Posts Tagged ‘sublimity’

Carnarvon 1800 by John Sell Cotman 1782-1842
John Sell Cotman (1782-182), Carnarvon — one vision of her poetry, geologic cataclysmic time

To Hope

Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
    How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
    And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
    Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
    Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
    Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
    ‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.

Dear friends and readers,

A milestone on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake for Valancourt: I’ve typed two volumes and have begun the third. I’m slowly accumulating material for an introduction and notes. It ought to have been titled Newenden (the way d’Epinay titled hers Montbrillant).

I cannot say my reading of the novel has changed much. It’s more a matter of emphasis. I had not realized quite how central & dominant to the novel are the slow devolution into a bitter loneliness on the part of Sir Edward and adultery on the part of Lady Newenden. I find the depiction more true to life on the part of both people and their slow interaction with others than anything in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Smith gives us the how and why, the real feel of such a drift. Ethelinde a study in adulterous longing from a genuinely woman’s point of view: sexual fulfillment and companionship ached for.

She is Sir Edward and in later novels he as a figure will be given her poems. Her rotten marriage transposed sexually. I’m puzzled why Sir Edward does not kill himself. Outflanked by the social hypocrisies of his wife’s parents, the vicious rumors of Lord Danesforte about him and Ethelinde; a clever man the wife’s apparent lover, his misery because she is such a bitch (Lady Newenden), his relationship with Ethy a ruin, Ethy’s father taking the money loaned him and gambling and giving it to Lady Newenden’s lover. In other novels Smith’s greatest poetry is often attributed to such a male figure.

There is ever a male who is obsessively after the heroine. Whether his general behavior otherwise be reprehensible (Delamare in Emmeline) or noble & self-sacrificing (Montgomery), it’s this obsessive pursuit of the heroine that makes for the discomfort and misery of the story. In Emmeline, the heroine is not openly willing to reject him but rather flees; in Ethelinde we get these emotionally twisted scenes of her not being able to say yes or no. Could this be a version of her relationship with her husband? of what he was? these have an individuality beyond the typical portrait of the upper class male educated to be a vicious bully and amoral and yet think very well of himself — as we see in Stael’s and Epinay’s fictions — how Smith read the French! In the light of French women’s more explicit fiction, when we place Ethelinde’s wastrel selfish gambling brother and the father’s original behavior, the novel becomes feminist in the 18th century way.

Cotman: Normandy fantasy

I would have much preferred for Sir Edward to end up with Ethelinde: I almost believe in their relationship as much as any marriage. Her Manon is deeply transgressive in its sympathy for the lovers and Manon herself, The Romance of Real Life reveals families as they are and this book fits right into this trajectory too.

The recluse would have been left out at the end, but she would then have been a more tragic figure had the son drowned as we thought — a sixth volume had been in the works. Could it be she was planning to have Montgomery return after Sir Edward marries Ethy; it would have become an emotional version of the Martin Guerre story.

I was blaming Smith for marginalizing transgressive heroines, female characters led to live with men outside wedlock, for making her heroine super-chaste, but after reading Wollstonecraft’s really stinging attack on Adeline in that novel, and realizing how much time and space and sympathy Smith gives such heroines across her oeuvre (here Caroline’s unnamed mother, Montgomery’s grandmother) and the thoughts she gives her — in this novel several female figures have lovers and children outside marriage — to have some joy, they take a risk and pay.

The novel has little specific politics of Desmond and the later books. The wide landscape there, but here acid satire on the hypocrisies and snobberies of social life is central to her purpose. I just love it. It connects her to Thackeray. Long obsessive conversations between Ethelinde and Montgomery about how they cannot afford to marry, how this will “ruin” their chances in life go round and round. I can only think there is a personal element here, she must have been herself subjected to this morbid nagging. When she is pictured sitting on the stairs as her father and Montgomery talk, the scene feels like a memory — maybe when she was sold to Benjamin Smith. Austen’s Persuasion with its thrust to trust at the close, and several stories by Crabbe are aimed at just this kind of cruel prohibition — which in Crabbe ruins lives all the more, as the people haven’t got a chance of growing rich anyway. Whatever happiness they can have is in personal fulfillment.

I probably enjoy the novel more when it approaches from a frank and caustic point of view the kind of satire we find in Austen towards say Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mrs Norris. For example, the hypocrisy and insolence (Smith’s narrator calls it) when Mrs Ludford, Ethelinde’s rich aunt pretends to forget her siblings’ ages and says how good it was Ethy’s mother’s other children except for the one brother did die (p 186 in 1790 ed, p 40 in my edition: Mrs Norris expresses the same idea only it’s presented more indirectly. (The line is later in MP than I thought). These intersections they bring out Austen for me where I could be exhilarated in a twisted kind of way as we both dig the imaginary knife in and so doing expose the pettiness meanness of the world — there is more truth in Smith’s opener version: paradoxically it’s true that Colonel Chesterville has not put his son to the right path; maybe he would have been better off apprenticed (p 187) than brought up in idleness and self-indulgence. But this establishment view is presented against a backdrop that makes us see the ugly nature of Mrs Ludford’s motives for saying this (unlike Trollope say where such establishment comments are not undercut in this way).

There are long similar stretches in Celestina.

It’s remarkable how many scenes in Austen occur in variation in other novels by women of the era. The difference between Austen and Smith includes Smith lets us feel the full bitterness of these. I’m struck by how the tone of the plangent section of Volume 2 when Montgomery comes to London, Edward is in love with Ethelinde and she more in love with Edward than she realizes, is close the mood and atmosphere of the 1983 S&S mini-series by Alexander Baron. The 1980s darker mini-series were more like these novels than any films before or since.

Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood, Bosco Hogan as Edward — conversing over her drawings, the landscape, sitting together — perfect image for Smith’s Edward and Ethelinde (1981 BBC S&S by Alexander Baron)

What emerges in the latter part of Volume 2 is that Chesterville is a stand-in for Charlotte Smith’s own father who failed her so abysmally, who sold her, betrayed her. The acid in the soul of his novelist is Colonel Chesterville’s not caring for his daughter, and when Ethelinde’s aunt (it was an aunt who suggested to the father to marry Charlotte off and married Charlotte’s farther herself), Mrs Ludford, suggests Ethelinde needs another situation and her father would be glad to get rid of her (by implication) this touches upon how the orignal sin in her life was her father’s deserting her for a nasty woman and giving her up to an awful boy. If Charlotte was too young to know, Mr Turner was not (Elibon, Vol 2,, p 203, p 44 my typescript)

The novel’s scenery is all great prose poetry wants but it remains a framing.

Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Temple of Winds, Blackdown, Sussex — another, botanic, allusive, southern England

The undermining of false stereotypes of masculinity.

Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in 1935 A Tale of Two Cities — perfect for Sir Edward

Sir Edward refuses to duel. After reading on Inimitable-Boz, a defense of Carton’s sexuality and courtship of Lucie Manette I began to see Sir Edward as anticipating Sydney Carton.

Sir Edward’s wife, Maria, is a cold tempered socialite, presented as nasty-tongued, nervy, bored with anything but her vanity, loving gambling, despising anyone who likes to read or walk in the landscape and mocking the depression marriage with her is causing Sir Edward. He married her for her money but also to be her husband, and she wanted his title, but now she is clever enough to throw this up to him and when he forbids her to see or be with Lord Danesforte any more — on the score of gambling debts too – she turns on him and accuses him of adultery with her cousin, Ethelinde. There is no adultery (both too virtuous) but he loves Ethelinde intensely and now feels he must cut himself off from her and her improvident father (a gambler) and brother (yet worse)

A long meditation of Sir Edward as he contemplates Ethelinde’s future as the wife of a man without any adequate monetary support and connections — his desire to help alleviate any of her difficulties at any cost to himself reminds me of Sydney Carton. We might historicize Carton too: this is a time when there is no state or gov’t or any kind of safety net. Reading the brilliant analysis of Charlotte Smith’s depiction of Edward’s selfless yet deeply selfish (she is so deeply congenial a spirit, so good) and sexual (she is beautiful ohim) love for Ethelinde, and how persuasive their relationship, teaches me that the problem we have in reading Dickens’s Carton and many other heroes of “sensibility” and depression, is that the time is indeed more than 160 years ago when women also had no means of getting decent support on their own either. I find Volume 2, chapter 10, pp 239-44, the long inward delving into this man astonishing still.

Smith provides the psychological underpinning that Dickens & other male authnors omit to understand this kind of male temperament — they are too embarrassed. Who would admit desperation at their class background in this way (except for Godwin). To call them men of sensibility is to use a label to erase what the text does: undermine masculine stereotypes.

It’s ridiculous to get too worked up over a novel but as I’m typing it I do bond with it, and did find myself intensely hurt when at the ASECS someone ridiculed Sir Edward and read the book as if we were to empathize genuinely with Lady Newenden when she is the cruel pernicious presence of the piece from her outward conduct.

Smith gives Edward a good phrase for his attitude towards Ethelinde: she has a sanctity of character. So much better than purity which brings in this baggage of asexuality no no sexuality in this woman for real. She’s not corrupted or corruptible because of her background and asocial-ability. Sanctity of character is a phrase I’d use for Esther Summerson as well as Jarndyce as played by Denholm Elliot (the 1988 Bleak House like the 1989 ATOTC written by Arthur Hopcroft).

How Edward feels about Ethelinde:

that her whole life might be exposed to trials, he could not soften, to difficulties he could not alleviate; all his sense, his morality, his resolution, hardly supported him when he considered it; and he sometimes fancied he could rather bear to destroy her, and then himself, than endure the certainty of that, the very idea of which inflicted anguish so acute

When she writes so moving and ably and subtly we have to see that she did value her fiction and talked denigratingly of it because others didn’t value it or wouldn’t admit they saw it what is there (p 241-43 of Elibron, pp 52-53 of my new edition)

Again the lone figure against time and nature.

John Sell Cotman, from a Dulwich exhibit of his Normandy watercolors

From her poetry: the autobiographical background: Her terrors for her children, several of whom predeceased her and did know hardship. I’ve no doubt she saw a version of this woman who lies at several removes behind this novel; Sir Edward’s terrors for Ethelinde’s future

The Female Exile.
WRITTEN AT BRIGHTHELMSTONE IN NOV. 1792. [from Elegiac sonnets (1797-1800)]

November’s chill blast on the rough beach is howling,
   The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the shore,
Dark clouds o’er the sea gather heavy and scowling,
   And the white cliffs re-echo the wild wintry roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger reclining
   Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely seat;
Her eyes fill’d with tears, and her heart with repining,
   She starts at the billows that burst at her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart heaving,
   She watches the waves where they mingle with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes deceiving,
   May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing tresses,
   Once woven with garlands of gay Summer flowers;
Her dress unregarded, bespeaks her distresses,
   And beauty is blighted by grief’s heavy hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
   To seek the gloss’d shell, or the crimson weed stray;
Amused with the present, they heed not to-morrow,
   Nor think of the storm that is gathering to day.

The gilt, fairy ship, with its ribbon-sail spreading,
   They launch on the salt pool the tide left behind;
Ah! victims—for whom their sad mother is dreading
   The multiplied miseries that wait on mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them with anguish,
   Now wanderers with her on a once hostile soil,
Perhaps doom’d for life in chill penury to languish,
   Or abject dependance, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors renewing,
   O’er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin
   All breathless with haste, half expiring with fears.

Poor mourner!—I would that my fortune had left me
   The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But like thine my hard fate has of affluence bereft me,
   I can warm the cold heart of the wretched no more!


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Dear friends and readers,

What can I better write about under Reveries under the Sign of Austen than a book which is itself a series of extended brilliant reveries?  Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways, about his walk with a friend (his illustrator) through a place no one goes to, is an informative delightful and serious travel book all at once.  Collins gives the reader a strong feel for the heart or typically individual Cornwall landscapes, its folk culture, economics, types of people, significant moments in its history through meditation, description, story telling,  and his own reactions. I like it best when he told somber stories of recent history against legends and older history. He also describes a play he went to (a satire on Victorian popular drama) and,using a manuscript out of a library, an ancient medieval mystery play he imagines done from an amphitheater he finds. There’s more research here than meets the eye.  Lots of illustrations too,

Cheese-wring rocks (tiny at top)  Cornwall in spring

In order to learn more about Cornwall I’ve been reading histories (e.g., Mary Waugh’s Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall, 1700-1850), watched a movie (a feature on the DVD Daphne, a biopic movie about Daphne DuMaurier which included a film adaptation of her Enchanted Cornwall), skimmed my older Arthurian books. And read travel books, fromr my Poldark interest, Winston Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall, a partly autobiographic, part story of the writing of his novels and making of the mini-series, Poldark.  Robin Ellis’s The Making of Poldark (from which I took a few 1970s photos for this blog) is also evocatively informative. I still have not found an old county book I can afford – but continue to look. 

Then a friend showed me a  blog dedicated to things Cornish and I came across the title, Rambles Beyond Railways.  Gentle reader, I bought it and have spent a couple of weeks reading it on and off in the evenings. It’s a marvelous travel book.

Cover illustration, a colorized version of one of the numerous drawing illustrations by Henry Brandling, who accompanied Wilkie Collins. The illustrations are lovely, and one

Upon starting this book to my (mild) surprise, I found it delightful. I was mildly surprised because generally speaking I don’t care much for Collins’s fiction.  I did read in an intense fervor (when young) The Woman in White, but I never finished The Moonstone, and after trudging through the first third of Armadale, gave up, jumped to the end to see what had happened, and closed the book. My attitude towards involved mystery plot-designs is like Trollope’s.  But, as I’ve seen with others authors, this author changes his tone and stance when it comes to travel books. This is true of Gissing, and I can even read D. H. Lawrence when it’s a travel essay.

Collins’s book begins lightly, wittily: he starts by introducing himself and his book as if his book is a kind of friend who he has dressed up for us in cloth and is vying with other friends for attention.  He begins by saying that he will not change his title, no not he, even if there are now railways in Cornwall and elsewhere. When he went, there were few or none, and in any case, he never got into any. The opening self-deprecating humor about the lowly stance of this type of writing draws us in– which all the while Collins probably wants us to realize brings us gratifying experiences, hard to find information, and extends to our sympathies to people supposedly very unlike us.

The great joke to start with is Collins’s assertion that is no one goes to Cornwall as travel writers. People go to the extremes of the earth, all sorts of exotic and home-y places. But two are left out: Kamtschatka and Cornwall.  They wanted to go where no one else had been (shades of Star Wars?), and Cornwall was closer plus they are a wee bit patriotic.


Cornish Fisherman

Chapter 2 is the start. We get a full portrait of a boatman — presented as amusing but nonetheless realistic enough, and our narrator and his illustrator are taking to Saltash where they will begin their journey.  A singularly beautiful description of the waters and lights of the sky and land off Cornwall begins the piece.  Then we get all the stuff they must carry as they emerge from the boat into a tavern.

The practical is the situation of all three men caught up precisely as well as the atmosphere and specifics of place, but one reads this for evocation of experience.  The key note is they are beyond railways. I presume they will walk and/or ride in boats or coaches — if there are any.  And this is a Collins I’ve never met before. I like him as  a writer this way much better than in his novelist stance. 

In the next chapter he he reaches the "Cheese-Wring," one of these bizarre formations of rock — to those to whom it’s unfamiliar it looks like a series of rough slates placed one on top of the other only some smaller ones are under larger ones so it looks like it might topple any moment. But it hasn’t after centuries

The cheese-wringer stones on top of a rock formation covered by snow (Cornwall in winter)

One of Brandling’s illustrations of the Cheese-Wring rock has with a tiny male figure below it. The figure is intended to suggest Collins and the difference in size between the rock and the people coming to see it.  I can’t reproduce it as it comes out to fuzzily but in context it makes its point. These rocks dwarf people – the question is how the formed piles were put up?. The standing stone of Cornwall come from the same neolithic period as Stonehenge, Avebury and Stanhope (all in England) and similar stone monumental art works and natural formations around Europe. 

One of the things I became aware of this morning was how he manages to convey the poverty, desolation, real circumstances of the people living in Cornwall (including the corrupt egregiously corrupt rotten boroughs, just then being put out of commission, what work on a mine really looks and probably feels like on the surface), the reality of the picturesque towns and the grim agricultural ones in this gay humorous tone.  There is the usual desperately old lady living alone who gives he and his illustrators a lodging for the night — in these travel books there is often such a woman, sometimes with a cat, sometimes just alone.  Johnson and Boswell make fun of one they met in Scotland because she was so fearful for her "virtue."  Poor old women; they are still with us and I begin to identify.  Much on inns — but then that’s what a traveler experiences

The determined cheer is a bit grating on my nerves I admit but then  he can smoothly move into these lovely serene moments in the apparently deeply beautiful landscapes. One at a so-called Holy Well — which reminds me of a painting by Gainsborough of such a place in the southeast.

Gainsborugh, a Holy Wells in the southeast of England

Happily Collins drops his arch-facetious tone by the middle of Chapter 4 and his book begins to become good, even powerful at moments; it is at least a good travel and regional book.

After the extraordinary landscape envisaged from the Cheese-Wring and the shore, he tells the story of a man who could not get a job that could support himself and his family beyond the most starvation level and give him time to study mathematics. The one joy of his existence was his studies.  This does remind me of Dickens’s "Signalman" where we have a similar personality type outlined. Daniel Gumb finally gave up the hopeless struggle and moved with his family to live on one of these huge rock formations, carving out a dwelling inside one of these high Cheese Wrings. He and the family found enough to eat from a nearby plot they took over and braved solitude, cold, indifference.  Ridicule he could no longer hear. There they lived for a number of years until he died and the wife and children disappeared — so it seems — at any rate no one cared enough to tell or it was in no one’s interest.  Collins writes;  "amid a civilized nation, and during a civilized age, under such a shelter as would hardly serve the first savage tribes of the most savage country — to live, starving out poverty and want on a barred wild."  Lines were left carved on the rocks.

He and his companion-illustrator tried to find accommodation they could sleep in in the area, but it was hopeless so they went to a grand hotel and spent the night.

Chapter 5 gives us a picture of the economy of Cornwall.  Collins begins with the statistic that Cornwall is rare for having "no returns of death from starvation" in its "Government Tables of Mortality."  The trouble here is maybe they just weren’t recorded.  The wife and children of Gumb weren’t.  But this ability to subsist is his theme.  A land on th edge of England, where emigration has been more resorted to than any other place he says, how the cottages are very cheap, how the people live on pilchards, mining.  A little about how difficult it is to produce food, how people are dependent on the potato.   I know people lived by smuggling too — big industry as well as wreckage (taking things from what is wrecked on shore).

A photo of an old Cornish mine (1990s image)

The miners are surprisingly literate Collins says — because national schools have been set up.  There is no sense that women live different lives.  Are they literate too?  we are not told.  There is much hospitality, but ghost stories abound.

The section describing Cornish people, their landscape, their ways of life ends with a description of how the people react to our travellers: walking, with knapsacks.  The people think the travelers more than a little mad for not riding, not staying in grand hotels.  Collins says it’s probably expected that he tell tales of the people living by smuggling and wreckage. He quotes a statistic he finds in one community that only one wreckage has been recorded in so many years and no smuggling. This is a joke.  He does suggest that the govt’ and prevention men have come down hard on the people of later — and this is backed by Mary Waugh’s book where she says that the gov’t did stop much of the smuggling by mid-century.  The upper class wanted their cut and they didn’t like disorder.  Collins also denies that the people caused or created the wrecks, only lived off what washed up. But in any case, it would be ungrateful for him to dwell on this since he is being treated very courteously and his is a "the story of a holiday walk."

1970s photo of a Cornish harbour

He has managed to be suggestive and tell enough truth without having to do much research or burdening his narrative unduly. He does aim for a non-diabolic tone at a minimum

Loo Pool and the Lizard

Lizzard Light — again a 1970s photo

Magnficient compelling description of treks along the dangerous rock mountains, rock-ways, coves and beaches with their unusual flora, narrow ledges, high cliffs, and sudden gaps and holes fills the chapters. Collins says he skips the towns and cities that connect his first towns on the south coast to Loo Pool (so no Loswithiel, Fowey, St Austrell, Gampound, Probus, Truro or Falmouth); it’s not his aim to describe variants on the sorts of town and other life these can be fitte into, but describe what is unique to Cornwall — as he just went over the Holy Wells, Druid Relics indigenous to this part of the UK and Cornish people.

What is strikingly Cornish is the terrain.  Loo Pool is a huge sea-lake that is formed by a sand barrier; it attracts specific kinds of festivals, rituals and myths, and the people try to control its tides to gather fish off of it, cope with (and get things from) nearby wrecks.

Bird watching at St Ives

The masterpiece is his climbing with a Cornish guide up and down and all around the LIzzard. Really remarkable scenery and the illustrations (probably originally full-size) try to convey something of the strangeness of the place (vast towering rocks) but how people clamber about and play and live within the area.  Graham sets several of his key scenes on just such a landscape:  Morwenna Chrynoweth (governess) and Drake Carne’s first falling in love; Demelza Poldark’s liaison and love-making with Hugh Armitage among the rocks and sands in one of the flats (near crabs), and walks on the beach, one which ends Twisted Sword where Demelza throws to the sea the cup that she snatched from Jeremy’s robbery of Warleggan bank

Collins is particulary good on catching the changing lights and mists of morning, flashes in the night, storm and sun and sand with lots of gothic sounds and structures thrown in here and there.

The Pilchard Fishery.  We are offered the rhythms of fish, and in this case pilchard life enable groups of people in Cornwall to survive for parts of the year by being at the spot the pilchards debouch at and catching thousands of them. You must be there just then and no other time. It is a strange magnificent and desperate scene because people can fail to get them.  Winston Graham has a scene at the close of his first Poldark novel where his hero and heroine, just married (against all taboos, he a gentleman and landowner, she a miner’s daughter, having been lovers for about a month) — they get up before dawn, and row out to sea to watch one of these scenes.

From Poldark, 1977-78 (Second Season, Part 8: Demelza and Armitage running among the rocks)

The first half of the chapter on the Pilchard Fishery shows us how remarkable human beings are as a species. Different groups numbers of people, large enough to crowd a vast beach and rocky coast line and waters cooperate to net a huge huge cache of fish.  Watching this would give the mind pause.  They do it in order not to starve and everyone gets some cut, though the owners far more than the workers.  Every level of society, type, and age except the smallest babies.

One wonders why they cooperate this way but cannot in so many others.  Is it that the hierarchy makes the few very rich and those few are the strong types that make this happen? Collins maintains a postive inspired tone.  As I recall Graham’s description is more austere.

And then St Michael’s Mount where we are blessedly free of the human beings.

Brandling’s St Michael’s Mount

In Mt St Michael’s Collins uses a kind of proto-film technique. You’d think he’d been watching movies where some camera was using dissolves and cuts and flashbacks. We are first made to experience walking up to the mount, the weather, the rock, the building, the landscape, look out at the sea and contemplate what all this implies you have to do to live here.

Then dissolve to a first picture:  "ancient" people rowing in the waters to bring out tin, catch fish, interact with one another (quarrelling mostly), and also discipline.  Powerful.

Dissovve and cut to Edward the Confessor in the 11th century. Now we see a church establishment with its rich powerful king types. How they behave around this new building, the granite (how did it get there) what the aesthetic things carved mean.  Pilgrims coming.

Dissolve and cut to Charles First who came here in flight. How he talked to the loyal people is set up against a fast forward to what his experience of beheading must’ve felt like to contemplate and stand there that morning.  The letter of thanks that is left in the documents.

And the picture fades from view and we are on the mount again.  Back to present time — flashbacks over.

Then the banality (to those there all the time) and extraordinariness of fhe neolithic rocks at land’s end.  Four different illustraions of different rocks, one of the whole coast.  A story of how a lieutenant in 1824 took it upon him to knock one huge rock, the Loggan stone, because it was said it could never come down. It was also in the way he thought. He didn’t quite manage it and then the people around got frightened and mad at him and tried to restore it. They didn’t quite.

The grandeur of the place and the legends is caught up.  Alas Collins had no archealogy but we can supply it as modern readers.

He is getting to the heart and reaities of this place.  Land’s end closes with an argument to do your traveling at home — the UK. In his travel stories which take place in the UK (Devonshire countryside, Cornwall) Trollope does the same. And one reality is the famous Botallack Mine.

Cornish mine opening

Of course we must have a mine  Collins opens this section with the statement his readers must be impatient for a description of a mine by now. "Why do we hear nothing abouttin, and copper, and shafts, and steam-pumps — why are we all the time kept away from the mines?"

He makes up for it in this chapter. He comes upon Botallack (famous) and shows us how crack-gimmed together it seems.  How odd if you don’t understand what you are seeing.

He uses himself too . He says he is small, 5 feet six and the outfit given him too large. He emphasizes what such outfits feel like (much is canvas) and the candles in your hand and on your hat and how they are glued in place.  Again perspective de-familiarizes and familiarizes all at once.

He then really gives you a sense of the experience of being in a mine, going all the way down, crawling in it, half walking, the dangers of the ladders, the hard work, what it feels like to go up again, to see the sky after hours and hours below. Then the water — how central to pump it out The fear of being engulfed when there is a storm.

He emerges and we learn about the social organization, how people are paid (so little). The desperate nature of such work. But he ends on an accident that had a happy ending. A fourteen year old boy saved. And how his parents were so tender of him — so transient human life even here among individuals valued.

Modern and ancient drama in Cornwall

The old Launston  Gaol gate

There follow two chapters which are marvels of writing. In the first Collins tells of a touring group he sees do a performance of some ludicrous but somehow plausible melodrama before a large group of spectators in St Ives. I didn’t really find it funny, and think I was supposed to laugh until the tears ran down my face. Maybe if I were a Victorian and had been subjected to such an appalling lot of absurdity in lesser forms I would have. I did however find it amusing and many of the underlying patterns of ludicrous forms of sex and  aggression and money and other troubles are still with us today. In fact this silly play ends with the death of the major heroine blamed on the two heroes. Well in Graham’s Angry Tide that’s just what happens: a major heroine, Elizabeth Poldark, dies and we are to see that the two chief males, Ross and George, between them in effect killed her. Collins wants us to see also this play pleases. There are numerous actors described, costumes, the sets. Much is done that is admirable and for little money.  I was amused by the people thenselves and their ingenuity.  Then afterward their good time together drinking and talking. The lack of sophisticated understanding by middle class people too is underlined. He forgets maybe they had no other play to see, but then it was uncomfortable in a make-shift shed.

This is compared to his imaginative recreation of a play text written down in 1611, called The Creation of the World. It’s an apocalyptic drama that takes us through the drama we find in Paradise Lost by Milton — only in chronological order from the creation of the earth to Noah. It’s really a mystery play from a bigger cycle.  Collins is kinder to this one. For a start, he has done research and tells of the original and some successive translations and how it reached this stage and further reached him.  He finds some genuine poetry here and there and glimpses of serious feeling. I wondered if he was giving it too much credit because of its religious source. Or giving the modern drama too little – as the modern drama had moments like Dickens’s Little Dorrit. There is a wonderful account of the landscape where there’s a left-over amphitheatre used in medieval times. We are to admire this and the sense of this place has beauty.

Altogether the second play comes out better than the first, but then it is Collins imagining the second. The first happened. We have actors described, costumes, the sets. Much is done that is admirable and for little money.  I was amused by the people themselves and their ingenuity.  Collins mentions Mr Dickens as one who would take from his script an argument that we must educate people more.  It seems he did not know Mr Dickens then but is an admirer of Mr Dickens’s strong social principles.

The penultimate chapter takes us deep into one of these woodlands in Cornwall and I have put on our groupsite page:

Woodland, Bonnocoe

It is just such an idyllically green and lush place Collins draws us into where he then describes death-in-life way of existence by a group of nuns, Carmelite who took over the House of Lanhearne and now live this perversely silent withdrawn life. I’ve read nothing like this since I read Ann Radcliffe’s horrified description of a bunch of coffins she saw used as beds for nuns on the continent in 1794 Apparently Collins was attacked for his revelations — there’s a later footnote by him defending himself.

House of Lanhearne, one of Brandling’s illustrations

This tragedy — the women’s lives is prefaced by a description of a group of men who froze to death one freezing night (they had not realized how cold) as they were about their desperate measures to get some food. The juxtaposition of human behavior, realities and the natural world in which it took place is effective. 

North coast shore

Collins’s book ends brilliantly and movingly with him walking up the coast to Tintagel Castle and other places where ruins still exist.  The description of the magnficent coast line, at once desolate and goreous rich flora could be scenarios for a movie — or a plan for going to shoot one on location. He retells briefly the most famous moments in the Arthurian tales, concentrating on moments of high tragedy. He does seem to have some knowledge of what’s thought to be the historical basis of these legends:  some captain who had conquered the Saxons finally falling.

What I liked and can be presented as an epitome of the range of the book is this is matched by 2 local stories:  two women came to live in a now solitary cottage in a state of decay: they simply were there one day and lived together alone going out to procure food with money for months and months. They became the object of community curiosity since they never had anyone to visit them, but before this curiosity turned hostile, one of them died. This was discovered and the body taken from the grieving lone woman; she then died slowly and was found dead on her chair, and buried.

In the case of a second an old ruined church, Forrabury,  with a closed up belfry.  This church had no bells and the people of the church were jealous of the peals coming from Tintagel so they got together and produced enough money as a group (perhaps we should send them to the US congress who produce money only to conduct wars) to buy a new bell or set of bells. Alas, when the bell was formed, put on a ship, and the ship brought near harbor, a quarrel between the pilot and captain (the pilot devoutly bowing before the Tintagel bells heard, and the captain reviling the pilot as a fool) erupted and Heaven’s vengeance descended, the ship went down and the bells with it.

As much time and space is devoted to these stories, the environs they are said to have occurred in as the Arthurian legends, and a walk amid a landscape in the area where there was no roadway.

The book closes with a beautiful description of a last twilight evening as the two travelers linger before Launceston from whch they will go to Plymouth and then back to modern day worlds. Collins then appends a list of the routes he walked, the miles and inns to be found within each circumference.

What makes a good travel book?  A evocative physical recreation of the place through words and pictures. A strong autobiographical element where we travel with someone and experience as he (or she) experienced the journey/trip.  Concise well-chosen information epitomizing how people live there now and had lived there earlier.   Good history, an account of the economic basis of the place, social arrangements, meet people there who tell you stories whose value is as much in their being told as what they say. All this is in Collins in a felicitious style. The book was published early in Collins’s career, before he knew Dickens personally.  I should think it helped his career along.


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Dear friends and readers,

I was reminded of the central perspective I take on Austen’s books for my study of the Austen films by a recent thread on the Austen lists and a query a friend sent me about a paper she’s writing on Mansfield Park. I found myself skim-rereading Avrom Fleishman’s brilliant innovative Reading Mansfield Park, skim-rereading Isobel Armstrong’s little intertextual and close reading of Mansfield Park (done from the same by then consensus point of view), and two excellent  close-reading articles specifically on the star-gazing scene between Edmund and Fanny at Mansfield: Maggie Lane’s "Star-Gazing with Fanny Price," Persuasions, 28 (2006):150-165 and. Kathryn Libin "Harmony, Nature, and the Unmusical Fanny," Persuasions 28 (2006):150-65

The scenes are done so movingly in the 1983 BBC  and 2007 Mansfield Parks (screenplays Ken Taylor and Maggie Wadey respectively):

The lines come from the book almost verbatim in the 1983 MP — the use of the window adds a strong contemporary element:  looking out a window to see a dream image is a common motif of the era (Sylestre Le Tousel as Fanny, Nicholas Farrell as Edmund)

But nearby there is the allurement of the glamorous Mary Crawford, and the vanity  and sexual competition of the Bertram girls over Henry Crawford

It’s a passage that fits into the childhood education, memory/imagination themes of the novel, order, peace: the 1983 movie has Edmund recite these lines from Cowper — Scenes must be beautiful which daily views please daily/Whose novelty survives long knowledge and the scrutiny of years.  It’s a passage that fits into the childhood education, memory parts of the novel.  Fanny and Edmund both are not keen on the social world. They are happiest loving to study and read together; Mary’s music and her harp are part of the artificial world, the social one.  Fanny certainly is losing out against Mary for Edmund at this point, true, but in the end she will win Edmund — as nature, order, peace, memory rooted in the past.


Again the pair star-gaze but this time the language is derived from their shared desire to escape the parties and vanities outside, an explicit rejection of experience of social life (Billie Pipe as Fanny, Blake Ritson as Edmund)

Something is lost by putting them under columns, and yet this motif found in Hubert Robert paintings where the feel is similarly retreat into picturesque feels right

Austen’s lines are dropped as I say and escape through dreams and reverie is the idea here. But they do escape, as they cannot in Lost in Austen (2009). . In the sadness of star-gazing of Jane and Mr Bennet, the social world seeps in and impinges everywhere even in Austen land.

09 Lost in Austen (Hugh Bonneville as Mr Bennet, and Morven Christie as Jane)

POV, Amanda also standing by helplessly; here the social world impinges on the private one (Jemima Rooper as Amanda)

Here Mr Bennet has been escaping by studying the new astronomy; he can do nothing he feels to save Jane from marrying Mr Collins. The gazing is very sad.  The POV on the second far shot is Amanda’s: again we have columns, only this time accompanied by modern touches of a chair on wheels. Perhaps the darkness of candlelight is overdone:

There’s a Chekhovian feel to the novel and yearning that is found in the 83 and 07 movies; the 09 has lost its connection with the earlier idealized city (Moscow) and seeks to retreat in Austen land itself.

Maggie Lane’s essay  is centrist, nothing we didn’t expect, but well done. Lane says the passage is about artistry and MP is reflexively about what is beautiful art. Kathryn Libin "Lifting the Heart to Rapture" on sublimity and music is also nothing revolutionary but is good: it’s about sublimity, what is the true sublime. The landscapes of the skies matches the landscapes of Cowper and Mansfield Park. Sublimity links Burke and Radcliffe to MP. There is something very Shelley like in Fanny — and makes me think of what Elinor wryly calls Marianne’s passion for dead leaves & anticipates Shelley’s ode to the west wind.

For my part I think the 1983 and 2007 MP reflect accurately some of the most profound themes of the novel (if truncated in 2007 MP).  The novel’s Christianity is implicit not explicit but this is part of God’s heavens. In Elective Affinities (Goethe) the stars also play a role as there is a serious theme about astronomy and mathematics as reflecting the world’s order and this comes into Lost in Austen intuitively.

As for Avrom Fleishman’s book on political novels, his witty ironic essay on Emma exposing the heroine as possibly neurotic, and certainly an obtuse hypocrite when it comes to her behavior, especially about sex. Basically he accepts Lukacs and has no women historical novelists except as tokens; he also sees the limitations of Wayne Booth’s naive love for Emma as an cynosure of all the ideals of womanhood that inhabit his middle to upper class mind.

So it’s no surprise that there are some limitations in his basically fine and insightful book on MP.  He’s a normalizer.  Written in 1967 it shows that "way back" then people did read Austen aright and they saw the significance of the slavery part of the novel. Fleishman demonstrates that MP is a serious critique of the society of which MP is the pinnacle. It’s not a defense of the society, but it is not a "plea for connection" or connectedness. Only one of its subjects is the misery that isolation can bring; the novel does stand up for retreat  For seeking refuge where you can if you are lucky enough to land in it. Austen does not hate her characters (Crawfords) for their refusal for "full self-realization" because they are subtle versions of Fielding’s Biflil.  They don’t recognize as "self-realization" what Austen does, she presumes her reader might; they don’t know why they are half-miserable. They just are.

I did think the Fleishman pulls a kind of fast one when he tries to push away the problem that Austen is not conscious of the depths of what she is seeing by the argument and demonstration that "the psychology of Jane Austen’s novels is clarified by modern discoveries, but is not dependent on them." In other words he says that she sees what he is seeing though she does not have the language to say it in reasoned words. I’m not sure of that. No where in her letters or as her narrator do we see any full sign she does understand the kind of morality based on the amorality of all around us, what I’d call the bleakness she sees.  We do not know that she is upheld by some faith in some other order "beyond" in the way of Fielding either for he says he is explicitly, puts a providential design in his books so they end full circle on a benign order. Austen’s books do not end this way.  They end in petered out ironies with a few characters forming a new circle in which to "struggle and endure" with one another.

His error over where the dialogue on the stars occurs (he thinks it’s at Sotherton) occurs is unimportant.  It’s not at all true that people didn’t vet articles in the 1960s. If anything they proof read more carefully.  The Net is a red herring in this argument.  What happens on it is irrelevant; it has just added to an explosion of scholarship and information added both in public and through places like JStor.

I was cheered to see in his bibliography many others taking off from Trilling at the time. For his essay builds on Trilling.  Trilling is the more accurate than he. Trilling faces up to the novel. So (I recall) does Tanner.  Isobel Armstrong is what I’ll read next — she takes a feminist turn on Fleishman and Trilling — probably through Tanner and  intertextualities. She read MP in terms of other books in the era the way she does S&S.


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