Posts Tagged ‘symbolic women’

Marine Pavilion, Brighton, with 1801-2 ground plan

Dear friends and readers,

We can understand these two letters most clearly by reading them as a pair, utterance and answer, antiphony. We are in danger of accepting and then justifying the lack of any sense of what makes for honest art in Clarke’s previous and this letter as “what everyone does,” unless we have before Austen’s direct rebuttal. So let’s start with the two texts in tandem and then read them as a conversation inside the conversation on Janeites about them:

138(A). From James Stanier Clarke, Wednesday 27 March 1816, Pavilion

Dear Miss Austen,

I have to return you the Thanks of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent for the handsome Copy you sent him of your last excellent Novel — pray dear Madam soon write again and again. Lord St. Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid you the just tribute of their Praise.

The Prince Regent has just left us for London; and having been pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg, I remain here with His Serene Highness & a select Party until the Marriage.’ Perhaps when you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.

Believe me at all times
Dear Miss Austen
Your obliged friend
J. S. Clarke.
Miss Jane Austen
at Mr Murrays
Albemarle Street

38(D). To James Stanier Clarke, Monday 1 April 1816

My dear Sir

I am honoured by the Prince’s thanks, & very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which You mention the Work. I have also to acknowledge a former Letter, forwarded to me from Hans Place. I assure You I felt very grateful for the friendly Tenor of it,
& hope my silence will have been considered as it was truely meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your Time with idle Thanks. —

Under every interesting circumstance which your own Talents & literary Labours have placed you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed, you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are a step to something still better. In my opinion, The service of a Court can hardly be too well paid, for immense must be the sacrifice of Time & Feeling required by it.

You are very, very kind in your hints as to the sort of Composition which might recommend me at present, & I am fully sensible that an Historical Romance, founded on the House” of Saxe Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in — but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. — I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. — No — I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way; And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.-

I remain my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged & very sincere friend
J. Austen
Chawton near Alto,” April 1 st – 1816-
[No addressJ

Diana Birchall chose to deal with each letter separately; here she is informative about the first:

It’s a little confusing to deal with Deirdre’s numbering of the letters.  Letter 138A is Rev. Clarke to Jane Austen, written on 27 March 1816, and  Letter 138D is her reply, written on  1 April. Where are B and C I don’t  know. But let’s look at this exchange.

James Stanier Clarke writes from the Pavilion at Brighton. Remember that the domes we associate with the Pavilion had not yet been erected at that date. The structure was still a rather grand farmhouse, with huge stables and some Eastern art, but the work of turning it into a palace was barely begun. Still, it’s where the Prince Regent’s court was at the moment.  Clarke wrote to convey the Prince’s thanks for the handsome presentation volume.  “Lord St Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid  you the just tribute of their Praise.” Actually the Prince had just left for London, and perhaps the real purpose of the letter was for Clarke to announce to his friend his new appointment as Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg. This of course was Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, about to come to England to marry Princess Charlotte, the Prince  Regent’s daughter, which happened on  5 May  at Carlton House. Here Clarke  makes his famously absurd suggestion, “Perhaps when you again appear in  print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold; any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.” Finishing with an effusive flourish, he directed the letter to Jane Austen c/o Murray, and it had to be forwarded to Henrietta Street, and then Chawton.

Will look at Jane Austen’s reply later -


Then my commentary: Austen’s response to Stanier Clarke’s letter shows that if his suggestion is not to the ambitious author who can churn out what’s wanted for money and fame “what everyone would do if they could,” it is wholly intolerable to Austen — which he should know. He has spent time with her, she has said in a previous letter and perhaps face-to-face, my dear Sir, these themes are not themes I can write on nor am I comfortable with, he has presumably read the passages on how justifying the church as a career requires real work awakening moral and social consciences alike.

Imagine your self with a friend and a friend makes plain some attitude she has: do you blithely ignore it and repeat your urgent suggestion as if she had never spoke.

I hope not. If you do, you in effect (unless you’re a parent and moralizing or think you have the authority to urge something which goes against your child’s character because the child cannot break off relations, is younger, possibly dependent) are careless of your friend’s feelings or whether you irritate him or her. It does not make me doubt the sincerity of Clarke’s friendship in the sense that he really thinks one can churn out novels: it makes me wonder if he paid any attention to Emma , which it is right to point out he does not even name. In his previous he admitted he had not begun to read it or read very little thus far. His descriptions of her novels show some understanding of their value: he anticipates Scott’s main praise — “there is so much Nature — and excellent Description of character in everything you describe.” But his likening MP to slightly idiotic or vacuous descriptions of his own of clergyman makes one wonder if he really thought these were serious books — or just woman’s romances. 

So to his suggestion:

Perhaps when  you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any  Historical Romance illustrative of  the History of the august house of 
Cobourg,  would just now be very interesting.

Austen replies (and the honesty plainness and fullness of the reply is poignant since she so rarely does give herself away like this: she has it seems given him the respect of a friend:

You are very, very  kind in  your  hints as to the sort of Composition which might recommend me at present,  & I am fully sensible that an Historical  Romance,  founded on the House  of Saxe- Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of Profit  or Popularity, than  such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as  I deal in – -but  I could no more  write  a  Romance  than an Epic Poem. — I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, &  if it  were indispensable for me to keep it up  & never relax  into laughing at myself or other people, I am  sure  I  should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. –No — I must  keep to my  own style & go on in my  own Way;5  And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in  any other.- 

Austen is not treating him the way she does the Countess of Morley; in her “your Ladiship’s,” she shows she regards herself as of a much lower rank and does not expect the countess really to regard her as an equal. She apparently did expect Stanier Clarke to listen to her. She here gives one of the most valuable of all her statements about her fiction.

Why doesn’t he? I suggested to a man like him the life of sincerity and integrity is unreal; he can’t conceive of it. I now suggest on top of his maybe finally he didn’t respect her art. We must return to his first paragraph: He may have been the kind of person who respond intensely to his surroundings so we have to remember (as we shall see Jane does) he is in this courtier like place where for a person like himself (in effect a sort of upper servant, equivalent of a governess), who has just achieved a post and salary and place with Leopold of Cobourg, the man who was to be married to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the girl who it was thought would be queen, and so father of the next royal set. In the event she died from a horrible childbed experience. He is just full of pride, and has been puffed up as he has puffed others up for several days. I’ve no doubt one of his purposes was to boast about his new place – which as we shall see she tells him point blank she regards as one demanding such a sacrifice of thought and feelings that (it’s implied) barely worth it.

Here again is his boasting intended to make Austen feel all is not over with the list-servs (though a friend of hers has just died):

Lord St. Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid  you the just  tribute of their Praise. The Prince Regent has just left us for London;  and having been  pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the  Prince of Cobourg.

Her reply was originally from a religious perspective much harsher than the one she sent.

She sent this:

Under every  interesting  circumstance which  your  own Talents & literary Labours have  placed  you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed,  you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are  a step to  something  still  better.  In my opinion, The service  of  a  Court can hardly  be  too  well paid,  for immense must be  the  sacrifice  of  Time  &  Feeling  required by  it. 

Given that Clarke’s a literary man (who wants to be published) to get the favor of such a person is a guarantee of it, so good. She hopes he will get something better — which if he read her words carefully (which I doubt he did) would seem strange to him. How could he get anything better than the prospective husband of a queen. Maybe she thinks chaplain is not that respected an office really (remember how Mary Crawford looks at it and says others do), but also it’s not likely to further a writing career. Finally that last line – I take it to mean that like Fanny Burney she regarded time at court as a death in life, preventing her from doing what makes life worth while

The original version points to the continual hypocrisy   these positions required: For once LeFaye tells us something to the point:

In my opinion not more surely should They who preach Gospel, live by the Gospel, than they who live by a Court, live by it – & live well by it too; for the sacrifices of Time & Feeling they must be immense.

In other words, at a court the central of religion to be truthful and moral is not possible because you must continually be lying in some way or other so outside the court they had better live by the gospel for real to make up for the Immense sacrifices of time and feeling.

Time shows this is a literary thought for the Bible emphasizes truthful feeling not time. Austen would hate to give up her writing time to be living at that Pavilion. 

Austen is aware of how much she disliked his letter and how hers contradicts his at every point and sometimes deeply so her opening is very courteous, courtier-like one might say, but not untruthful. In her opening she excuses herself for putting off writing back — she thinks that to him this several month interval between his letter of December (still unanswered) would be slightly insulting: after all is he not chaplain to … living with these big shots, did he not tell these great people paid tribute to her book. (I am not so convinced as others appear to be that the court group liked Emma — would they really? come now, a book where nothing happens but an old man eats his gruel and his daughter copes with him — would they even grasp the satire on her snobbery? her use of Harriet would seem to them nothing wrong at all. So what does she say? does she believe it. Not quite. She thanks him “for the kind manner in which you mention the Work.” She is aware she never answered his previous much more decent letter where he offered her a place to visit at the library; now 5-6 days have gone by since this last one and she just forces herself.

I assure You I felt very grateful for the friendly Tenor of it, & hope my  silence will have been considered as it was truely meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your Time with idle Thanks. —

She is not lying in the sense that he did praise her and repeat praise of her. She was grateful for his stance of friendliness but knows better than to listen to him literally.   He meant well, he means well by his materialistic point of view to her. But all she can offer are “idle Thanks” of a woman who can do nothing for him (that’s why her thanks are idle).

It matters not if the average ambitious person would understand Stanier Clarke’s offer, Jane Austen is not such a person, her books do not come out of such outlooks and she realizes he can’t get that. Yet she does forgive him as she knows there are far worse fools and meaner people. He has after all paid her the compliment of using her to flatter the Prince Regent by connecting him to an author who was being recognized however slowly as having something fine in her books – that’s why Murray took her and keep the relationship up as best a busy publisher could.

From Diane Reynolds’s reading of the first and second letter:

The ostensible reason for this letter is to thank JA for the advance copy of Emma sent to the PR. Oddly, he refers to it not by name, but with the generic boilerplate, “your last excellent novel.” Does he even remember it’s called Emma?

All through the letter, Clarke’s worldview shines through, leading to the question: how sincere is he in his “friendship" towards Austen? Does he really admire her works or does he sense, with the instinct or calibration of a professional courtier (or in our world, marketer) that the wind is blowing in her favor, and he wants to be on board  with a rising star? Or is it both admiration and calculation? … Clarke does sound uncomfortably like Mr. Collins in this letter in his language towards higher-ups …

I couldn’t agree more with what Ellen’s interpretation says, which certainly echoes my own: that regarding her vocation (what she was supposed to do with her life) Austen had a rare integrity, a singleness of purpose. She knew what she was meant to be–a writer– and what kind of writer she was meant to be … When she says she could only begin such a romance if her life depended on it and even then probably not get beyond the first chapter, she is not joking.

Another voice in this conversation (written earlier) appeared on WWTTA: Fran to whom we may give almost the last word:

I can’t help feeling the fact that she wrote this letter on All Fools’ Day may have been an example of her warped sense of humour as well. She’d gone as far as dedicating Emma to the Prince that year, but I’m rather glad she finished Persuasion before her untimely death, rather than attempting the kind of sycophantic potboiler Clarke suggested.

To be fair, Austen did write a parody version of the sycophantic potboiler, which has been typed out on Republic of Pemberley and includes a father modeled on Stanier Clarke whose adventures

comprehend his going to sea as Chaplain to a distinguished naval character about the Court, his going afterwards to Court himself, which introduced him to a great variety of Characters and involved him in many interesting situations, concluding with his opinions on the Benefits to result from Tithes being done away, and his having buried his own Mother (Heroine’s lamented Grandmother) in consequence of the High Priest of the Parish in which she died refusing to pay her Remains the respect due to them. The Father to be of a very literary turn, an Enthusiast in Literature, nobody’s Enemy but his own …


As Chapman’s notes show (interestingly, from Austen’s own marginalia), Stanier Clarke is not the only acquaintance and friend Austen burlesques in this parody


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Moment of hope for narrator (Martina Gedeck)

The despairing end as she ceases to write her report any more

Dear friends and readers,

Marlen Haushofen may not seem a daughter of Jane Austen, but she is certainly a sister to Anne Radcliffe and the visionary women novelists emerging at the time. If we see two types of women’s fiction emerge at the close of the 18th century, the realistic domestic fiction (often conservative) school of Austen, and the gothic-fantasy critique school identified first with Radcliffe and then Mary Shelley. The Wall is an extraordinary distopian/utopian story about which Doris Lessing was right to say it seems that it could only be written by a woman. Polser’s film Here is the core plot-design:

The novel’s main character is a forty-something woman whose name the reader never learns. She tries to survive a cataclysmic event: while vacationing in a hunting lodge in the Austrian mountains, a transparent wall has been placed that closes her off from the outside world; all life outside the wall appears to have died, possibly in a nuclear event. With a dog, a cow, and a cat as her sole companions, she struggles to survive and to come to terms with the situation. Facing fear and loneliness, she writes an account of her isolation, without knowing whether anyone will ever read it

Her friends driving off

When she first discovers she is cut off

She realizes or surmizes all the people in the world have died suddenly and mysteriously when she comes upon two elderly people frozen in mid-gesture. The scene is of course fantasy as a corpse would rot:



She cannot reach them as they are on the other side of the glass wall which seems to surround her. It is possible that she could get beyond it, but she would have to climb and walk hundreds of miles into a forest of mountains, and she knows instinctively she is safer in the house with all the things her friends (unknowingly) left her to provide herself with: wood, implements, seeds, pototoes. She worries about her lack of matches. She has a strong will to survive. Early on she says she is no longer young enough to want to kill herself.

The story occurs over a succession of seasons: it begins in summer and we watch the narrator live through two winters, and two summers, where she goes to live in a meadow and thinks she is in a paradise but there she mets the savage male who murders her dog


A Robinson Crusoe story? it doesn’t feel like it; it shows us the stoic comfortable survival of Crusoe with his loyal man Friday is a myth: Friday would have murdered the master. I sped half-way through Haushofen’s book and (because I just couldn’t resist) since the disk arrived yesterday from Netflix in the later afternoon just as I had had enough, I watched it later at night.

I found the Julian Polser’s film adaptation (the transposition or apparently faithful sort) a masterpiece equivalent of the masterpiece book; I was just gripped as our heroine (who seems to be another of these nameless women called just Frau) slowly realized that she was cut off from all other humanity and slowly evolved a family of animals.

dog (1)
Her dog Lynx

dog (2)
Cats, kitten is called Pearl

An important analogical text (even if improbably a source) is Randall Jarrell’s Animal Family: there is the same slow buildup of an animal community as family and friends/children. We see slowly evolve a family of animals and a fish (a mermaid for a mother) as they build a world and life for themselves. It too quietly critiques much in our society. It has lovely illustrations by Sendak. Unlike Jarrell though the ending of The Wall is devastating — let me say this much: from not far from the outset our narrator begins to talk of when Lynx , the dog who becomes her beloved, is dead, or after Lynx died and that makes for suspense, yet since there is no inkling of how this happens when it does, it is a shock.

On the other hand, in the film she twice turns on a radio in a car and hears a song about freedom. Paradoxically she is free — at liberty to live the way she wants. Only we see this liberty is illusory because it takes her such effort to stay alive and she has nothing to exercise her liberty on but the papers and writing implements she (conveniently) finds and writes on.

While the book and film may be called dystopian fantasy and is compelling that way, it is also a woman’s story too: while she has no one to obey, she is all alone and sad, and in natural response it seems she begins to develop a small family, a dog (who early on the book is referred to as having died at some later date — so immediately we worry), and stays alive (she feels) out of her responsibility to the dog, the cats (the mother cat kittens), a cow (and eventually bull and calf). She is delighted each time she comes upon another animal and brings home all but those she is forced to kill (with a shotgun she naturally knows how to use) and eat. She dislikes hunting but does it.

The novel and film are also critiques or mirrors of the world’s way of treating women and how women behave. We see our heroine enact the behavior this leads to: one scene shows us all the food she has grown, managed to cook and put in bowls. We see her eating amidst her animals who she provides for:


Since at the climax of the story, its tragic close, a man suddenly appears out of nowhere, ragingly violent with an ae who proceeds to murder apparently wantonly the bull and the dog, this confirmed my sense this is a woman’s story — men are the killers of our world. Haushofen also builds no world of people (like Charlotte Perkins’s Herland), but rather mirrors inner experiences of isolation, terror, the desire to escape, to find some peaceful place free of competition (mentioned early on as awful, the worst manifestation of the human spirit). Yes depression too: a story that images or captures a mood of deep depression. When our heroine partly in an effort to save her dog runs back to her cottage to get a gun and comes back and kills the man (but alas too late for the dog), she confirms the sense I have from the book one of its assumptions is we are better off without people. People are the worst, and the narrator thinks again and again how she is an alien in nature (unlike her animals) — but this seems wrong and unfair. She is as much as part of the natural world as they and they depend on her. The novel is a parable — the film emphasizes her de-sexed appearance and behavior — she is the hunter shooting deer.  It is of course unrealistic — for enough food does appear; the deer, all that she needs as a minimum to survive.

Sudden appearance of a murderous savage man

Her attempt to kill the man and/or save Lynx

Her grief for Lynx

I identified with her aloneness. The last 3 days and now this one I’m alone all day — except for my girl cat who is continually with me. She was sitting in my lap as I watched the movie and seemed to me a version of Lynx. The woman narrator adopts a stray cat who then has a long haired white kitten (who also dies as a natural victim) but the cats are not presented as companions. Well mine is and I do think to myself how I have an obligation to them to stay alive. It wasn’t cathartic for me nor therapeutic but rather an intense reliving of what I am experiencing just now.

Women are so isolated in our society by various structures: when your children are babies or young, the society structures itself to make you the constant caretaker and the renewed ferocious insistence on breast-feeding is a nailing down of the woman.  Why is widowhood so bad? becuase you have been put into a partnership dependent on a man often — not necessarily financially any more but he is often the leader.

Here is Fran’s explication from Women Writers Across the Ages:

One of the most obvious is the novel as a feminist critique of gender roles and especially the position of women in Austrian society as Haushofer had experienced it up to her writing of the novel between 1960 and 1962. The Austria of that time was still a very much male-dominated, highly conservative, catholic society, where women were often marginalized and expected to adhere to their traditional roles oriented around the (in) famous three Ks, Kinder, Küche, Kirche – children, kitchen and church – and rapidly ran against walls of inacceptance that were difficult to overcome if they tried to break out and expand into other non-traditional spheres of activity. 
Haushofer experienced this as oppressively claustrophobic, stultifying and frustrating, both as a child and as an adult. As a child, when her highly religious mother forced her to attend a convent boarding school, the cloistered restrictions of which came as a complete shock to one used to playing in the freedom of Austria’s beautiful countryside (her unromantic love of which is everywhere evidenced in the novel); as an adult in her role as a stay-at-home provincial wife and mother, whose household chores made finding the time to write and realize her artistic ambitions very difficult indeed. In both instances she reacted with serious depression and physical illness. The confining or excluding wall can be seen as a projection of such feelings and experiences as mentioned yesterday.
On the other hand, as Haushofer herself said, the wall seems to be not only negative in effect. Being cut off from the rest of society means that the significantly unnamed narrator, whose rmemories of her old life beyond the wall indicate an unfulfilled, already alienated existence, is thrown back on her own resources to survive and is able to rise to the occasion and carve out an autonomous, if precarious, existence and new life and identity for herself as a guardian and preserver of her corner of nature and the animals that she has found there. 
This goes hand in hand with a critique of the kind of education she’d received as a woman on the other side of the wall that had ill-equipped her for such a task.
The novel can then also be seen as one of painful female self-discovery and self-realisation, with the narrator going through various stages of numbing shock, denial, realisation, confrontation and transformation to acceptance of her new role and situation, if one sometimes clouded by the kind of suicidal thoughts that she experienced at the beginning.
You mention the violent incursion of the male survivor who irrationally kills the narrator’s animals which both would actually need to survive and who is in turn killed by her, though she’d previously been reluctant to kill anything even to survive. Haushofer seems to be building up a gender oppostion here: the female in the classic role of caretaker and protector of life who lives with nature and the male as the aggressor who kills and wants to dominate nature and others and has to be stopped from doing it. The incursion of the male infects her with his violence, too.
The wall takes on a double quality here as well, at once marginalizing and excluding, but also normally protecting from potential predators and aggressors.
Male war machinery is also presumed responsable for the catastrophe that created the wall and petrified the people and animals on the other side in the first place. In this respect the novel can  very much be seen as an anti-war novel and topical critique of the kind of patriarchal society that leads to such.
At the time of writing, the Berlin Wall was built (1961), arbitrarily and randomly cutting off people from their families and neighbours, the Iron Curtain was  firmly in place, the Cold War at its height and the Bay of Pigs incident had raised fears of an imminent war and nuclear or biological catastrophe.
Haushofer’s reaction was to produce a novel that was both a kind of Robinsonade and warning end- of-days scenario, criticizing so-called civilisation and what it had already done and threatened to do to people, nature and the ecology.
Interestingly, too, it’s also a novel about writing. As a housewife Haushofer seldom had a lot of time to write and didn’t have a room of her own to do it in, normally writing at the dining or kitchen room table. The narrator in the novel, who develops increasingly androgynous features in the course of the novel, has oodles of time, plenty of room of her own, but probably no audience other than mice to write for and at the end no more paper to write on either. It’s like a very macabre riff on Virginia Woolf, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.
Almost endless possibilities of interpretation and speculation

As we first see her in the film, the first shot: she is with her friends in a fine car apparently off for a holiday in a rural retreat

In the middle of the movie somewhere: she is washing her face after hard work

After I finished the novel, I watched the movie twice and was really gripped: the novel differs from the movie in ways one might expect. The movie opens as a flashback with the heroine at her book writing and then we move backwards to how the situation first happened: we are told slightly more about Hugh and Luise in the movie. The book moves forward with lots of tiny flashbacks interwoven throughout. There are more animals in the book, and consequently more losses: the movie leaves out the birth of Tiger, the tom-cat, the developed relationship and how he disappears one day. She works very hard in both novel and book to survive: each stroke of a instrument, each killing of a deer, each harvesting, cooking is a tremendous effort and she show it physically. She becomes one with nature, but not de-gendered.


The movie succeeds in bringing out the deep individuality of the animals: each is individually filmed and as all but the cow and mother cat die, we grieve for them as valuable lives. This is a film that brings home to the viewer how animals have lives like humans through showing us the companionship of the animals and the central heroine.

The book weaves in thoughts she has of her life before: as a young woman, young mother, the sense of loss she had when her children started going to school and she was not able to help them, her dependence on her husband, and various less concrete thoughts — all really depressive and melancholy. They provide analogies and pointers to how to take the book as a parable which are not voiced in the movie. Most of all the horrifying  closing scene is much more prepared for with hints and memories, and the growing constant references to Lynx now dead, not being there any more, and then it is or feels much shorter.

We are also led to feel maybe she could have been smarter and not told the dog not to attack the man and maybe the man would not have been able to kill the dog. But that is her thought.  So the movie uses it more melodramatically, singly without qualification, and all at once with a big blow and then the ending is swift. I felt at the end of the movie what could be suggested is suicide, while at the end of the book it seemed to me obvious she carried on and on and on.

What the movie can do is provide alternations between silence and sound, the voice of the narrator thinking and her silent face looking on and remembering the scenes she’s lived through as she writes them down. The camera during moments of intense horror and sadness slows down the movement and the actress appears to float in air, to be part of a dream fragment. The music can be deeply melancholy with oboes and violins. often discordant and disjunctive, and again crash down with percussive hits to grate on us.

TakingLynxtobeburied (1)
Carrying Lynx tenderly to bury him

TakingLynxtobeburied (2)
Ceasing to write her reports

My gut feeling is the story whether conveyed through novel or film is deeply humanizing. That might sound paradoxical — for after all she is living without human beings and the only one to show up is savagely murderous – maybe his response to finding himself alone. But she grows and we do with a sense of pity and identification with the animals as presences every bit as valuable and varied as the human being at the center.  I don’t think it is a distopia or a utopia — at any rate it’s not a newly built world somewhere else but is the natural world we know only she’s walled in and has no people about; it’s fantasy because she just happens on just these animals she needs and can love and love her. I felt a strong sense of bonding — when she loses all the animals but the cow and the old cat I remembered how I have lost my husband, mother, father and am left with a daughter living with me, one further off and two cats. I have to survive and get along and I wasn’t doing very well in November; I am doing better with my new regime of sleeping and eating regularly.

There are two marvelous critique/explication/evaluations of the book and movie on-line: Laura Kapelari’s Feminist Utopia and Dystopia: Marlen Haushofen’s The Wall: Kapelari argues for the relevance of Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex and Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun; she tells of Haushofen’s life; she relates the fiction to events in WW2 and Austria. Lorraine Markotic in “Melancholy and Lost Desire in the works of Marlen Haushofen where Markotic explicates the sources and nature of depression for women in Haushofen’s novels. Markotic defines depression as the very loss of desire: by that mark I’d say our heroine does not seem a depressive, for no one ever worked harder to provide beautiful meals for herself and her animals; to keep the room tidy and neat, to adhere to a schedule of normal day and night time, to write, to wait (it seems) in hope for some change, someone to come.

Julian Polser has also discussed on line what he thinks the most significant incidents, the universality of the film and difficulties in filming it. He finds the woman’s developing reaction isolation to be central to what happens to her, and seems to find her unhinged by its end.

She carries on alone for a while before finally stopping and saying she will join the white crow


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Werefkin, Woman with Lantern (1912)

Dear friends and readers,

A variation on the 10 important books to you that made the rounds, only absurdly obtuse. On Women Writers across the Ages one of members noticed one of the year-round-up lists which purported to list the 10 serious important books of the 20th century, presumably of course non-gendered. It was alas no surprise to discover not one was by a woman.

So we pretty quickly came up with a counterlist.

Here’s mine, w ith proviso I am focusing on books written in English though below you will find cited in translation a couple I do know

1. Christina Stead — The Man who Loved Children. An epic book which presents a married woman’s life for real. If it be objected it’s so much a woman’s point of view, read Nancy Miller on _Subject to Change_. All 10 males books are from male points of view, especially the ones on love. This is the one that leaps to mind as the most central serious book by a woman across the 20th century: abortion, infanticide, implicit male abuse, finances, how to live, move, it’s all there.
Winifred Holtby’s South Riding the same sort of book and it has been adapted twice (13 episodes a milksop kind and stronger by Davies but given only 3 hours for it).

Then I don’t have an ordering so in no particular order:

2. Virginia Woolf — Three Guineas — profound anti-war book. It could come bound with A Room of One’s Own

3. Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September. I felt torn because she has a couple of great deep important books but this one exposes real politics in a culture too, a real civil war in the context of history, and has all the inwardness of her Death of the Heart (the other I thought of as Outstanding).

4. Ellen Moers — Literary Women. Several written after hers (Spacks’s Female Imagination, Showaltet A Literature of Their Own) and a couple before but it’s more popularly read, reached a wide audience. I thought of Gubar and Gilbert – Madwoman in the Attic but as a text it’s too academic. But I am willing to put G& as an alternative choice for changing the way we read books.

5. Mary Pipher, Saving Ophelia — this is transformational reading, and that its wider known than people think remember Saving appears in titles afterwards (recently Saving Bernice). I think it deeper and thus more important than Brownmller’s Against Our Will but am willing (as with the above) to put Brownmiller as alternative choice as Brownmiller was read and understood.

6. Rosamund Lehman — The Echoing Grove — yes, a romance novel, very geat one travestied by a movie and its title (insisted on by publishers) trashed by QDLeavis among others. Lead of novels by Drabble, Byatt, Elizabeth Taylor &&c

7, Lillian Hellman’s 4 volume memoir and several plays — including Childrens Hour (lesbianism), Autumn Garden

8. Elsa Morante, La Storia – great epic of WW1 into 2 focused on one powerless woman, powerful ending which made cry so: her disabled son rejected by all and his school, his dog his only companion: boy dies and police rush in and kill dog, and she dies 9 years before literal death in an asylum.

9. Christa Wollf — Cassandra and 4 essays. Powerful inditement of war, a travel book, a self-reflexive mediation bringing in ancient classics.

10. Adrienne Rich’s :DIving into the Wreck, an equivalent of ELiot’s _Wasteland but since it comes inside books of her poetry, just cite her poetry.

Really torn whether to cite Margaret Atwood and which one (the one I most enjoyed Alias Grace, a _Possession_ type book, I like them, but not wide enough in outward perspective — I sympathize with choice of Cat’s Eye but then I want to cite a couple of Valerie Martin’s, _Mary Reilly_ (in defense of sequels) ands/or Property; or Simone de Beauvoir (but I admit I never finished Second Sex) but that took me to 11 and/or 12. And have neglected great travel books: Vita Sackville-West’s on all of Yugoslavia and Eleanor Clark’s Rome and a Villa.

I know so little Russian books by women, can cite but one woman artist’s memoir Marie Bashkirtseff’s. I am hopelessly Eurocentric too.

I can link in two members’s lists: Elaine Pigeon’s counterlist; Diane Reynolds’s.

Do you have one, gentle reader? Under the sign of Jane Austen and all her sister-authors, can we let the men erase us like this? Such lists matter in the way handbooks, anthologies, histories of literature ever have.


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Star-gazing Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) and Edmund (Nicholas Farrell) (1983 Mansfield Park)

Star-gazing Fanny (Billie Piper) and Edmund (Blake Ritson) (2007 Mansfield Park)

I think [Trilling’s] very strange. He says ‘nobody’ could like the heroine of Mansfield Park. I like her. Then he goes on and on about how modern people today, with ‘our’ modern attitudes ‘bitterly resent’ Mansfield Park because its heroine is virtuous. What’s wrong with a novel having a virtuous heroine?” (Audrey Rouget, Whit Stillman’s 1990 Metropolitan)

that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth, who, murderess and wicked queen that she was confined her cousin, the lovely Mary Queen of Scots for NINETEEN YEARS and then brought her to an untimely, unmerited and scandalous death. Much to the eternal shame of the monarchy and the entire kingdom (Fanny Price, 1999 Mansfield Park)

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday I sent off a proposal to give a talk on “What the four film adaptations have to tell us about Austen’s Mansfield Park and one another” at the JASNA in Montreal, 2014. I’ve been reading Austen’s strong novel, and re-watching all four films for the last several days, and found I like them all.

The best known is Patricia Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park, famously controversial, yet in many ways just another fusion of heritage, popular, romance, and Austen tropes:

Fanny (Francis O’Connor) and Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller) spend just as much time walking and talking in this film as any of the others or the novel

The least known is Stillman’s Metropolitan whose apparently elite cast has roused intense class antagonisms and prevented some of the actors from developing a career out of a movie that at the time was much admired by high culture critics (Vincent Canby) and at the Cannes Film Festival. I have written briefly on Stillman’s in-depth exploration of the complex characters, their relationships (especially the love of Fanny-Audrey for Edmund-Tom, evocation of the worlds of young adults,

Outside the Plaza Hotel, 59th, we get our first glimpse of our Fanny-Audrey (dark-haired Carolyn Farina), Tom-Edmund (ginger-hair, trenchcoat, alone, Edward Clements) Nick (Christopher Eigemann) and his girlfriend, Jane (Alison Rutledge-Parisi), Audrey’s best friend

the theme of parental misconduct (abandonment and hurt of their adult children), the difficulty of launching a career in this apparently well-connected world and succeeding at it; its exploration of what is ethical behavior, to say little of its many allusions to Austen’s MP, also Persuasion and Emma (there is a game played where losers have to tell candid truths inside their minds and as Mr Knightley says we find such truths can be searing, destructive) and that it’s a melancholy New York Christmas movie,

Audrey at St Patricks while Tom tunes into Channel 11 for the Yule Log & Carols …

I’ve defended the ceaselessly abused Maggie Wadey’s (the screenplay writer)’s 2007 abbreviated (93 minute) Mansfield Park at least 3 times, for its defense of the natural world as opposed to falsifying artifice, its hatred of bullying and stifling social conformity, and its addressing British issues of the 21st century.

And written now and again on the epistolarity, female narrator (3 of the films have this), Chekhovian feel, wonderful poetry of the 1983 film — ignored as uninventive (! — it’s ceaselessly semi-original). Ken Taylor’s screenplays, tone and pace and similar choice of plain actors (e.g., 1984 The Jewel in the Crown) has been admired again and again, while David Giles’s direction are deemed a saturnine delight (e.g., 1982 Barchester Chronicles).


Fanny and Edmund intertwined (1983)

Well over the week I read reviews of all the films: a wonderful defense of the 1983 film: Jan Fergus’s “Two Mansfield Parks: Purist and postmodern (Jane Austen on Screen, ed. G. and A. MacDonald); a full book on Stillman’s films with several essays on their relationship to Austen’s novels (Doomed Bourgeois in Love, ed. Mark C. Henrie), lively defenses of Rozema that I agree with (Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield in their Jane Austen in Hollywood, Alistair Duckworth in Eighteenth Century Fiction (2:4 [2000]:565-72): I really newly admired the Rozema film. It’s so interesting the many different kind of filmic techniques she employs to make humor, sexiness, pleasure-filled moments, some of the wit (though words are not her strength).

Writing out of spirit of gaiety (1999 writer of Juvenilia, Fanny)

And she does continually choose women’s icons, women’s figures in the talk (Joan of Arc), brings out the feminist talk of the book (Fanny: why should I jump when any man asks me to marry him). I like the way Lindsay Duncan acted the much-put upon controlled Mrs Price this time round — her pain very real (though Lady Bertram as drug addict was overdone).

Stoic endurance of painful goodbye (Lindsay Duncan as Mrs Price), selfless

I listened to the over-voice commentaries of Stillman, his film editor, and two of the actors; of Rozema on her film, and was able to read the screenplays for Metropolitan and Rozema’s MP.

As the not-asked pair, Tom-Edmund requests the pleasure of this dance with Audrey-Fanny (1990)

I made some discoveries.

All of them react to the movie (or movies) that came before (except of course the 1983 as it is the first film adaptation of MP to have been made), and there is an increase in intensification over areas of Mansfield Park which many readers apparently do not like: either what’s there is eliminated, or inverted, or (in the case of Stillman) defended vigorously. I discovered that the 2007 Mansfield Park does not depart any more radically from the book than Rozema’s 1999: both skip Sotherton (rather like the 1940 P&P skipped the visit to Pemberley). They are a body of films, apart from the films adapted from her other books. They are all literary: in her commentary Rozema reveals she thinks Mansfield Park was originally an epistolary novel, and all but Metropolitan have deeply subjective complicated sequences of over-voice, montage, blurring. They all have beautiful dance sequences, moments with stars.

Odd angle puts Henry (Alessandro Nivola) dancing with his sister, Mary; and Edmund, dancing with Fanny, just out of sight (1999)

What is the true sublime?

Mary’s harp arrives in an Bergman-like scene (1999)

They all have strong heroines — Sylvestre le Tousel is internal strength itself and quiet narrator again and again. Wadey uses deep-musing subjectivity to make her narrator over-voice as a young woman remembering her childhood. Rozema makes a sort of show of her author, Fanny. Stillman does eschew his sort of thing, but in his commentary he made some sharp observations that apply to Austen’s novel as well as his film: the subject matter is embarrassing and automatically controversial because the area dramatized is social class, exclusion, he called it social pornography with its talk so explicitly about the pain of existence in an elite milieu where individuals can fall away, fall out.

Mr and Mrs Bertram, imitating the close of the 2005 Joe Wright P&P: they are Mr and Mrs Bertram

Home without his daughter as in the 1979 and 1995 P&Ps

Which leads me to concentrate on an aspect of the 2007 Mansfield Park which was wholly unexpected: the regulation humiliation scene found in most Austen movies, nay frequently in all sorts of movies, but paradoxically especially in costume drama (supposed meant for women viewers), this scene for the central female in ordinary movie after ordinary movie is not there!

The rationale in Austen’s case is that indeed in her novels her heroines are taught rough lessons, and older essays about her books had titles like “The humiliation of Emma Woodhouse,” and “The humiliation of Elizabeth Bennett,” but it is arguable that the scene of confession, repentance, avowal to change one’s ways, is made more central in numbers of the films.

Doran Goodwin as Emma after Mr Knightley has left her scorched (1972 Emma)

Not all: it’s muted in Fay Weldon’s 1979 P&P, Davies just about omits it in his 1995 P&P by making Darcy’s ordeal the center of the story (he also makes Henry and Eleanor Tilney’s stories far more poignant, deflecting attention from the misogynistic anti-romance motif), but recently I’ve noticed it’s back in full force, as much in the free adaptations (Aisha and From Prada to Nada) as in some of the older ones (the S&S films all have it). Rozema’s Fanny is taught grim lessons by her biological mother to marry up (for money, Henry Crawford) which are reminiscent of the mother in Lost in Austen (you must marry is Amanda Price’s mother’s refrain).


Darcy (Elliot Cowan) reacting with great ferocity as Amanda (Jemima Rooper) in the wrong again – she is blamed for exposing everyone in P&P (Lost in Austen, 2009)

Well almost to my surprise, Maggie Wadey changes this. She uses the theme of the education of Sir Thomas to make the confession, repentance, avowal you were all wrong and at fault, Sir Thomas’s. The climactic moment is Douglas Hodge’s when he comes home (in a scene reminiscent of the scenes of Mr Bennett come home having failed to retrieve Lydia in the 79 and 95 P&P films) without Maria. He pretty well indicts himself thoroughly and we begin to see him unbend and change his ways.

Douglas Hodge as Sir Thomas telling what he has seen of himself

As if that was not enough, the scene (again justified by the book in part) where Edmund tells Fanny about his disillusion with Mary Crawford is turned into another self-reformation scene where Edmund asks Fanny to forgive him for being so blind. Lady Bertram is presented as knowing all along that Fanny loved Edmund (the “incest” motive is twice denied by having characters state strongly that Edmund is not Fanny’s brother and presenting Fanny’s love for William as part of her Cinderella story), Mrs Norris does really care for Maria (though she is corrosive in personality).

Wadey’s 1987 NA has not been liked, but it too eschews the girl done in by her reading by making the gothic far more real and changing language to make the famous speeches more pro-Catherine. I suggest this refreshing pattern has not been noticed because the movie has been so damned that people have not paid attention to its motives: I don’t say it’s a good movie — the loss of Sotherton and Portsmouth push it back to the one-hour TV versions of Austen which would omit visits to Pemberley (as did the 1940 movie), the Grants are dropped, and Mary Crawford made hard and mercenary,and at moments its pace and epitomizing scenes make it feel like dramatized cliff notes, so the critique of marriage is lost (but then it’s ignored by most movie-makers) and Henry Crawford oddly muddled. At least in 1999 he read Sterne’s passage about the starling who couldn’t get out, gives Fanny a wagon filled with these exhilarating birds, and is made (with Fanny) to enact the Harris Bigg-Wither proposal and morning-after rejection by Austen.

But Wadey’s script and this movie made from it breaks code in who gets humiliated, confesses, vows to do otherwise, is taught a lesson.


Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford “reasoning” with everyone

Having noticed this I began to see that Rozema’s also makes Sir Thomas’s conversion and remorse central, Edmund’s blindness and request for forgiveness explicit at the close of the movie. As a woman movie-maker determined to adhere to conventional notions of strength (and thus embarrassed by Fanny’s abjectness), she anticipates the 2007 movie. Not that there is no humiliation scene: there is, and it’s in Edmund’s scornful response to Mary’s long winded amoral suggestions about how to think about, what noit to do about Henry and Maria’s elopement and what they may hope for from Tom’s death, in a scene which gathers all the characters together as if this were a murder mystery. This is paradoxical and shows a lack of clarity in Rozema’s mind since Mary Crawford is a favorite character for her.


Fanny a renter and chuser of books (for Susan) — making me think of Jane Austen on Trim Street in Bath, coming home with her books

I recommend as deeply pleasurable and instructive watching in tandem all the movies coming out of a particular Austen novel. It can be another way into the nature of Austen’s text and themes to see the them transferred into different filmic conventions. The way in is to use film adaptations: when you have a group of them from one book you can examine the different kinds of relations between the successive films and the novel and the cultural and entertainment work they all perform.

Jane Austen left three thick packets of letters to Francis (whose daughter destroyed them after his death) (1983 Fanny, Wm and Edmund’s sister-bride)


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Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

It’s all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
(a wedding poem?)


A slash of blue —
A sweep of Gray —
Some scarlet patches on the way,
Compose an evening sky.

Dear friends,

I’ve been wanting to write a foremother poet blog on Emily Dickinson for quite some time now. I love so many of her poems: There’s a certain slant of light/on winter afternoons; snow: It sifts from leaden leaves. I used to repeat her opening lines over and over: Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed/To comprehend a nectar/Requires sorest need … ending on she defeated. I’ve not written about Dickinson for the reasons I’ve not written on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rosetti, or Sylvia Plath: the body of poetry and critical study is so large, so much sensible has been said (Poetry Foundation).

But now galvanized by my blog on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, and rereading her poetry today, I’ve made this attempt:

In Dickenson’s case the controversies that result from her withdrawal while in her 20s from society are utterly intertwined with our readings and understanding of her poems. The life cannot be separated and since she was unconventional in ways not unacceptable today, not admired, the life cannot be ignored nor the implied attacks. You can quote her joking poem about being nobody and imply you identify, but you don’t want anyone thinking you don’t mind. It’s irritating to realize her other women poets of the 19th century who were socially active are forgotten or made to appear the oddities when Dickinson was.

Well, did she have a shattering nervous breakdown?

The first Day’s night had come–
And grateful that a thing
So terrible–had been endured–
I told my Soul to sing–

She said her Strings were snapt–
Her Bow–to Atoms blown–
And so to mend her–gave me work
Until another Morn–

And then–a Day as huge–
As Yesterday in pairs,
Unrolled its horror in my face–
Until it blacked my eyes–

My Brain–began to laugh–
I mumbled–like a fool–
And tho’ ’tis Years ago–that Day–
My Brain keeps giggling–still.

And Something’s odd-within–
That person that I was–
And this one–do not feel the same–
Could it be Madness–this?

Lines like these testify to a breakdown:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –

Or this poem:

It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead, lie down.
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues for noon.

It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.

And yet it tasted like them all,
The figures I have seen
Set orderly for burial
Reminded me of mine,

As if my life were shaven
And fitted to a frame
And could not breathe without a key,
And ‘twas like midnight, some,

When everything that ticked has stopped
And space stares all around,
Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns,
Repeal the beating ground;

But most like chaos, stopless, cool,
Without a chance, or spar,
Or even a report of land
To justify despair.

And –I love the third and fourth stanzas: “I heard them lift a Box … Wrecked, solitary here:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

The nature of her sexuality is fiercely contended over: was she lesbian, loving her sister-in-law, Susan, who lived next door and with whom Emily corresponded and discussed her poetry. In Open Me Carefully, a collection of Emily’s letters (printed in the often child-like form they were sent) to this sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, stress the personal and literary importance of this exchange and relationship for both women and its influence on Dickinson’s production.

Or was it a heterosexual romance, one intense experience with William Smith Clark, a botanist and geologist far more famous in his day than Dickinson; he was the first Ph.D. scientist with a European doctorate to teach at Amherst College, and he lived on a hill behind the Dickinson Homestead, now a museum and historical site of the poet’s life. (See also Ruth Owen Jones, “Neighbor — and friend — and Bridegroom —‘: William Smith Clark as Emily Dickinson’s Master figure,” Emily Dickinson Journal, 11:2 [2002:2]: 48-85).

These are autobiographical — or feel so:

“I got so I could hear his name
Without — tremendous gain —
That stop-sensation on my Soul,
And thunder in the room …

In it she talks of a box “In which his letters grew,” so I say ah ha, he wrote her letters! It is a very strained poem and ends in great misery. There’s another about letters, No 636:

The way I read a letter’s this:
‘Tis first I lock the door,
And push it wit my fingers next,
My transport to make sure
Then draw my little letter forth
And slowly pick the lock ..

Or did she have no lovers and her master was Thomas Higginson, the only person to have published her poetry: the letters are (again) strange because abject and yet so vitally alive.

Did she live in dreams:

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

If so, can we empathize because she was a victim of incest? destroyed by her father, Edward Dickinson? There’s a long article by Martha Nell Smith over at the Dickinson Electronic Archive, dealing with other complex personal relationships that have shaped the editions and receptions of Emily’s person and poetry. Smith argues for the importance of Emily’s mother, Susan Huntington Dickinson (her role suppressed or marginalized).


Lavinia Dickinson (1833-99):

Emily’s sister: they lived together all their lives and the relationship resembles that of Jane and Cassandra Austen (or Gaspara and Cassandra Stampa). There is also a dearth of photos of Lavinia (as there is of the two Cassandras).

Maybe like Austen she didn’t marry because she didn’t want to be suppressed the way women are.

She writes of love this way generally:

‘Why do I love’ You, Sir?
Because —
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows — and
Do not You —
And We know not —
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so —

The Lightning — never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut — when He was by —
Because He knows it cannot speak —
And reasons not contained —
— Of Talk —
There be — preferred by Daintier Folk —

The Sunrise — Sir — compelleth Me —
Because He’s Sunrise — and I see —
Therefore — Then —
I love Thee –

But this is marriage:

She rose to His Requirement — dropt
The Playthings of Her Life
To take the honorable Work
Of Woman, and of Wife —

If ought She missed in Her new Day,
Of Amplitude, or Awe —
Or first Prospective — Or the Gold
In using, wear away,

It lay unmentioned — as the Sea
Develops Pearl, and Weed,
But only to Himself — be known
The Fathoms they abide —

Reminding me of the films, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, and Before Midnight.


Emily Dickinson, place setting at Chicago’s Dinner Party

May be none of the above biographical speculations matter. What matters are these extraordinary poems. Emily Dickinson may be said to have had the great fortune to have no opportunity to publish her poems as really written by her (the one attempt showed her how her poetry would be immediately censored, changed, altered by conventional ideas at the time). They are sincere, from the heart, not thinking about pleasing a particular set of people who have control of press or book:

Publication — is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man —
Poverty — be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly — but We — would rather

From Our Garret go
White — Unto the White Creator —
Than invest — Our Snow —

Thought belong to Him who gave it —
Then — to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration — Sell
The Royal Air —

In the Parcel — Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace —
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price –

Just to have these favorite poems is enough:

On books:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul.

Old books:

A precious — mouldering pleasure — ’tis —
To meet an Antique Book —
In just the Dress his Century wore —
A privilege — I think —

His venerable Hand to take —
And warming in our own —
A passage back — or two — to make —
To Times when he — was young —

His quaint opinions — to inspect —
His thought to ascertain
On Themes concern our mutual mind —
The Literature of Man —

What interested Scholars — most —
What Competitions ran —
When Plato — was a Certainty —
And Sophocles — a Man —

When Sappho — was a living Girl —
And Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante — deified —
Facts Centuries before

He traverses — familiar —
As One should come to Town —
And tell you all your Dreams — were true —
He lived — where Dreams were born —

His presence is Enchantment —
You beg him not to go —
Old Volumes shake their Vellum Heads
And tantalize — just so —

No 561, back to grief, not as evidence of a breakdown, but of her humanity shared with others: this one much stronger at the opening than the ending though (as are many of her poems):

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes —
I wonder if It weighs like Mine —
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long —
Or did it just begin —
I could not tell the Date of Mine —
It feels so old a pain —

I wonder if it hurts to live
And if They have to try —
And whether — could They choose between —
It would not be — to die —

I note that Some — gone patient long —
At length, renew their smile —
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil —

I wonder if when Years have piled
Some Thousands — on the Harm —
That hurt them early — such a lapse
Could give them any Balm —

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve —
Enlightened to a larger Pain —
In Contrast with the Love —

The Grieved – are many – I am told
There is the various Cause —
Death — is but one — and comes but once
And only nails the eyes —

There’s Grief of Want — and Grief of Cold
A sort they call “Despair” —
There’s Banishment from native Eyes
In sight of Native Air —

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly — yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary —

To note the fashions — of the Cross
And how they’re mostly worn —
Still fascinated to presume
That Some — are like My Own –

How we cannot divest ourselves of ourselves:

Me from Myself — to banish —
Had I Art —
Impregnable my Fortress
Unto All Heart —

But since myself — assault Me —
How have I peace
Except by subjugating

And since We’re mutual Monarch
How this be
Except by Abdication —
Me — of Me?

#520: is this famous one about a sexual or other kind of human relationship disillusion?

I started Early — Took my Dog —
And visited the Sea —
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me —

And Frigates — in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands —
Presuming Me to be a Mouse —
Aground–upon the Sands —

But no Man moved Me — till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe —
And past my Apron — and my Belt
And past my Bodice — too —

And made as He would eat me up–
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve–
And then–I started–too–

And He — He followed — close behind —
I felt his Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle — Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl —

Until We met the Solid Town —
No One He seemed to know —
And bowing–with a Mighty look —
At me–The Sea withdrew –

She wrote ostensibly about the seasons (No 812):

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

I don’t like religious doctrinal poetry, and was taught in high school to read her poetry as just that — so didn’t like it! I was not told that Dickinson was at one time excluded from partaking of the Eucharist in her church (Sarah Klein,
“adjusting the Symbols — /”: Emily Dickinson & Her Sacraments”)


Kate Hayllar, Sunflowers and Hollyhocks

The book I recommend which I learned most from (there are so many essays too), was most moved by was Paul Ferlazzo’s Emily Dickinson (published by Twayne in 1976). Here’s a brief review:

In brief he confronts the problem or oddity of Dickinson’s life by talking about the poetry first and in terms of its themes and then in terms of what it shows of her as a writing presence and what we can infer from her life. The first chapter does go over all the myths of lovers (impossibly sentimental books, memoirs, novels, plays) and shows their absurdity.

Then he moves on to the poems. A section shows how deeply engaged she was with Calvinistic or Evangelical Christianity; how could she not be (asks Ferlazzo), and that from her poems he finds she was not converted and remained a strong sceptic. This is one reason she could have secluded herself from her community. Then he close-reads the poems on death which are so prevalent in her oeuvre, and also poems about dreams of erotic love. He does not flinch himself from suggesting men she loved and his candidates make sense: they are all strong highly intelligent men she met in her father’s house: the first we don’t know his name; the second was married, and the last did become a widow and apparently she could have married him but chose to stay in her isolated life. It was isolated: she often did not speak to most of her family members either.

It does appear her father was a super-dominating presence not only on her but her brother and her mother too. Her brother ended living next door and following his father’s footsteps into Amherst. Her younger sister never married, burnt all or most of Emily’s letters but allowed the poems to survive.

Two more buiographical-poetic chapters follow: one on her struggle for sanity. He suggests people have been chary to say she had a bad breakdown and became perhaps catatonic or nearly insane for a period, and her struggle to contain and control this, to write what she experienced down provides some of the most powerful of her poems. The last I read was on her response to the natural world from which I picked my opening three lines.

Throughout he really brings you close to the poems and woman in them. I felt why she has this hold on us today, contemporaries leading different kinds of lives often (outwardly anyway) and with different struggles on the surface. I think it’s the lack of cant and how direct she is; you may feel she writes aslant (using metaphors too) but there is little convention between you and her. At the same time I saw (as I think many would) how distant I am from her; we are not to normalize and make her us (I have no religious beliefs and am not troubled about conversions as she was apparently a lot, no super-dominating males about me, not in a small tight community).

Here and there the stories of her and her family members (like her sister-in-law) reminds me of what I read about her earlier. He does this deftly.

When I returned to bed (for I read a bout in the wee hours of the morning today) I was greatly comforted and felt strengthened and sustained by some of Dickinson’s poems as well as Ferlazzo’s tone and comments. I see my favorites are precisely those where she struggles for sanity (“After great pain …”) and engages deeply with the natural world (pictorial) as well as shows her vulnerability to love and sense of isolation and beautiful humility (“I’m nobody …”).

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me, — Emily Dickinson


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Caroline Hershel (1750-1848)


Capital letter from place setting of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14

It is not true that in time you get used to it. Far from healing wounds, time can on the contrary,only make wounds worse — Simone de Beauvoir

We have to look beyond the officially honored, recognized and enshrined — Martin Scorses

Dear friends and readers,

You need not have read it here to know that an image of Jane Austen and associated images & words are due to appear on British £10 notes, nor that the image chosen, the line from Pride and Prejudice & choice of house misrepresent the one image we have of her, ignore the ironic context of the remark, take the story of her writing secretly on the tiny table as gospel, & has the wrong house: she lived in Chawton cottage, very much not a grand house (see Janine Barchas on bad execution). Many probably have heard of the demoralizingly hideous attacks on Caroline Criado-Perez for her leadership in achieving this tribute to Austen’s fame and literary achievement.

I admit my first response was not to rejoice. I too noted the usual falsifying image, misquoted line, and framing of her as both firmly in the elite world of the UK at the time and enacting repression even as she wrote her extraordinary novels — all of it suggested to me she was chosen without regard to the real content of her novels, her actual life, what she was, but as an icon to uphold conservative myths. This is how she has often been used.

Since her image was replacing Charles Darwin’s why not an important woman scientist? (there are many beyond Caroline Herschel) or active politicians who did women much good: I cited Eleanor Rathbone’s life as an effective labor politician and The Disinherited Family, but and I suppose Eleanor Roosevelt is American (Chicago does not have her at the table either — too dowdy ?). I thought of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97), and it bothered me she’d never have been placed there.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

And why not George or Virginia?

Virginia Woolf (1881-1941)

and it came to me I had named 4 of the 39 women given places at Judy Chicago’s famous dinner party (no George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans was not give a seat, but another famous writer, Emily Dickinson was).


So, my initial rejection functioned to teach me why Judy Chicago did not provide a place setting for Jane Austen at her famous dinner party. It’s not only that Austen is an icon for the heritage industry, counter-part in literature to the over-emphasis on the birth of a son to the Duchess of Cambridge the other day; that Chicago did not want literary or European women to predominate: she said this, and thus George Sand, Germaine de Stael were out (though I note Sappho, Christine de Pizan are in). Ironically, had Chicago included Austen she might not have had quite as hard a time gaining recognition & a permanent place; for Austen is regarded blindly, has passionate adherents (put her with Zombies, trivialize her if you like, just spell her name right) is a mass cult figure.

Chicago might have worried that Austen’s place setting would be so over-cited and reprinted as to blot out other women; become someone used to erase rather than legimitize others. A recent exhibit at the New York Public Library sought to re-place her back among her peers one of a group of women writers of domestic romance and the irritating critique included complaints she had not been properly singled out. Chicago wanted women who exercised power (Isabella d’Este & Elizabeth I) as women who were hurt had in ways that expose how women are mistreated

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) — that she was raped was central to her later life

There is an important criticism to make of Chicago’s work. One full arm of the table is devoted to goddesses and figments of people’s imagination of the ancient and classical ages: there were no such women; what’s said about these figures comes out of irrational religious ideas, encourages belief in what never was (a matriarchy), obfuscations (like awkward references to spirituality); Susan Brownmiller devotes a section of her Against Our Will eloquently to debunk this kind of worship of (frequent rape) stories. So many more women could have made the cut. She also does not always ask what did the woman use her power for?

But there are many more important aspects of the installation to remember & celebrate. Originally it consisted of a heritage floor of some 900 women of achievement (where Jane Austen is found near Emily Dickinson and a group of unmarried early 19th century writers, e.g., Joanna Baillie, Emily Bronte; women who questioned marriage, Charlotte Bronte, Bettina Von Armin), the high point of which was a table on which 39 place settings were put, each for a particular well-known woman, whether through the arts, through war, or though having a great deal of public power. The plates are all beautifully, strikingly designed, and they are, sometimes strongly and graphically and sometimes more subtly, all also vaginas. You can see the structure of parts of the vagina through the design in some way or other. She celebrates women: their power, their achievements, their pleasures; and just as important, she tells of abused women and how and why they were hurt, of women killed young, of how class and physical looks were central to their fates. She remembers proportionately accurately.

The women on the floor are interesting too: there are so many and they are varied, well chosen, again from very early times up to the present. Aphra Behn is there; Marie Gournay (Montaigne’s literary daughter), Victoria Woodhull, Barbara Bodichon are the names that I come across.

What’s been added is a third room with paragraphs describing their lives and what they are remembered for. These are reprinted in recent books of the exhibit and I copy a few totally at random:

Angele de la Barthe d. 1275; France.

De La Barthe was found guilty and executed in the first witchcraft trial in France in 1275. She was accused of copulating with the devil. The basis for this accusation may have been a misinterpretation of certain fertility rituals where were related to the ancient practice of the sacred marriage. These rituals intrigued the Christian judges, who totally misunderstood them but examined them with a perverse fascination.

Most of the stories of medieval women I see are of non-noble non-famous women and they are litany of accusation, early death, misery, of which Joan of Arc (on the floor) is typical. Here’s one more medieval one:

Catherine Deshayes. d. 1679; France

Deshayes, a fortune teller, was charged with witchcraft, tortured and executed for her alleged involvement in a scandal involving the nobility. Supposedly, members of the ruling classes went to sorcerers for the purpose of obtaining poison and spells to kill their spouses. The practice was exposed but only Deshayes was arrested. She was accused of killing two thousand infants with her potions [this probably is a reflection of high infant mortality and the practice of infanticide by many people, of which putting a child out to wet nurse is the most well known type]. The fact that she was of the peasant class was factor in her accusation.

So it may be the beautiful place is for the lucky and strong Eleanor of Acquitaine but her arranged marriages, numerous children, what she was used for is in the plate setting:

Eleanor of Acquitaine (1122-1204)

The 17th century group includes Anne Hutchinson and

Anna Von Schurman (1607-78), a learned lady whose runner is sewn letters of something she wrote:

Woman has the same wish for self-development as man, the same ideals, yet she is to be imprisoned in an empty soul of which the very windows are shuttered

I move swiftly to a women in the 18th and 19th century about whom many more documents exist and are comparable in time to Austen:

Emilie du Chatelet 1706-1749; France

Primarily a mathematician, Du Chatelet was also an astronomer, a philosopher, and a scientific writer. Her most noted achievement was the first translation into French of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, which was published after her death. Her philosophical and scientific views opposed those of Descartes, but were also in accord with scientific thought of the twentieth century. Sleeping only three hours a night, Du Chatelet used her time to work, study, and correspond with the other major philosophers of the eighteenth century and give dinner parties [a form of networking women have often done] at her chateau. Despite her accomplishments, she is remembered as the companion of Voltaire with whom she lived for fifteen years. [In fact the story
most often told of her is a ultimately spiteful one which blames her for frivolous conduct which led to her early death in childbed.]

Emily Faithful 1835-1985; England

In 1863, Faithful founded The Victoria Magazine, which explored the problems of the working woman and demanded ‘equal pay for equal work.’ The periodical was printed by Faithful’s Victoria press, established in 1860, and employing only women compositors. Although initially criticized, her publishing house soon acquired a reputation for excellent work.

Nearby Emily Faithful are Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Charlotte
Guest, Jane Harrison, Sofia Kovalervskaya, Belve Lockwood (the
first woman to plead a case before the US supreme court), Margaret
Murray (the first women to conduct her own archeaological digs).

Ethyl Smith (1858-1945) — just the plate itself

The contemporary end’s plate settings include Georgia O’Keefe, Natalie Barney, lesbian pianist, Ethyl Smith (I like the piano), and of course Margaret Sanger — no movement is more important for women’s liberation than contraception.

Margaret Sanger (1789-1966)

Here is Judy Chicago’s retelling of Sanger’s life:

“WHO CARES whether a woman keeps her Christian name?” Sanger demanded as she lectured around the country “Who cares whether she wears a wedding ring? Who cares about her right to work. For without the right to control their own bodies. other rights are meaningless.”

Born into an Irish-American working-class family, Sanger saw
firsthand the ravages caused by lack of reproductive rights, first in the experience of her mother — worn out after eighteen pregnancies and eleven live births — and then in her work as a nurse in the slums, where she was confronted by countless requests from women for some birth control. Determined to “do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries are as vast as the sky,” she went to Europe and investigated the contraceptive research being done there. Upon her return to America, Sanger forced the taboo subjects of sexuality and birth control into the public forum through her nagazine The Woman Rebel (founded 1914), completely ignoring the laws of the time prohibited the dissemination of any information about sex and contraception.

From the time she opened her first birth-control clinic in 1918,
Sanger was repeatedly arrested for her actions. Convinced that the
birth-control movement had to be worldwide, she convened the
International Birth Control Congress in 1925. The organization she
formed was a a forerunner of the Planned Parenthood Federation, of
which she became president in 1953. Sanger believed passionately
that, once women were freed of involuntary childbeearing, they would change the world; that an “unchained motherhood” would “in its freedom … opens its heart in fruitful affection for humanity.”

Although Sanger’s dream of a more humane world order forged by women has not been realized, her contributions as a social reformer were vast — despite the fact that she erred in judgment when she supported the eugenics movement (which embraced the theory that one could improve hereditary qualities by socially controlling human reproduction; in practice, this has often led to disastrous policies). Her life was a testament to her conviction that women should “look the world in the face with a go-to-hell look in the eyes; have an idea; speak and act in defiance of convention.”

Chicago’s description of the artwork:

The brilliant red image on the Margaret Sanger plate is based upon the sangaris, a blood-red butterfly, which seemed a perfect metaphor for Sanger’s lifelong commitment to women’s reproductive freedom. The plate is presented on an embroidered rendition of a medical drawing of the female reproductive system, transformed into a celebration of the miracle of the female body The carefully stitched capital letter is inspired by Sanger’s passionate belief that, once women gained control over their reproductive capacities the world would become free of poverty and war. She argued that “his is the miracle of free womanhood, that in its freedom it opens its heart in fruitful affection on for humanity. How narrow, how pitifully puny has become motherhood in chains.”

Chicago does stop before the mid-20th century, so her last figures on the floor include Edith Wharton, Rebecca West, Simone Weil, Adelia Zamudio-Ribero (1854-1928, Bolivian, worked for better education, jobs, the right to vote).

My book of the exhibit tells of a whole team of people which installed the first display of the exhibit, men and women with difficult sharp electrical instruments. They remind me of crews setting up a theater stage set.


What an accomplishment. What a feat. How ambitious. And in a sense it’s in a tradition Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) started with books about famous women, written in response to the mocking hard misogyny of her era:

Christine’s capital letter

not much different or less repressive than our own — as the savage attacks on Criado-Perez (not stopped by the people running Twitter or Facebook).

If I thought that putting this doctored image of Austen with her paraphernalia on the £10 note would do women’s history, the memory of other women’s contributions, their present lives any good I’d of course celebrate too. But the imagery put on the bill does not augur well; does not anticipate lives told truly. To those who come to this blog to read of Austen, the 18th century and women artists and women’s lives, if what I’ve put on from Chicago’s dinner party displeases you, you have misunderstood my blog’s aims. I would fear the hagiography, the insistence that Austen was special, different, an exception to “the rule” (of women’s dispensability) would mean that putting her on a note of money would not help other women. But the vicious attacks on her as a woman show that in fact her gender (her vagina) is never forgotten.

It is frustrating that Chicago refuses to indulge the voyeuristic aspect of studying women’s lives by giving us images of their bodies; but it’s deliberate; she is making the point that what is looked at slyly and subtextually from commercial to high culture play is woman as vagina. Myself I’m not as rigorous and wish she had included actresses who have had an important hard role to play in the growing estimation of women. So I’ll end on an image of Bette Davis (1908-99), many of whose roles studied together reveal also about women what many people never want to acknowledge, talk about, and calls for change:

as the betrayed Eve in All About Eve (1951)


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Dear friends and readers,

As I felt I could not ignore the birth of a baby boy to a woman in a London hospital on Monday afternoon, so on an Austen Reveries blog I ought to comment on the new £10 note. As media events, what the two women stand for, the two are linked.

It’s worth noting several characteristics of the note:

The image is not the one Cassandra drew but a version of the much doctored one her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh had redrawn for his 1870 memoir

Historically in Austen’s time £10 would have been a lot of money and there were no such notes.

It is accompanied by a line from Pride and Prejudice (Chapter 11): “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” Apparently it’s often quoted out of context; in context it’s ironic & hypocritical:

Miss Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
     No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement …

The first evening Elizabeth had been at Netherfeld (having come to look after her sister) and had gone down to the drawing-room armed with a book, Miss Bingley had accused her of being anti-social:

Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”
     “I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.

Pride and Prejudice is enormously far more known than any of Austen’s novels and presumably far more read: I belong to a large software community called Library Thing, where as July 2008 459,380 people had catalogued 29,428,407 books. A software engine there informed me I was one among 20,752 people to have a copy of Pride and Prejudice. By contrast, around 10,021 members of this community owned a copy of Emma; 9,456 had a copy of Sense and Sensibility; 7,143 had a copy of Persuasion; 5,883 had a Mansfield Park; 4,988 had a Northanger Abbey.

So it’s appropriate as fame is probably the source of this choice that the image of a young 18th century woman on the background is said to be Elizabeth Bennet; she is placed in the middle of a design taken from Austen’s writing table at Chawton cottage.


Further back is an image of Godmersham in Kent, which Jane’s third brother, Edward Austen inherited as the result of his having been adopted and brought up by a pair of his father’s relatives. The house and grounds became very important to the family as a center for rent and other income, patronage, socializing, comfortable living. See a Jane Austen Gazetteer.

She is the third British author to be on a pound note: images of Shakespeare and Dickens have also been used. She replaces Charles Darwin — in the US he would be seen as controversial by some; no one can think Jane Austen is. Austen is probably the most famous British woman author today (why I used her for a blog meant to cover woman’s art) and one might ask how that came to be and (again) what she represents. Still, if a woman was wanted, why not someone who did some general good for other women and their children: for example, Eleanor Rathbone.


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