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Posts Tagged ‘symbolic women’


Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) and Maudie (Sally Hawkins) early on in film

Dear friends and readers,

A few days ago I saw a extraordinary movie which had a moment so uplifting that it caught my breath: Sherry (Kari Matchett) asks Maudie (Sally Hawkins) what has sustained her, enabled her to survive to paint these marvelously colorful expressionistic depictions of gardens, people, landscapes. Maud says with a deep sincerity, she has had windows to sit by and look at the world out of, and these experiences which she paints and from which painting and interaction within herelf give her such fulfilment, it’s enough. What more than this core does anyone have. Words to this effect.


An image of one of the real Maud Lewis’s paintings

She is living with Sherry because Sherry has taken her in after she left her partner-husband, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) because his latest form of obtuse bullying includes trying to stop her from talking of the baby she gave birth to many years ago, and how it was taken from her immediately by her aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose) and brother Charles (Zachary Bennett), how they claimed the baby was born deformed and died, but was in fact (her aunt has now out of guilt and respect for Maud told her) perfectly formed, and lived. Her brother “sold” the baby, says Ida, because the couple was a stable, good pair of people and they thought this was for the best. They cannot have had Maud’s feelings in mind: we now realize she experienced an agon of grief, loss, and despair (she was led to believe she should never have children).

This is just one of an at first ever-growing pile tragic traumatic experience visited upon Maud (that we get to see): when we first meet her, she seems old, wizened, badly disabled by arthritis or some such condition, and despite this painting gay flowers. Flashback (the rest of the movie) to her in say her twenties when she is living a stifled life with this same aunt, no money, no access to any enjoyment, spoken harshly to, ripped out of her mother’s house (which her brother has now sold — he is into selling things) and left to rot with this aunt. Late at night, she quietly leaves the house and haunts a nearby roadhouse, where people are drinking, dancing, talking, and she can cage cigarettes, a glass of beer, and dream amid the noise and stars. She finds (most improbably it might seem) liberty, and then creates her life as a painter and loving companion with a silent seemingly “retarded” (he is autistic) fish-peddler (precarious living) she sees in a general store asking someone to write an advertisement for him for a “housemaid.” His house is a filthy shack. Ignoring the aunt’s protests, sneers, predictions she will be a “love slave” (which she laughs at astonished), she approaches this man and gets permission to become his housemaid.


Everett at work

More oppression is what she finds: giving her hardly any tools, no money, he demands she clean the house, cook for him (he is clearly impoverished from the state of his kitchen pots, utensils, stove), is barely civil. She has nowhere to sleep but next to him in his bed in an attic room. He speaks of an orphanage, and we gather his abominable behavior is what he learned there: he seeks control as a way of stablizing his environment. It gets so bad, he is so distrustful of her encroaching on him, taking power, that when an associate of his (also staking out a precarious living) speaks to her, and she responds, he hits her hard across the face. Her startled scream of anguish made the single slap and its sound means more than 100s killed in other movies. I thought to myself, if this keeps up, I can’t stay, and wondered if my friend (I was with a new friend) would mind if I insisted on leaving. But this is the nadir of the film.


Ride in the Snow (the movie landscape is filled with ice and snow)

Gradually she wins him over, by her patient improvements of this cottage and then her cheerful naive paintings celebratory of all around them, the natural world (we learn eventually we are in Nova Scotia, Canada), everything in the cottage, him, her, invented anecdotes. First the walls, then we see her making her painful way to a shop, grudgingly he buys her paper and paints because she has begun to use one can of paint to paint on discarded boards of wood she found outside the shack. The state of their relationship may be measured by his beginning to follow or go before her with his wagon, and then his putting her in the wagon while he pushes it ahead of him. It is Sherry’s first visit to complain that Everett has not delivered the fish she paid for that effects the first transformative change: Sherry sees the paintings on the wall, and asks Maud to paint postcards for her. She will pay Maud. Out of his first success, and Sherry’s advertising Maud to other people, telling her NYC friends, associates in gallery, Maud’s first enlarged custom comes. By this time Maud is regularly lying with Everett at night and when once he is moved to try to have sex with her, she has told the story she was told of the birth and death of a deformed baby. At that, he moves back, but he is not turned off. She has begun to write down an accounting of his business (money taken in, fish promised), and he has begun to do some and then gradually more and more of the household chores while she paints. He is alive to the money she is bringing in. The film is not sentimental. They form a partnership.


The marriage day — outside the church

But it is touching even if we feel that the roughness from him, and abject acceptance from her never goes. If I were to characterize their developing emotional relationship for the rest of the film I would use the word tender: a vein of tender affection is drawn out of him as he increasingly compensates himself for what she cannot do easily. They do make love in that bed, and (very characteristic throughout) she says gingerly and then repeats the idea they should marry, and eventually we see both of them dressing themselves respectable and carefully and then with the original friend-associate and his girlfriend coming out of a church a married couple. The mood of their life is cheerful, because very unexpectedly as soon as she is treated with minimal decency, a kind of laughter comes out of her eyes, her face shines with eagerness; she is quietly buoyant and I was reminded of the first time I saw Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh’s Happy-go-Lucky (as long ago as 2008), which was about a stalwart happy community (that I now associate with Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls). Hawkins has the unusual ability convincingly to bring joy out of anguish (that is what she did as Anne Elliot in the 2007 Persuasion). Aisling Walsh, the director gives them plenty of room for inward-outward display; Sherry White’s script is both simple and subtle.


Maud Lewis in front of the small house where she lived with Everett

Not until the end of the film did I realize that Maud Lewis was a real Canadian artist (1903-70), that this was a deeply empathetic biopic of a beloved artist, who had indeed been arthritic, disabled, and rescued by while she rescued, an isolated man, also disabled. Just as the credits are about to roll, photographs of the real Maud and Everett Lewis appear (and we see these actors modeled their bodily appearance on the original people). As Glenn Kerry puts it, “This film fits into a particular kind of sub-genre: the story of two lonely people, societal outcasts, who find comfort and solace with each other.” But it does not treat this theme (or any other) conventionally. It’s not a story about how wonderful is fame — indeed I as a viewer kept worrying that somehow the increasing number of people showing up at the cottage, and eventually the crooked brother, would somehow break this couple up. The suspense of the film comes from our fear they will lose one another because they remain inarticulate: each concession comes unexpectedly, not prepared for. After Maud returns to Everett, and a scene between them where each has trouble acknowledging love (for different reasons):


she listens to him, pays attention

After they come back together, he seemingly suddenly drives her to a respectable looking house outside of which is a young 20 year old woman and her husband. Everett says “there is your daughter.” He has found the girl and Maud begins to cry. They also do not move from this isolated existence, so towards the end when her arthritis is much worse and she falls in the snow while Everett is off selling fish, she is in danger of freezing to death, of badly hurting herself.

What breaks them is aging, her disability gets worse. She cannot walk far, can hardly hold her brushes. She has throughout the movie smoked and now she can’t breathe. A doctor shows up, and declares she has emphysema and must stop smoking. Everett declares (in his usual bullying manner) she already has. But it is too late. One night together in their now electric-lit, heated, comfortable home, she falls over unable to breathe. He rushes her to a hospital, where she gradually dies. Hawkins performs her usual spectacular acting (she was an inimitable Duchess of Gloucester, jealous, foolishly playing with superstition, then blamed and tortured, gone mad in the Hollow Crown), but Ethan Hawke is not far behind. He looks different, thicker than his usual types, gradually utterly convincing. As he walked away from the hospital to loneliness in this cottage filled with her things, her absent present I remembered him when young in Sunrise, and then five years later Sunset with Julie Delpy, then ten years on, Midnight, and somehow this movie seemed another phase, with his beloved partner now deeply aged and quietly much wiser.

I write this detailed review because the blurbs on IMDB are so distorted (this is the story of an arthritic housekeeper who makes good in her community one runs — what community?) and the reviews few and uncomprehending or uncomfortable. It seems disabled people living in poverty need to be prettied up more. Manola Dargis sees the film as “about the fantasies we make of our lives as we spin beauty and hope from despair.” There is a book, Lance Woolaver’s Maud Lewis: The Heart on the Door where he shows a desperate life. Everett Lewis was a far more difficult man to live with than the film makes out. The movie softens, but it’s often through remembering and emphasizing the paintings, the imagery, the artist painting.


Cats

I often despair, I’m alone much of the time, and it was good for me to have validated the kinds of moments (mine literary) I have which make all the hard and tiring parts of life, the awareness of how excluded I am, still worth enduring for me. This has come to be another in my series of women artists. Maybe I will find the spirit to return to these yet.


A slightly sadder picture

Ellen

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Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938), The Closed Window Shutters

Dear friends,

About two years ago now (how time flies) I chaired two panels whose topic was supposed to be single women living alone befoe the 19th century. Single did not mean unmarried necessarily: rather a woman living as a single woman without a man as husband, father, brother, uncle, or some form of “guardian” cousin. I did not specify that the women had literally to be living alone but was looking rather for someone who had the highest authority in the house, was not with someone else as her peer. I was aware that out of six papers accepted for this panel “as near enough,” only one was about real women living alone — and in these two cases, the woman, Charlotte Lennox and Charlotte Smith, were married and separated from their husbands, with children and servants and other people as burdens in the household too. The others were about fictions, nunneries, a love affair in letters (two young people being forbidden to marry), and my own on widows and widowers in Austen, where only a few in the fictions could be described as living alone for any considerable period of time, with the exception of the impoverished (Mrs Smith, Miss Bates). The fact of non-marriage as shaping their living conditions was not brought up except explicitly for Miss Bates.

I was encouraged by editors scouting about to develop a prospectus for an anthology of essays on this topic, but I was immediately confronted with the reason for the lack of papers. I had no study to fall back on, only individual books part of which might swirl around this topic (single women — meaning spinsters — in a given period, or widows in 18th century France). Studies were done of fictions because there at least the topic was defined and individuals clearly described — there is a problem of definition itself as the unacceptability of the state led many women to keep their state invisible (Felicia Hemans springs to mind). On the one hand, I felt there were so many women of this type when I began to look, and on the other how a firm conception to bring them together had not been developed. You could get articles or chapters on the pressure on women to marry, but then what was discussed was marriage. No one wanted to look; this was not interesting unless the woman was seeking power and it was this search for gaining power that was the interest. I asked friends who had more status than I to join me as an editor (to ask other people to write essays is to need status oneself), but all were busy with other projects. I am a retired adjunct lecturer aka independent scholar. A second obstacle was finding people; this requires a circle of close friend-scholars with the same interests who see somke advantage to themselves in appearing in this anthology. One last: one friend said I might find it becomes “too lesbian” (in effect) and so be sure to cover a wide range of types! (contact people privately before resorting to the CFP).


Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Modern Women

But I had not quite given up the topic. It’s too close to my heart now. Last term (at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at American University) I taught a class I called 19th century women of letters and my proposal to do it again with a different set of books has been accepted at OLLI at Mason for the coming fall. It hadn’t taken long for me to realize that the typical women of letters was a woman supporting herself, often living alone if I used the expanded definition. It does seem as if living truly alone, literally (though still an anomaly), is a phenomenon only found in the 20th century: essentially it requires that a woman have a good paying job or income (I thought of Virginia Woolf’s desideratum of £500 per year, the equivalent today would be $35,000 per year); and that the norms or mores of the community do not allow male thugs to molest her on the supposition she must be a prostitute (in effect). Before the 19th century there was no large general literary marketplace, few circulating libraries, few magazines. All this was the basis for the 19th century woman of letters:

19th Century Women of Letters

We will ask what did a woman writer’s career look like, what genres and journalism women published, what were obstacles & advantages women experienced, like & unlike today. We’ll read Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance,” and Margaret Oliphant’s Kirsteen, and “The Library Window.”  We’ll also read brief on-line excerpts from Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, Caroline Norton’s English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century, Emmeline Pankhurst, “Freedom or Death” and Virginia Woolf’s “Professions for Women”.

Now suddenly a thought has occurred to me which I had not been able to reach before: I could do a book on this topic if I chose 6 women I could write about myself. I had so worried myself over the obstacles to an anthology. But I can write a book on my own. I have the Library of Congress and Folger nearby, and access to two university libraries, one with the database. I can now see an introductory chapter; the body of the work; and a conclusion. I don’t know why I couldn’t break through to this before. Maybe need. I need absorbing work I can genuinely respect and look at as useful to others beyond giving myself some kind of meaning. I have now faced that I will be alone most of the time for the rest of my life. I can blog, teach, write and read to participate with others, but I want some overarching goal to guide me. An introductory chapter, a chapter on a specific woman and outline and I could try to send this to one of those editor-publishers whose names and presses I still have.


Another possible candidate: Julia Kavanagh (1824-77), disabled, she supported herself and her mother by her pen

So I’ve begun reading again Norma Clarke’s Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship, Love, The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans and Jane Carlyle. I’m in the second half, the chapter on the relationship of Geraldine Jewsbury and Jane Welsh Carlyle, and remembered a brilliant portrait of them by Virginia Woolf in her Second Common Reader.

Woolf’s essay is a delight. She manages to convey Geraldine and Jane’s lesbianism without openly showing it — so this is a kind of post-James text. I refer to how Eva Sedgwick says lesbian and gay texts around the time of Henry James were using various subterfuges but coming out much more to show gay and lesbian experience. Carter takes another step into transvestism and gender ambiguity which except for the high-jinks of Orlando I don’t see in Woolf.

I was drawn to the pathos of these women in Woolf. Clarke’s Ambitious Heights rather brings out how hard Jane Carlyle was on her women servants — she worked them like semi-slaves, and also made them be a personal comforter to her. Let me say that was wrong of Jane Carlyle; Clarke made me wonder if other women did this. I know that male masters did bugger their male servants, and the only control was fear of blackmail. Woolf doesn’t have the space to explain why Jewsbury lived far away, how she came to London to live close. There were two visits of living together, and the first a disaster, the second a reinforcement. Paradoxically for us a disappointment because the letters stop when they live around the corner from one another. Today they might start to text and tweet at one another. Then Jane’s need of Geraldine but after her sudden death (from fatigue? from stress? from repressive years and years of wearing down her organs), Geraldine spends 20 years alone. The one photo we have of Jewsbury shows her quietly reading, all dressed up. Unlike Woolf who is daring for her time, Clarke does not bring up or out the probable lesbianism of Carlyle and Jewsbury (Jane and Geraldine). It was published in 1990; Clarke doesn’t even discuss the possibility. 26 years ago maybe it was verboten to get an academic respectable if feminist book published.


Geraldine Jewsbury

I also started Kirsteen, which I am relieved to say is as excellent as Oliphant’s Hester, The Ladies Lindores and Lady Car: A sequel (about the later years of one of the heroines in the first book), or long ago now (I don’t remember it as well any more) Cousin Phoebe. I just love Oliphant’s books and she would be one of my subjects. I need to narrow each one of six to the trajectory of women living alone, why, how, with what results. I have been wanting to blog on her powerful if flawed The Marriage of Elinor and thinking about this novel in terms of this perspective, brings out what Oliphant is meaning to say by this book, and its continued effectiveness today.

My reading of The Marriage of Elinor went on late at night; I turned pages feverishly because like other of Oliphant’s novels I couldn’t predict what was going to happen, and only towards the middle became aware (as is so common with Oliphant) that it’s not centrally about the character of the young heroine, after whom it is name, Elinor, or she’s secondary; the center is shared by her mother, Mrs Dennistoun whose first name was finally uttered: Mary.

The book is about a woman who gives all to a daughter who continually makes very bad choices. And why are they bad? because she chooses what the world says is admirable. Elinor marries Philip Compton, a macho male handsome man who takes her into expensive society and she finds herself emotionally corroded, among hollow people, a target for monetary fleecing. The book’s true hero, John Tatham has not been passionate and aggressive enough in his proposal to her. He is a kind of Henry James male who does not commit himself emotionally until it’s too late. Sheltering Elinor destroys her life. No one is willing to tell her (including her mother) why she should not marry Phillip Compton who turns out to be (not to put a fine point on this) far more than promiscuous and a gambler: he’s a downright criminal whom her world protects from censor because of his rank and family. The way the story is set up it seems to be about the young heroine — which is what happens in Hester and why it gets off to a very slow start, with us realizing only gradually the young heroine, Elinor, is a doppelganger to the older her mother (Hester is this to her aunt-in-law, Catherine Vernon). It’s very much both and about how destructive is the norm which will not allow a girl to know anything about the world, try to support herself and not be a helpless hanger-on, but find some fulfillment of her own.

Merryn Williams who wrote the best of the three recent books in English on Oliphant says the point of The Marriage of Elinor is to show us how little sexual passion and the reasons for marriage out of love last a very short time; what women care for is motherhood. Men cannot understand these feelings. Elisabeth Jay reminds her reader this is a late novel and she concentrates on the woman in it I’ve not mentioned: dissolute, amoral, endlessly in society (a sort of Helene in Tolstoy’s War and Peace) who is represented as repellent. Jay does not respect this novel, mentions it because it is not romantic and shows the real psychology of a desperately bad marriage (in terms of either party getting any fulfillment).

As Elinor sees how bad her decision to marry Compton is, she does all she can to hide the truth. There are hints Compton hits her. Her happiest times it now seems to her were when she was left by this husband to live with her mother and her boy. Finally she separates heself him for the sake of her son, so the son shall not be brought up to become another amoral man. Her mother has given up a great deal of money to Philip as a kind of bribe. Meanwhile Elinor allows her fear of what the world might say adverse to her pride drive her decisions: say to move from the comfortable home her mother has lived in most of her life (it appears to be near Dorking, so Sussex) way up north. She will not send her precious son to a school where he is surrounded by peers because is determined to keep from him who his father was for real, and his background. In court Elinor gives a testimony literally true, but false in what it implies, and the ne’er-do-well husband is himself let go, and returns to having nothing to do with her once he gets his hands on enough money to live luxuriously. But by the end of the novel she has silently conceded the man she married is a criminal type even if he has a title, and she goes to live alone up north, leaving her son with Tatham whose advice she has finally relied upon. The crucial last turn of the book is the question of whether her son will turn against her when he realizes all his life he has been kept away from others, gone to a school where he was not with his own class or boys of his own intellectual level; he does not partly because John Tatham has stayed by his side and provides the explanation and continuity the boy needs. The two women end up living alone in peace at the book’s end

Oliphant reminds me a little of Charlotte Smith: not finding a new radically changed structure on which to plot her story. She often wants us to see her characters confronting hegemonic norms of other people and unable to break them down — in many areas of life and death too. We are supposed to heavily criticize Elinor. I am so used to the conventional stance of pro-heroine, but in these latest scenes what Elinor wants to do (flee the law) is so egregious. Each time flight: each time refuse to cope with what she has created and wrecking havoc on those she says her actions are protecting. The book critiques the passive romantic supposedly super-virtuous heroine; she must come out and she must engage with the situations she’s created. The power of the book comes from what seems a skewed POV divided between Tatham and Mrs Denistoun who anguish over Elinor

How did Kavanagh, Jewsbury, Oliphant manage it? Woolf? I end on Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own


Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

So, added to Austen and sheerly the 18th century, woman artists, and foremother poets, I hope blogging here by thinking through work I do towards a book by me to be called The Anomaly. I’m an anomaly by the way. Not because I fit the definition of nearly living alone (which I do): a widow, with my unmarried daughter, a librarian and two cats, but because I’m a very learned scholar with no rank and no income except my widow’s annuity and social security, and the money my mother and Jim left me; because I teach at a place where I don’t quite fit either as a student (yesterday I became aware of how many of the women at AU went to elite or Ivy League colleges and studied to be lawyers and other professionals — they can have no idea who I am, from a free university, getting there by bus, studying English Literature) or teacher (I overdo), and because my social life such as it is is here on Net. Is this enough to be getting on with? I’ve got many rooms of my own and for now more than the minimum income …

Ellen

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queencharlottebyramsay
Queen Charlotte (1760-61) by Allan Ramsay (1713-84)

Emma got up on the morrow more disposed for comfort than she had gone to bed, more ready to see alleviations of the evil before her, and to depend on getting tolerably out of it — Emma, Chapter 16, after the ordeal of Christmas …

sylviareading
Amy Brenneman as Sylvia (a sort of amalgam of traits from Austen heroines, with her plot-line that of Persuasion) reading Emma, the first choice to read of The Jane Austen Book Club

Dear friends and readers,

A mere seven days have slipped by (I say this ironically) since I wrote my first report on the Burney conference in DC, which occurred on Wednesday, 20 October, just before the official JASNA meeting began this year on Thursday, 21 October. I covered two-thirds of the papers on Burney. Here I offer summaries of the talks on Burney at the end of the day, and a general description of what a JASNA conference is like, and brief account of the key-note address (as I described it elsewhere). As an overview of all the papers on Burney I suggest that we saw a conflicted woman: she lived in a world ordered by imperialism abroad and patronage at home; she tried to find space for herself as a writer and (reminding me of what D.W. Harding said of Austen’s fiction so long ago) ways to express her identity and ideas that would not antagonize those dearest to her (her father) and who she did and had to respect. I have noticed over several conferences too (I may be wrong) that the novels and sheer texts too favored for discussion are Cecilia and The Wanderer. As I began to write out the notes on the Emma conference, I did remember the novel and a few of the good film adaptations whose pictorialism (mostly in the novel) help realize aspects of the novel, and felt a little better: Austen does that for me. I hope to concentrate on Austen’s mature fiction in a paper on Ekphrasis in Austen for the coming Austen and Art conference this coming Monday. A good way to start another year.

****************************

Frances Burney and Politics (In continuation):

allan_ramsay_artist_-_queen_charlotte_with_her_two_children
Again a painting by Ramsay, this time of Charlotte and her two older boys — these paintings are said to show the queen had mulatto features, which was brought up (separately) during the conference

The third paper of the afternoon panel, “Celebrity and Material Culture” was given by Kate H. Hamilton, “Queen Charlotte, Burney, and Virtuous Servitude.” Kate talked about the conflicts between the role of a public servant and the role of a novelist. Fanny saw herself as an apolitical writer, but in order to be careful did not send her journal-letters to her sister, Susan, through the post. Her virtuous reputation was dependent on her social connections. While there she was part of a feminized society, attending to queen’s personal needs in dress, entrusted with the queen’s jewelry, and this identity was the one she had to live out publicly. At the same time her fame as the writer of Evelina had helped bring her to the queen’s attention, and she spent much time writing creatively. Kate provided a text which suggests how Frances writes about these conflicts (somewhat coyly) in her diaries:

The Queen sent for me after Breakfast, and delivered to me a long Box, called here The Jewel Box, in which her Jewels are carried to & from Town, that are worn on the Drawing Room Days. The great bulk of them remain in Town all the Winter, & remove to Windsor for all the Summer, with the rest of the family. She told me, as she delivered the key into my Hands, that as there was always much more room in the Box than her travelling Jewels occupied, I might make what use I pleased of the remaining part, adding, with a very expressive smile, ‘I dare say you have Books, & Letters that you may be glad to carry backwards and forwards with you. –‘ I owned that nothing was more true, & thankfully accepted the offer. It has proved to me, since, a comfort of the first magnitude, in conveying all my choice Papers & Letters safely in the carriage with me, as well as Books in present reading, & numerous odd things … CJL 1:192)

Kate mentioned that Mme de Genlis wrote more openly about conflicts between her public, writing, and private roles in life that tarnished her reputation.

Kelly Fleming’s “Miss Larolles, Lady Belgrade’s Shoe Buckles and the Law” was another paper which used elements, characTers, and scenes from Cecilia to discuss larger political and social issues, in this case the contradictions between the way the law of debt worked and what a woman might assume was her private property. Kelly discussed how the auction in Cecilia showed how a wife was forced to pay her husband’s debts by selling her paraphernalia (e.g., shoe buckles). Such property could also be sold when the husband died to pay for debts. Without having real ownership, the woman could nonetheless be indirectly made to pay a debt (unless say another male in the family stepped in). Such events also brought the pain of exposure as they were also fashionable to go to. Kelly brought in the way disguises were used at masquerades (one of her guardians Mr Briggs warns her against the glittering objects on display as belonging to people); and again the point was women cannot find or rely on power through seeming to own anything. During Cecilia the heroine is fleeced of her inheritance of £10,000.

sophiaburneyworks
Sophia Elizabeth Burney (1777-1856) was Frances’s niece, her sister Esther’s daughter

After an afternoon tea break, Lorna Clarke’s description of her and Sara Rose Smith’s edition of Sophia Elizabeth Burney’s “Works” and “Novels, Plays, and Poems” combined with the fourth panel, “Family Politics” ended the academic day.

Lorna said a generous grant from the Burney Society published this volume under the aegis of the Juvenilia Press started by Juliet McMaster. The book was privately printed, and some 15 years ago surfaced in an edition called Works; in 2009 Peter Sabor bought a copy from a private collector. There are two copies of a first volume and one of a second. This new edition combines these; the texts project a strong exuberance; Sophia was perhaps 13 when she wrote them and copied them out in fair copies later. Some 14 titles, 2 novelettes, 2 poems. Titles include Murder Prevented (a playlet); Murder Committed (a tragedy where there is is female confinement, women suffer violence from men; lovers kill themselves); Unlawful Marriage (family struggles, with nightmarish images); A History of Jack Scarrow (boy runs away 100 miles to London). One comedy is reminiscent of Congreve. The stories remember real traumas in the Burney family; events that occurred. They register that Charles Burney’s affability could be seen as sycophancy. As far as we know Fielding’s Amelia was the only novel in Charles Burney’s library.

In her paper, “Burney at Cheapside,” Lorna argued that Burney’s writings are deeply imbued with the politics of gender and class; her place in London society was equivocal, and her consciousness of this played a large part in her unhappiness at court. The Burneys hid that Esther Sleep, Charles’s first wife, owned a shop that sold fans; Charles’s origins were in the servant class, and he used his second wife’s money for income. In her depictions of women, in the life-writing Esther’s mother (Frances’s grandmother) is depicted as an angel, while in Evelina we find a French grandmother, Madame Duval whose vulgar, aggressive behavior mortifies the heroine. Evelina exorcises the ghosts of the Burney forebears: the portrait of Madame Duval, a cathartic release for Frances; the Branghams, versions of the Sleep family. In The Witlings we are in a millinery shop; both Cecilia and Camilla show similar subtexts. Lorna then discussed the use of fans in Burney’s journals to show how through comedy and realism Frances expressed complex feelings she could not approach any other way: pictures on them, lines of verse; how they are used as props, in court ceremonies, as instruments, material symbols.

witlings
From a recent production of The Witlings

Victoria Warren discussed Frances’s play, The Witlings as a treasure trove of every painful sorrow, from what is in the play to how Frances was forced to cancel any productions ever in her lifetime. Some of the facets of the play’s humor show strong feminism; expose deep anti-intellectualism of popular culture (one character has such an aversion to reading, the sight of a book is distasteful), heartlessness; most satirical lines are given to Censor. Victoria went through the individual characters to show how how each functions. There is sentiment too, an almost thwarted love story: the heroine, Cecilia Stanley, grieves because Beaufort does not seek her out for herself.

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Colonel Molesworth Phillips

Jocelyn Harris’s paper on Colonel Molesworth Phillips, Frances’s sister, Susan’s abusive husband, closed the conference. Jocelyn argued that Austen attacked Phillips in her characterization of Fanny Price’s father (often drunk, clearly capable of violence, a do-nothing useless man) in Mansfield Park. Austen of course read Burney’s novels; knew the Cookes who were related to the Burneys; her brother Francis, from his time in the navy, would have know of Burney’s brother’s career (Jocelyn went into many details here). I’ll add that Austen mentions Burney’s son at one point in one of her later letters; and she would probably have known whatever gossip was commonly known about the Burneys. Jocelyn seemed to think that Frances Burney would have recognized this portrait of her brother-in-law in Mansfield Park. My comment is there are no textual proofs whatsoever for this assertion; nor that (as Jocelyn also suggested) Burney would have read Mansfield Park in this way (so seen this “message”), if she read it (there is no record of her reading any of Austen’s novels in all her voluminous writing); and many men in the era were in the military, were violent outside their official job, alcoholics, and ended drones, living on small pensions, all at once.

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Norbury Park, owned by Frances’s friends, the Lockes, where she built Camilla Cottage, which she had to give up later in life (romantic picturesque drawing in Constance Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Home and Her Friends

In the last half-hour of the conference there was a wide-ranging general discussion which many of the people there joined in on. Some of the most interesting remarks I got down were about other artistic and learned people who Burney wrote about in her journals; about some sources for Burney’s plays, her fictionalizing in the journals, her borrowing from other authors, and Joyce Hemlow’s long career and how she knew much about the property owned by the Burneys and the way they made money to survive. Harder questions were about Frances’s own anxieties as these emerge in her real life finances. We all went out to waiting cabs and headed for a dinner together at McCormick & Schnick’s (said to be a fashionable restaurant in DC). It was expensive. The society will next meet with the Aphra Behn Society next November 2017 in the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel.

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Doran Goodwin as Emma reassuring her father that her marriage to Mr Knightley does not mean she and her father will part (1972 BBC Emma, scripted Denis Constanduros)

It is almost impossible for any individual to give any general or clear idea of the special lectures, individual break-out sessions, and key-note talks of the JASNA conference. Although the conference was said to begin on Friday (which the conference fee to pay for the sessions covered), there were “light” special lectures (by people who’ve gotten awards for popularizing books, TV personalities, an author of an Austen sequel), group conversations (including a food specialist, people dressing up in costumes, a dramatic sketch with a local fine actress who has performed in plays made out of Austen’s novels) and talks at scattered times on Wednesday and Thursday (fitted into four sessions, for each of which you had to purchase a ticket beyond the conference and hotel fees). I omit the other “special” workshops (on handiwork, fancy work, making things, dancing lessons). At the same time there were tours from the hotel to various tourist places around DC (including to the Folger Shakespeare Library). The conference fee covered but four sessions, and during each nine panels or papers and discussions were going on at once.

There also had been on on-line and one in-person writing workshop for “young writers” (students) done by three name Austen scholars and some volunteers from American university on themes from Emma. There was also a book store, a costume shop.

I regretted having to miss most of the official conference (8 sessions a time). At an earlier conference in Portland, Maine there were far more session times, though again there were a large number on at the same time (not quite 9 each time). I noticed a costume curator’s talk late on Thursday but as there was no further information about this one I didn’t try to come just at that time on day for that. (Were you staying in the glamorous hotel it would have been easy to do.) As part of the conference itself (no extra fee or ticket) there was a concert on Friday night (with nothing on against it), a selection of regency era music performed by a “specialist historical flute player” using an early 19th century Broadwood square fortepiano. My daughter would have liked to go to some of the dance workshops also going on at conflicting times, and requiring a ticket and early registration.

By simply citing all this plainly I hope to have given a sense of what most of this JASNA conference was like. For me there was far too much taking us away from the text of Austen’s Emma.

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Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax fleeing the garden party at Donwell Abbey (1996 A&E Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

So the “official” conference (what your fee paid for) got together as a group on Friday at 1 for Bharat Tandan’s talk ending around 2:15 in the general ballroom. Most of the people at the conference were in the room at the same time so it was a fairly large crowd sitting there politely. I’ve described it fully here (scroll down). Briefly, Prof Tandan asserted rather incoherently there is much invisible in Emma of the greatest interest, but he did not go on to discuss in what these invisible elements consisted. There were then two sessions, one from 2:45 to 3:45 pm, and the second from 4:00 to 5:00 pm.

I’ll save what content on Austen’s Emma I and my daughter were able to hear for a third blog and here just cite the sessions I was especially sorry to have to miss: Anita Solway’s “The Darkness of Emma:” how there is “a somber vision of the vulnerability of our lives that anticipates Persuasion,” and if there are “blessings of existence” that “counteract its devastations;” Gillian Webster’s “Solving the Puzzle of Jane Fairfax: Jane Austen and the Anti-Heroine:” why is Jane Fairfax “so central to the novel, and why is she not the heroine,” how Austen “subverts conventions and challenges her readers to accept a different perspective” (than the usual?); Sheryl Craig “Dependence or Independence;” on the 16 characters gainfully employed in Emma; Holly Field, “Accountable to Nobody: Motherless children in Emma;” Susan Jones’s “Oysters and Alderneys: Emma and the Animal Economy: on the animals (there and alive, and I suppose, alas, killed and eaten). Finally Jeffrey Nigo of the Art Institute of Chicago, together with Andrea Cawetti of Harvard (experts in music, opera, she a former opera singer), on “Divas in the Drawing Room, or Italian Opera Comes to Highbury:” it was possibly a serious talk about arias performed in the era, and the career trajectory of a woman singer.

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Romola Garai as Emma after the assembly ball, come home and practicing as strenuously as she can for a little while (2009 BBC Emma, scripted Sandy Welch)

More next time,
Ellen

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William Hodges (1744-97), An Indian Village with a Man seated in the Foreground

Dear friends and readers,

My report on the panels and papers given by the Burney society on 20 October 2016, the day before the “official” beginning of the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of America) meeting and on the panels and papers of the JASNA AGM has been much delayed, and I regret to say will be less specific and shorter than my previous conference reports. I got lost on the way to Trinity College where the Burney Society was holding its meeting, and missed much of the keynote address, and in any case (as I’ve said) my ability with stenography permit me only to record the gist of most of the papers; the JASNA group had but four (!) break-out sessions (astonishing) and two serious speeches on the Friday and Saturday (the 21st and 22nd) I was able to attend. There was one lecture mid-morning Sunday on an edition of Emma (1816, Philadelphia, by Juliette Wells) as part of a breakfast set-up and nothing else; since I wasn’t staying at the expensive hotel, and was teaching on Monday I could not take out the time for one book history talk. I’ve described the places and ambiance the two different societies met in when I came home lest I forget the experiences (scroll down; or read the material transferred to this blog in the comments section).

Here I cover two-thirds of papers on Burney. These papers placed Burney in contexts she claimed she didn’t wouldn’t talk about, but was in fact subject to all her life and is central to her books and life’s experience: the colonialist, patronage “system” and familial politics of her era.

I came in at the end of Tara Ghosal Wallace’s detailed talk on “Burney and the Politics of Empire,” which focused first on the hypocritical, corrupt, ferocious political in-fighting among factions in India, which through her male relatives, and attachment to George III’s court influenced Burney’s daily existence. Prof Wallace gave a history in detail of local English politics and office holders attached to and in India; she thought Warren Hastings caught between cross-fires (whom Burney obtusely absolved from any guilt or responsibility without ever giving any cogent details); she described the nuances of party politics (Indian and British individual and office alliances) amid the sexual courtship and humiliating scenes of Burney’s time at court; and the politics of empire in The Wanderer. Burney was under “intolerable psychological pressure from contradictory points of view, all of these personal to her.”

The first panel was called “The Stormy Sea of Politics,” and all three papers were on French and national politics. Geoffrey Sill discussed how Frances differed from her father’s arch-conservative reaction to the French revolution: Charles was for continuing absolute monarchy, saw the idea of the rights of men as absurd. Burney, as we know, lavished praise on her father, but we can see where she differed: she thought a king was as limited by law as any man; she was horrified by the misery she saw in France. She was not sceptical about the needs of people demonstrating. Anne-Claire Michoux discussed how the female body was represented in Burney’s diary-journals and The Wanderer. Burney’s work is deeply invested in social issues; she published a pamphlet on emigres, and admired Mme de Stael. In Evelina women are victims of physical violence, of psychological assault; in her fiction, her heroines are oppressed through their bodies, they have vulnerable incomes too. Brian McCrea seems to have received harsh reviews of his book on Burney where he presented her as a conservative: he argued that Burney was terrified of the French revolution. Burney writes wryly but also as apolitically as she can, and defends the patriarchal feudal world. Doody saw affinities with Wollstonecraft and Jacobin novels, and argued the character of Elinor in The Wanderer stands for the revolution as a noble flame. McCrea argued this is to misread; Burney’s Admiral Powell’s views are those validated.

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Hubert Robert (1733-1808), A servant brings papers to an aristocrat intent on renovating his garden with classical structures

After a coffee break, the second panel of the day was “Ruling Politics.” Lori Halvorsen Zerne discussed authoritarianism in The Wanderer. Juliette stands for “the other,” and is treated with hatred by some; many in the book are uncomfortable with the ambiguity of her identity. Good characters in the novel are cowardly while the bad are audacious. Hannah Messina’s paper title was “Politics at Home: Uncomfortable Domesticity in Cecilia.” Class, gender, charity and debt are among the novel’s topics; the conflict over last names confirms patriarchal tyranny. We learn that outside the home Cecilia is in danger; she needs a place to be secure. Her guardians interfere, her friends wreak personal catastrophe (the auction) on themselves. Cecilia had hoped for a quiet time with her friend, Mrs Harrell, but instead finds herself fleeced. One problem is it’s impossible for Cecilia to avoid or opt out of this society yet she herself can be thrown out and made a homeless beggar. After Delville’s uncertain and jealous treatment of her, she collapses. The novel shows the nature of a character’s domestic space is crucial to the development of an identity. Sara Tavela concentrated on Burney’s presentation of the medical and psychological sufferings of George III in her journals. Burney shows us there is no effective control over the king’s illness, and that the Queen is left without helpful information.

It was not quite lunch-time and so time for discussion of all we had heard up to then. Someone suggested that Burney created a template in her novels by which we can see how women are left without resources, are not listened to. Society dictates to them who they are. Women in authority are not granted full respect, find themselves in a liminal space.

There was a talk during lunch. Laura Rosenthal asked “what do we do with Sir Jaspar.” Laura saw the home as having theatrical spaces; commodities are props by which we construct our artificial selves. Burney resists desiring interiors and exteriors. Marilyn Francus suggested that in Cecilia we see how people talk to one another with the norms of social desires break down. Sociability crumbles in Cecilia; at the close the heroine crumbles too. Alex suggested that male characters also experience discomfort in their homes (e.g. Belfield).

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Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), The Sense of Sight

After lunch, the third panel was on “Celebrity and Material Culture.” Laura Engel talked about the three best portraits of Burney: Edward Frances Burney (1782) where her hands are on her waist.

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Edward Francesco Burney’s portrait of her (1784) sporting an enormous hat

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and John Bogle’s miniature (1785) of her with a pinched face; it seems the truest to her features

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An enlargement so you can see her facial features

Portraits, Laura said, represent the remains of a life’s performance; we can see the exaggerations of her dress and hats; all three provide much insight. In the first and third she gazes at us, interacting with us. Croker, a hostile reviewer, described the way Burney looked late in life cruelly: she was an old coquette. Butterworth found another image said to be of Burney at 15, up-close, intimate somehow. Laura compared these images to verbal descriptions of the heroines in the novels; and then to other portraits by painters of famous actresses (Siddons, Robinson), duchesses (Georgiana Spenser). These gorgeous hats as props keep re-appearing. Laura felt Burney probably preferred the miniature.

Kirsten Hall’s paper title was “Burney and Ciceronian Celebrity.” She talked about how celebrated Ciceronian ideals and how classical figures were depicted affected Burney’s fiction and attitudes. Cicero’s Moral Offices (obligations, duties) showed a world of reciprocal relationships, favors, and services. It was thought reading this book was good for people. we can see how widely deivergent rules for social behavior can be from what an individual may want or feel to be right. Kirsten then showed how the characters of Mortimer and Cecilia fit in; what she owes him, how they behave to one another (in an imagined bookshop). She also went over real behavior in a real library, and what we see suggested is Burney lived (like most of us) by compromise.

Since the last two papers took a somewhat different direction, I’ll stop here as this blog is long enough.

Ellen

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Isobel Bishop (1902-88), how she imagined Austen at work, a drawing

Friends,

In Mary Poppins’s books, Mary’s birthday is referred to as “the Birthday.” I have wracked my brains to say something new about Austen for her birthday, or offer an appropriate poem, some tribute as yet not well known as I have done previous years, as how “How she loved to dance” (clips and music); her poem written on her birthday (it seems) to her friend, Mrs Lefroy who died on that day four years before; and what she said about Tudor Queens, especially Katherine Parr (her attitude and remarks not well known). And finally I’ve come up with two, last night I remembered an unassuming ironic commentary, and this morning discovered a new chamber music style opera of Mansfield Park.

When Dora Carrington (1893-1932) designed and decorated Lytton Strachey’s library in their second home together in southern England, Ham Spray, she painted an extra unused door — going nowhere as sometimes happens in endlessly renovated houses where there is not quite enough money literally to alter the structure of the room (vestigial elements). She disguised it as a bookcase, complete with projecting spines from imaginary books. She carefully titled these imaginary books: A Catastrophe, by Tiberius (her cat); Oeuvres by Le Conte Lytoff (Lytton Strachey); The Empty Room by Virginia Woolf; Deception by Jane Austen; and False Appearances by Dora Wood, her own alias.

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Here is a drawing by Carrington for an actual bookplate

Each of these titles serves as a ironic summing up comment on some aspect of these authors’ lives or works (as seen by Carrington). For Tiberius: cats knock things over? end up victims? And however, tongue-in-cheek Carrington places herself as a woman artist between two writers she evidently regarded as supreme (after all they got to be in Lytton’s library, close at hand). In a note she wrote to her great friend and sometime lover, Gerald Brenan, she coupled Austen with “Emily Bronte and her sisters [Charlotte, Anne] and Sappho.

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Again Carrington, imagining an 18th century woman playing music, tinsel on glass (Lytton was a lover of 18th century literature and Carrington may have read or had read to her Julie de Lespinasse and Madame Du Deffand’s letters)

We know Jane Austen loved to dance and so what better picture than this contemporary picturesque (gussied up) illustration of Manydowne, one of the wealthy people’s houses where she regularly danced, and she could have been mistress of had she accepted the marriage offer of its heir, Harris Bigg-Wither, but then we would not be remembering her birthday or have her powerful fiction.

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Music and Manydowne, a large country house, doubtless not far from the size of Mansfield Park, can segue us into the other offering I can make for Austen’s birthday: Douglas Murray’s essay, just published in Persuasions On-Line, Fanny Goes to the Opera: Jonathan Dove and Alisdair Middleton’s Mansfield Park.

Douglas says the opera he saw was performed for the first time in the Indianapolis Opera in March 2016. The perspective is one commensurate with an ensemble structure, with Fanny (to quote Douglas) “a part of the complex community known as Mansfield Park, only one in a multiplicity of cacophonous voices: “the opera thus creates a musical/dramatic analogue to Austen’s characteristic narrative technique: her ability to display simultaneous narrative consciousnesses within a narrative context.” The opera uses a post-modern outlook: critical irony, distance; it also has a section which might be called “operatic epistolarity” (as in filmic epistolarity). I have argued that Mansfield Park is a much revised pushing together of two draft MPs: one about a play (written first in 1797 or so) and another a semi-epistolary story whose central focus is Fanny’s visit to Portsmouth where she writes to her frenemy Mary Crawford.

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From the 1983 BBC mini-series (scripted Ken Taylor), the young Fanny writing to her brother William (at sea?), and the older Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) reading a letter (from Mary Crawford?) while in Portsmouth

I’ve a hunch my favorite moments would still be those coming out of Fanny, her abjection, her painful solitude, her uneasy re-integration: it is out of her point of view that the subversive perspective and questioning of her society and its people comes.

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Here we have Mary Crawford sliding Henry’s necklace around the unsuspecting Fanny

Indeed the way many people read Austen (it seems to me) is to take seriously her surface Deception, endorsed by those of her characters who lived unexamined lives. This would be the way I read Carrington’s retitling of Austen.

Ellen

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Carrington when young (photo)

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The river Pang, Tidmarsh

I long for the wings of an owl that I mighty FLY — Carrington,1930, “after a frusrating domestic crisis that kept her from painting” (Hill)

I see my paints and think it is no use to me, for Lytton will not see it now (quoted by Noel Carrington)

Dear friends and readers,

I return to a final two essays in this second series calling attention to women artists after I had gone to one too many exhibits of groups of artists under this or that rubric where there were either none or a token or one or two women, often the same couple of pictures. I managed twelve from the Renaissance into the 21st century for the first series, and Carrington is the eleventh of a second fifteen. I’ve found in this second group many great and beautiful and meaningful pictures and other forms of visual art; but also that even the better known women are hardly famous outside a narrow selection of people or only known for their connection with a man or notorious life event; and their art afterwards underestimated. In many individual or personal fulfillment was thwarted by gender expectations, at least two died young from childbirth. Their self-esteem as artists was battered; nonetheless, they developed female-inflected genres, made art different from that of their male counterparts, and succeeded wonderfully well as artists. Carrington’s life and art fits these patterns.

In Carrington’s case what she is famous for gets in the way of people seeking out and appreciating her art. First, for her devotion to Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) and suicide soon after he died because, she asserted, she could not imagine or endure life without him.

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Carrington’s Lytton Strachey (1916) — one of her finest characteristic portraits and one of the finest by anyone of him — it’s a study of sensitive hands, of meditative reading

Then there’s the still widely-assumed belief that she self-flagellatingly destroyed or painted over many of her pictures, and indulged herself in non-save-able non-prestigious immanent arts (on house walls, for signboards, craft-y things, book marks, covers, and illustrations), so that hardly anything truly fine and great and permanent survives. Her intense reluctance (refusal) to have an exhibition of her art reinforces the idea her pictures were not good enough.

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The Mill at Tidmarsh (Lytton and her first home together) — perhaps her most famous masterpiece

That she killed herself is out of doubt, but why is not so sure. Jane Hill’s reprinting of the ceaseless art-making Carrington did around Strachey in the last three chapters (phases) of Carrington’s life (in her The Art of Dora Carrington) to see to his every comfort argues a tender idolization (the above two black swans can be seen as standing in for herself and Strachey), but Carrington’s brother, Noel Carrington, (in his Carrington: Paintings, Drawings, and Decorations) makes a strong case for understanding that several factors beyond her adjustment to life through Strachey’s kindness and congenial intelligence led to her killing herself: she suffered a lifelong distress from her mother’s rejection of her, naturally vulnerable in relationships, sensitive, of a depressive temperament: she painted to make herself happy and her images show her reaching out for security, tranquility, stability.

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An Artist’s Home and Garden

She did wipe out and destroy many of her works (sometimes because she lacked money for paper, sheer supply problem), but since she seems to have made art as continuously as she breathed, as it were constantly, no task too trivial she produced as large a corpus as many a major artist and a lot survives.

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A giraffe scene Carrington created for the nursery door of Rosamund Lehmann’s children (John Lehmann her brother was a central editor at Hogarth Press — about which see below)

She would not allow exhibitions of her art (we glimpse a complex psychological disability), so her pieces did not begin the trail of circulation and discussion the way most artists become known, and given her inclusion (however marginally) in the elite English art and literary coteries of her era, much went into and remains in private hands. She did use unusual media:

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Harmony: Labador Coast — made from painted tin foil on stained glass

You might say her marvelous letters are used against her as superior to her visual art instead of seen as another manifestation of her strong projection of her vividly perceptive experience of a self-chosen unconventional way of life that allowed her to create visual art continually.

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David Garnett — her portraits done as a matter of course of whoever visits capture inner qualities through color, line, shadow

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The drawings of herself are in the letters

In the last twenty years three excellent ground-breaking books have been written about her: Hill’s, Noel’s and Gretchen Gerzina’s biography, Carrington. These and an exhibition (at last) prompted superb essays, three of which reprint pictures and enter the heart of her vision. Them there is Carrington, the film, based on Christopher Hampton’s screenplay (a kind of outline of Carrington’s life out of Holroyd’s and Gerzina’s book), with its virtuoso actors uncannily capturing the inner life of some of the people around Carrington (Samuel West as Gerald Brenan, Rufus Sewell as Mark Gertler) and inimitably Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce as Carrington and Lytton:

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A photo of Lytton reading to Carrington

It’s out of these I dared this blog. Genevieve Sanchis Morgan on Carrington’s art as “forms of masquerade” (Mosaic 31:4 [1998]) proves Carrington transferred her private life and most unspoken feelings, her transgressive attitudes (towards marriage, children, social performance as self-promotion, sexuality) into her pictures (landscapes especially and why she did not want to exhibit). She made for public consumption (as it were) the familiar images of herself as a devoted domestic servant and cook,

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Cook and Cat

with her pets,

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At Ham Spray

walking talking sitting by the side of Strachey,

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Her innovative household art was her own real life giant dollhouse to hide in, and keep continually absorbed and busy in her private world shared with Lytton. She defflected her literary ambitions (and some satire) behind playful distractions (trompe d’oeil bookcase with titles that mocked contemporary and her associates’ books as well as Jane Austen), and found desperately needed loving reassurance in sexual partnerships with like-minded people. Gerald Brenan she loved, and returned his visits,going to Spain with Lytton and alone

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She created great pictures there, continually protecting herself through these social performances. These come from her times in Spain:

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A hill town in Andalusia

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A Spanish woman, ink and silver foil on glass

Gillian Elinor’s essay on Carrington and Vanessa Bell (1879-1962) in Woman’s Art Journal (2016), as near contemporaries, working aesthetically and developing content in the same kinds of and actual domestic milieus (“Bloomsbury Painters” the title), argues their art is crucially like that of other women (tropes, themes, the relationship of their works to them and their lives)

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Vanessa Bell, The Nursery

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Carrington, Bedford Market (1911)

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Carrington, A Footbathing Party — much like Bell’s

Jane Marcus (Women’s Review of Books, 12:1 [1994]) pays attention to Carrington’s loaded playful interiors and pictures an crockery as evoking a witty primitivism, working against mainstream (male) art to produce village-English delicate dreams and objects (recalling Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), as in this

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Rouen Ware

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Beanie Bags — the paired figures are typical of lesbian art

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Self-portrait (1910)

Her life can be told in terms of phases of her art. The fourth child of a Liverpool merchant who had spent decades in India, to bring back an easy competence, he married a narrow-thinking rigid woman and for Carrington this meant much conflict over the years. She loved her father, was tormented by her mother. There are no portraits of her mother:

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Her father (painted much later)

But her mother was artistic, valued art, and she and her siblings early on were encouraged to use their hands, and Dora (she later insisted on dropping this first name she regarded as too feminine, silly, like Dorcas, an archetypal shepherdess) learned to love to, spend hours drawing.

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Noel her brother — much later

After High School, there was her period at Slade where she made life-long girlfriends, with one of whom, Constance Lane, she completed a cycle of of three large frescos “on the library wall of Brownlow Hall” (Hill 23). She began to paint strongly colorist and cubist-like bucolic landscapes and scenes, won a scholarship, and came under the influence of Roger Fry and Mark Gertler (not just his art but as a sexual partner). Finding she could not live in a repressive Victorian-style home (only visit) and have a career and mature adult life, she moved and tried to support herself in London. This period is filled with marvelous small line portraits, comic cartoons

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Very Stevie Smith like

and the earliest of the bucolic snow and tree landscapes with their high wide great bowl top areas.

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Hills in Snow at Hurst Tarrant (Hampshire), 1915

This is the time of her immersion in the Omega Workshops (1914-16): playful woodcut art, and riots of color and decorations of ordinary everyday things, which while they didn’t sell to the larger public, are the foundation for the way Carrington would later cover every inch of Ham Spray, her and Lytton’s second home. She didn’t do well at Lady Ottoline Garsington Manor (“I am out of favor now! completely!”), but met others who (if not as much, like Lytton) were important to her: Augustus John’s household (whom she turned to as easy companions); individual people whose character struck her favorably:

by Dora Carrington, oil on canvas, 1920
E.M. Forster

Like Vanessa Bell, Carrington took to engravings and book illustrations

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Lytton she first met in 1916 at Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Asheham House — and to fast forward their Hogarth Press provided another place for her woodcuts small animal drawings, and remunerative work for Ralph Patridge, the first of her lovers whom she married to keep him near Lytton (and please Lytton). By 1917, she and Lytton were making a home for themselves at Tidmarsh, and by 1918 he achieved his first of several commercial successes, Eminent Victorians.

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Tidmarsh Mills, the meadows

The story of her life becomes a story with Lytton triangular sexual and working relationships with a series of men, and travel (to the continent, around England) and perpetual art-making (from pictures to bookcases, fake and real). Hampton’s movie dramatizes the pain Carrington knew when she felt she had to force herself to act out different selves, and when she felt Lytton did not reciprocate her loving care, efforts catering to his every whim, only to see him distance himself, become at times remote. At the same time her correspondence with Strachey, and especially over her decision to marry Partridge are among the most genuine openly confiding trusting letters I’ve read. They understood and supported one another in many other areas beyond the reading of books and living the larger routines of life. The pressure from the different worlds Carrington found herself in was also offset by the art-making: she repeatedly creates idyllic peaceful and playful beauty in personally felt landscapes (with funereal images)

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and stuffing and covering every available inch of her literal surroundings, over and over:

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A fireplace tile design

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Birds above a cornucopia of flowers

She made signs; this half of a Circus horses reminds me of Watteau’s famous shop sign of people examining pictures in an art shop:

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This is severe in its way: the horses are still and in a row

In her later years she allowed herself to be used by a rough sportsman type, Beakus Penrose (played by Jeremny Northam in the movie): she did love to sail with him (she writes of her “Shelley craving to sail & leave these quiet rural scenes for Greek islands), as witnessed by her remarkable tinsel on glass picture, the deliberately child-like Bon Voyage (1929):

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She became pregnant by Penrose, a (to her) deeply distressing because repulsive condition (she never adjusted to her female body), and Lytton stepped in to find and pay for an abortion. Her end is well-known: Strachey developed pancreatic cancer, and died, and within three months, despite many friends’ efforts to prevent this, Carrington shot herself through her mouth with a gun on a Friday, March 11, 1932. She meant it.

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Tulips in a Staffordshire Jug (1921) – she painted many flower still lifes

That Carrington’s gender was female played a central role in her difficult life, withdrawals, and long neglect. John Rothstein in the introduction to Noel Carrington’s book says rightly that Carrington’s “remoteness from he impulses which moved” most of her contemporaries (ambition for money, high rank, fame, fashionable luxury, admiration from the admired) set her apart (13). Carrington herself also said of participating in contemporary schools of artists to Gertler over post-impressionism that “this ‘culture’ and group system is partly the reason for the awful paintings produced” (35).

But what her mother couldn’t bear (perhaps where her overt troubled life started) was Carrington was not conventionally beautiful. When Carrington is hiding her pictures, or dressing like a boy, she is hiding her body. Gertler wanted her to give up her painting and devote herself wholly to him as his wife. She resisted this fiercely, but could only find a stable life with the daily rhythms and calm expectations that she needed for creation of her art on Lytton’s income.

In talking of a career, she repeated Frye’s warning early on about how hard it was going to be to practice great art as a woman. How she will be regarded by others. She wrote Gerald Brenan about “how difficult it was to be a ‘female creator'”

the few that did become artists, I think you will admit were never married or had children. Emily Bronte & her sisters, Jane Austen, Sappho. Lady Hester Stanhope. Queen Elizabeth and even lesser people like the French female artists Berthe Morissot [who did have a daughter], Le Brun [ditto], Julie de Lespinasse & Dudeffand [? is this a reference to George Sand whose legal name was Dudevant or Madame du Deffand?] … If when I am 38, I am not an artist, & think it is no good my persevering with my painting, I might have a child …

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Spanish Boy (1924) — in her two portraits of adolescent boys she captures their vulnerability

This is an important statement if we realize that she was also much influenced by painters no one else was, for example (according to Hill), the Renaissance painter, Joachim Patinir:

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The Hermit

Patinir’s Flight from Egypt does recall Carrington’s landscapes:

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Carrington’s candid utterances to Brenan about being a woman (“You know I always hated being a woman” [Elinor 31]) are so sad because she never was not an artist, always alive to the art of others, in groups or as individuals. She did hate being pregnant (and thus perhaps deprived herself of a raison d’etre once Lytton was diagnosed with inoperable cancer). When she painted Lady Strachey (Lytton’s mother) it’s said she caught the inner strong woman, but she also masculinized her, made her monumental in doctor’s robes:

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Of her depiction of a group of young girls marshalled by two female teachers, one a nun on a beach to play (On the Sands at Dawlish Warren), Carrington wrote: it was “a study of the misery of authorized fun” (110). She escaped the world’s invisible prisons but at great cost

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Annie Stiles — her servant whom Carrington depended upon and painted, and drew frequently — she describes herself as with two servants eating or by the fire when Lytton is gone away

Ellen

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Hardy, Under Beachy Head

Dear friends and readers,

This is the sixth and last of my reports on the the Charlotte Smith conference this October, to which I will add a lecture given by Carole Brown on the history of St John’s Church in Guildford where Charlotte Smith was baptized and lies buried. The first I told of of the building, grounds, the social world of the conference; the second, my paper on the post-colonial Ethelinde and Smith’s The Emigrants (as well as plans for women artist blogs, Anne Killigrew, Dora Carrington and Remedios Varo); the third was on the Elegiac Sonnets; the fourth on Smith’s poetry again, this time from the point of view of the marketplace, natural world, and the use of paintings in her novels; the fifth, Smith as a novelist and playwright. We began and ended the conference papers with her poetry. Desmond and the places of her birth, upbringing, wandering and burial were part of this last phase.

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Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Demolition of the Bastille (1789)

On Saturday afternoon of the second day of panels, there were two papers on Smith’s Desmond. Grace Harvey presented a group of ideas she was working out. She talked of Desmond as the most important radical novel of the era; it was the first to present the French revolution, and in is earliest phases, and made a strong case for radical reform. She had trouble finding a publisher. An epistolary novel, it has two central voices in the dialogues about revolution, which are connected to Desmond’s choices in life and couched in terms of their friendship: Desmond is the idealist “voice of reason,” his arguments show William Godwin’s influence; Bethel, the older man, is the “voice of experience, primarily there insistently to counterbalance and modify Desmond’s arguments. Desmond is unable to embrace Bethel’s advice, which takes the form of warnings, his own idealism untempered will become a source of unhappiness for him. Smith’s later books for children show the double voice again but in different terms: Mrs Woodfield, the teacher urge repression of discontent, cheerful submission to what is, a sort of Bethel attitude; but she also checks flippancy and superficiality in Henrietta and Elizabeth, urging on them a kind of serious earnestness. Grace didn’t mention how strongly Smith was influenced by Rousseau in both all these books, especially Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise (for the novel) and Emile (for pedagogy)

Katrin Roder contextualized Smith’s Celestina and Demond with a discussion of sensibility in the era: her radicalism is rooted in ideas associated with the feelingful character of sensibility. These novels centrally question unconditional obedience to authority. They show how social sympathy creates human bonds; how important concern for others, for one’s home,and the limits of interpersonal support. Desmond loves his house too. she quoted interesting passages where Celestina attempts to help her servant Jessie, and Desmond listens to Geraldine, whose husband has sought to sell her and whom he marries at the end of the novel, where both identify and sympathize with these intelligent victims. Typical patterns for the sentimental novel show a hero’s suffering rewarded, morally superior victims who obey patriarchal norms. In Smith’s novels suffering is not inevitable, there are salutary reward, but the happy ending is often an afterthought. The reflections of the characters and narrator and what happens during the fiction of more important. Characters endure internal and external exile. In the discussion afterward it was remarked that if you cut Smith’s endings off, stop say at a penultimate chapter, they are deeply pessimistic.

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Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Near Beachy Head — this feels so appropriate as until they grew older Smith would often have had her children with her

One could say the last part of the day was devoted to Charlotte Smith’s unfinished (it’s a long fragment) poetical masterpiece, Beachy Head. Three excellent papers dependent on close reading, followed by a recital in the nearby St Nicholas church. Melissa Cow began with how Beachy Head, Smith’s most ambitious poem, lacks clarity of vision. The poem shows the inadequacies of science, geology, history, paleontology which are difficult to assemble produces a sense of strangeness. She begins with a strong sense of locality: the narrator is at the top of Beachy Head, and looks to see what is buried under his feet. While in Gilbert White we feel nature is a system, a good one which can be comprehended, Smith’s questions complicate and upset what we know. She goes beyond her reading of Erasmus Darwin to anticipate modern ideas about extinction; 17th century ideas about the immensity of the earth, catastrophes that have occurred, fossils of mammoth elephants. Her poem works through a range of associative leaps. Samantha Botz suggested Beachy Head invites pivotal readings of history as well as implied politics. Wordsworth saw himself as a man speaking to men, someone with a more lively sensibility, led to create in his mind what he does not find in the world. Smith gives us wandering silent fugitive figures, a contemplative antiquary, a lively anecdotal voice, as well as a critically analystical one, with visible nature showing contingency, and the vanity of science’s boasts.

Amela Worsley’s “‘Death Alone: Charlotte Smith’s hermits” provided a fitting close to the conference and a lead-in to the musical setting of the poem. The idea of a poet as a lonely figure begins in the later 17th century, solitary introspective males in a landscape, to which the sublime is added in the later 18th. The lone woman is ever at risk of sexual assault. Her multiple solitaries are male hermits whose outlook she likened to that of Milton’s Comus, the unknown poet of the “Elegy written in a country churchyard,” Mary Robinson’s “Anselmo, hermit of the Alps. Amelia said Smith uses geology to de-familiarize the local. She offered a careful comparative readings. The figures seek safety and run great risk (psychological too), know intense suffering and rhapsody, and often end in the peace of death. This is one of the passages she dwelt upon:

    Then, of Solitude
And of his hermit life, still more enamour’d,
His home was in the forest; and wild fruits
And bread sustain’d him. There in early spring
The Barkmen found him, e’er the sun arose;
There at their daily toil, the Wedgecutters
Beheld him thro’ the distant thicket move.
The shaggy dog following the truffle hunter,
Bark’d at the loiterer; and perchance at night
Belated villagers from fair or wake,
While the fresh night-wind let the moonbeams in
Between the swaying boughs, just saw him pass,
And then in silence, gliding like a ghost
He vanish’d! Lost among the deepening gloom.—
But near one ancient tree, whose wreathed roots
Form’d a rude couch, love-songs and scatter’d rhymes,
Unfinish’d sentences, or half erased,
And rhapsodies like this, were sometimes found—

    Let us to woodland wilds repair
    While yet the glittering night-dews seem
    To wait the freshly-breathing air,
    Precursive of the morning beam …

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John Constable (175-1837), Derwentwater, Cumberland (where Ethelinde is set)

I can’t speak too highly of the music of Amanda Jacobs, singing of Janet Oates, and recitation of the poem by Elizabeth Dolan at St Nicholas Church. Amanda and Beth had divided the poem into several emotional sequences conforming to the phases of the day that the poem charts. We moved from morning to afternoon to evening, giving us the lines as songs of grief and happiness. As with Ned Bingham, Viscount Mersey’s setting of Smith’s Sonnet, “Written in Bignor Park in Sussex, August 1799,” Low murmurs creep along the woody vale the day before, Jacobs’s music was atonal, dissonant, each line of music fitted to each line of verse, with an overall patterning that was melancholy yet beautiful, and in this case finally uplifting. Very 21st century music. I felt I had understand parts of the poem for the first time, had seen the logic (so to speak) of how the poem was put together. Everyone in the church seemed so moved.

It was evening and time to return to the hotel.

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Sunday was our day of trips, which I mentioned in my first blog. On Sunday we set off around 9:30 am in a chartered bus. The bus-driver was a tour guide himself and told us about some of the landscapes and towns we drove through. Ned Bingham was our generous gracious host in a visit to Bignor Park where we could wander where Smith had grown up, left to marry and later visited, and wandered to write her poetry more than a century ago; a tourist’s trip to Petworth House and Park. The house is now a hollow shell for tourists to wander through with the impressive objects in the house set up somewhat indiscriminately. I could see how the original Earl was determined to set a grand aristocratic framing for each aspect of his house and park too, notwithstanding the beauty of the park and some of the pictures.

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St John the Evangelist, Stoke, Guildford

The last place felt most like a revelation to me, mostly because I had not known anything about Charlotte Smith’s actual birthplace, Stoke House where her mother grew up, the history of the local community at the time (and before and since), as well as the problem of where she’s buried (no one knows the exact spot in the church or grounds). All this and more was covered by Carole Brown, a local church activist, conservationist, and historian, who seemed delighted to be able to inform us of all this and whatever else we wanted to know with as much detail as she could get in in the half-hour walking and sitting tour. The site of the church goes back to pre-Christian times, the building itself (renovated countless times) to the pre-Reformation. She was able to inform us especially some of the other (and more) famous people who attended this church, philanthropists, a good deal about the church in World War One, and the most recent art in the church (Pre-Raphaelie glass windows) and how it is the center of a community of people of all ages doing all sorts of things in the church today.

It was a splendid conference.

Ellen

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