (Eliza Williams) and the 1995 movie had a scene where Eliza Brandon appeared in a spunging house and died, but it was cut.

I wonder if readers did notice these back stories, took note, and didn’t discuss it. In the case of Catesby, the story of Jenny was (unusually) discussed because it’s so striking.  Stewart’s more recent book, Gynographs, presents this back matter as central, and as I read the novel today I don’t think we do push the story from our minds. Indeed it seems to me Riccoboni’s way of quietly pointing to a strong and unfair double standard.  The heroine refuses to listen to Ossory for most of the novel and when he finally writes his two letters (like Darcy’s in P&P or the hero’s in Cecilia, a central event where the heroine goes from being angry to seeing what happened in other lights), far from deflected, we are led to ask questions about Ossory’s behavior to Jenny.

Here for example is one long passage by Juliette after being told of Ossory’s rape (or seduction — today we’d call it statutory rape) of Jenny and treatment of her afterwards (Frances Brooke’s translation into English):

"Poor Lady Ossory! How her Story touches me!  Can I refuse my tears to her deplorable [p. 239]  What Strength of Mind!  To adore her Husband, yet conceal her Love from him on the noble Principles of tender Respect and Gratitude.  Why did he not love her?  Why did he not make her happy?  She was worthy of his Attachment.  Why did he avoid her?  Why afflict a heart so full of Sensibility?  Had she not a Right to his Tenderness?  What cruelty to deprive her of it?  I am shocked at the Inhumanity of his Behavior, and cannot approve that unsocial Chagrin, of which he made her the victim? Unfortunate Miss Montford!  She who banished the Heart of your Husband, ardently wishes to call you to Life, to see you possessed of a Heart which ought to have been yours:  She would not disturb your Happiness!  — Alas! my dear Henrietta! What a difference?  I have wept but Lady Ossory has died! —  I reproach myself for having hated her. I was very [p. 240] unjust, very inhuman:  it was her Part to have detested me. I am sensibly affected at her death. Since he gives me permission, I will send you the packet. I know now yet what to think — Ah, that amiable Miss Montfort! How melancholy has been her fate? She whom I thought so happy! (trans Frances Booke)

Now in other parts of the book where there are two other subplots or story and another couple an important theme is how men are treated differently and women held to a higher unfair standard. There is a Mr Collins story where an obtuse man insists on proposing to Juliette and when she refuses is indignant and resentful:  Juliette writes a letter about how men feel their fantasies and desires should rule women’s lives and gives further instances of this in other stories. It’s a radical letter.

In thinking about Ossory’s letter justifying himself and not thinking of how he treated Jenny during the marriage, Juliette writes:

"But observe, my dear, they will not admit us to avail ourselves of the poor Excuse they so confidently plead with regard to themselves: those Emotions, though divided in them, are united in us.  This is certainly acknowledging a great Superiority in our Manner of thinking, but at the same time reducing us to a terrible Uncertainty which lead them to seek our Favour …  this perfidious, this ungrateful, this treacherous Lover, has only been inconstant — Scarce even that — his Head disordered — His Reason distracted … "  … "He has given a Reason — What has he suffered! What Probity, what Generosity in such a Sacrifice! … "[she is pleased to see this] Tenderness in his nature [towards the baby. she will love her too] what tears he would have spared her had he told her …

But what has Jenny suffered?  Among the last sentences of the novel where the "moral" usually is found (Austen will often have an ironic one, we read:  "J’ai pleure [I have cried], s’etonne-t-elle, "et Lady Ossory [Jenny] est morte [is dead."

For readers of Austen’s S&S, it’s also interesting to read Juliette’s response to Ossory’s marriage once she knows that he impregnated Jenny. It is very like Elinor justifying Edward’s marriage to Lucy and saying she can accept it:

I should have found Consoiation in the Share I should have had in the Nobleness of his Behaviour … I should not have hated, have despised him: on the contrary, he would have preserved all my [p. 244] Esteem. Friendship would have joined us in thsoe refined, those tender Bonds … we should have continued to see each other: I should have loved Lady Ossory: What Right should I have had to complain?  Why might not this amiable Woman have been my Companion, my Friend?  She would perhaps have been still living.  I should not hahve had to reproach myself with having been the innocent Cause of her Afflictions .. . Her Husband has been culpable: Is he yet so?   …"

It’s a shame for those wanting to understand Austen’s books that her female contemporary’s novels are not better known (nor most of the French still not translated into English). For my part I’m trying to see the difference between the way women treat rape in the novel and men do.

An expensive book on her, but there is one! She translated Fielding’s Amelia (freely adapted)

Juliette Catesby is one of three novels by women in the 18th century where rape is central: the other two the early intelligent novel by Mary Davys (perhaps read by Richardson), The Accomplished Rake or Modern Fine Gentleman (this one like Richardson is after the values that make the rake’s behavior acceptable); and the late 18th century May Hays’s The Victim of Prejudice (see above).


Two modern memoirs: 

Alice Sebold’s Lucky and Debra Puglisi Sharp (with help from Majorie Preston)’s Shattered.  Both are so powerful to me I had trouble reading them. I would get so distressed that I had to peek ahead to see they survived, or what happened in the court.  It was too much for me because the descriptions were so thorough and true to experience, with brutal humiliating details included. Lucky is the more intelligent book and should be required reading for all teenage girls I think — infinitely more important than Anne Frank. 

Sebold shows us that the raped girl becomes a tabooed person in the eyes of many of the people around her*  This particular emphasis is new to me and important.  Most of the people wish she wouldn’t talk about it and we see the origins of how women are silenced.  Everyone wishes you would not speak of it. It disturbs the pretended order of things.

I had a series of terrible things happen to me between the ages of 12 and 15; at 16 I went anorexic and that protected me from these things. I kept silent; I still have never described them accurately; I tried once on a blog and couldn’t manage it.  But I was not in a situation where the circumstances led to telling naturally: that’s what has happened to Sebold. She is in a house in the college; the rape occurs in a situation surrounded by people and when she gets back, she is in such a bad state, it’s obvious something terrible happened and she "confesses" and is taken to the police station where a lot of evidence is taken from her insides (terrible) because it’s obvious she has been egregiously physically hurt so she couldn’t escape telling easily.  For many women I daresay it’s more like what happened to me, no one pays attenion, no one wants to.

There is this problem for me in her behavior:  I am  puzzled that she returns to the college where she was raped. She does not seem to think he will be in the neighborhood. Maybe this will be brought up, but right now she is returning to the campus without mentioning it. i’ve read of repeated rapes. I realize it’s hard to change schools, but surely this is an instance where one must do the unpleasant hard thing.  Transfer to another college. You would not find me miles within that place ever again — except if I had to go there for trial.

Tthe faultline for me is not conventional outward courage — rather a refusal to be coopted — but also that I do not think she can fight back except through the courts. If her society which has the real effective monopoly on violence and punishment, will punish him, then she may have justice, be validated and see the rapist put away (and other women and men too protected).  If not, she can do nothing — to put it bluntly, as with people in concentration camps, extermination ones (even more — a bit of black humor here), who have found themselves hostages or woman slave concubines, he’s won. There’s no return from what happened to her. It can’t be undone. I’m not referring to the sex itself but the whole experience. Kafka has some statement I can’t quite recall but wish I could: it begins "beyond a certain point there is no return."

We see Madison (even if a pseudonym, that she names him is good) not a seething monster like Jack the Ripper, but on a real level an ordinary man who jeers at her in triumph when he first sees her because he thinks he can get away with it. 

Her courage is to go to court and she is good as a witness and she shows she is playing a part. This partly comes from her upper class-educated background. Not for nothing is her father a professor, her mother and sister continual readers and their whole home life one of self-respect, dignity, self-esteem. And she’s been taught how to talk, how to present herself — as when she dresses right.

I do find myself intensely involved and again had to peek ahead to make sure he did not attack her again and make sure she won in court — the anxiety was too distressing to read on without the reassurance.

She does say she hates him and wants to get back, to revenge herself — he hurt her badly.
Whole procedure after the rape was a kind of second violation and nurse knew it.  Her word would not be good enough.   A woman is answerable with her body.

This turns into a sort of upbeat book towards the end. As Catherine suggested, that Sebold has an eye towards her audience with setting her great hit in heaven, so surely she is aware by presenting herself as "successful plaintive" holding her own against vicious nasty counsel for a rapist, she is producing optimism.  I note also that sexually she is not that traumatized for she begins her first relationship with someone she doesn’t care for that much, Jamie, and hasn’t much trouble accepting the realities of his relative indifference to her.  There is no critical outlook to connect this to the rape, only that men do not want to believe the girl isn’t lying when this sort of thing happens and that it’s commonplace.  Not that that’s not important, it is as an insight there on offer for you.

It is to my mind very much the book of an upper middle class American  young woman: she’s essentially accepting the world she lives in, part of it and critical of her parents and sister who don’t. It’s a coming of age memoir. The way girls come of age in the US is hard abrasive sexual initiation.  She’s weathering it.

On the other hand, she spends so many years going in and out of school and just banging about.  I’d say her whole life afterwards is partly a reaction to that rape. Still is.  After all she was a tabooed figure and if she had that moment in court, no one wanted her for real after that. Go away — you are a sign that gives away our reality. We don’t want to know. Important incidents late in the book where Sebold hears a man raping his girlfriend as a matter of course is found in the cases investigated in many surveys. Also on how gang-rapes are tolerated on campasses and women in the military harassed, raped, have to endure it or get out.

Briefer on Shattered:  it’s not written by Sharp but ghost-authored by Preston and the attitude of mind and points of view of Sharp are not examined ones. It’s a book form of listening to someone on Oprah Winfrey perhaps (not that I’ve ever watched the show, but she was on this show).

It’s about and by a woman who found herself suddenly at gunpoint in her garden, forced into her house, raped and beaten repeatedly who was not able to prevent this horror of a monster from stuffing her into his car and abusing her horrificially for five days when she discovered from a newsstory on his radio he had murdered her husband shortly before abducting her. The rage enabled her to reach a phone and call 911 and he didn’t murder her before the police arrived.

I find it distressing. It’s frightening. The reality of this woman’s mind makes it a testimony to everyone’s nightmare.  I live on a ground floor house with four doors, two windows to every room. I know how easy it would be if someone wanted to to break in.  The writer has woven Sharp’s memories of her life with this horrific incident. I keep going because I gather — to my dismay – that she had a terrible time in court. Why is what I’d like to see.  I peeked forward and saw that in the period when "evidence" was being gathered — actually as I wrote of Sebold’s experience — another form of violation, she was not herself able to fend off the stupidities said to her. And later in a hospital she so buys into the cant of our society she is helpless against it.

I have faced myself that the interest of this topic for me is how it relates to what I experienced as a girl, and my distress at this book brings home to me why I can get so distressed when I read these books of brutal violation and crazed voodoo cultures from Africa.  Why in fact I love and cling to Austen.

Yet it is an important book in its sheer ordinariness and the senselessness of what happened to her.  It makes me think of a line I half remember from a classic American book (one which ought to be) OxBow Incident which goes something like: Security is an illusion created by the general benignity of life — an illusion.

General studies:

Central themes:

From Nancy Paxton’s and many other studies:  Paxton defines rape as "not the invariable consequence of biologically determined male aggression" (a way of excusing and saying it cannot be stopped), but rather "as the consequence of a complex process in particular places which prompts individual men to act out their gender, sexuality, desire and bodily impulses in this violent way." The general social environment, stories and understood norms and justifications in effect encourage (or don’t encourage) rape. Data show that the incident of rape goes up in environments when cultural configurations encourage interpersonal violence, male dominance and sexual separation. (Not a digression so much as another example: one can see this in the horrors of fraternity rapes.)  Rape is not deviant and unusual behavior; it is common, prevalent, and behavior that is an extension of common norms in many societies.  Paxton has many novvels because in colonial sitautions everything is exacerbated and rape becomes a topic for novels, including aggravated assaults.

Daphne Manners calling to her aunt, crawling up the steps after she is brutally assaulted and raped, from Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (film adaptation, The Jewel in the Crown)

Men do in general treat of rape differently from women even when they are sympathetic to women. It seems to come down to this:  when women treat of rape, they move immediately or put a perspective to start with on its ramifications of what happens to the women in society afterwards if it’s found out (whether through going to court, through rumor, because it’s not hidden).  The women show how women suffer badly in every way: from their change in identity in the eyes of others, to their own sick distress and psychological hurt and superstitions (I can’t help but call them), to their lack of opportunities in work and other places as their respectability and prestige value has gone down.  The men show the man trying to attack the woman and wanting her, resentful or getting back, what his motives are in raping her, and their interest is how this affects his inner life or if he’s caught his outer, and often then it becomes a false accusation. They do not look to the larger society as it impinges and makes the women’s life awful but rather how it plays politically in larger forces (like say colonialist positions for men and race).

One book which shows this is Jocelyn Catty’s Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England.  The first half carefully covers a series of texts by men and the second a series of text by women. While there are instances of stories, types, and judgements that parallel what we find in men’s works, there are many types and stories uncommon or not found in men’s works, different judements, and especially the overall effect of these uncommon unusual stories, types and judgements interwoven with heroine’s texts make for a very different book.  The argument justifies the vastness of having many stories inside a big book instead of let’s say as in Marguerite de Navarre having narrators and seperate stories. From my reading I know the 17th century women "improved" on this model by having an overriding story you can summarize (not really true of Mary Wroth’s romance, Urania)

Artimesia Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidens taking revenge (Gentilesque was herself raped and went to court with her father; for the rest of her life she was ostracized for this despite her great talent; I’ve read Anna Banti’s fictional biography of her)

Urania reveals connections between rape, trauma and the destabilization of self (such as we see in Clarissa), p 190:  there is a tendency to show attempted assaults that fail; but brutal attacks do occur in the romance, p 190, and we see "an attack may distrubed a woman’s sense of self, p 191; many stories establish a connection between an experience of cruelty and mental instability, p 191. We find that in the Urania to be indiscreet, passsionate, sensual, proud in the extreme is defined as madness; Chesler says "what we consider madness [may be] the total or partial rejection of one’s sex-role stereotype.  Sexually assertive women seen as monsters, p 194

Specifics: Leatissia’s story, p 190: terrible brutal incest, rape, murder, goes unpunished.  Nereana’s story, p 196; she does not kill herself because she is horrified by her own image after he strips her bare and ties her to a tree, p 197.  Antissia’s story:  sexual vulnerability and disempowerment are conditions of conventional femininity, from which madness is an escape, p 202, but can become a kind of protection against further rape. In her book husbands are not necesarily sufficient protection against attack; they become vulnerable to attack, p 215 (of course in Leatissia’s story the attack is from the husband/father)  She also presents women’s desire transforming a threat of violence into a reciprocated passion in such a way as to make the woman powerful yet not aggressive and stigmatized as monstrous, p 218-19  When women are subjected to outright violence, it often lacks an erotic component, e.g., the torture of Ramiletta (p. 106ff) so too one female character, Liana, by an aunt rather than a male relative.  But there is titilation too, p 220, voyeurism. Now when I read some of this I find it distressing, p 220.  They also enjoy telling these stories, p 223 (now this disgusts me and I feel it does not Mary Wroth). We also have someone forced to tell a story, p 224 and then scolded; it’s ironic in context. Instead of a story told to frighten the reader (a woman), we have a woman forced to tell a story by a man who preaches to her who is himself a horror. We see it matters whether we have a male or a female narrator. Women use bodily display to empower themselves, p 220; Women become aggressive at the moment of destruction; this woman killed for her promiscuity,  p. 219.  Women do construct rape narratives to trap men, p 220. They lie extravagantly. We do see they empower themselves far more than in men’s texts, p 221 (with examples given). The manipulating self-display is the sign of an aggressive writer and woman.

If some women write their rape narratives in the manner of men, and at some points Wroth writes as men do, she is highly original, differs significantly from many of her contemporaries, and clearly writes from a woman-centered point of view.  The rape story has potential as an expression of the power relations between men and women. Part of an exploration of wider themes.  She shows sexual violence an important element in courtship. Catty thinks Wroth displaces and mocks rape narrative conventions. I’m not sure.

Bathsheba, harassed by David’s gifts:  from a woman’s point of view this is not the story of an unfaithful wife and humiliated husband, but a woman forced into concubinage, Artimesia Gentileschi again

So to some tentative thoughts:

How to describe simple (surprise, social situation extremely coercive and brutality not that strong) and aggravated rape: (beating, brutality, near murder):  it’s an abuse and "the abuse is only recognized as such socially if the intercourse is performed so recklessly or so stupidly that the man himself has signed a confession through the manner in which he committed the act."  A startling but accurate book which includes this is Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse.

The usual depiction of rape as semi-seduction is in fact self-serving for men and only one small part of a paradigm, most of which does not look like this.  I could share if anyone is interested, essays on 15th century France where an enormous amount of research was done (which a modern essay I have no pdf for and can’t send to the list repeats for the 20th century in Lancashire) to show rape is not deviant behavior, not done by monsters most of the time, and is most of the time sex that’s not wanted by women at all.  The parallels are sexual harassment in the office and social life (which I just read an essay on a new biography of Helen Gurley Brown which showed two of the places her magazine was censored by her male bosses was on the depiction of sexual harassment in office and dates and date rape).

Thelma and Louise driving on

Other, many many other women than me have been raped and no one speaks of it.  This silence is killing; it does more than keep women from going out at night.  It wreaks havoc on their lives ever after. The way society is set up it’s threatening for women to tell and we don’t.  We participate in, collude in silencing one another.


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Dear Friends,

I thought I’d mention that Anny Ballardini wrote me and said:  "I mentioned you and your impressive work at a reading I had at the Diocesan Museum in Trient about a week ago on the occasion of an evening dedicated to Vittoria Colonna and women’s poetry." She also invited me to contribute to a special issue of a online beautiful magazine of contemporary poetry, translations and reviews she will be editing:  Ekleksographia (http://ekleksographia.ahadadabooks.com/) .  Topics will include translations of poetry; reviews of translations; drama related to the act of trans/lating;  art work dedicated to the topic. As I have no new work and do not plan to translate poetry ever again, I have nothing for her, but I am so grateful to her for thinking of me. 

She actually put a biography of me on her site.  It includes links to my complete translations of the poetry of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, the book-length biography I planned for Vittoria Colonna:

This is an image of a Madonna of Charity found in a church in Ischia; it is meant as an idealized portrait of Colonna. She liked to present heself as bountiful strong mother figure.

Anny also include a link to the portrait biography I of Veronica Gambara (which another biographer of her commended to me in a letter sent me by her son):

This is one of three illustrations in the 1759 edition of Gambara’s poetry.  She liked to present herself as a widow after her husband’s death; it protected her.

Her kind remembrance and invitation have cheered my spirits considerably tonight.

I have been reading Austen in French; I’ve read two different contemporary French translations of Sense and Sensibility (one for the Pleiade, Joubert, and the other for Christian Bourgeois) and Isabelle de Montolieu’s (at long last in print and inexpensively), and last night began a comparison of Pride and Prejudice.  I’ve found an article on the history of French translation and could probably cobble together a brief article.


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