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A portrait of Johnson’s biography of Richard Savage


Photo of Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry

“Could not biography produce something of the intensity of poetry, something of the excitement of drama, and yet keep also the peculiar virtue that belongs to fact — its suggestive reality, its own proper excitement ….” Woolf, “The Art of Biography”

Bayle’s Dictionary is a very useful work for those to consult who love the biographical part of literature, which is what I love most … Johnson, quoted by Boswell

Friends,

This past Thursday after reading away for weeks and weeks, I gave a working name for a paper for a volume of essays on Johnson: “Presences Among Us Imagining People: Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf’s Biographical Art.” Here is what I then came up with for tentative theses, plan or lines of argument. It’s a document to work from:

“Presences Among Us Imagining People: Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf’s Biographical Art.”

In histories, theoretical works on, and close readings of the art of biography, Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf have been credited with themselves writing, and having stirred others to write significant and transformative essays on and works of autobiographical and biographical art. The reactions of people who knew Johnson or Woolf or the circles of people in which they throve, or who read them early on, have been so strong that it has been a source of distress to scholars and fans alike that many readers’ perceptions of Johnson derive from Boswell’s Life of Johnson and not Johnson’s writing; or of Woolf from misogynist, politicized and ignorant distortions of Bloomsbury and not Woolf’s writing. As a presence among us, like many women and 19th century writers, Woolf has further suffered from the family biography and control (e..g., Quentin Bell’s biography), and films ranging from ambivalent to hostile towards a woman intellectual who killed herself (e.g., The Hours). The mission of this volume is to refute through his own writing the apparent misfit and caricatures of Johnson to post-modern, post-colonial minds.

Woolf’s biographies fall into the specifically modernist type of biography beginning most notably with Lytton Strachey’s ironic Eminent Victorians and Queen Victoria: a socio-psychoanalytic portrait written in aesthetically appropriate ethically invigorating forms true to the human experience of time. It need not follow the conventions for verisimilitude or literal documented supposed evidence, and her Flush and Orlando do not. The crucial feature of modernist biography is the recreation of convincingly particularized felt life in a documentable individual. Woolf was influenced by her father, Leslie Stephen’s interest in, writing about Johnson and the 18th century, and work as the editor and writer for the British Dictionary of National Biography. But in what Woolf writes in her life-writing and her journalism, it seems impossible to distinguish a sense of Johnson as a man apart from Boswell’s biography (especially “The Genius of Boswell,” “Saint Samuel of Fleet Street”). In his literary biographies, Johnson imagines their subjects through his encounter with his subject’s texts where time is irrelevant or timeless, while he takes what he can find out from others, from documents about their lived lives, and from specific political and cultural pressures, all to help account for the form these texts take. For Woolf also the life and personality of her subject is brought forth from their papers and environment, but she goes well beyond this consciously to take on board fictionalizing techniques and fantasy. Beyond this alignment and difference with and from Johnson, Woolf seems to have been influenced by Boswell and Johnson’s twin-tours to the Hebrides in her fiction; in To the Lighthouse Cornwall becomes the Hebrides.

Texts possibly to be discussed and examined: opening more general framing discussion from Johnson’s lives of Dryden, Pope, Milton, then for specific close reading The Life of Savage and the lesser known texts lives of Prior, Gray, and maybe Swift because there exist good modernist and portrait biographies for comparison; ending on how the lives as a whole cannot be regarded as literary history (too many important people left out), but can be seen as projecting the interconnection of politics in the era with poetry; maybe bring in fictional types in Johnson’s journalism in order to include women.

Turn to Woolf: texts possibly to be discussed and examined: opening more general framing discussion from her biography, Roger Fry, her Orlando (highly problematic as a literary life of Vita Sackville-West), then for specific close reading from Flush, her “Lives of the Obscure,” her Memoirs of Novelist (“Miss Joan Martyn,” “Mysterious Case of Miss V”). She argues fictional characters are more real and remembered more than non-fictional except in rare cases (like Boswell’s Life of Johnson) even if fiction is de-centered (Lighthouse, Jacob’s Room). We should read her fiction as autobiographical despite all the prejudice again this

[I’m not sure of the above: Maybe I’d do better in the central section just to analyze Life of Savage first and then her Roger Fry.]

Conclusion: Johnson alive, relevant to our age: his work can function as a good antidote against hagiography prevalent today despite all the supposed “interrogation:” he idolizes no one. He takes an ethical stand so often avoided in today’s academic literary study (candid talk about why this is so). Johnson keeps to strong standards of truth and is against acceptance of delusions & corruption (found in post-modern discussions of literary works, misled scholars, and fan groups). Woolf is crucial today, for she anticipates experiments in getting beyond impasses in biographical art: e.g., the aftermath life (Janet Malcolm on Sylvia Plath); the life made up of fragments; the quest biography; where the subject’s family or friends are obstacles and have held back letters. She is intensely aware how biography is a form of autobiography;he may be. Both respect serious literature of the past as a journey, an adventure, lending identity and meaning and distinguish it from trash, junk, and the mediocre.

Closure: She does seem very fond of him, and politically she is deeply of the left liberal anti-war anti-hierarchical, anti-colonial persuasion. A married lesbian. He seems to have great compassion for the marginalized, from a young boy who would have been a slave (whom he leaves his property to) and cats (much abused in the era), to at least an awareness (as a disabled person) of the place of disability in people’s lives, with affection for a number of women, e.g., Fanny Burney, Charlotte Lennox, Hill Boothby, Catherine Desmoulins (the latter two less well-known). He is fiercely anti-war (one of his Ramblers has a vulture teaching her young how to live by watching men slaughter one another), loathes debt-collectors and the unjust prison system of his age.

Why did I agree to do this? A friend asked me and for me this is not an unlikely pairing. I’ve loved both authors’ books and have been absorbed reading about them, their lives and work for many years now; like Johnson, the biographical part of literature is often what I love best.


Cover of the book I read in 2000s

First Johnson: as a graduate student I fell in love with Johnson as he presents himself in his writing. I took a course with Frank Brady (well-known scholar of Boswell, pupil of a once better-known scholar, Frederick Pottle), which turned out to be 3/4s Johnson and Boswell. My trip this past summer to the Scottish Highlands was partly prompted by reading more than 40 years ago now Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, together with its twin book, Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides. In my later 20s I used to solace myself reading to myself one a night of Johnson’s Ramblers, Idlers, Adventurers. They inspirited, strengthened, helped me to accept life because after seeing it fully, Johnson did — ironically.


Reynolds’s famous portrait of Johnson supposedly devouring a book — he seems to have become blind in one eye when a toddler

Jim liked Johnson too and when he took an undergraduate course in 18th century literature to finish his B.A. here in the states in the 1970s (in order to go to graduate school in math), he wrote a paper he called “The War of Johnson’s Ear.” He tried to demonstrate Johnson had a good ear for poetical rhythm. The professor was not impressed and gave him a B :(. Jim hadn’t like the course: he had looked forward to reading Johnson and Boswell (as I had), Burke, Paine, Reynolds, great poetry (Goldsmith but also women poets) and novels and memoirs. Maybe a couple originally in French (Voltaire). Admittedly his view of the great works were shaped by an old canon. He was appalled to be given the marginalia of Blake in Blake’s edition of Reynolds’s treatise on art. He found himself reading Eliza Fenwick whose texts Jim found beneath contempt. There was Goldsmith, Christopher Smart and early Wordsworth. Maybe Burns and Cowper. No Crabbe. And he probably let the professor know what he had felt. In the mid-1990s I taught a selection of Johnson in a Penguin book (edited by Patrick Cruttwell) for a literary survey course at George Mason university (British Literature first half): my representatives of the era were Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and this volume of Johnson. I didn’t use an anthology. I said we were reading intensively not extensively.

Then in the early 2000’s I and a friend opened a list for Eighteenth Century Worlds @Yahoo, and among the books that sustained it through the life it had, were Boswell’s Life of Johnson (there is apparently a fan group for Johnson as he appears in or with Boswell), the twin-tour books, then Johnson’s Ramblers, Idlers, Adventurers, and a single volume selection of Fanny Burney’s diary and journals (part of their circle). On my own, I turned to Hester Thrale Piozzi then, her travel book, Clifford’s biography of her, then just immersed myself in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters and poems — a member of a tangential world. I love to read and to write life-writing, letters, biographies. I would always go to the sessions on Johnson at ASECS and EC/ASECS. I’ve blogged on Johnson too.


The cover of the book I first read her in

That’s but one half of the diptych. My love for Virginia Woolf goes back to when Jim and I were first married and we used to take turns reading her letters and diaries aloud to one another in the evening (in Leeds where we didn’t even have a radio). Her Common Reader I read and remembered before that — in college. And before that for me in my later teens, The Voyage Out. He liked her too, and bought her essays and diaries — all the volumes, which I now possess in my library house. But even better or as much he read Leonard Woolf, the many volumed biography and novel — I read Glendinning’s magnificent biography on Leonard aloud to Jim on a long train trip. Teaching her brilliant anti-war, anti-patriarchal treatise, Three Guineas, in those same mid-1990s classes (the second half of British Literature where I also taught Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day) taught me so much.


Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway

It had been Woolf’s essays and life-writing that entranced me; but again in the 2000s, on another Yahoo list (Women Writers through the Ages) we had a Virginia Woolf summer and I listened to and read The Years and read her essays on early modern and 17th century people. Hooked once again. I went to Woolf sessions at all the MLAs I attended, even, with Jim by my side, a Virginia Woolf Society party — how daring of me. Since then I’ve belonged to the International Society, and get the yearly rich newsletter. For three years now I’ve been reading her on and off, begun again with on Wwtta, through Hermione Lee’s biography, posted about mostly on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two. I’d go off and read the shorter of the works she analyzed. A year and a half ago, an OLLI course at AU took me through Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, books, and wonderful films & YouTube (Eileen Atkins). I just joined a Virginia Woolf list.

I love the short and long works, and this summer listened to, skim-read Between the Acts, just now finishing the deeply life-filled Jacob’s Room. I listen as well as read, and find Wanda McCadden’s cadences (her other name, Nadia May) emphasizes the more outward or dramatic aspects of the work: she does lose its peculiar combination of poignancy and comedy. It ought to be read as often as Mrs Dalloway. Jacob is a lover of the Greek classics: they are what he escapes from the modern world to, what paradoxically help him to understand at least one skein of the complicated life all around him. The feel of the text is captured in the lines of Patricia Fargnoli in one of her poems: “Life moves on like shadows of the windblown willows/to other lives …” Jacob keeps these beloved books in his room.

Jacob’s Room begins as a widow’s story. No where is this mentioned in the literature. Mrs Betty Flanders’ husband died in an accident years ago, leaving her with three children, one so young it cannot have been that many years. But we are made to feel her husband’s death happened a long while ago to her. She is in Cornwall for the holidays and writing a Captain friend, Barfoot (he’s married so safe) in Scarborough. There is a painter about whom Woolf writes in similar ways to what she says of Lily Briscoe, color, and lonely people who don’t fit in: Mr Steele. On the beach, a little later Mrs Flanders hears the waves, the ship — her husband died of an accident at sea. We are told he left her impoverished, but Woolf’s idea of poverty is different from some of us it seems. She has a nanny, doesn’t cook her own supper, doesn’t have to work for money. But she is at a great loss with these boy children, hanging from her….

She continually moves from inward presence to inward presence and by so doing uncovers a real feeling of living life which includes sex bought from prostitutes by our hero. Many of the presences come from utterly different classes in different areas of life. We also experiencing Jacob in a large variety of social worlds and deeds. Suddenly too the narrator will go into deep dream time on the place where the narrative has settled and allude way back in time so it becomes a movement through centuries, deep history embedded in people today One aristocratic lady likes such-and-such food because her ancestors have been enjoying it since their death, this partial recreation. The novel of manners or social life is left far behind.

Jacob’s Room is as decentered as unheroic as Roger Fry as de-centered as The Waves, Between the Acts. While we can believe in Jacob, he is just a center knob in a wheel where all the spokes — all the many living presences and places come out of. I just love how he loves and thinks in terms of the Greek classics. This morning I listened to how Woolf manages to bring in tandem a sense of a desperately homeless (near) prostitute trying to get into the house where Jacob lives and other street people and the people at a party he went to — when he came home he thought how delightful to be with 10 new people (themselves beautifully captured), and we find a long reverie on the books at the British library, all by men, Jacob is spending his evening’s reading.

3/4’s through I began to worry about Jacob. I’ve read somewhere that he dies at the end — perhaps that’s why people say (carelessly) this book is about her brother. Jacob is the central node of the book, but it is in space equally about many people whom he comes across and spends time with. Especially women who are vulnerable. I am so touched with those women Jacob goes to bed with — this is indicated discreetly. They are the models paid to strip naked by his friends or at the Slade: ignorant, even dumb, without a chance in the world for respect or security or comfort. Prostitutes. His mother, the widow, whom the book opened with hardly goes any where in her life, hardly meets anyone outside her narrow class sphere and local area.

By near the end of the book Jacob has fallen in love with a married woman he meet while touring, but he has not connected deeply with anyone (not her either). He is not married. It’s hinted people think he’s homosexual and he writes to a male friend Bonamy. I can’t see any other ending but death. Probably in World War One. The book takes place just earlier. At the end of The Voyage Out Rachel dies. In the middle of To the Lighthouse Mrs Ramsay dies, and in the last third we are told of three other deaths of characters who meant something. I wonder if anyone has written about this urge to death in Woolf’s novels — probably, this one seems the saddest of all. We cherish this character as we are told his close friends do. Others say he is the best person they ever met. He never hurts anyone. He has truly intelligent (sceptical) attitudes towards politics. Acts with compassion and courtesy. The book is about life itself as a stream of feeling; she feels equally intense over say a crab or some other creature endlessly trying to say jump over something and it cannot.

I even managed The Waves (just) using a reading aloud on CDs (I couldn’t have managed without Frances Geater). This morning I began a second reading of her biography of Roger Fry, this time in the superlative edition by Diane Gillespie.


Fry’s portrait of Virginia Woolf — they were at times very close

I’ve lots of wonderful reading ahead: other “modern biographies,” more on visual art, portraiture. I use the titles Dr and Mrs for fun — that’s how he is known popularly and what she was called, how addressed in her lifetime.

So now I will listen to Boswell’s Johnson read aloud (unabridged), from Librivox, which I have put here, with a hope of reading/listening to it late at night — if the MP3 of the same work there called The life of Samuel Johnson (unabridged) read by Bernard Mayes doestn’t work well in my car.

Ellen

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A depiction of a party at Joshua Reynolds

nine men around a table set with fruit and decanters, served by a black page; Johnson on the left talking to Edmund Burke, with Boswell, Reynolds, who holds a trumpet to his ear, Garrick, Pasquale Paoli and Charles Burney, sitting and listening; Warton sitting at the end of the table to right, whispering something to Goldsmith; a Japanese screen on the right, curtains, a miniature portrait to left and a portrait bust to left; Reynolds’ pictures of Puck (Mannings 2142) and the Infant Academy (Mannings 2092) hanging on the wall; after James E Doyle; with semi-filled letters. 1848

Friends and readers,

It hasn’t been as long as it feels since I wrote the first of two blogs on the recent EC/ASECS conference at Howard University. A hacking attack on my website intervened, but all’s well for now. I here combine a report on the later afternoon panel of the first day, a session of readings, and the presidential address on the second day with a talk given at the Washington Area Print Group (a book history group) at the library of Congress because the subject (Samuel Johnson) was the same as the panel. I can offer the gist only of most of them.


Opie’s Samuel Johnson

Back to Friday afternoon, November 3rd. The chair was Anthony Lee. The first two speakers emphasized the modernity of Johnson. In “Samuel Johnson and Samuel Beckett: Like-minded masters of existential emptiness,” Thomas Curley suggested that Beckett and Johnson shared a fellow feeling, were intellectual soulmates even though Beckett was an atheist, and Johnson argued forcefully for holding to his Christian faith. While Beckett was at Trinity College, he was helped to find his voice by research into and reading of Johnson’s attachment to Hester Thrale. Beckett explored 23 sources, filled 3 notebooks, altogether 200 pages. In Beckett’s letters he talks of Johnson as madly ineffectually in love with Hester Thrale and insecurity. The 1930s saw ground-breaking psychological studies of Johnson, but, as Beckett conceded, there is no evidence for his specific belief that Johnson was also impotent. Krapp in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape is a Johnsonian character who lives his life by way of tape recordings who looks at himself as a failure in life and is eager to be gone. I thought of David Nokes’s biography of Johnson where Nokes argues that Johnson lived with a deep sense of having failed himself in life.


Samuel Beckett

Greg Clingham’s paper was on Johnson and the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges had a deep love for English; he read Don Quixote in English, loved Shakespeare, Whitman, Emerson, also Victor Hugo (presumably in English translation?). Gregg discussed how scholars of Borges ignore Borges’s attraction to Johnson and how Johnson’s name appears and re-appears in Borge’s conversations. Maria Kodama, his personal assistant for many years whom he married functions like Boswell, and appears to get in the way of scholarly work. Borges saw so much of himself in Johnson. Borges was especially interested in how impossible it is to fix language, and poetic meditative texts. So is Dictionary Johnson though the language he uses to describe these linguistic phenomena is different (see below).


Jorge Luis Borges

Then Brian Glover spoke a contrarian view while Anthony Lee attempted to find common ground: Glover insisted Johnson is not at all modernist, “not our contemporary.” He began with theories about print culture where it’s suggested that digital communication returns us to silent orality, talk. The famous first Boswell scholar, Frederick Pottle, attempted to make Boswell into a vast publishing venture, turning Boswell’s very contemporary talk style into print, beginning in 1967. Brian told us the familiar stories of the finding of the papers and the early history of book collecting, and presented the men as belonging to a culture of white male homosocial dreams where they were to live life together through building a library.


Formal portrait of James Bowell by George Williams

Anthony Lee’s paper was then about how there has been a slow overturning of stereotypes of Johnson (he’s naive, bigoted) and the various scholars gradually revealed views towards women, colonialism, politics that anticipate the later 20th century. Technology has had an impact. Yet Johnson resists modernity too; like T.S. Eliot he might be seen as an Anglican high culture modernist and connect to what is found in Bloomsbury writers and artists. Tony quoted passages from Idler No 60, Leslie Stephen, and Boswell: in the first Johnson is satirizing literary criticism of the close reading type (Dick Minim), in the second Stephen shows Johnson in his chair talking consciously happy and enjoying himself like some Socrates providing more deep thought than many many printed passages; in the last Beauclerk’s curious denial that Johnson was religious: Johnson seldom went to church and when he did, he appeared not to pay attention to most that was happening or said (like Hogarth’s Idle Apprentice).

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Kate Winslett as Marianne in a scene from the 1995 Sense and Sensibility (not in the book at all)

Mid-Saturday morning was to have been a keynote address; the speaker was ill, and three people talked from published books in her stead. Juliette Wells has written a book on Austen which includes a section on how early American readers felt about her through what Wells finds in their marginalia. Basically it seems Austen’s novels did not appeal to these ordinary readers. One reader was very glad when she finished Emma; another called Emma a silly book; readers are responding to a character in the book without any sense of the author’s presence or irony or stance towards the character. Mr Knightley is “tolerable” but Emma “intolerable. Frank is a “sneak;” Mrs Elton a “vulgar common woman.” Wells suggested that the earliest readers of Austen did not care for her books.

In a discussion afterwards, her assertion that Austen wasn’t liked by her earliest readers was questioned. She immediately backtracked and said of course British readers liked Austen; she is just talking about Americans; then questioned on her assertion about Americans in general, she backtracked again. It is hard to prove anything by the marginalia of a few chance comments in books by readers who are not thinking in any clear way about what they are reading. Listening to her I recognize what I often see in on-line groups’ postings about how they read books. I’m also not surprised that Austen’s satire was not appreciated by these few readers. There is a desire to sentimentalize Austen — seen in today’s movies: that urge has played a large role in popular Janeite re-vamping and reversing of the core meanings of Austen’s texts.

Beth Lambert and Eugene Hammond returned us to reading John Radner’s book on Johnson and Boswell’s friendship. Beth showed us how by careful analysis of key interactions in small seemingly unimportant uncrucial documents about and between Boswell and Johnson over a period of time, John pulled out a truthful depiction of a complex relationship. Eugene picked passages from Johnson’s letters to Hester Thrale, which he used to discuss the art of biography. How can one go deep into a personality and re-create a living presence in a book.


Jonathan Swift by James Bovard

After lunch Eugene got up again to give the presidential address, which was on his books and years of research on Jonathan Swift. His perspective was our own time of 2017 and the (now so clearly seen) dangerous decline of serious studies in the humanities, in academic subjects which teach people about their history, their culture, the political and art worlds they live in. We need to teach what counts as documentary evidence, how to use it, and how we live today in an international community. First he told about his career, and how in high schools he found how necessary it was to teach students to go outside narrowly framed issues and texts. He studied Swift’s texts and life and worlds for 25 years. That nowadays we are confronted with disrespect for a life thus lived. He then in effect overturned many stereotypes of Swift (as an embittered misanthrope, a social isolate &c); I wish I could have stayed for Eugene’s paper later in the afternoon asking whether Swift hated his relatives. Early on Eugene discovered Swift’s fundamental mistrust of religion used in the public sphere, his strong anti-colonialist streak. At the end of the talk Eugene described Swift’s specific milieus, the people he was surrounded by in Ireland. As a boy he was cut off from his nuclear family, and persuaded Esther Johnson to come to Ireland to live near him. Eugene then went through Swift’s works: A Tale of a Tub (the outsider perspective), Gulliver’s Travels, his attempts to persuade the English gov’t to give money to rebuild churches; once in Ireland the Draper’s Letters objecting to the English ruthless exploitation of Catholic Irish people. Swift founded a hospital. Most delightful of all was the way Eugene went over the Journal to Stella: a wonderful misnamed diary where we find how very particular acts and laws influence Swift’s and his friends’ lives intimately. Swift had many friends who left poems dedicated to him, one wrote a life. Eugene ended on a story told by Swift of his grandmother.

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Mary Melliner as Jenny Diver and Roger Daltry as Macheath (1987 BBC Beggar’s Opera, directed by Jonathan Miller)

As I wrote in my first blog, I was unhappily not able to stay for the later afternoon sessions of this second day. I was a member of the Molin panel (for the literary prize for fine graduate students’ papers) and would have listened to Courtnee Fenner’s “My dear pretty Jenny:” The Blackening of Jenny Diver in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and Polly: an Opera, as she was one of those who submitted a proposal to hand in her paper for the context. I particularly regretted not being able to attend the panel on Defoe. At lunch I had sat next to Joseph Rudman who gave one of the Defoe papers. He told me he remembered Jim and about conversation he had had with Jim at another luncheon about physics and Richard Feynman. Joseph worked as a physicist and professor for many years before turning to literature. His paper was on “the Rothman Group’s stylistic study of Defoe’s contribution to Robert Drury’s Journal.” He also told me about how he was reviewing one of the volumes of the new Cambridge edition of Shakespeare: like those for Richardson and Austen, enormously over-annotated sumptuously produced volumes. It seems large amounts of annotation do not necessarily produce a lucidly-presented work. Also that the latest fashion in Shakespeare scholarship is dissolving his canon and now 18 works hitherto attributed to Shakespeare are being contested as only partly by him or not at all. Joseph said it was clear some of these people had not gone back to the original studies of the printing of the Folio. What he had to say was more interesting and suggestive about our profession today than many papers. He was very witty and I enjoyed talking about Jim with him.

But this lacuna gives me room to end this second report with another paper given by Tony Lee at the Washington Area Print Group on a later Friday afternoon, November 17th (a couple of weeks later). He spoke on paratexts and intertextuality in Rambler No 2 and Johnson’s Dictionary. As I wrote in my blog-essay for Sarah Emsley’s Jane Austen series on Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, “For there is nothing lost, that may not be found: Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Tony’s paper was suggestive about intertextuality (you need only have tiny texts to bring in wide layered meaning); here I go over how this relates in his view to mentorship (we can be mentored by texts) and paratexts (the prefaces).

Tony first said in his view Johnson’s Rambler (208 periodical essays) constitutes his greatest wholistic literary single literary work. Rambler No 2 looks at the dangers of looking into futurity using classical mottoes from Addison and Steele. The translation by Elphinstone in the essay suggests that “fond fleeting hope” is destroyed by looking ahead with anxiety; we are “defeated” before we try to fly. Meditations on mottoes like these led Johnson to read Pope out of their perspective in superior poetry. In the same way Dryden can be said to have mentored Pope as Pope studied Dryden in his original and translation writing. Dryden was also an important person for Johnson who quoted Dryden 157 times in his Dictionary. Tony then traced densely saturated quotations (mottoes) to allusive sources.

One example of genealogy: Johnson did not like John Gay’s Rural Sports(1713) and uses lines from it to define words (despeople) hostilely so that if you are diligent enough to search out the source texts, you can begin to read Johnson’s dictionary as a repository of Johnson’s creative life and thinking.

Oil painting on canvas, River Landscape, with Fisherman, and distant Ruins of an Abbey, manner of George Smith of Chichester (Chichester 1714 – Chichester 1776) and John Smith (Chichester 1717 – Chichester 1764).Tall tree in foreground; river runs across the centre of the picture. A fanciful ruin of slender Gothic arches on an eminence at right. A fisherman seated on near bank.

After a while all literature begins to become entangled. Tony said Pope may be said to have been mentored by Statius, a Silver Age poet. Johnson himself is thus deeply grounded in the past as he contemplates how to look at the future. Tony then quoted the familiar statement of T.S. Eliot on how tradition is central to the development of an individual talent to its highest degree and ended by quoting Herman Meyer (from The Poetics of Quotation in the European Novel) that “the charm of quotation emanates from a unique tension between assimilation and dissimilation.” The writer may make the other person’s texts their own in their book and link these to a new environment but these quotations remain detached and hold onto original meaning too. In my blog I suggested that Austen entangles Smith’s texts and her very life into Persuasion, but remains detached from these (as she does from the quotations from Byron and Scott, which themselves don’t change). Tony believes that Johnson was aware of these intertextual relationships as he read, though he would not use the language we do so not have quite the same concept.

This theory is particularly appealing to me who have lived much of my life apart from social groups and feel I was mentored by texts too, especially in my 20 years of translating poetry. I didn’t use the word, mentorship, but it’s what I meant when I described how I came to my theory of translation as I was translating the poetry of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara. See my on-line essay on translating.

As this is an Austen blog, I should add I think Austen was “mentored” by many authors this way — how else could she reach them, and several are strongly influential on her work, e.g., Shakespeare, Johnson, Cowper, Burney, Radcliffe, Smith, the French memorists. She never met just about any of these people and yet their thoughts and attitudes taught her much. the point is so often made how Austen chose not to go to a party where Madame de Stael was said to be. She didn’t need to. She had Delphine and Corinne on her shelves, and then in her mind. What could she have gotten by a social interaction in such an environment that could compare to communing with these books.

So ends my conference and lecture reports for the year 2017.

Ellen

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John Radner (1939-2017)

Friends,

Christmas is upon us, and I’ve yet to transcribe my notes on this year’s early November EC/ASECS conference, held at Howard University! I did not stay at the hotel but took the Metro each of the three trips (one evening, two days) so I arrived a bit late and left earlier than usual. We had our usual Thursday evening (Nov 2) of reading poetry aloud with a reception of drinks and snacks. It was the first time I had been to Howard University and I walked around campus too. I have about two blogs worth of papers and readings to tell of. This first one is on the first three sessions of the first day. The theme of the conference was “Capital culture and cultural capital.” I’d have loved to give a paper on Anthony Trollope’s stay in DC and his thought-provoking description of the city and surrounding environs during the civil war (including Alexandria and near where I live) but he’s not eighteenth century ….

I arrived on Friday morning, November 3rd, in time to participate in the tribute to John Radner (9:00 to 10:15 am). He was a great scholar who devoted his life to study and teaching, with his central interest in Johnson and Boswell. Last year as a culmination of a life-time of reading and thinking he published his book, Johnson and Boswell: A biography of a Friendship. He taught at George Mason for many years where I knew him. His office was across the hall from mine and we frequently talked during a few years when we were both there at the same time. He was an active and long-time member of EC/ASECS and also taught at the OLLI at AU where I teach too nowadays.


Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Johnson (intensely reading)

The tribute consisted of four papers read aloud and talked through by four close friends of John’s. Each paper had a theme dear to the heart of Johnson and/or Boswell. Ann Kelly was just finishing hers on her first trip to the Hebrides, with her children, commemorating John through how Johnson and Boswell’s have text stirred her (and many others) into visiting the Hebrides islands, and making friends there. Henry Fulton who has just published a massive biography on John Moore used an incident where Moore and Johnson came together through a poem by Helen Maria Williams. The poem was given to Burke, Burke shared it with Moore as did Reynolds who then showed it to Johnson. Henry’s point was to show the connections between these people whom John had been so engaged with over the decades. Linda Merians then spoke: John knew more of Johnson than anyone. Walter Jackson Bate who wrote the great biography of Johnson was John’s mentor. She talked of how John empathized with both Boswell and Johnson, and wrote of how each thought “I am never with this man without feeling better and rendered happier.” Melancholy united Boswell and Johnson who had a deep fear of breakdown. Beth Lambert whose biography is on Burke spoke of the failed friendship of Burke and Boswell. They remained aware of one another is as far as it got, Boswell transgressed by using some private confidence; Burke’s Irishness made him more sensitive to spreading gossip which could be turned against him. Burke in turn doubted Boswell was “fit” (not smart enough) for their weekly clubbing. In each case the speaker talked of his or her memories of John. It was a very touching hour.


Fanny Burney by John Bogle (detail)

The panel I was chairing, “Portraits of Frances Burney” came after a short coffee break (10:45-noon). Kaitlyn Giblin’s paper, “To nobody belonging, by nobody was noticed:” Navigating the bounds of Feminine Authority and Female Authorship in Burney’s Evelina. Kaitlyn examined the depictions of motherhood in Evelina; Caroline, Evelina’s mother, is not married and thus her daughter has no identity. Her very existence is to be hidden. Evelina gains some status when she is revealed to be her mother’s daughter, but she knows a seachange only when she marries. Mr MacCartney’s story fits into the same trajectory: he too needs legitimacy, recognition, acknowledgement. Kaitlyn’s paper fit into the rebellious but 18th century Johnsonian figuring of a public reasoning Burney. Noello Chao’s “The Arts and Indifference in The Wanderer” produced a different sort of portrait. Noello made the unexpected point of the price artists have to make when they practice their art. Her spirit is annihilated when she does practice because she is not appreciated and feels profoundly divorced from herself as she tries to play in front of others wholly alien to her. Burney presents the failure of art to inspire or make others feel meaningful; Juliette feels little pleasure or solace in what she is doing; she cringes because she has to sell herself. The novel is about the hidden costs of producing art. We also see how limited are the choices upper class women are given; susceptible to assault and invective. High continental forms do not satisfy; instead Stonehenge with its ancient natural space offers calm and a quiet place to feel herself. Burney does not reject labor but wants it to have a chance to be meaningful.

Lorna Clarke’s paper, “Juvenile Productions in the Burney Family” She discussed her discovery of the early writings of several members of the Burney family. They were an artistic group living in a vibrant atmosphere, in a sophisticated London culture with professional and amateur theatrics around them. It was wonderful to listen to Lorna’s enthusiasm as she described these works; they did resemble the Brontes in how they invented a magazine and shared their writing, inspiriting one another. They drew frontispieces, made indexes, were imitating published books. The experience (as practised by these children) was educational socially; they think of their audience. Lorna then read passages to show how these works are funny, nervy, uses legends; there is a 34 stanza ballad the children seek freedom as their narrators find their voice. They incorporate violence meant to be funny; and also have blood baths at the end of a tragedy. Sophia Elizabeth produced her own anthology; we know Frances wrote a novel about Caroline, mother of Evelina. The vividness of her style is there in the earliest of her journals. You can see gender at work. The figure of Persephone is used for melancholy and romance. There is ambiguity about being a writer. One of the children writing died relatively young after a period as a governess. There are also letters.


William Hogarth, The Graham family (children)

The papers had been so interesting, full of details and varied there was much talk afterward (as moderator I didn’t get to write it down so have no details). Several questions on the Wanderer and attitudes towards art in Burney’s family. Lorna seemed to have made us all want to peruse these juvenilia far more than I have ever wanted to read the Brontes’s famous tiny-lettered children’s lurid romances (until recently when in another context I heard a paper quoting from these, showing that in there are more passages than one might expect which anticipate their adult novels). I was reminded of the March family in Little Women who produce a Christmas number (a reflection of the Alcott family); the Austens, much older, wrote a periodical which had circulation among adult readers.

We adjourned for lunch and I went with two friends to a nearby Asian fusion restaurant where we had good talk and food.


Charlotte Ramsay Lennox (1730-1804)

For the first session of the afternoon I went to Eleanor Shevlin’s panel, “Collection, Curation & Classicism.’ It had a miscellany of papers. Hilary Fezzey talked about autism in the heroine of Charlotte Lennox’s Female Quixote and Hugh Blair’s letters. Her argument was an interesting and worthy one, as her point seemed to be how neurotypical (as she called the non-autistic) people are treated as a norm which all others have to be like. Which is unfair. People who are autistic may be said to lack social capital. She said that from Hugh Blair’s letters we can see he was socially very awkward, dressed differently, lived a wholly interior life, did not follow social “rules.” He had no sense of social inhibition where he should have been inhibited; seemed very innocent to others. He was married for a time. She felt the explanation for Arabella’s obtuseness and obsession with later 17th century heroic romances was that she is meant to be autistic. Even if Lennox would not have used that term, Hilary seemed to feel Lennox meant to describe autism as a type of person. She does not pay attention to other people, has no idea of social conventions, and the novel condemns her at the end.

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


Arthur Miller when young (photograph found on the Net)

Bill Everdell gave a detailed historical paper, excellent, on “the evangelical counter-Enlightenment.He discussed the relationship between ecstasy and doctrinal fundamentalism in 18th century Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. He was exploring powerful social and psychological currents in the era. He went into the more learned treatises, attitudes towards self-determination, equality, passion, calmness. I couldn’t begin to take down the details.

There was not much time for discussion afterward so I was not able to register the serious doubt I had about analyzing a character in a novel according to 20th century diagnostic criteria in watered-down ways. I know from experience before someone is diagnosed for autism, they are interviewed and must have 2 characteristics out of six sets of them on six sheets of paper. Arabella is a naif figure in a Quixote satire. Hugh Blair’s self-descriptions are closer to possibility as he was a real complex person but we’d have to have more evidence from others. People did attempt to ask about Miller and also the Islamic Enlightenment.

More on the later afternoon and Saturday in my second blog.


George Morland (1763-1804), study of a cat

Ellen

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Giovanni Volpato and Louis Ducrois, The Temple to the Sybil at Tivoli, 1750

Thus is a people gradually exhausted, for the most part, with little effect. The wars of civilized nations make very slow changes in the system of empire. The public perceives scarcely any alteration but an increase of debt; and the few individuals who are benefited, are not supposed to have the clearest right to their advantages. If he that shared the danger enjoyed the profit, and after bleeding in the battle grew rich by the victory, he might shew his gains without envy, But at the conclusion of a ten years war, how are we recompensed for the death of multitudes and the expence of millions, but by contemplating the sudden glories of paymasters and agents, contractor and commissaries, whose equipages shine like meteors, and whose palaces rise like exhalations? — Johnson, Thoughts on the Falkland Islands

When her mind was discomposed … a book was the opiate that lulled it to repose … Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest (from handouts)

Dear friends and readers,

At long last my report on the EC/ASECS conference, whose topic was “The Familiar and the Strange.” Not only have I been delayed, but I will have but two blogs as I missed some panels, and was not able to take down papers from all I attended. I will offer the paper titles of those that sounded especially intriguing that I missed and surmise others might like to know of. Here I also take the step of quoting from some of the excellent handouts I came away with. How relevant are all these 18th century texts, and how they come together under a post-colonial perspective. As usual the reader must remember these summaries only offer a gist of what was said.

I chaired one of the panels of the first session, and I hope it’s acceptable for me to say of my panel, “Finance, Affect, and Gender,” (Friday, 9:30-10:15 am), the papers were excellent, fit together well, and the talk afterwards stimulating. Michael Genovese, “Strangers and Credit in Addison and Steele,” was part of a project where he focuses on the ways in which talking about money and talking about affect intersect with one another. He talked about the early periodical press, especially Addison and Steele, and Defoe’s writing where what is mapped is a relational rather than individualistic form of selfhood. People who are debtors and creditors react through communal sentiments as well as financial exchange and obligation. He suggested such mixtures are with us still; for example, a 20th century commercial about how friendly housing mortgage people in a company are. Sympathy is used to mitigate and soften money relationships from whence people gain status and power (social capital), and this makes catastrophe more bearable. In these texts forms of behavior are adopted which channel feeling. Steele makes the point that this is analogous to textual relationships where the writer owes as much to the reader as the reader owes to him. Some practical results include seeing the “dishonest debtor” as unfortunate, rather than a criminal; through adding sympathy imprisoning someone (which makes it impossible for the person to make up the payment) can be presented more convincingly as destructive as well as irrational. In effect too the subjective response of a creditor (i.e., anger, frustration) is diminished so some form of mutual benefit can emerge from an unlucky transaction.

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From the BBC 1996 Moll Flanders (scripted Andrew Davies): Moll (Alex Kingston) in partnership with another woman

Kristin Distel’s paper, “Bastardy, Shame, and Property: Moll Flanders, Crime and the Governess as Entrepreneur.” She began by pointing out that Defoe’s governess is not a realistic depiction. She is there to serve as a sort of pawnbroker where illegitimate pregnancy and theft are equated. She can operate a profitable business because she understands how to cope with shame through impudence. Shame is, she noted, is a discipline, a social and psychological tool rendering women powerless: they are led to internalize humiliation (this is Foucault). Thus they are kept in subjection. People in this era perceived that crime was on the increase: population was on the increase; options for paid work were limited. Suicides increased; women were indicted for theft more than men (she suggested punishments were actually lenient). We see Moll and her governess work together to survive, for profit, theft becomes their trade. Their vocabulary emphasizes (without explaining) “success” and while they report, they ignore name-calling like “shameless,” “immodest” and “unblushing.” She then looked at how by contrast punishment for women for illegitimate children, especially if the baby died, was remarkably harsh. The way the law was formulated the presumption was infanticide if the baby died; women did naturally try to miscarry; they would give away their babies when they could. Here in Defoe’s fiction the governess’s help is crucial as Moll suffers much more from this socially induced natural fear than shame. The two threads of Kristin’s talk came together as she discussed the ending of the novel where our heroine’s financial success frees her from fear, shame, and dependence.

NIGHT. Now Ev’ning fades! her pensive step retires, / And Night leads on the dews, and shadowy hours;/ Her awful pomp of planetarv fires, / And all her train of visionary pow’rs./These paint with fleeting shapes the dream of sleep./These swell the waking soul with pleasing dread; /These through the glooms in forms terrific sweep, / And rouse the thrilling horrors of the dead!/Queen of the solemn thought – mysterious Night! /Whose step is darkness, and whose voice is fear!/Thy shades I welcome with severe delight, / And hail thy hollow gales, that sigh so drear!/But chief I love thee, when thy lucid car /Sheds through the fleecy clouds a trembling gleam,/ And shews the misty mountain from afar, /The nearer forest, and the valley’s strream: / And nameless objects in the vale below, /That floating dimly to the musing eye, / Assume, at Fancy’s touch, fantastic shew, / And raise her sweet romantic visions high … Ah! who the dear illusions pleas’d would yield, /Which Fancy wakes from silence and from shades, /For all the sober forms of Truth reveal’d, /For all the scenes that Day’s bright eye pervades! — Ann Radcliffe

Rivka Swenson’s paper, “Making the Darkness Strange in Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. Darkness is what we expect in a gothic, and this novel begins in a dark wild flight, but as it progresses what emerges is the story of a man who has run away to the forest, a young girl who writes poems to the night and finds a manuscript which tells of an imprisoned and therefore murdered man. In the book flight and a transcendant darkness beyond society’s eye are embraced. The last third of the novel does introduce a good man living in tranquillity whose name means light, but in the novel as a whole safety and quiet are found in obscurity. Rivka then talked of the female sublime, suggesting that we replace Caspar Friedrich’s familiar male staring into the iced distance with a female. We move from Aristotelian/neoclassical ideals to Burkean. Adeline’s poetry moves from evening and darkness to the coming of dawn, but Radcliffe’s prose leaves her in the dark still night where meditation provides intense inspiration to write the book.

There were lots of questions for Michael. People brought up (as a counter-examples) the story of Yarico and Inkle where he sells his beloved; he cannot feel a personal connection for someone of a different race and such low status; in Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling, sentimental characters show no interest in money. On Kristin’s paper, Did not Moll feel overwhelming Christian guilt at turns in the novel? how does that relate to the secular idea of shame?

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An illustration from an edition of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho: The Devil’s Bridge

I went to the session on Samuel Johnson (10:30-11:15) chaired by Anthony Lee. Greg Clingham’s “Sex and the City: Johnson’s Erotics of Reading,” was a meditation on one of Boswell’s striking metaphors: Boswell says that he’d write after his mind became strongly impregnated with Johnson’s “ether.” He was looking at the ways erotic content is redirected into reading: he loved conversation and worked hard to convey the talk. Johnson’s male biographers presented Johnson in ways that kept him separate from sex; yet sex was ubiquitous in Johnson’s life, not glamorous, not scandalous, rather human: from his wife, Tetty, to his relationship with Hester Thrale, Hill Boothby; he was comfortable with the prostitute, Bet Flint. When he writes of Rochester, he is not content to stay with the vigor of his colloquial wit, but looks at the poet’s mind, tracing a sexual degeneration and debasement: Rochester died at 31, exhausted. Dryden’s poetry is not overtly erotic, and yet we find Johnson reaching for a female metaphor to describe it. In Rasselas Johnson looks at sexuality in the harem of Pekuah where her assumption of agency enables her to triumph during her imprisonment. The question is, Are the demons of depression and loneliness (both Johnson and Boswell’s) kept at bay by fantasies of conversation in this biography? Well, Jorge Luis Borges saw the erotic in Johnson and Boswell from the depth of a human heart and mind on display.

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Reynolds’s famous portrait of Johnson, reading, taking in a text ….

John Radner felt his paper, “Johnson in the Hebrides,” was in conversation with Greg’s. Johnson and Boswell began their trip as teacher and pupil, substitute father and acolyte, and came back as an intertwined subject and writer of the biography. The two shared fantasies; both missed other friends and longed for letters and must’ve kept up journals for their later twin books. Hitherto Johnson with Boswell talked of his guilt, his wide range of knowledge not being used, but the sort of grim tone Johnson often had was lifted and he was usually gay, sort of off-duty and yet out of the trip came the Journal of the Western Islands Johnson had argued that traveling was a waste of time; civilized and barbarous people are the same. He had talked of Culloden as sheerly pernicious for all, but when he met a clan chieftains, and they talked of all sorts of intimate beliefs, he changed his mind. This unfamiliar experience and place for two men in an evolving love relationship produced great books as an unintended consequence. This morning I was thinking Wordsworth and Coleridge are a parallel male pair.

Anthony Lee’s “Strangely ‘sudden glories:’ Johnson, Hobbes, and Thoughts on the Falkland Islands was journey through a series of startling utterances by Johnson strongly relevant to our political situation today. He was delving complex words in various relationships. He began with Johnson’s strong disapproval and refutation of authoritarianism as found in Hobbes. He inveighed against Junius for the falsity of a man who won’t reveal who he is (a sneak), or anything about himself. Both men’s laughter is rejected on the ground that “one of the proper works” of a great mind is “to help and free others from scorn,” comparing themselves “only with the most able.” Johnson’s animus at Milton (a republican) comes from his repugnance at demonizing. In Johnson’s Falkland Islands we find this castigation: the colonialists are “men who, without virtue, labour, or hazard, are growing rich as their country is impoverished; they rejoice when obstinacy or ambition adds another year to slaughter and devastation, and laugh, from their desks, at bravery and science.” (I thought of Trump’s vile tweets at scientists, professional learned people, at John McCann.) Then Tony quoted Addison and Steele on the meanness of “laughing at our own dishonour.” Tony suggested that Johnson’s idiom is both transparent and opaque. What Johnson admired was a life commitment.

Johnson and Boswell would have liked the talk however brief afterward. Many in the room were Johnsonians who know each other well, others new to Johnson, some there from studies of Johnson’s friends and associates (Frances Burney, Hester Thrale). We stayed into the 15 minute interval.

Then I went to lunch with friends who were also going to Mary Ball Washington’s (George Washington’s mother) house (a small museum nowadays, but set up as closely to what the house was as time elapsed with all its changes allows).

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1941 print on a postcard

I could make out how dependent this white woman was on her black slaves, how surrounded by them, and thought to myself how do you make people accept such a status and stealing of their lives. The evolution of the house’s rooms was explained. So too that she was long lived and (as Austen might say) held up admirably under the vicissitudes of her eventful heroine’s life.

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Agostino Brunias’s “West Indian Creole Woman with her black servant” (the frontispiece for Lyndon J. Dominique’s edition of The Woman of Colour)

I arrived late for the early afternoon panel I had planned to attend, “Politics and the ‘Other’ in the British and American Novel (2:30-3:45 pm). I was able to situate myself and begin taking notes only for Emily Kugler’s paper on the anonymous epistolary 1808 The Woman of Colour,” which she called “Beyond the Marriage Plot: Friendship and Creole Companionship.” The novel is about a mulatto young woman, Olivia, whose father sends her to Britain to be married to a rich white man in order to provide himself with grandchildren who are only one-quarter white and to provide her with a high status husband. She writes to a friend. The model is Charlotte Lennox’s 1790s epistolary Euphemia where two woman friends pour out their hearts to one another and themselves literally travel, one across the Atlantic, both through typical women’s lives. In Lennox’s novel Euphemia has to endure an irresponsible and stupid husband. We travel to Canada and discover a colonial place which is contested. Maria Frawley, the second heroine has an absurd guardian who tests her; she manages to be obedient and gain a measure of space (to be let alone). The happy ending is they are reunited, but their lives have been badly damaged. Lennox’s is a pessimistic book predicting a failed patriarchal empire. By contrast, Olivia disobeys after she discovers that her father’s choice for her was already married, even though she loves the man because her marriage was bigamous: she refuses to remarry and returns to Jamaica. There is much anguish over skin color, much exposure of “how civilized behavior comes from the body” (a quotation from Dominique’s study, Imoinda’s Shade where he discusses the novel), of what passes as love, over trying to understand these communities. She helps her maid who is more vulnerable than she, and sticks steadfastly to widowhood! Her correspondent, Harriet, ends a suicide (Emily likened the character to Goethe’s Werther and suggested the lesson to be learnt was the danger of too much sensibility), but Olivia ends up free and independent, lasting into old age, caring for a little boy. Both novels show women seeking to make an identity and life for themselves, caring very much, in need of sister-friendships.

I’d add both novels show the intermix of cultural and gender relationships in evolving new-old countries, the problems of race and status intersecting with law and custom. Emily did not bring up that in Lennox’s novels the two women are sufficiently in love with one another to be considered lesbian, so another dimension in Lennox’s novel matches the unexplored because over-idealized slavery issue in the anonymous optimistic book. It’s an interesting exercise to think about which stories are withheld in both novels, hinted at but never told. The traditional story of the unmarried (virginal or not) white heroine, no matter how oppressed, at the end marrying, with a contented future (or not), cannot teach us much, however alluring they may be.

From Nick Dear’s screenplay out of Jane Austen’s Persuasion:

Mrs Musgrove: ‘What a great traveler you must’ve been, ma’am.’
Mrs Croft: ‘I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and in different
places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never was in the West Indies – we do not call
Bermuda or Bahama the West Indies, Mrs Musgrove, as you know.
Charles Musgrove: ‘I do not think mama has ever called them anything in the whole course of her life, Mrs Croft. [Interior. A Great house, night, around a dinner table]

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One of the last stills in the 1995 BBC Persuasion (scripted by Nick Dear): Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) has found some fulfillment and independence aboard her husband’s ship, doubtless on its way to either to East or West Indies ….

Ellen

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Henry Wallis (1830-1916), Dr Johnson at Cave’s the Publisher (1854)

Friends and readers,

It’s probably not in any reviewer’s best interests (and I write a lot of reviews, all sorts), to let stealth snark bother her. Woolf said of reviewing (after a long life making money writing what are arguably her greatest works of genius), it’s a form of “intellectual harlotry:”

Vanity and the desire for ‘recognition’ are still so strong among artists that to starve them of advertisement and to deny them frequent if contrasted shocks of praise and blame would be as rash as in introduction of rabbits into Australia … But then unpaid the bill; unpaid the bill; It is the bill — the bill — ” (from a Hogarth Press pamphlet, 1941)

Woolf thought if this “‘author-service’ must be done, it should be sent direct to the author, so the “‘poisoned fang”‘ might disappear in favour of the thoughtful essay, and the writer could pay three guineas.” (from Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, Ch 39, pp 708-9). But Johnson is long dead. So once in a while it feels right to risk a protest.

In the December 6th, 2016 issue of Times Literary Supplement Kate Chisholm performed a deft hatchet job on the most recent volume of the Yale works of Samuel Johnson: Biographical Writings: Soldiers, Scholars, and Friends (Volume 19), edd. O.M. Brack, Jr and Robert DeMaria, Jr. The four columns (a half-page on p 11) are not on-line publicly, but I have it on good authority (mine own as well as a few friends who tell me it’s their favorite weekly publication) that people still read paper copies of centrally important good periodicals (especially touching their own profession) and many pay for access on-line.

Chisholm disses Johnson’s biographies (the mature as well as these early ones) repeatedly in this short span for laziness, lack of information, and bias — when she’s not summing his life and career up as “most of the time writing for money,” that of “a hack,” and his daily life as that of a man without social skills: “tone-deaf, rough-mannered” and tactless. She ends on how in obituaries even (epitaphs) he is “curiously wordy and shocking in their bluntness.” He was ungrateful: just a month after Cave’s death (Johnson’s earliest boss and benefactor) was not especially kind: “[Cave’s] mental faculties were slow.” She calls the piece damning with faint praise, “Johnson would no doubt have insisted he was only being honest.” Worse yet Johnson commits the faux pas of telling how people suffered when they died and what they died of. The header of her article is “Not too much information,” a play on her conclusion in this piece: on death [for once?} “[Johnson]’s truthful, maybe, but possibly too much information.” Note the dig, “maybe.” She would clearly approve of how often in obituaries families hide what the person died of. It’s the courageous who tell. Three paragraphs in she does cite a few words and phrase from DeMaria’s argument about the value of these as well as Johnson’s later biographies: he “rescued biography from hagiography,” “developed a new kind of life-writing, ‘fiercely honest,’ ‘sterner, more factual and empirical.’ But there is no explanation as to how DeMaria came to such an idea except a reference to Johnson’s 51 Lives of the Poets, which she herself goes on to suggest suffers from the same problems as the earlier works.

Certainly Johnson did not do extensive original research but relied on what he knew from his extensive reading, knowledge of the people, their works, and help from assistants, and what books lay to hand. The point was not to produce the huge volumed detailed life such as Boswell did for him — and in the same way Elizabeth Gaskell did for a woman writer, in her masterpiece The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Johnson’s lives are portrait-lives in the Geoffrey Scott, Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf school. Their strength is in his telling what psychological and social truths he knew about the people, linking this to what they wrote or their art (say in gardening) and then analysing in 18th century versions of close reading. This was a revolutionary change from biography hitherto which were overwhelming family products, marmoreal carefully censored accounts and documents of seemingly respectable lives. John Aubrey’s short lives are so important because he anticipated the same de-mystification. She also manages as a sort of aside to say that he wrote no biographies of women writers. This lack has been put down to the publishers who commissioned the group, but I’d agree there was nothing stopping Johnson from adding on, making suggestions, and within ten years Mary Hays (among others) was writing and compiling women writers’ lives. Further that he made fun of women taking on any authority. And the 18th century had been an era where women were (however unacknowledged in secondary texts) as dominant and important as men in all areas, including the stage (if you include beyond their plays, their roles as actresses).

There’s no evidence in this article that she’s ever read what biography was like in the era nor does she discuss the assertion that it had been mostly hagiography. And anyone who knows anything about the tribulations of biographers the attitude of family members and those who hold copywright as friends are often just as biased and self-protective as earlier “keepers of the flame” (Ian Hamilton’s phrase).

What grated most though is that Chisholm should charge Johnson with laziness, copying others, and unexamined bias when from those of her books and essays I’ve read I know these to be her traits; it’s seen writ large in her biography, Fanny Burney: her life (Vintage, 1999) where she puts together the portrait of Burney as found in Joyce Hemlow’s seminal thoroughly-researched moving acccount of Burney’s life, together with concise re-hashings of Margaret Doody’s and other recent feminist critic’s readings of the novels. The exception is Camilla where Chisholm reverts to Hemlow’s reading. She is also no friend to feminism and mocks Doody’s book: she presents herself as surprised by feminism (it is not necessary): why anyone should write in this preposterous way as Doody does she cannot comprehend. I tend to agree that Burney is no radical, and surmise we see so little interest in Camilla; or a Picture of Youth in conferences as opposed to Burney’s other three novels, is its plot-outline, over lesson-teaching more forbiddingly resists transformation into a rebel text. Austen had this right in her marginalia to her copy of Camilla:

Since this work went to press a Circumstance of some importance to the happiness of Camilla has taken place, namely that Dr Marchmont [has died] (LeFaye, JA Letters, 4th edition, 14n.)

To be fair, Burney as narrator acknowledges the “injustice, [his] narrowness, and [his] arrogance,” but she has let hid didacticism control that narrative for hundreds of pages and this is all the refutation we get.

Cards on table: Chisholm wrote My Hungry Hell, an open attack on anorexic girls masquerading as explanation out of identification (!): it’s possibly the most resentful and spiteful description of anorexic girls as I’ve come across. Chisholm claims to have been anorexic and be now “cured:” the first thing to understand is anorexia is never cured; it’s like alcoholism, and it is a complex syndrome, not just the result of selfish anti-social indulgence. Chisholm has it in for anyone not socially conforming. It’s a bad book because it pushes for force feeding and would like to take down websites where such girls reach one another and some compassion, find some community. I go on about this because this blog is also about women’s art which means women’s lives. I’ve noticed that otherwise Chisholm often writes out of what might be called a pretense of a mild Caitlin Flanagan stance. This attracts attention, sells, while covers her back.

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Reynolds’s famous portrait of Johnson reading

I thought also for the first time in a while of a group reading and discussion I led years ago on an Eighteenth-Century-Worlds Yahoo listserv, and how quickly a number of people took a strong dislike to Johnson for his “rudeness,” “bullying, “insulting remarks,” and “bigotry.” John Radner (who has since written and published a book based on a careful study of Johnson and Boswell’s friendship) was among the readers. The impulse which made Chisholm look upon anorexic girls as anti-social freaks may be the motive force for her column against Johnson. I rush to say most of the people participating enjoyed Boswell’s book and went on to read a number of Johnson’s works. I wrote short article on this experience, which was published (2004) in the Johnsonian Newsletter: “Johnson and Boswell Forever!.” Sometime later I read on that listserv with a few others and posted weekly on David Nokes’s conscientiously researched (no charge of laziness here) Samuel Johnson: A Life, where Nokes came to the conclusion that Johnson lived with a deep sense of himself as having failed his gifts in life.

This past Thanksgiving I had remembered how much Johnson’s books had meant to me (“Touchstone books on Thanksgiving Day”) when I was in my late twenties. Since then a conversation with a friend reminded me that when Jim was finishing his college degree (B.A.) at Hunter College in NYC, Jim took a course in eighteenth-century literature and wrote a paper on “The War of Johnson’s Ear.” He got only a B because he grated on his professor who had lectured on Johnson as a poor poet who lacked “an ear.” Jim had taken that course looking forward to reading Hume, Burke, Paine, Johnson and found himself asked to spend a great deal of time (far too much according to Jim) discussing Blake’s marginalia where Blake wrote brief angry outbursts against Reynolds. Jim had written about Johnson’s “London: A Poem,” an imitation of a Juvenal’s satiric farewell to Rome. Tonight I’ll end on a very different kind of poem by Johnson, one of my favorites, from a favorite volume of Johnson’s writing I have in my house: J. D. Fleeman’s Samuel Johnson: The Complete English Poems (a St Martin’s Press book)

Skia, An Ode on the Isle of Skye (“Ponti profundis clausa recessibus” presumably Englished by Fleeman)

Enclosed in the deep recesses of the sea,
howling with gales beset by rocks,
how welcome, misty Skye, do you
open your green bay to the weary traveller.
Care, I do believe, is exiled from these regions;
gentle peace surely dwells in these places:
no anger, no sorrow plans traps
for the hours of rest.
But it is no help to a sick mind
to hide in a hollow crag or wander
through trackless mountains
or count the roaring waves from a rock.
Human virtue is not sufficient unto itself,
nor is the power granted each man
to secure for himself an untroubled mind,
as the over-proud Stoic sect deceitfully boasts.
Thou, almighty King, govern, sole arbiter,
the onrush of the stormy heart
and, when Thou raise them,
the waves of the mind surge up
and, when Thou calm them,
they fall back.

It was written while Johnson was traveling in the Hebrides, during his famous tour with Boswell through Scotland. I dream of traveling to Scotland one day myself, one of two trips I’d like to take before I call a permanent halt.

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A photo from one of the many ruins of castle in Scotland (it’s now used in many TV and Netflix as well as Starz mini-series)

Ellen

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Applications for admission to a casual ward (1874), Luke Fildes

Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is the true test of civilization — Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

My first blog report for this year’s ASCES covered what I could of Friday sessions and lectures of the ASECS Conference, this concludes with Saturday morning. As with this first where for the sake of more representative sweep, I record titles of sessions and a few of the papers on Thursday that I would have like to have gone to on Thursday, so here I will cite similarly from the two Saturday afternoon sessions.

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Goya’s depiction of two aging beggars eating (one of his nightmarish “black” paintings)

I began with “Thieves, Beggars and Vagrants: Rethinking 18th century Poverty” (8-9:00 am), chaired by Tracey Hutchings-Goetz. Catherine Keohane’s “Calamities Real or Fictitious: The Poor and the Act of Supplication” discussed how hostile attitudes towards the poor forced poor people to represent themselves through stereotypes which would fend off sceptical and hostile critical attitudes towards them. Common myths then and now are that the poor and disabled are faking and imagine males; the prosperous expected “deserving” beggars suffering under “true calamity” to be modest and mostly silent, self-controlled. They have to meet a standard of lowness, look lame, blind, bruised. The poor and disabled are forced to fake or perform what is not so in many situations. They cannot speak up freely for themselves about their needs and actual situation. In fact most beggars were women and children. Many today would like help from a lower middle class standpoint: say go to a school but if they ask for this kind of thing then they are seen as asking for inappropriate help. They must ask just for food say or rent. Similarly in the 18th century what a beggar could ask for was severely limited.

Nicole Wright analyzed two texts supposedly written to convey advice to person impoverished or who has experienced disastrous legal injustice. Giles Jacob’s Law Guide purports to teach the average person how to navigate the legal and criminal justice system on the assumption that auto-didacticism will do what’s needed; he omits the reality of power relationships, how time, intricate complications, large sums of money needed prevent anyone from using such a guide seriously. In contrast, Charlotte Smith’s advice in her novel Marchmont accurately emphasizes the legal helplessness of the average person, showing that only a thorough re-structuring could begin to end the depradations; she makes concrete the realities of the difficulties litigants faced: these include slow pace, exorbitant fees, how terms worked, how counselors discouraged their clients, mystified the legal process. Jacobs’s treatise has a subtle pervasive bias against its supposed readership; Smith’s novel offers a radical sympathetic critique. Both writers had far more motives than that of helping others actuating their texts. Smith does admit to these, Jacobs does not.

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Hogarth contextualizes this melodramatic “prison scene” as the result of a “rake’s progress.” The conversation of the session on poverty and disability enables us to see Hogarth’s picture in a different light. It’s presented as a moral story about a type of experience or individual. What it does is give exaggerated and false notions of what life is like in a prison, erases its reality (for example, you had to bribe the wardens and guards to get food and physical comforts). It does not come near talking about the injustices of the criminal and prison systems of the era.

As respondent, Rachel Seiler-Smith remarks gave us a third and (more overtly) modern context. In the 21st century we see a similar refusal to look at the larger system which causes poverty, a desire to police and pre-script poverty and disability as necessarily totally desperate before any help will be offered. Thus effective help to enable someone or a group of people to lift themselves into independence is precluded. Jacob’s is a kind of conduct book, while Smith makes visible the legal morass from which few can extricate themselves. She suggested that impoverished people today are denied platforms while real social and physical violence (what can happen to someone on the street) are inflicted on the excluded. People prefer fantasies of class mobility. The discussion afterward included the question of how genre affects the presentation of poverty, the contradictory emphasis on visible suffering and maladies when what is compelling the continued reality of distress is psychological. We mentioned how anger is not allowed to the poor, the disabled, those who have experienced violence (I mentioned raped women in rape shelters or police stations where self-controlled conventional middle class behavior is demanded). Fielding was brought up as someone who discussed extreme poverty as a cause of violence and misery but his solutions were harsh punishments for the poor. We agreed the topic is too rarely discussed at conferences.

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An imagined scene of a literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds (1851 engraving by D. George Thompson after James Doyle, an antiquarian and illustrator (1822-92)

My second session of the day was Anthony Lee’s session on Samuel Johnson, social and intertextual networks (9:45-11:15 am). As usual (he had them regularly) the session had rich complicated papers which included the treat of close readings of texts. I offer only a gist of each. Andrew Black’s “John Wesley’s Share” began with content creation on the Internet that link the reader back to original sources as an modern example of how John Wesley justifiably borrowed from Johnson in an unusual moment of agreement with Johnson on the empirical nature of the new American culture. Anti-methodist literature excoriated Wesley for plagiarism. Johnson himself understood that limited control over your texts was fruitful for thought. Mr Black joked that Wesley would today have a big twitter following. Christopher Catanese’s title “The Gale of Favour” alluded to catching popular themes as a source of power. He focused on later 18th century changing philosophies and new forms of history to contextualize Warton’s canonizing History of English Poetry. Warton finds compensatory pleasure in how Spenser departs from conventional English. Unlike Jeffreys in the later Edinburgh Review, and like Johnson, Warton does not seek to control and discipline a reader’s pleasure. He quoted Hazlitt and suggested that readers were coming to have a changing role in the development of texts (as they do on the Internet today). Philip Smallwood entertained us with a vivid account of John Dennis’s close critical readings of Pope and Shakespeare as seen by himself and Johnson. Johnson saw Addison as too distant, too obedient to critical commonplaces while Dennis’s rampages were made up of genuine tight engagement with texts. If Johnson was vocal against Dennis (many ridiculed Dennis showing they at least remembered aspects of his writing), Johnson took Dennis seriously. Prof Smallwood’s examples from Dennis included how Dennis treated Blackmore insolence and contempt, and enraged Pope. Dennis may have attacked their “abuses” of language, but he was also an enthusiast for Milton and Shakespeare and recognized the beauty and insights of Pope’s Essay on Criticism.

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Christopher Vilmar’s topic was Johnson’s semi-fictionalized reports on parliament, the famous “Debates in the Senate of Magna Lilliputia.” While Mr Vilmar conceded the value and usefulness of most scholarly accounts of these texts which demonstrate the accuracy of Johnson’s reports, he maintained the procedure is still a form of misreading. His paper went over thoroughly ironical passages with overt allusions to Swift to show how they connect back to the Scriblerian projects and Gulliver’s accounts of Lilliput,and suggest how much we have to gain from reading them as satirical texts. These semi-fictionalized debates are lavish set pieces hard to interpret, ambiguous, but also creative arrangements that make statements about Walpole in the way Swift’s novel commented on say colonialism. Mr Vilmar said that Johnson hoped readers would notice what he was doing.

The discussion afterward included critical objections, qualifications, and praise. Someone was delighted to find methodism and Johnson brought together, but reminded everyone that methodists were not dissenters. They stayed inside the Anglican church, were loyal to the king. It was pointed out that both Johnson and Dennis were readers alert to the denseness of texts, paying attention to detail and nuance; Prof Smallwood said Dennis is hard reading and often wrong-headed, but “there is something there, and Dennis was far more congential to Johnson than Addison. Deirdre Lynch’s new book about loving literature was brought up in connection with Warton.

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Henry Tresham, The Ascent of Vesuvius (1785-90)

The Clifford lecture (11:30 am to 12:30 pm) was given by John Brewer: “Fire and Ice: Travel and the Natural Sublime” in the Age of Enlightenment. Prof Brewer took us through the great travel books of the later 18th century (accompanied by many images from paintings, watercolors, engravings) to reveal the connections among scientific projects (planetary, geographic, geological), the aesthetic categories of sublime and picturesque:

Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples c.1776-80 Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797 Purchased with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, Friends of the Tate Gallery, and Mr John Ritblat 1990 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T05846
Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples (c.1776-80) Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

He also talked of the literature about personal transformative experiences b someone alone or in a group of travelers together, which readers were invited to join in on vicariously through reading and looking at pictures. Prof Brewer was concerned to show how the figure of the heroic genius, the savant, is so often featured in these accounts; we also frequently see and read of groups of people in heroic solidarity in dangerous places and among different disciplines (Senestrier, Horace Gregory de Saussure, William Hamilton, Hester Thrale Piozzi, Humphry Davy, Adam Smith). We see and read of them braving frightening experiences. A social world is being made visible and presented as something to be proud of belonging to. There is also a commitment among these people and groups to putting their information gathered to work in a pre-existent or newly invented system of understanding. So order is reasserted over experience, one which comes from prior assumptions in the writers and their readers about the nature of experience. The literature also includes accounts of indigenous people, often fleeing their homes (from crises, like earthquakes). When the person or people depicted were shown to exercise fortitude, resolution, they would be respected, and offered as cynosures to follow. Of course this implies those who don’t react this way are somehow wanting (and reinforces colonialist attitudes). OTOH, such books slowly enable real fieldwork begins to go on (for real in botany), and a slow accumulation of knowledge because mapping occurs, forms of transportation are set up, all this put into sets of books, which others can read and use. Prof Brewer said much else, but I couldn’t catch it all by any means and what from what I got down I thought this line of argument might be of most interest to a reader of this blog.

At this point it was lunchtime and I headed for the Women’s Caucus Luncheon. The room was crowded and enthusiasm seemed high. The Women’s caucus has now built a second website for all members to make contact, find out about the program, whatever is needed. I enjoyed myself talking to people, but couldn’t stay. I had a five hour plus trip ahead of me.

Had I been able to stay for the whole of the luncheon and the afternoon, I would have gone (at 2-3:30 pm): “On Foot: Walking in the Eighteenth Century, chaired by Alison O’Bryne. Unexpectedly (perhaps naively) I was surprised to see two papers on Elizabeth Bennet’s walk through the mud, another on “mobility” in Emma (what mobility?!),

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Germaine Greer as Elizabeth, exhilarated by her walk in the midst of domestic battles, and something to be said for a comfortable fireside and home (1940)

One paper that sounded intriguing was a comparison of the wildness in Burney’s The Wanderer to Scott’s in Heart of Mid-lothian (I find it illuminating when you take other novels of the regency, especially by women and subjective in thrust and cmpare them to Scott’s). I was also drawn to the many papers under the aegis of “Historical Poetics in the Long Eighteenth Century, chaired by Anna Foy. Eight people were to speak on specific poets (including Anna Seward), or genres, the effect of nationalism on Scots and Welsh poetry, translation. One seemed to be about, How poetry and realistic historical fiction emerge from a post-colonialist and personal perspective?

I’ll here add a foremother poet I’ve not seen talked about individually, only in anthologies of poetry by women, which reading about the session brought to mind.

Question, on the Art of Writing

Tell me what genius did the art invent,
The lively image of a voice to paint?
Who first the secret how to colour found,
And to give shape to reason, wisely found?
With bodies how to cloathe ideas taught,
And how to draw the pictures of a thought?
Who taught the hand to speak, the eye to hear,
A silent language roving far and near?
Whose softest notes out-strip loud thunder’s sound,
And spread their accents thro’ the world’s vast round?
Yet with kind secrecy securely roll,
Whispers of absent friends from pole to pole.
A speech heard by the deaf, spoke by the dumb,
Whose echo reaches far in time to come;
Which dead men speak as well as those that live:
Tell me what genius did this art contrive?
— Catherine Jemmat (f. 1750-66)

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Recent facsimile (clicking below will lead you to a downloadable copy of her memoir)

A brief life for the curious: Catherine Jemmat was daughter to Admiral John Yeo of Plymouth by his first wife (not named). Her mother died when she was 5 and herfather married a woman who was mean to her (the father was often at sea). She was sent to a boarding school and married a silk mercer named Jemmat by whom she had a daughter. The escape was worse than the original sentence. He was abusive (violent, often drunk) and went bankrupt. So Catherine was (according to her memoir) “thrown upon the wide world for support.” We may imagine what this means, but she did survive and wrote a 3 volume book of Memoirs (1st ed, 1762) She became dependent on aristocratic patrons who had known her father. She also published _Miscellanies in Prose and Verse_ (1766) which includes an essay called “In Vindication of the Female Sex” where she protests against the scapegoating meted out to women who may be said to have sexual relationships with anyone outside marriage (no matter when or how this is written or talked about). Lonsdale says there are “mysteries” surrounding her. The poem comes from Joyce Fullard’s British Women Poets,1660-1800: Anthology.

The last session was at 3:45-5:15 pm. Although I had gone to a good panel on the Marriage Act once before, I would have attended “The Literary Impact of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act” (chaired by Jaclyn Geller) as it seems to be such an important piece of legislation. There was a paper on John Shebbeare’s The Marriage Act and (as a type) a kind of novel written “for the better preventing of clandestine marriage. finally I was drawn to “Lost and Found in the 18th century” (I used to get lost regularly, pre-Garmin life), chaired by Stephanie Koscak. These panels included papers on the profound desolation or fear engendered when a person loses consciousness, when they are a runaway slave or convict; guilt felt by the young women mixing and matching with young men at an understandable loss how to conduct a light courtship. I would also have liked to go to “Illustration, Visual Interpretation and the 18th Century Book Market (chaired by Kwinten Van De Walle), with papers on botany, poetry illustrations, the luxury book trade.

But I had better stop here with an image from another area of the visual arts, a design for landscape architecture.

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Design for a cascade at Chatsworth (c 1735-40), associated with the work of William Kent

I arrived home near 7. My two pussycats were glad to see me. They had been alone for many hours.

Ellen

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An illustration to Tam O’Shanter

Dear friends and readers,

A third and final blog on the EC/ASECS conference which I thought I had less to share than I do (1st, 2nd). There really was a wealth of new insights and (for me) new or different information on a variety of 18th century topics, beyond the night of Shakespeare Restored, the Winterthur museum, and a late evening of reading of poetry aloud the first night. All that in itself a pleasure (the conference’s subject, along with leisure and entertainment).

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I did go to two panels of the more traditional type, with papers on major figures, major works, using close reading and historical approaches.

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Robert Burns (1759-96) by Alexander Nasmyth (1787): best known portrait

My favorite paper was second on a panel on the Scottish enlightenment (Friday, mid-morning) was by Carol McGuirk, a moving autobiographical and thematic exegesis of Burn’s “Tam O’Shanter” (with English transliteration), which is often looked at from the angle of Burns’s use of mock-heroic conventions. Ms McGuirk showed us that Burne=s was revisiting his relationship with his father. It is his first known extended work, a strange intense poem where he looks back to scenes of his early childhood and adolescence. The scene of witch-nanny brings us back to Burns when young, from which there was a long-lasting estrangement between Burns and his father. Burns had gone to a dance when forbidden; this was seen by his father as a solemn breaking of the fourth commandment, and from this instance of rebellion Burns felt his father took a dislike to him, which led to his later rebellions, especially when the paternal dislike developed into a fear for Burns’s soul. The Victorian editor of Burns’s work softened an anecdote Burns’s sister told where the dying father denied he’d see his son in the afterlife. The poem has been misread as about retributive justice, but is rather a deft depiction of an old central psychic wound, about a life-altering conflict. The narrator is caustic but this is not a poem advocating prudent conformity; the thrust of the poem is on the side of tolerance as the poet faces the residual power of memory to hurt again. Ms McGuirk reminded everyone that Burns’s wife Jean was a woman who accepted and tolerated Burns’s flaws and suggested in the poem Kate stands in for Burns’s father. Tom’s experience is a painful memory. Alluded to figures in the poem include Margaret Thompson who Burns said distracted him from his trigonometry studies and whom he remembered with deep affection; he visited her and sent her a copy of this poem.

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Arthur Murphy (1727-1805) by Nathaniel Dance (1777)

I slipped off to another panel I had longed to hear too (going on at the same time): Samuel Johnson. Unfortunately I missed the first two papers, and came in only at the middle of the third and a discussion of all three afterward. A. J. Schmidt’s paper (2nd) had been about Johnson’s attitude towards the American colonies and touched on the Hudson river and empire, and as I came in Jane Wessel was talking about how and why although Murphy defended literary property rights (against booksellers) he also defended the right of an author to imitate, adapt, use and said this was not plagiarism. Murphy was arguing for a modern low threshold definition of originality: the expression of the idea is protected not the idea itself. In an essay on the “Genius of Fielding” Murphy had urged that complete invention is a myth, and what was central to the new work was the establishment of an authorial persona. Murphy himself adapted and transferred plots and other elements from other people’s plays to his own, and cited his own name on his later adaptations. John Radner further elaborated on his argument that for Johnson hope is less related to despair than a forward-looking vein of nostalgia; the future is seen with anxiety; morally we need to spend well the present time, not try to escape it. (I remembered how Johnson tormented himself over his waste of his gifts and time.) It was mentioned that Murphy had apparently met Johnson after Murphy had accidentally plagiarized Johnson, and the similarities between one of his own plays and one of Sheridan’s had made him wonder if Sheridan plagiarized him. (So Murphy’s spontaneous thinking belies his theory.) Johnson’s defense of abridgements and his own imitations supported Murphy’s outlook too. Anna Foy talked more about how Johnson praised James Grainger’s Georgic, “Sugar-Cane” as a new original poem though derivative; Grainger brought into poetry new images and refreshed the reader’s mind; Gilmore’s book on Grainger’s poem, The Poetics of Empire was mentioned.

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A photograph of a contemporary actress as Nell Gwyn delivering one of Dryden’s satiric epilogues sending up he pious character she had just acted

Late on Friday afternoon, the plenary lecture which preceded Shakespeare Restored was appropriately about 18th century audience’s tastes. In “Hamlet with a Hornpipe,” Diana Solomon (who has published a book on 18th century prologues and epilogues), suggested the 18th century general preference was strongly for comedy, and audiences especially seemed to have enjoyed the disruptive effect of mockery interjected into serious texts. Comic scenes may have been controversial or forbidden under strict “rules,” but audiences liked a mixed experience, with comic entr’actes between acts of tragedy (even), lively comic dances, and ridicule framing or joking parts of plangent and poignant nights. A pantomime might follow an anguished suicide scene in a proto-feminist she-tragedy (say about rape). These were often short disconnected spectacles. She cited many many kinds of disruption and burlesque. Some statistics: after 1760 plays by dead writers predominated, only 10 were new; out of 371 performances 20% were tragedies, with comic after-pieces a must. She conceded there were those who decried this situation. Addison was one of those who decried these practices, and often they were treated as guilty pleasures (not much discussed). Cibber said he included gross derision (cross-dressing) “against my conscience.” Perhaps some found graphic distress too hard to take (she instanced Johnson’s response to the dreadful murder scene in Othello, the despair of Lear). Should we look at these entracts as curative, the epilogues as a form of release? The discussion afterward was fun. People talked of how we watch TV today: continually changing channels, having more than one program on the screen at a time; how a row of disconnected commercials is part of most people’s experience of whatever program they are watching, and they don’t seem to object over-strenuously. It is true that certain things were not mocked: nobility or the aristocracy as such; religion.

The last panel and last two papers I heard on late Saturday afternoon into evening questioned the extent of debauchery claimed as experienced by John Wilkes, Charles Churchill and the Hell-fire club. Kevin Knott’s very long paper, “Necessary Lies: Sodomy Hysteria and the Heroic Grotesque in Charles Churchill’s The Times and David Garrick’s The Fribbleriad” opened with Hazlitt’s comment on the pleasure of hating, and how mockery of exaggerated disgusting versions of transgressive behavior were used as to attack and satirize and erase homosexuality. He went through Ned Ward’s writings, Molly-house culture, how Garrick tapped into cultural prejudice against effeminacy (for his own theatrical needs), sought to titillate, encourage violence (at least in emotion), discipline by hostility (turn what was feared into the abject). He went over a number of texts psychoanalytically (the persistent fear, oppositional ideologies), quoting Byrne Fone, Rictor Norton. Churchill used viotriolic discourse to disrupt the social order; a public display of a venomous nature was a mode of outing. He quoted private ugly letters by Wilkes and Churchill which seem to suggest that yes debauchery went on.

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Modern photograph of 18th century print of Medenham Abbey

Jack Fruchtman’s presentation, “‘Was it all true or made up? Hell-Fire, Tory Politics,and Aborted Reform in 18th century Britain was a similarly complicated text. He first surveyed a group of aristocratic politicians regarded as radical who were themselves involved in transgressive behaviors with infamous members of Francis Dashwood’s circle (among these Bolingbroke, Frederick Prince of Wales, John Montague, Lord Sandwich, George Bubb Doddington, famed obese man) or very much in opposition to them (Walpole). See the Wikipedia list of people, with Hogarth’s depiction of Francis Dashwood as a parody of St Francis. Mr Fruchtman showed slides of the mansion in which the orgies and uses of prostitutes were said to have occurred (said to have been 12 inner circles in Medmenham Abbey), how much money these people had as income, how they dressed, heir libertine doctrines; he named individuals from several walks of life (archbishops involved), told of their lives, their relationships to kings and princes (Lord Bute). Hogarth hated admiration of such people and his art was effective in characterizing these people for many people. Unfortunately I had to leave because the clock turned 5 (like Cinderella at midnight — I was driving home with a friend) so missed out on specific political legislation some of these people urged (increases in taxes, Wilkes’s famous No 45 North Briton). Mr Fruchtman though was moving towards scepticism: that in his words in an email to me “We will never know for certain whether it was all made up or real. The evidence was destroyed or lost so all we have are second-hand accounts like those of Walpole and Wilkes.”

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the Abbey is now private property and people photograph the Francis Dashwood gate which allows a glimpse of the building

While listening to Mr Knott I thought about modern day uses of snark in newspapers and on the Net. I also wondered and took down scattered notes to the effect that perhaps Wilkes and Walpole’s accounts of the Hell-fire club were fabricated for political and personal reasons. There was a patness in the descriptions of the cells — it all seemed so archetypal. What I had wanted to ask about was a parallel in stories told of Madame du Deffand and the French Prince Regent, Duke of Orleans (to put it in the English form) when she were young and “said to have been his mistress.” I remembered coming across a passage of salacious innuendo which suggested nefarious goings-on in the grass at Sceaux late at night — everyone very drunk and some naked. Now that had a feel of reality,but by the time it reaches the public written down the text has been shaped by a temptation to make it more shapely as well as certain. Some people want to deny such things occur and others want to build them up.

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Angora cats were popular subjects for paintings at mid-century: these two were said to be owned by Madame du Deffand, late in life blind, living alone, but bravely writing on (to Walpole, to Voltaire) and holding salons

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Next year they meet at West Chester University (Pennsylvania), and the topic is “Networks.” I’ve thought of a topic for a CFP: “Forging Connections among non-elite women:” it is a truth once universally acknowledged that the way societies have organized themselves isolates the average women; they may socialize within the space they find themselves in with their families and friends, but there are enormous pressures and social and economic constraints keeping them from reaching out to people beyond where chance has thrown them. Thus the writing of poetry, novels, plays, and especially memoirs by women become ways for the average woman or women below the gentry, working class women (some wrote poetry, many could read) to dialogue with other women; they also beat time and space by writing and receiving letters; by visits to others; by attempting to travel and write about it; if they had the funds, go to a spa or town where there was a public life they could enter into, someone’s salon they could attend; or perhaps run a shop where they would not be under the monitored control of the house servant class. We can have papers on the elite (married or connected to powerful men, with access to large funds) but how did they address the shared question of being a woman, given that the salon and the “behind the curtains” operator may be said to support the male hegemonic order by not trying for her own position, salary, independence but supporting his and that of hegemonic families. I’ll invite papers on this subject.

Connections

Ellen

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