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Posts Tagged ‘symbolic women’

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Days: Wednesday mornings, 9:40 to 11:05 am,
Jan 26 to Feb 16
4 sessions online, zoom meeting style (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Virginia) 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course: F407 is Retelling Traditional History & Tales from an Alternative POV

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Irish Origo (a British-Italian biographer and memoir-writer, and literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her estates in Tuscany during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author who won numerous German literary-political prizes) tells the story of Troy from Cassandra’s point of view, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet. The second book was written after the war was over and after a trip the author took to Greece. The immediate context for both books is World War Two; long range, they are anti-war (a particular aim in Cassandra is nuclear disarmament): they tell history from a woman’s standpoint; one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

During the time covered by Origo’s diary, she takes in and creates a school for 23 refugee children; she and her husband hide partisans, and protect various disconnected endangered people; a real problem is the German disproportionate and terrifying reprisals & their dropping of landmines everywhere across Italy. So one BBC serial (1979), Danger UXB, we will discuss is made up of a story of a bomb disposal unit and I may suggest watching a couple of episodes (TBA); among other parts of her life, Christa Wolf was coerced into becoming an informant for the Stasi, so I will urge people to see the powerful film, The Lives of Others directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck by the fourth week of term; the heroine’s story is said to be partly based on Christa Wolf.

Required Texts (in the order we’ll read them):

Origo, Iris. War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, introd. Virginia Nicholson. NY: NY Review of Books Classics, 2017.
Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays, trans. from German Jan Van Heurck. NY: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1984.

Note: War in the Val D’Orcia has not been out of print since it was first published in 1947; there are a couple of other editions, which could cost less, but this one has an introduction, notes and photos. Cassandra also has not been out of print since first published (1983, German) but this is the only edition; what’s happened is there are editions of just Cassandra available (same translator) but you miss a lot about the book if you don’t read the four afterpieces, two travelogues, one diary, and some thoughts on the book and other 20th century European women writers.


Iris Origo in later life


Christa Wolf, 2007 (Berlin)

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Jan 26: Introduction: Iris Origo, Life and Work, the Diary in the context of the war all around the estate

Feb 2: Her earlier diary, A Chill in the Air, an Italian War Diary, 1939-40; her essays on the fascism build-up in Italy; other diaries, e.g, Norman Lewis, Naples ’44; Eva Figes, Little Eden, A Child at War. The reprisals and landmines (Danger UXB)

Feb 10: Christa Wolf’s Life and Work, Cassandra and Four Essays, in the context of usual tellings of Iliad/Aeneid story, including Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (play where Cassandra and Agamemnon are killed by Clytemnestra), Euripides’s Trojan Women, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

Feb 17: More discussion of Wolf’s Cassandra, the four afterwards (especially travel in Greece and diary); women’s novels & memoirs from the era (historical fiction); The Lives of Others: on an autocratic gov’t and society (Wolf’s Patterns of Childhood, what living in a fascist dictatorship is like).


An actress playing Cassandra from recent translation of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, as translated by Robert Fagles

Suggested outside reading or watching (a bibliography):

Du Maurier, Daphne. The KIng’s General, introd. Julie Picardie. 1946; rpt. London, Virago, 2006. Historical fiction retells history of seige of Menabilly and war in Cornwall 17th century.
Duras, Marguerite. The War: A Memoir, trans. Barbara Bray. NY: Pantheon, 1986.
Figes, Eva. Little Eden: A Child at War. NY: Persea, 1978.
———–. The Seven Ages [of Women]. NY: Pantheon, 1986. Fantasy retelling of all history in England, from Neolithic to 20th century by unfamous central women types (e.g. midwives, one is an aristocratic woman, Lady Brilliana Harvey who really held out in 17th century siege of her castle-like manor house)
Feder, Lillian. A Handbook of Classical Literature. 1964; rpt NY: Da Capo, 1998. Very accessible.
Finney, Gail. Christa Wolf. Boston: Twayne, 2010. Short biography and survey of her writings.
Holden, Inez. Blitz Writing: Night Shift and It was Different at the Time, ed Kristin Bluemel. 1941; rpt. London: Handheld, 2017.
Lewis, Norman. Naples ’44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1978
Moorehead, Caroline. Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia: A Biography. Boston: Godine, 2002.
Origo, Iris. A Chill in the Air, An Italian War Diary, 1939-40. introd. Lucy Hughes-Hallett. NY: NY Review of Books classic, 2017.
———–. Images and Shadows: an autobiography. Boston: Godine, 1970.
———–. A Need to Testify, foreword Ted Morgan. NY: Books & Co, 1984. On history of biography, and portraits of people she knew in the 1930s, who worked as anti-fascists
Wolf, Christa. Quest for Christa T, trans Christopher Middleton. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1970. Semi-autobiographical.
————-. Parting with Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-93, trans, notes Jan Van Heurck. Univ. Chicago, 1997.
————-. Patterns of Childhood (sometimes titled A Model Childhood), trans. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1980.

Movies:

Danger UXB. Developed John Hawkesworth and John Whitney. Various writers and directors, based on stories by Maj A.B. Hartley. Perf. include Antony Andrews, Judy Geeson. Available on Amazon Prime.
A French Village. Developed by Frederic Krivine, Phillipe Triboit. Various writers & directors. 7 year French serial set in occupied Vichy France, 1941-1946, with fast forward to 1975; 2002. Amazon prime, also to buy as DVD sets.
The Lives of Others. Dir. Script. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Perf. include Ulrich Mulne, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch. Independent. Available at Amazon Prime, as DVD on Netflix, to buy as DVD
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Dir. Jonathan Miller. Perf. include Benjamin Whitlow, Anton Lesser, Suzanne Burden. BBC 1981 movie. Available on Amazon Prime.


Montepulciano, town, commune (history begins in the medieval and Renaissance eras) close to Origo estates, to which everyone who can flees & takes refuge during a particularly dangerous period

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A double stock flower (tagetes patula?)

Dear friends and readers,

After all I have something for Christmas this year: it’s a beautiful poem that Anne Finch wrote and sent to Lady Selena Finch Shirley (1681-1762), a graceful compliment also meant for Lady Selena’s daughter, also called Selena.

Finch says looking upon the flower in its ripe prime (paradoxically during winter) reminds her of the time when she “That beauteous maid wou’d view/The green house where I liv’d retired;” that is, between 1700 and 1703 when Anne lived at Wye Shirley Finch would come to visit her in a green house or garden near Wye. This was when Finch was enduring the aftermath or getting over one of her intermittent depressive breakdowns, this one partly brought on by the anxiety over the flight of the Stuart court, Heneage’s attempted flight with them, and his arrest, bail, and threatened trial for Jacobitism, and a conviction of treason. In the event he was freed and left to live quietly (no office for him of course).


Here is Wye, now a college in Kent, where Anne wrote some of her most beautiful poetry, much of it melancholy and personal

This time included the first years of Lady Selena’s life with her husband, Robert Shirley, Lord Ferrers (1650-1717); married to him in 1699, she went on to have ten children. She was a daughter of George (and Jane?) Finch; thus a relative of the Finches (whom Cameron located living at Wye College in the early 1700’s). One woman recovering from mental distress and trouble, and the other incessantly pregnant, they made a pair together. Now fate or destiny has made Selena a widow and placed her in the country, and made Anne a Countess too, most unexpectedly also placing her in town (both the result of the inheritance by Heneage of the earldom when his nephew, Charles, died so young), in town where she is in need of the rejuvenating presence of her friend.


This is apparently an image of Lady Selena Finch Shirley when young

Writing the poem and imagining the flower brings together in Anne’s mind the two women’s minds together, makes them alive to one another through the medium of these words in a verse epistle. These are sentiments Anne expressed in her In Praise of the Invention of writing Letters).

Gentle reader, you must read it aloud slowly, savoring the tones of this renewal of friendship at a distance between the two friends

How is it in this chilling time,
When frost and snows the season claim,
This flow’ring plant is in its prime,
Which of July assumes the name?

But since we poets speech bestow,
And form what dialogues we please,
With animals or plants that grow,
And make them answer us with ease.

Tell me (said I) prolifick stock,
Which do’st these fragrant treasures bring,
What is it can such stores unlock,
At Christmas as outvie the spring?

Thus ask’d, the flower of tinctur’d bloome,
Soon blush’t into a deeper dye,
Cast stronger odours round the room,
And sweetly breath’d out this reply.

Tis true, all plants of my nice sort
Have not such license to appear,
But wait till Phoebus keeps his court,
In the hot circle of the year.

Whilst I a brighter influence own,
Than is imparted from the skies;
Nor take my blossoms thus full blown,
From summer, but Selena’s eyes.

Her cheering smile, her modest air,
Did me to this perfection charm;
For nothing droops when near the fair,
But all is lively, all is warm.

That beauteous maid wou’d often view
The green house where I liv’d retired,* *Wye
Who did such early graces shew,
That I to suit them was inspired.

Sometimes a sprig from me, I thought,
Might happily adorn her hair,
Or pardon me if ’twas a fault,
Might rest upon her bosom bare.

My soft perfumes for her design’d,
I ev’n from Zephyrus withdrew;
Unless when that obliging wind
Wou’d shed them round her as he flew.

Delighted when by me she stood,
I wish’d for some transforming art.
For had I then been flesh and blood,
I should have told her all my heart.

Yet I to Flora softly pray’d,
To hasten my disclosing day;
Who doating on the fairer maid,
For her does now my buds display.

But from a strange reverse of fate,
She to the country, I the town, *Anne in town
Have sadly been remov’d of late,
And neither to advantage shown.

Then let none blame you, if my flower
Beneath your roof is faded seen,
But know that such enlivening power
Is only granted to fifteen.

I for Selena shall repine,
And when some noble youths you see,
Bow their dejected heads like mine,
Think in our passions we agree.

What farther answer cou’d be made,
Or father question could I try?
Then let her come, and cheer our shade,
Or men and plants in town must die.

On this fourth of January 2022, two days before twelfth night.


Melissa Scott Miller, A Dusting of Snow at Islington Gardens, 21st century (don’t miss the cat)

Ellen

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Hung Liu, The Year of the Rat (2021) – this is one of the last portraits she did and it is downstairs in the lobby to lure you upstairs

Friends, readers,

Another woman artist, this time a woman photographer and painter whose work I saw in the DC National Portrait Gallery a couple of weeks ago. The following video where a curator takes you through many of the paintings and photographs in the exhibit, you learn so much about Liu’s life story, the images she made in the different phases of her existence, and hear Hung Liu talking about what she is trying to achieve in general, and what were her aims and circumstances in each of the works she is led to talk about — that the usual blog I would do for a woman artist feels superfluous. Click and see and hear. Hung herself talks in the interview clips of the importance of remembering people, especially to the person who remembers and the one remembered.



This is called Father’s Day: it is Liu with her father — he was taken from the family when she was five, imprisoned, enslaved, treated harshly and strictly for 50 years at the time when she learned where he was, and visited him. He told her that after so many years of such barbaric treatment that he can no longer show emotion.

She was proud of her mother and her grandmother’s stoicism in the face of such hardships:

All the information you need otherwise is provided in the marvelous catalogue book of the exhibition (Portraits of Promised Lands), with three essays and many beautiful plates, which I recommend buying. To be honest, and iconoclastically I think you can have as deep an experience as felt in the galleries, maybe more deep reading this book as going to the gallery. The difference is the size of the images and you have to imagine the thick impasto you eyes register as you gaze.

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Here I just suggest emphases and perspectives, single out the most striking images.

She seems to have derived her passionate devotion to the deeply hurt by society and the vulnerable, and desire to give all her subjects quiet dignity, from the way her family was treated in her early life: her father’s fate (see above) was the result of his having fought in the army of Chiang Kai-shek; the family destroyed all the photographs and memorabilia of their lives they had lest any be interpreted against them. They didn’t flee, rather marginalized themselves, hid their individual identities, and only gradually as Hung’s gift emerged sent her quietly to the best schools and then art college in China available. She had herself to do two years farm work, and traveled, everywhere she saw thwarted and hurt people, she painted, and then later took photographs and painted these in her own distinctive way (the film will tell you of this) within terms of the imposed social realism of China. Like many others in such a situation, she learned much but felt constricted, that she was not fulfilling her art’s potential. They are not just downtrodden people, but people whose identity is at risk, like this one:


Summoning ghosts — the woman is beautiful but she resists us by turning to the side, she is dressing her hair and wearing that outfit to please another

She was both fortunate and her family maintained some good connections (her grandfather had been a scholar and botanist), and was able to travel to the US, go to an art college in California, and become part of the art worlds there. She became a resident artist at Capp Street Project in San Francisco in 1988; she eventually married a fellow art student, Jeff Kelley, who became her curator. She went onto graduate school, became a citizen, a Professor Emerita herself, had a child, a boy. In her earlier life she took many photographs as she traveled around China tracing the changes or just the events and behavior of people working out the cultural revolution. These photographs have to be experienced in the order they are placed in a narrative. In the US she resumed such travels down south (where both white and black, but mostly black lived hard lives), to places Asian people made communities in.

Here are some of these: she identifies with a plow-bough young man (black, living down south),


A plow-boy in the American south

A hopeful African-American woman — see the way she swings dangling feet or shoes


Dangling Feet

She talked with ex-Comfort Women in Korea:


This is from the cover for the book cited above (Promised Lands)

Here is a less well known portrait of comfort women:

There is also a portrait of an aged woman with bound feet, who cannot walk — very distressing in its ordinariness.

Much more hopeful: I love her monumental portraits of children, here are two young ones, the one helping the other to eat. I love the small pictures of small creatures, and how her linseed application visibly drips:

Here are two leaning against a wall:

She has a large portrait very beautiful of a black woman with flowers all around her.

She is famous for painting over or up, the photography of Dorothy Lange, whose perspective is coterminous with Liu’s. So here is Migrant Mother made somehow less grim by the coloration and a slight change in the woman’s expression or face and also making the pair further back in the picture space:

Her Dorothy Lange types are when original with her more poignant, as in this Father’s Arms:

Another too distressing to reprint, but found in Promised Lands is of a half-starved woman, with very narrow breasts, who has a baby clinging to one of her nipples. She is dressed in an undershirt with work shirt over, to her left a sad-faced child, a man who shades his face with a hat, another looking to the right as if far in the distance ….

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I was strongly taken by this exhibit and went back a second time; that’s when I bought the book, the first large art book I’ve bought since Jim died. Hers is a redemptive art. She is paying attention to people others usually only register as a number who needs to be checked off, as it were “visible,” finishing what work they were given: it does not matter if their participation is active or genuine. There are few landscapes alone. Such images were thought very self-indulgent in her early training: consequently they are the circumstances against or in which the person pictured must live or work in most of her images.

But she did a series called My Secret Freedom, which are curiously pastoral, very conventional except for the objects and houses she invents (look at the grey boat):

Individual objects painted in her more usual way, very large, turn up now and again: Blue slippers; a bed; a comfortable desk chair with pillow; a grey phone, titled Telephone January 20, 2012:

This wikipedia article is useful. There are short insightful essays on-line on individual images. We are told of her crucial contributions, given thoughtful descriptions of the art techniques she uses to make her memorable portraits; how she’s summoning and commemorating ghosts

Ellen

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This statue by Adam Roud of Jane Austen walking steadily, looking to the side, book tucked under her elbow has been my favorite of the modern rendition — found in Chawton churchyard — we know she loved to walk …

Friend and readers,

I’ve written such a number of blogs commemorating Jane Austen’s birthday in some way by this time, the most obvious where I reprint her poem to a beloved friend, Anne Lefroy, who died on the day in 1808; I wrote about what she wrote that seemed to me neglected (yes) and so interesting: her remarks on Tudor queens, including Katherine Parr; and a whole series, some containing notable poems to her, a new opera, some about a much enjoyed social activity (dancing) and so on.

But I never thought to comb her letters looking for how she felt on the day  (or maybe I did and couldn’t find anything). Diana Birchalls has done a splendid nuanced job asking: did she enjoy it?, and, apparently, true to character, it’s not clear. That is, what is found is considerable ambivalence.

I put the following lines in quotations as a comment on Diana’s and since then added to  it: “She tried hard, she worked at being cheerful and sometimes she was. But she was so intelligent that marking time (as birthdays force us to) is an ambivalent event. Perhaps she might have been happier had she been able to write more,” and it seems been less censured (there is evidence she worried about her family’s response and had to answer to them, including her mother still on Persuasion), had her publishing started earlier. “She was also a spinster with not much money and among her milieu not a high rank and it’s impossible to ignore the average POV and she might have felt that her life was lacking because of the way others treated spinsters.” There was that time in Bath.” OTOH, she knew she was lucky within limits, was solvent enough by living with her family in the prescribed way (she saw how so many others had much to endure, had, as far as we can tell, a supportive family, some loving friends, so she had much to be glad about.” What is most surprising about the quotations and asides and indirect references (beyond the one poem) Diana turns up is the plangent tone of so many of them.

For myself, I imagine Austen happiest when absorbed in her imaginary in the throes of writing, as I imagine a number of her near women contemporaries, for example, Fanny Burney and Anne Radcliffe (given the amounts they wrote), and others she mentions as predecessors, and rivals and simply someone she is reading, e.g. Mary Brunton, Charlotte Smith, Anne MicVicar Grant,  Madame de Genlis. She loved memoirists in French as well as English; we catch her reading travel writers, educational treatises, poets. Perhaps it’s best to commemorate her with striking passages by her — they are hard to pluck out, for they gain their depth by context and resonance across a book.


This morning I came upon another statue of Jane, which has joined the first at Chawton (the gardens), Robert Prescott’s Jane absorbed in writing —

So here are some brief ones I keep in a commonplace file, as favorites, as general ironic truths, as what I have turned to — Matthew Arnold style, the touchstones: I’ve organized them by novels in order of publication, or what is the probable chronology of writing, and then from the letters. The first, the epigraph to this blog: “It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible” … Henry Tilney, NA

Sense and Sensibility

‘We are all offending every moment of our lives.’…. Marianne Dashwood

‘It is not every one,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.’

Elinor could only smile.

Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

Pride and Prejudice:

‘There is a fine old saying, which every body here is of course familiar with — Keep your breath to cool your porridge, — and I shall keep mine to swell my song.’ … Elizabeth Bennet

‘We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing’ … Elizabeth once again …

Mansfield Park

Sir Thomas saw repeated, and for ever repeated reason to … acknowledge the advantages of early hardship and discipline, and the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure …

Emma

She regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself. … Emma thinking

‘Well, I cannot understand it.’ ‘That is the case with us all, papa. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other’ … Emma and her father

“We all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted.’ … Jane Fairfax to Emma, fleeing, after Box Hill

Northanger Abbey

‘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

‘But why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’ — Catherine about General Tilney

‘After long thought and much perplexity, to be very brief was all that she could determine on with any confidence of safety.’ … Catherine thinking about writing to Eleanor Tilney after having been so insultingly ejected from the abbey

Persuasion

‘One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering….’ Anne Elliot to Captain Wentworth

Here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from Nature herself. It was the choicest gift of Heaven … Austen as narrator & Anne Elliot

Lady Susan

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age!–just old enough to be formal, ungovernable and to have the gout–too old to be agreeable, and too young to die… May the next gouty Attack be more favourable … Lady Susan herself

Unfinished fragments of novels and Juvenilia:

I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. … Catherine, from Catherine, or the Bower

‘ … she has been suffering much from headache and six leeches a day … [which] relieved her so little we thought it right to change our measures,” “to attack the disorder” in her gum, so they “had three teeth drawn, and [she] is decidedly better, but her nerves are a good deal deranged. She can only speak in a whisper … fainted away twice this morning …  Sanditon, Diana Parker about her sister ….

When there is so much Love on one side there is no occasion for it on the other … The Three Sisters

From Austen’s censored, cut up, bowdlerized letters:

Do pray meet with somebody belonging to yourself, — I am quite weary of your knowing nobody.

I do not want People to be very agreable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

Pray remember me to Everybody who does not enquire after me.

My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy.

I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument …

People shall pay for their knowledge if I can make them …

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter …

And I cannot resist this longer quotation one, as one possibly never noticed overlooked by my reader:

In defense of spinsterhood:

from Frederick and Elfrida (Juvenilia): one could call it a parodic short story: We have as heroine, “Charlotte, whose nature we have before intimated was an earnest desire to oblige every one … ” when “an aged gentleman with a sallow face & old pink Coat, partly by intention & partly thro’ weakness was at the feet of the lovely Charlotte, declaring his attachment to her”

Not being able to resolve to make any one miserable, she consented to become his wife; where upon the Gentleman left the room & all was quiet.

Their quiet however continued but a short time, for on a second opening of the door a young & Handsome Gentleman with a new blue coat entered & intreated from the lovely Charlotte, permission to pay to her his addresses. There was a something in the appearance of the second Stranger, that influenced Charlotte in his favour, to the full as much as the appearance of the first: she could not account for it, but so it was. Having therefore, agreable to that & the natural turn of her mind to make every one happy, promised to become his Wife the next morning …

It was not till the next morning that Charlotte recollected the double engagement she had entered into; but when she did, the reflection of her past folly operated so strongly on her mind, that she resolved to be guilty of a greater, & to that end threw herself into a deep stream …

We cannot know if this was written before or after Austen refused Mr Bigg-Wither. May we hope it is meant generally?

Ellen

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Laura Knight, Two Girls on a Cliff (Cornwall), a foremother artist, again quiet female friendship is not a topic readily found in all eras

Eph — What freindship is, Ardelia shew?
Ard — Tis to love, as I love you.
Eph — This account so short, (tho’ kind)
Suites not my enquiring mind.
Therefore farther now repeat.
What is freindship, when compleat?
Ard — ‘Tis to share all joy, and greif,
‘Tis to lend all due releif,
From the tongue, the heart, the hand,
‘Tis to morgage [sic] house, and land,
For a freind, be sold a slave,
‘Tis to dye upon a Grave,
If a freind therein do lye.
Eph — This, indeed, tho’ carry’d high,
This, tho’ more then ‘ere was done,
Underneath the roling [sic] Sun,
This, has all been said before,
Can Ardelia, say no more?
Ard — Words indeed, no more can shew,
But ’tis to love, as I love you.
— Anne Finch to her beloved sister-in-law, Francis Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth

Dear friends and readers,

I should probably have framed my previous blog with one of the insights in Paula Backscheider’s study of 18th century poetry by women in the context of poetry “through the ages:” she suggests and (I think) demonstrates that friendship poems are used different by women from men. Men often use these politically, to situate themselves publicly. For women they create counter-universes with the friend in which they can explore possibilities, pleasures, identities together.

This is a companion blog to the previous on Anne Finch’s friendship poet to good friends who were also poets, and to her predecessors. Now we come to friendships where the women were not poets, but were willing to enter Anne’s poetic world with her, so, to start, e.g, Catherine Cavendish Tufton (Arminda) and Francis Finch Thynne (Ephelia), two of her closest dearest women friends. The number of poems doesn’t tell us much as there is but one to, e.g., her cousin, Elizabeth Haslewood (d. 1733) who becomes Lady Hatton, daughter of her mother’s brother, Sir William, whom Anne grew up with and with whom she remained close. Elizabeth married Christopher Viscount Hatton.  The list here contains one women who was a reluctant participant. To begin,

“Ephelia” was not the powerful caustic still anonymous female poet, “Ephelia” and glamorous aristocrat that Maureen Mulvihill wants her to be. The last time I looked Ephelia’s identity was still not known.  Finch’s Ephelia was Heneage’s sister, Finch’s sister-in-law, Frances Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth, wife to Heneage’s close friend, companion and support, Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth.  Utresia (see below) is Anne’s niece , Lady Weymouth’s daughter, called in the poems also Lady Worseley. Lad Worseley was dragged (so to speak) into a close relationship she apparently was made uncomfortable by. The three poems to Lady Worseley’s mother are deeply felt and include one of Anne’s very best poems, the outstanding:

1) MS Folger, 6-11, “Me, dear Ephelia, me, in vain you court,” Ardelia’s answer to Ephelia, who had invited Her to come to her in Town–reflecting on the Coquetterie & detracting humour of the Age,” as brilliant as that of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, both of which find an ultimate source in Boileau’s Satire III (itself an imitation of Horace’s Satire I, ix). I believe Frances Thynne is also depicted in

2) MS Folger 22, “What freindship is, Ardelia shew?” “Freindship Between Ephelia and Ardelia”. Frances Finch was the muse of the poems addressed to Ephelia because all her life, she played the role of consoler, strengthener: she knew intimately the sources of her “sister’s” psychological problems and we see yet more of their relationship in

3) MS Wellesley 100, “Absence in love effects the same,” “Untitled: These verses were inserted in a letter to the Right Hon: ble the Lady Vicountess Weymouth written from Lewston the next day after my parting with her at Long Leat,” copied out with an apparently frank letter, which, alas, was destroyed. We can say though that unlike Francis’s daughter (see directly below), Francis stayed a satisfyingly long time (over night). It’s a melancholy song written upon awakening after parting from a friend.  Cf earlier brief or one stanza version, presented as translation from a French libertine epigram, found in Ms Folger

Ephelia was not Dorothy Ogle either (as surmised by Myra Reynolds), Finch’s beloved step-sister who died young, whom Finch addresses as “Teresa,”

1) MS’s: F-H 283, 18-25; Folger 206-8, “Hither, Ardelia I your Stepps Pursue,” “Some Reflections in a Dialogue between Teresa and Ardelia on the 2d and 3d Verses of the 73d Psalm,” a Biblical paraphrase, in tone and content bearing a strong resemblance to an important as yet unattributed autographical poem,

2) No MS (!), 1701 Gilden Miscellany, pp 288-93, “All flie th’unhappy, and I all wou’d flie,” “The Retirement” are addressed. Dorothy had lived with Anne their sometimes lonely orphaned childhoods in Northamptonshire among the Haslewoods (an affectionate but large household), and with the litigious formidable grandmother Kingsmill in Sidmouth.


Joseph Farrington, The Oak Tree (18th century engraving): See Anne’s “Fair Tree” (scroll down for podcast)

A third close associate and one from her younger years, Elizabeth Haslewood, Lady Hatton (see above). Mock heroic in a delicate way and like “The White Mouses Petition” in the vein of Madame Deshouliers. The poem mentions at least three of Elizabeth’s four sons, and evinces comfortable intimacy

1) MS Wellesley, pp 93995. “Where is the trust in human things,” To the Hon ble Mrs H—n [in Heneage’s hand, pasted over ample space, original heading censured]. Anne identifies with the mouse in both poems, but as that was a custom (in Madame Deshouliers and aristocratic circles), one should not over-read.

Eventually, much to her distress, embarrassment, and irritation, Lady Worseley, another Frances Thynne (it is hard to distinguish these people as individuals since they themselves chose names which placed them as a member of a kindship system of aristocrats), married to Robert Worseley by 1690, found herself chosen by Anne Finch in the way Anne chose Frances Thynne Seymour, the daughter of a beloved friend, Grace Strode into whom Anne wanted to pour her innermost feelings. The poetry to Utresia contains much beauty but also the most painful lines left by Ardelia. There are three poems, which suggest that at first Utresia decided that to accept letters would be the best way to handle the relationship, but eventually found Anne’s intensity too much and then Anne seems to have been unable to accept Lady Worseley’s rejection of her intensity.

1) MS Folger unnumbered page -275, “If from some lonely and obscure recesse,” “To the Honourable The Lady Worsley at Long-leate who had most obligingly desired my Corresponding with her by Letters.” It ends on extravagant praise of Lord Weymouth, Lady Worseley’s father (Heneage’s brother-in-law); Finch imagines them walking together. Longleat itself the focus of what he created. This is a deeply moving poem with much beautiful landscape, but (as is not uncommon), Anne may not have not seen clearly enough the person she wanted to make her companion soul; it may be that Lady Worseley was forced to accept this because not to do would be to reject the praise of her father.

2) Ms Wellesley, pp 77-78. “From the sweet pleasure of a rural seat,” A Letter to the Hon: ble Lady Worseley at Long-Leat, Lewston August the 10th 1704. This is one of those poems in MS Wellesley whose date makes it much earlier than the rest of the poems in the Ms Wellesley; at the same it it is accompanied by a letter from “Ann Finch” to her niece saying that her mother, Lady Weymouth so easily excused the verses Anne wrote upon waking (see above), she will excuse these. She stopped writing because a messenger who was to carry the poem was about to leave. It seems the visit of mother and daughter over-excited Anne and she showed some emotions that disquieted the daughter.  In her letter she is not aware of this. The last or next poem shows Utresia determined to keep a distance between herself and her poetic aunt.

3) MS Portland 19, pp 304-7, “The long long expected hour is come,” , “On a Short Visit inscrib’d to My Lady Worsley,” copied out in Anne’s own hand, for she needed to write this, wanted it saved but could not apply to anyone else to write it down. Utresia (here also called Celia) had found it hard to put Anne off, Anne would not take a hint, and when Utresia finally showed up, Anne’s behavior was so overwhelming, she had to get away from her. McGovern quotes someone who visiting Anne in London in later years and finding her “ill,” or “melancholic, wrote that she found Lady Winchilsea very amusing. Not everyone can dismiss or frame a melancholy woman as someone who makes jokes.

Several other women across Anne’s life meant a great deal to her personally and to whom she felt free to write candid poetry:  Catherine Cavendish, who married Thomas Tufton, earl of Thanet; both spouses were friends of Heneage and Anne, and married only a few months after they did; the Tuftons (or Earl and Lady Thanet) took in the Finches (Colonel and Mrs Finch) at their estate of Hothfield in Kent when the Finches fled London. Catherine Cavendish is Arminda, and they were life-long confiding friends; to Arminda, Anne wrote but one poem, but an important beautiful one, deeply grateful, openly vulnerable:

1) MS Folger, pp 220-27, “Give me, oh! indulgent Fate,” “The Petition for an Absolute Retreat, Inscribed To the Right Honorable Catharine Countess of THANET, mention’d in the Poem, under the name of ARMINDA.”

Of the next generation, another close friend to Anne Finch was Cleone, or Mrs Grace Strode Thynne, wife of Henry Thynne (Theanor, died 1708), son of Francis and Thomas Thynne, Lord and Lady Weymouth. Henry was then Heneage’s nephew so Cleone was daughter-in-law to Anne’s best friend, and, eventually, mother to Anne’s beloved Lady Hertford. Henry died fairly young, and Mrs Grace did not continue to live with her in-laws but returned to the Strode family home in Leweston; nevertheless, she and Anne remained close, to which relationship three poems by Anne testify.

1) “Sooner I’d praise a Cloud which Light beguiles,” To the Painter of an ill-drawn Picture of CLEONE,” no MS (!), the only source text the 1713 Miscellany, pp 176-78. Very lovely in parts, with strong praise in words which suggest these contemporaries were “sympathizing” friends, written possibly around the time of the couple’s marriage (1695),

2) “THINK not a partial fondness sway’d my mind,” An Epistle to the honourable Mrs. THYNNE, persuading her to have a Statue made of her youngest Daughter, now Lady BROOKE. No MS; found in a 1714 Steele Miscellany; and in 1717 Pope’s Own Miscellany, from which the copy on my website is taken. Finch defends herself for having appeared to favor Mary (“Maria”) over Francis Thynne (“Aspasia”) I suggest 1704-5.

3) One of Anne’s comic (happy) masterpieces, “How plain dear Madam was the Want of Sight,” After drawing a twelf cake at the Hon ble Mrs Thynne’s (dated in MS Additional 4457: “To the Hon ble Mrs Thynne after twelfth Day 1715 By Lady Winchilsea”, Ms Wellesley 91-92 (copy text althought one of the lines is softened in comparison with Ms Additional text)


For full details about the occasion, the cards, the people there, click on The Birthday at Winter Solstice

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Mary of Modena (Urania) was one of Anne’s real and dream figures: Mary of Modena seems to have functioned in Finch’s life as a luminous icon of beauty, divinity, poetry of language. Perhaps she was also in Anne’s mind a mentor-substitute for the mother whom Anne never had. Perhaps one of the sources of Anne’s passionate Jacobitism was this imagined relationship. Two poems. One very early, after James II fell from power, one of Anne’s brief masterpieces. The second includes the presence of Anne Tufton (Salisbury or Lamira; see below) who tries to mitigate Anne’s over-reaction and on whose advice the elegy to the queen is brought to an end:

1) MS’s: F-H 283, 7*; Folger 17, “She Sigh’d, but soon it mixt with common air“. Never printed.

2) Ms Wellesley, pp 68-71, “Dark was the shade where only cou’d be seen,” “On the Death of the Queen”


Mary of Modena, depicted with a James III

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Returning to Anne’s circles in later life, one is tempted to say these are less important women to Anne because they came later or were of a younger age. Not so apparently in the case of Anne Tufton (see above, Lamira and below “Salisbury”): Catherine Cavendish Tufton, Lady Thanet had two daughters. These relationships may have been substitutes for the biological daughters Anne never had: To Anne Tufton, Lamira, the first of which seems to me uncomfortably coy; the second perhaps Anne’s greatest poem. She is also mentioned in Anne’s poem on the death of Mary of Modena:

1) Ms Wellesley, 92-93, “With all respect and humble duty,”, The white mouses petition to Lamira the Right Hon: ble the Lady Ann Tufton now Countess of Salisbury. This relationship matured into

2) No MS, 1713 Miscellany, pp 292-94, “In such a Night, when every louder Wind”, “A Nocturnal Reverie”


A tawny owl — part of a beautiful tribute and analysis of Anne’s poem by Carol Rumens in the Guardian for this year!

Mrs Arabella Marrow was an unmarried daughter of Samuel and Lady Marrow, of Berkwell, Warwickshire; she was one of Mrs Grace Strode Thynne’s closest companions. Date: Lady Marrow died October 19, 1714. A “letter” shows how much Anne knew and was up-to-date on Jacobite and Hanoverian politics.

1) Ms Wellesley, p 55v.“For can our correspondence please,”, “A Letter to Mrs Arrabella Marow: [A prose opening: The favour of such an agreeable & most obliging letter as I recieved . . .] In MS Additional 4457 it is subscribed “London, October 18 1715.” A strongly Jacobite poem. Lady Marrow already dead.

2) MS Additional 4457, p 56v “Their piety th’Egyptians show’d by Art,” “To Mrs Arabella Marrow upon the Death of Lady Marrow”. A witty epigram whose modest idea is intended to console her friend for her loss of her mother.


A double stock flower (tagetes patula?)

Anne did not forget people. Lady Selena Finch Shirley (1681-1762), married to Robert Shirley, Lord Ferrers (1650-1717) in 1699.  Lady Selena lived at Wye College in the early 1700s (Cameron found this out): she was a daughter of George (and Jane?) Finch whom Cameron found living at Wye College in the early 1700’s; she had ten children by Robert Shirley before he died in 1717. She died 1762. In the second poem Finch says looking upon the flower in its ripe prime reminds her of the time when she “That beauteous maid wou’d view/The green house where I liv’d retired;” that is, between 1700 and 1703 when Anne lived at Wye Shirley Finch would come to visit her in a green house or garden near Wye; now destiny has led her young friend to the country and Anne placed in town where Anne can no longer feel rejuvenated by her friend’s presence as once she was. It is a compliment to Lady Selena’s daughter, also called Selena (See Complete Poems, Vol 2, pp 484-85).

The first may be explained this way: Statira was best known to 17th century women readers as presented La Calprenede’s Cassandra. Finch had used this romance before in poetry found in MS Folger: see the homoerotic, “An Epistle from Alexander to Ephestion in his Sicknesse” Statira is a formidable heroine in LaCalprenede’s bookn, a sort of Amazon; it’s an ambiguous compliment (for she is not chaste), but perhaps Finch was thinking of her friend having had ten children.  During the time the women were close Lady Selena must’ve been almost continually pregnant.  And now she is or is near widowhood.

1) Ms Wellesley, “Such was Statira, when young Ammon woo’d,” Upon Lady Selena Shirly’s picture drawn by Mr Dagar.

2) 1717 Pope’s Own Miscellany “How is it in this chilling time,” “On a double Stock July-flower, full blown in January, presented to me by the Countess of FERRERS” By the right honourable the Lady WINCHELSEA, pp. 126ff

Lady Catherine Jones (Clorinda, d 1740), third daughter to Richard Jones, Viscount, first Earl of Ranelagh. Her name occurs very late in Anne’s poetry and only once but there is suggestive evidence they knew each other for a long time. Anne uses the name Clorinda in other poems but these are about secular beauty, and one may refer to Anne herself. What’s significant here is she served Mary Beatrice as Chamber-keeper, and was a patron of Mary Astell who dedicated two religious treatises to her. Lady Catherine corresponded with Swift twice but to her contemporaries it was probably more important that her family moved in high circles (she once dined with George I, 1717); she seems never to have married. The poem below is devotional, poetry as praying:  perhaps Lady Catherine was especially religious. The poem occurs in series of such poems, and I think it was meant to be set to music; it’s not meant to be read, but sung as a series of visions:

1) Ms Wellesley, 134-35 “Alleluja Sollemn Strain,” An Ode Written upon Christmas Eve in the year 1714 Upon these Words[:] And again they Said Alleluia Inscribed To the Rt: Hon ble the Lady Catherine Jones

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Last the daughters and granddaughters of friends and relatives:

To the younger Catherine Tufton, Serena, born 1692, Anne Tufton’s sister:

1) MS Folger, 298-9, “To write in verse has been my pleasing choice,” “To the Rt. Honble the Lady Tufton Upon Adressing to me the first Letter that Ever she Writt at the Age of–”

2) MS Folger, pp 242-44, “‘Tis fitt Serena shou’d be sung,”, “A Poem For the Birth Day of the Right Honorable the Lady Catherine Tufton. Occasion’d by the sight of some Verses upon that Subject For the preceding Year compos’d by no Eminent Hand” — also for a child.

The first poem in the MS Wellesley, to or on Lady Carteret, yet another daughter of the family, Francis Worseley, Lady Carteret, Utresia’s daughter, so granddaughter to Frances Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth:

1) Ms Wellesley, p 49  “Quoth the Swains who got in at the late Masquerade”, “On Lady Cartret drest like a shepherdess at Count Volira’s ball”

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So I’ve identified as friends or people Anne Finch both cared about and wrote deeply felt poems for: Frances Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth; Dorothy Ogle; Elisabeth Haslewood, Lady Hatton; Frances Thynne, Lady Worsley; Mrs Grace Strode Thynne; Mary of Modena; Anne Tufton, Lady Salisbury; Arabella Marrow; Lady Selena Finch Shirley, Countess of Ferrers; Lady Catherine Jones; Catherine Tufton; Francis Worseley, Lady Carteret.

Anne writes to and about male friends too, some poets, some not, but often with irony and never with the open earnestness and fullness of heart she does to her women friends. Several of these poems to women are more deeply felt than those by her to Heneage. Eventually I may try to write a blog about the poems to male friends and poets.

Ellen

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An eighteenth-century mask

Friends and readers,

Another report on the papers and panels at another virtual conference, this one the fall EC/ASECS, to have been held at the Winterthur Museum, with the umbrella subject matter: “Material Culture.” Happily for each time slot there was only one panel, so I missed very little. On Thursday evening, we began our festivities online with Peter Staffel’s regularly held aural/oral experience. Excerpts from two comedies were dramatically read, and various poems. I read two sonnets by Charlotte Smith, and probably read with more feeling the first, No 51, because I thought of Jim and how I have dreamed of going to the Hebrides and got as far as Inverness and a drive around the northern edge of Scotland where across the way I saw the isle of Skye (or so I tell myself it was):

Supposed to have been written in the Hebrides:

ON this lone island, whose unfruitful breast
Feeds but the summer shepherd’s little flock,
With scanty herbage from the half cloth’d rock
Where osprays, cormorants and seamews rest;
E’en in a scene so desolate and rude
I could with thee for months and years be blest;
And, of thy tenderness and love possest,
Find all my world in this wild solitude!
When Summer suns these northern seas illume,
With thee admire the light’s reflected charms,
And when drear Winter spreads his cheerless gloom,
Still find Elysium in thy shelt’ring arms:
For thou to me canst sov’reign bliss impart,
Thy mind my empire—and my throne thy heart.

The next morning at 9 am we had our first panel, Jane Austen Then and Now, chaired by Linda Troost, and I read my paper “A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen”.

Next up was Elizabeth Nollen’s “Reading Radcliffe: the importance of the book in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. After the publisher had held onto the manuscript for six years, she wrote an angry letter, but he refused to return the manuscript unless she paid back what he had paid her brothers (£10); her family wouldn’t fork out the money. Nollen retold Udolpho in a way that emphasized its comforting and inspirational components. Her argument was Austen was re-writing Udolpho to make Radcliffe’s book into a bildingsroman. In Northanger Abbey we go with a heroine on a journey into womanhood. Henry and Eleanor Tilney, kind and unselfish friends, invite Catherine to back with them to their ancestral home. Ms Nollen (to my surprise) at the close of her paper inveighed against Catherine marrying Henry, finding in him much offensive man-splaining, seeing him as a man who will domineer over her. Catherine is exchanging one boss for another was her take, and that Catherine’s new future life is that of a dependent. (I feel that at the novel’s end, we are expected to feel how lucky Catherine is to have married such an intelligent, cordial, for the most part understanding man — and at the young age of 18, but of course it could be the narrator’s closing words are wholly ironic.)


Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland escaping her friends and social duties by reading (paratexts from the ITV Northanger Abbey)

B. G. Betz’s “Pride and Prejudice and Its Sequels and Variations: a Gift to the Humanities.” She began by asserting that for Elizabeth Bennet is the favorite heroine of most readers, that Elizabeth and her novel provoke a passionate response in people. Why else the endless retellings of the E&D story? I’d say this is certainly so in the film adaptation Lost in Austen. (Here’s the plot of Pride and Prejudice to refresh your mind.) She then told us she travels around to libraries doing Library Hours (reading books to younger children) with the aim of getting more people reading, reading Jane Austen and also all the modernizations and adaptations, and appropriations of Austen books into written sequels, other (related?) romances, and many many movie adaptations. BG emphasis was “As long as I get them reading!” She probably is alive to Austen’s distinctive language and intelligent text, but what she aims out is to re-engage common readers with books, using Austen and romance. She went over several lists of sequel-writers (naming them, citing titles), told of which characters did chose this or that as central to the story line of a particular novel or series of novels, and the dates of publication. (I sometimes wonder if I miss out because I so rarely read sequels, and admit that the most recent Austen adaptations [heritage as well as appropriation] do not attract me because the film-makers seem no longer to assume the viewership includes a sizable population who have read Austen’s novels).

The morning’s second panel, Women in the World: Shaping Identity through Objects and Space included four papers. I can offer only the gist of three of them.
The chair, Andrea Fabrizio’s paper, ““Small Town Travel and Gossip: Earthly Obstacles and Spiritual Agency in The Narrative of the Persecutions of Agnes Beaumont, was about a slender book, that because of my lack of knowledge of the topic and perspective, was difficult for me to follow. It’s short (only 50 pages) and vindicates a woman’s right to a spiritual choice. The general issue is one of control. A young woman’s father will not allow her to belong to a Bunyan-like church group, during their perpetual struggle, he dies and she is accused of murder (!) and then acquitted.

Ruth G. Garcia’s “‘Affect nothing above your rank’: Social Identity and the Material World in Conduct Books for Servants” focused on Edgeworth’s Belinda as a novel. Ms Garcia sees the novel as one which manifests and explores anxiety over servants sharing space with their employer (Belinda is Lady Delacour’s companion; another servant is insolent). The novel might seem to uphold conduct books which insist on controlling servants (in among other areas dress), but we are shown how servants have little right to live. Lady Delacour’s is a troubled marriage and accedes finally to Belinda’s influence. By contrast, Lady Anne Perceval is an exemplary character who is her husband’s partner. She cited Carolyn Steedman’s Labours Lost, an important book about women servants. (I have read essays which interpret this novel quite differently, seeing it as a lesbian text, as about a mother-daughter relationship.)

Xinyuan Qiu’s “Affection or Affectation: An Alternative Way of Reading Pamela Provided by Hogarth’s London Milkmaids” is described by its title: she used Hogarth’s satiric depictions of milkmaids (which do resemble the ways Richardson dresses Pamela) to argue that the text is salacious but not to satirize or critique it in the manner of Fielding but rather to argue that the milkmaid figure used erotically challenges traditional hierarchies.


A drawing by Hogarth featuring a milkmaid — this is a more chaste image than several of those examined

I could take in more of Elizabeth Porter’s ““Moving Against the Marriage Plot: London in Burney’s Cecilia because I have studied Burney’s Cecilia, as well as her journal writing (and of course read Evelina). This seemed to me a study of Cecilia as an instance of urban gothic used as a critique of the way this young woman is treated. As defined by Ms Porter, urban gothic, associated with the Victorian gothic, presents a state of disorientation in urban spaces; male authors tend to write this kind of gothic (I thought of Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White and No Name.) It is a development out of Radcliffe (whom I remember Burney commenting upon in her journals). Cecilia ends in a psychic breakdown running around the London streets, near the novel’s close she experiences horror, imprisonment, living in darkness. In marriage laws and customs where women lose personhood in marriage, which provides a happy ending which seems more like succumbing. We are left with feelings of stress, strain, haunted regret, resignation.

I was able to attend to only one of the papers on the third afternoon panel, a miscellany of papers, “Susan Howard’s “‘Born within the Vortex of a Court’: Structural Methodologies and the Symbology of Possessions in Charlotte Papendiek’s Memoirs. This was a reading of Papendiek’s 1760s Memoir. Her father had been a servant in Queen Charlotte’s court, and Charlotte constructs a dual narrative telling about her private life as a child and grown woman at this court. Ms Howard read material realities as manifesting aspects of social realities. Things, and especially gifts, are emissaries between people. She discussed Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of the queen and of this Assistant Keeper of the Queen’s wardrobe (as well as Queen’s reader). After her talk (during the discussion) Ms Howard talked about the problem of gauging how far what Papendiek wrote was literal truth, but suggested if it wasn’t, the journals are as valuable for telling us of the values, norms and general events at the court. (I feel the same holds true for Burney’s journals and diaries, which have recently been shown by, among others, Lorna Clark, to be often highly fictionalized.)

I came in at the end of Jessica Banner’s “Women behind the Work: Re-Thinking the Representation of Female Garment Workers in Eighteenth-Century London,” which was a study of the realities of the lives of female garment workers in 18th century London (methods of production, pay, who and where were they located?, their re-organization between the 1790s and 1815). There is a Liverpool directory, an alphabetical list of names.

The second day ended with an hour-long very enjoyable talk by Deborah Harper, Senior Curator of Education, Winterthur Museum and Library, working there for over 30 years. She took us on a tour of the keyboard instruments in the Dupont collection at the museum, focusing on 18th century elements and what seems to be one of the most cherished treasures of the collection, a 1907 Steinway owned and played upon by Mrs Ruth du Pont (nee Wales, 1889-1967); her husband, Henry Francis Dupont was the Dupont who developed the museum into the premier collection of American decorative art it is today. Although not mentioned by Ms Harper, his father, Henry Algernon du Pont, was a US senator for Delaware, a wealthy Republican businessman and politician who promptly lost his seat when senators were no longer appointed but elected. I wouldn’t presume to try to convey the rich detail and explanations in this talk (accompanied by interesting images). Ms Harper covered what are harpsichords, pianofortes, owners, collectors, specific histories of the different keyboards, how they fit into the culture of their specific place and era, stories of estates, individual players, where the keyboard has been and is today in the buildings. One group of people mentioned, the Lloyd family who owned Wye house and Wye plantation, owned large groups of enslaved people, among them Frederick Douglas.

The longest section revolved around the Steinway at present in a beautiful front room, and how it was loved and used by Ruth du Pont, who, Ms Harper said, loved musicals and Cole Porter songs. Ruth du Pont is described on the Winterthur website as “the Lady of the house,” “a social figure, talented musician, and hostess of four houses” and “devoted wife” and mother. “Photographs and documents from Winterthur’s vast archive document Mrs. du Pont’s life of hospitality, music, and travel.” I found elsewhere a full and franker life of high privilege than you might expect (with many photographs). She had to endure various tensions throughout her younger years (in each life some rain must fall), and later in life would go into angry tirades at FDR as “a traitor to his class.” So she would have resented my having social security to live upon? It also seems that her husband didn’t like the color of her piano; he wanted to paint it gray-green to match the 18th century colors of some of his collected furniture. When he decided against this (wisely, or was persuaded not to), he kept the piano from view for a long time (placing it for example in a concert hall for a time).


Used for Christmas concerts today

One of two blogs,
Ellen

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18th century writing-slope: sometimes called a writing-box, or writing-desk

Hans Mayer had written: “Identity is possible only through attachment.” Christa Wolf responds: “What he does not say in so many words but knows from experience is that identity is forged by resisting intolerable conditions, which means we must not allow attachments to deteriorate into dependency but must be able to dissolve them again if the case demands it (Wolf, Parting with Phantoms, 1990-1994)

Austen could not dissolve these attachments but resisted mightily and yet without admitting resistance. This idea can be also applied as a general summation of part of D W. Harding’s famous essay on Austen’s satiric comedy, “Regulated Hatred.”

Dear friends and readers,

You may be yourself in your own life tired of virtual life and longing to turn to in-person life: I am and am not. Over the past two weeks I had a number of wonderful experiences on-line, virtually, which I would not have been able to reach in person: a London Trollope society reading group, a musical concert at the Smithsonian, a good class at Politics and Prose, held at night when I cannot drive. I also longed to truly be with people too — it’s physical places as much as communicating directly with people, casually, seeing one another’s legs and feet, but for even most the alternative was nothing at all. I think I am enjoying these virtual experiences so because they are laid on a groundwork of memory (I’ve been there or with these people), imagination (extrapolation), much reading (shared with the other participants) and visual and aural media.

All this to say I’ve been attending the Bath250 conference, officially held or zoomed out from the University of Liverpool, for several late nights and for the past evening and two days I’ve attended a full virtual version of the EC/ASECS conference. I’ve gone to EC/ASECS almost every year since 2000, and since Jim died, every year. This is the second year in row we (they) have postponed the plan to go to the Winterthur Museum for our sessions, and stay by a nearby hotel. Our topic this year has been what’s called Material Culture: A virtual prelude, but there was nothing of the prelude about the papers and talks. I will be making a couple of blogs of these in order to remember what was said in general myself and to convey something of the interest, newness and occasional fascination (from the Educational Curator of Winterthur) of what was said — with one spell-binding Presidential talk by Joanne Myers, “My Journal of the Plague Year.”


18th century lined trunk

For tonight I thought I’d lead off with the one talk or paper I can given in full, my own, which I was surprised to find fit in so well with both what was said at Bath250 and the topics at EC/ASECS, from costumes in the theater as central to the experience, to libraries and buildings, to harpsichords and pianofortes now at Winterthur. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned this paper, but it has undergone real changes (see my discussion of early plan and inspiration), and is now seriously about how a study of groups of words for containers (boxes, chests, trunks, parcels, pockets) and meaning space shows the significance for Austen of her lack of control or even literally ownership of precious real and portable possessions and private space to write, to dream, simply to be in. I’ve a section on dispossessions and possessions in the Austen films now too.

I’ve put it on academia.edu

A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Identity in Jane Austen


Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) packing her writings away in the trunks in what was their Norland bedroom (2009 Sense and Sensibility, scripted Andrew Davies

At the last moment I added a section on women’s pockets and pocketbooks in the 18th century and as found in Austen’s novels. An addendum to the paper.

And a bibliography.

Ellen

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Anne Bronte by herself, drawn as a girl seeking, looking out

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of week ago now I wrote out some notes I took on two separate occasions, a talk on zoom from the Gaskell house and Haworth cottage on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte, and two talks from an Anne Bronte conference (which also included material on Patrick, Charlotte, Emily and Branwell) on September 4th Well tonight I want make a second installment of notes on talks on Anne Bronte herself, her poetry, and mostly about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I thought I’d begin backwards, with Anne Bronte herself as discussed by the award-winning journalist, Samir Ahmed, and here I’ll point out to how she won a suit against BBC for paying her derisory sums.

Samira began by telling everyone how early as a teenager, she was “blown away” by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (this made me remember how much Austen’s Sense and Sensibility has meant to me since my teens). Ahmed felt that Anne had an awareness when very young of injustice. As a graduate student, Ahmed’s dissertation was on “Property and Possession in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” She agued the book was written as a popular call that could be intertwined with a romantic novel story. In her preface she says she cannot understand why a woman cannot write what a men might want to and a man a woman. Her aim is to tell the truth.

In both Agnes Grey and Tenant there are experiences our heroines have, which are burned into their brains. Agnes Grey humiliated and berated for not controlling children allowed to become frantic and savage. She is giving testimony ever bit as surely as Christine Casey Ford. Anne was an intelligent woman with a need to speak. A mind seeking justice. At the time of the novel Frazer Magazine one could find awareness of the equivocal nature of the place of the governess. Agnes is paid barely enough to live on. Anne like the “fly” on the wall in a documentary for both her books. She claimed that you find in her books abhorrence towards hunting and going out to kill animals as a sport (I must carry on re-reading Tenant, which I’m doing just now; then turn back to Agnes). Both books too play upon the exploitative power children can give an adult — to oppress the adult, or to terrify her if she is the child’s mother.

She quoted Andrea Dworkin to align lines of hers with those of Anne Bronte. The last lines of Agnes Grey speak to an anti-materialist socialist idea:

Our modest income is amply sufficient for our requirements; and by practising the economy we learnt an harder times, and never attempting to imitate our richer neighbours, we manage not only to enjoy comfort and contentment ourselves, but to have every year something to lay by for our children, and something to give to those who need it. And now I think I have said sufficient.

I have omitted much that Samira Ahmed said about contemporary feminism, modern movie-making (the good Wuthering Heights films and the 1996 Tenant film), some actresses who have involved themselves in good causes, trafficking in women, alcoholism (with respect to Branwell). I wanted to concentrate on the central theme of her talk. What I loved best was she concentrated as much on Agnes Grey as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.


Anne Bronte as drawn by herself by a family dog
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This edition is by Stevie Davies:

Davies was known to me previously as a superb historian of women and original inventive fiction: her Unbridled Spirits is a part imagined history of 17th century British women – -during the civil war they gained freedom, agency and lived some of them remarkable lives; her Impassioned Clay brilliant historical fiction where the insight that what we are doing is ghostly, bringing back dead people becomes central (insofar as Gabaldon is aware of this, and so too the better writers of the TV serial there is invested in the series a ghost-like apprehension of the past).

Davies has gotten herself an academic position and edits Tenant of Wildfall Hall expertly. Alas, there is no manuscript. This happens with Austen’s novels. It’s not until way after mid-century (except for Scott) that writers save their manuscripts: they apparently gave them to the printers to devour. What we have here is the first edition of Tenant before Charlotte could abridge or tamper with it. Davies simply adds on the preface Anne wrote for the second edition.
Davies’ introduction is superb Among other things she brings out the subjective nature of the text, the ambivalence in the way Gilbert Markham is treated; she shows that many aspects of this book are a kind of inverse for Wuthering Heights. There are a lot of characters with H names in both. She finds a lot of the Gondal stories in both; she has Jane Eyre as another alternative in the same kind of vision about women artists, Rochester contrasted to Arthur Huntington.

There were five talks on Anne’s fiction, mostly on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, for which I have some brief or merely representative or summary notes.

Marianne Thormählen,”Literary Art and Moral Instruction” in Anne Bronte’s novels. She wanted to show us is how modern critical dislike or moral judgements and dislike of didactism has marginalized her novels. Juliet McMaster is one of those alive to lapping multilay humor, wit, a kind of low laughter, amid real pain and bruises. Josephine McDonagh brings out the actuality of the body in Tenant; how the body and soul are both threatened. The structure of the book has put off others: Markham for the first time, then Helen as an inset diary. I like her bringing up Antigone. You must learn to distrust what flatters you, look at what makes us uncomfortable — for my part I see little.

Amy Bowen presented Tenant as a horror of “gothic realism: about real imprisonment, a woman trying to escape an abusive husband (where she has no rights or power). The focus is the interiority. Enclosed imagery reflects the hard world outside. Helen resists engendered discussions about education: that boys are taught to be inconstant, indifferent to the pain of others; women taught to be constant with no knowledge of an abrasive world.


19th century painting by an unknown woman of herself as a painter

Emily Vause’s themes were female authority, authorship and one’s identity. Charlotte was conventionally female, and she insisted her sister hated Tenant (because she, Charlotte, did). Anne draws adults with discerning eye to her apparently widowed adult female. Vause’s paper delineated the excruciating interactions Helen has with Arthur’s guests; she has to withdraw herself from what she hates: the male gaze fixed on her. She denies him access to her bedroom and he is dumbfounded (May Sinclair said the resounding of that door echoed across women’s minds). In effect he had been raping her. He means to corrupt the boy to spite her, and she flees with him. Her autonomy as a woman she never gives up, nor her authority as his mother. Her authority by her art allows her to escape to self-sufficiency. At one point he casts her painting supplies into the fire. Vause saw a parallel between Markham and Huntingdon, and was disappointed to find at the end of her story Helen becomes subject to a new husband.

Jordan Frederick discussed gender, custody and child-care, a genuine issue from what I’ve seen and heard from ordinary readers reading the novels today. I find today that many readers are put off by Helen’s wanting to keep her son close to her, her refusal to let him be educated into alcohol (she makes it associated with bad tasting medicine. To protect your child as a woman was legally impossible (he cited the series of reforms, 1839, division of wardship; 1873, giving a woman custody of her baby and young child; 1886 guardianship of children). Not until his deathbed does Arthur exhibit any remorse; she must turn to Gilbert in part. The temperance movement, methodist magazines (ideas of bearing witness) and Anne Bronte’s experience of her brother also lies behind this book. Anne is questioning toxic masculinity; Helen actively criticizing and fighting against this formation of the male psyche. He talked of how the gothicism here is realistic and the setting itself; society itself is the threat. Her feelings isolate her. Here he agreed with Any Bowen. He felt much irony in the book but thought at the end Gilbert will behave in a way that allows Helen not to be entrapped again.

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A recent cover for Agnes Grey

Maureen Kilditz’s “Walking and Health.” Perhaps the most interesting paper for the group (from the way the talking went – this was just after the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan) was about walking as an act of liberty. Kolditz began with a quotation that indicated women were not seen walking in the street unless accompanied by a chaperon. Agnes Grey must find someone to walk with; not permitted to examine the employers’ garden. How can a woman obtain a position for work if she is not allowed to walk about casually (she would be mistaken for a prostitute and then arrested for vagrancy). Walking is a function of our mobility in the natural world. How to get to your destination if you don’t have a horse? Strolling was discouraged: when Mr Western sees Agnes walking he suspects something — a kind of latent sexual nuance lingers over this act. So walking is perilous — it represented “unfettered female agency.” At the quiet contented ending of Agnes Grey, Mr Western comes with his cat to invite Agnes to come out with them. Here it is pleasurable; not a sign of poverty or struggle.

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Wildfell Hall in the engraving by Edmund Morison Wimperis (1873)

I conclude with three of the four talks, which were on Anne Bronte’s poetry: Quinnell: ‘Tis strange to think there was a time’: Romantic Echoes in Anne and Emily Brontë’s Poetry; Ciara Glasscott, “Is childhood then so all-divine: representations of childhood, innocence and romantic imagery in the poems of Anne Bronte: and Dr Edwin Moorhouse Marr: “Even the wicked shall at last Be fitted for the skies:” Anne Bronte’s Poetry and the Hope of Universal Salvation.” I don’t want to repeat what they said lest I transcribe it correctly because much was subtle and attached to specific lines in poems. I omitted Sara Pearson on their afterlife because I couldn’t take precise enough notes. I’ll call attention to those poems the talks pointed and make some general remarks from what they said:

“Tis strange to think there was a time\
When mirth was not an empty name,
When laughter really cheered the heart,
And frequent smiles unbidden came,
And tears of grief would only flow
In sympathy for others’ woe;

When speech expressed the inward thought,
And heart to kindred heart was bare,
And Summer days were far too short
For all the pleasures crowded there,
And silence, solitude, and rest,
Now welcome to the weary breast … (see the rest of the poem where you clicked)

This and others were said to emphasize a loss of early innocent childhood; then silence, solitude and rest is what was wanted; now night the holy time is no longer a place of peace. A grieving and regretting here that goes beyond Wordsworth. There is real fear in her “Last Lines” “A dreadful darkness closes in/On my bewildered mind”). In “Dreams” she imagines herself to a mother with a young baby, fears finding herself unloved afterward. There is a Blakean idea of unqualified innocence, an idealized nostalgia (it is highly unlikely Anne ever saw Blake’s poetry). There is great affliction in her poetry partly because she wants to believe in salvation for all. It was very upsetting for her to think of Cowper lost in hell. If he is not saved, what hope has she? She sought individual comfort; there is a deep seriousness about them all, and then quiet contemplation. I’m not unusual for finding Bluebell, one of her finest

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

It seems to me we have been misreading these poems by framing them in evangelical and sheerly religious contexts. We need to take seriously, the strong dark emotions as well as her turning to the beauty of the natural world and real and imagined memories of childhood.


Branwell Bronte

Ellen

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Portrait of Anne Bronte (Thornton, 1820 – Scarborough, 1849), Emily Bronte (Thornton, 1818 – Haworth, 1848) and Charlotte Bronte (Thornton, 1816 – Haworth, 1855), English writers.


Elizabeth Gaskell, late in life, a photograph

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past couple of months, while some of the new groups of people meeting about authors and books, have quickly returned on-line just about wholly (the JASNA AGM), others have wanted to stay partly online to gather in new people who could not have joined in where they require to travel wherever (the Trollope London Society) and still others have cautiously, stubbornly stayed wholly online (Sharp-l, Burney) or morphed into online experiences at the seeming end of the pandemic even now (National Book Festival in DC). The same pattern is seen in theaters, movies, concerts. Two organizations which have come to put themselves partly online are the people at Chawton, Elizabeth Gaskell House, and those at Haworth museum. So Austen, Gaskell and Bronte events have been still available to me (and I gather will be so still in the near future), and tonight I want to write of few that criss-crossed.

At the Gaskell House, they held an afternoon’s panel on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte, where they brought in lecturers and people at Haworth; and another afternoon it was Gaskell and Scott (whose work, to tell the truth, was not very influential on Gaskell). Haworth hosted an all-day conference on Anne Bronte, which naturally brought in her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, and then Gaskell’s Life of Bronte, which book has helped shape the way we today regard the Bronte family, Charlotte especially. I attended a single lecture on a recent historical fiction-fantasy bringing together Austen and the Godwin and Shelley families — rather like Christa Wolf whose quietly beautiful No Place on Earth brings together as lovers an early 19th century German romantic male writer and woman poet.

I divide this material into two blogs, lest either blog become overlong. This one is on Gaskell’s Life of Bronte, the figure of the governess in Charlotte and Anne’s writing, and the Anne Bronte films. Part Two will be on Anne’s poetry (and Wordsworth and Blake), Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I would like to start with Gaskell’s Life of Bronte as discussed at Gaskell House. Libby Tempest, Ann Dinsdale, Susan Dunne and Lucy Hanks were those discussing Gaskell and her biography of Charlotte Bronte and they cited Patsy Stoneman, “Such a life …, ” Bronte Studies 41:3 (2016):193-206. So five voices. As they begun and sounded defensive and apologetic, I worried they had fallen for the anti-feminist indifference to Gaskell’s biography, were going to attack on the grounds Gaskell was all wrong about the father’s eccentricities, harshnesses towards his wife, their mother, and some intimidating and bullying he used on them. They began with Gaskell’s comment after the storm of objections broke: “everyone who has been harmed by this book have complained,” about the scurrilous articles, but turned round to argue it’s one of the most important of the early great biographies, important especially because by a woman writer, by one, meaning to define that new term. Gaskell, they quoted, told the truth with all her heart and considerable intelligence and sensitivity based on three years of hard research and writing.

Susan Dunne answered the question, Why did Elizabeth take on this task. She had wanted to write a private memoir when she heard her friend had died from a miscarriage and serious bodily condition, but now almost everyone was dead and she felt such grief and a sense of betrayal, that she had not gone to visit Charlotte enough, that maybe she could have saved Charlotte’s life. Well she would save Charlotte’s reputation. Gaskell was seeking to explain away the attacks on the Bronte books, impossible to do as the motive was she was a woman and should not be writing this kind of book. It’s a book about, growing out of their friendship and identification as writers. Gaskell told of how the father would not give Charlotte money when she was younger as a means of control. He opposed her marriage to Nicholls. He said “Had I not been an eccentric person I am, how could my children have formed the way they did. He carried a pistol with him. Gaskell’s relationship with the father, Patrick, became complex; he and Nicholls (Charlotte’s husband) wanted Gaskell to write the book, and then were distressed at the libel suits. But he did tell Gaskell “you’ve never been an enemy of mine.” He was enormously proud of what his children had written. He would say “no quailing Mrs Gaskell, no drawing back.” And her book is fabulous, an immensely absorbing porous book.

Ann Dinsdale emphasized how Gaskell had such rich material to work with. She mentioned Kaye Shuttleworth had been instrumental in bringing Bronte and Gaskell together. She said Gaskell’s biography was “just ground-breaking; a brilliant use in it was the sense of a future to come in the earlier parts. To be sure, there are omissions: M. Heger,” the coping with profound disappointment. It is an inspired book.

Lucy Hanks talked about the manscript. Gaskell would normally create a fair copy after she wrote several drafts of pages; but now, pushed, she produced a messy, involved and disorganized piece. William, her husband, stepped in to offer more perspective. He helped also shape the material itself, thought for her of social pressures. She did mean to be diplomatic, wanted to harmonize the family POVs, and to “shoot down deeper than I can fathom” to reach deeper truths about all four Brontes and the father and aunt. Gaskell found Emily “very strange,” “selfish, egotistic.”  This remote sister was also “exacting.” Gaskell crossed out this sentence: “Her conduct was the very essence of stern selfishness.” Gaskell lived with an enlightened man, and could not easily understand a patriarchal male — very off-putting to see Bronte repress herself. She added that the biography is about how female identity has to be negotiated. A persona would be created by this biography — like one was created in Jane Eyre.

Elizabeth Gaskell liked to be in the center of a room, she liked to bring people together. The biography project was a prize and she was at first naive and optimistic. Volume the first she defended her friend. The second volume is far richer because it’s laden with Ellen Nussey’s letters, and Gaskell let Charlotte take over. She watched carefully for reactions to passages. Lucy thinks this biography changed women’s life-writing, changed the nature of biography, by bringing the person to life — she forgets Boswell did this first with Johnson, a male writer for a male writer too.

Libbey Tempest had the last remark: “without this book we’d know so little of the Brontes.”

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A Bronte conference, mostly on Anne, September 4th, all day Saturday, BST


Vera Claythorne, a real governess in the era

Kathryn Hughes, one of the biographers, gave the first, a key-note speech. Her topic was “Anne Bronte, Working Woman.” She found it extraordinary that Anne lasted in this work for 5 years. The deep clashes between the governess and members of the family is really the governess and the mother, who (Hughes thought) had to live with a companion to help her, couldn’t do the job of mothering alone or much better. The governess for the mother (and father too) could become a site of insecurity and jealousy. The governess was ever suspect. She was doing job not called a job. She is given almost no salary, but rather “a home” (not hers at all). Hughes thought no one in most households wanted such a woman there; she made everyone uncomfortable. What Charlotte does is eroticize the governess; Jane Eyre becomes Rochester’s betrothed in a game of power (over what she shall wear for example). Governesses were not supposed to have lovers, and fair game to the male servants.

I felt Hughes was very sympathetic to these upper class families. She was justifying these people. I would say that Anne and then her brother needed the money from the two different sets of families:  Anne had a dreadful time with the first family: the children were selfish, mean, supported by parents. She was courageous to leave — she needed them to give her a character remember.  With the second family the wife’s behavior was disastrous for Branwell. This is a case where the woman had a little power (not enough) and so she scapegoated her servant. In both instances the employers treated the Brontes with contempt.


Tara Fitzgerald as Helen Graham painting out on the moor (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1996 BBC, scripted David Nokes, Janet Baron)

In a talk entitled, “Anne Brontë in Film and Television,” Mateja Djedovic first gave a brief survey of all the many many films adapted from Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights — by way of contrast, for thus far there have been three film adaptations of Anne’s books. There was a Spanish Agnes Grey, about which he appeared to know very little, but he was taken with both a 1968 BBC and the 1996 BBC remake. Christopher Fry, a much respected dramatist, wrote the script for the earlier film; it starred Bryan Marshall as Gilbert Markham (Marshall tended to play romantic period drama heroes), Corin Redgrave as Arthur Huntingdon, alcoholic, and Janet Munro as Helen Graham. I’ve never seen it. He said it was too faithful, but brought out the austere, and reserved feel of the book; we have a recluse who has revolted, she is escaping a pursuit, and there is quiet happy ending. The later one is much more sophisticated, bringing out the feminist themes of the novel, with Toby Stephens as Gilbert more sidelined (sensitive type) in favor of a remorseful, confusedly angry, yet self-tortured Huntington as played by Rupert Graves.

I thought Djedovic should have gone over the landscape, the camera work, the way the script does follow the involuted plot-design of the book. Yes it’s erotic, influenced by Andrew Davies – who,  however, uses this eroticism to support Anne’s own outlook against macho males and on behalf of teaching humane customs or norms.


Chloe Pirrie as Emily, Charlie Murphy as Anne, and Finn Atkins as Charlotte

He then mentioned there have been several biopics, with all three sisters but all focusing on Branwell and his alcoholism. He briefly talked of a 1979 French film; a 1973 TV serial, where Anne gets one episode as a working governess. The most recent was To Walk Invisible (2017), which stressed the difficulty of being a woman author, how they have to hide their gender, but it also allows a negative picture of Branwell as destroying their lives to dominate the story.

I’d call this biopic a profoundly intolerant movie, using male weakness to explain why the young women so suffered.  They suffered because the water they all drank was laden with filth and sickness. I’d too add it misrepresents the father as ineffectual when he was a strong and intelligent personality; Charlotte as mean, narrow, very hard, with Emily as more than a little strangely mad. In fact prejudiced and as to biographical content nil.  I grant it’s photographed beautifully and well-acted.

I look forward to writing of The Tenant as feminist, as gothic, as grim realism, of Anne Bronte herself as a whistleblower, and of her poetry as at times Wordsworthian (he influenced so many women writers, among them also Gaskell) and at times William Blake-like. Gaskell and Scott and once again an Austen sequel.


Anne Bronte as drawn by Charlotte

Ellen

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Nanci Griffith: 2012/many years ago (probably 1990s) (1953-2021)

I grew up listening to Nanci Griffith in my mother’s car. I still remember seeing her live. I’ve loved her music to this day. #RIP — Izzy on Twitter

I have to remember the next time I do a video and then watch once (I never watch more than once) and find myself wincing at the sounds of my voice and accent: “Your own voice is the voice that carries you through life best” — Nanci Griffith —

Friends and readers,

Yesterday when I read on Twitter (to which news comes the fastest) that Nanci Griffith had died that day, I felt — somewhat to my surprise — so grief-stricken. I began to cry. I thought of all the hours I had spent over the years listening to her singing first on audiocasettes and then CDs in my car. I used to spend a lot of time in my car, and often Izzy was with me (especially during her elementary and junior high school years). I just had to go over and listen to one of my favorite of her songs: “It’s a long long way from Clare to here:”

Now don’t misunderstand me — I am intensely relieved that I need no longer go back at all, the best day of my life was the one where I left the USA for England … and came back with Jim and an alternative life I could live as myself

I then rushed over to the New York Times for an obituary, and was fobbed off by a brief one, which said she had asked that no one write about her until a week after her death (I saw that on several sites yesterday), but today there is far from truly adequate, but at least an informed one about her life and her career. It is true to say that she never achieved the wide popularity others did. I think too that she hid her more troubling insights under “a deceptive prettiness.” Early on, like Willie Nelson, she presented herself as a innocent sweet young white girl who was just dropping these unexpected ironic and satiric remarks, and seduced by romance, as in her famous “Love at the Five and Dime:” her opening remarks are to be treasured too:

My British mother-in-law told me of how she worked from 5 am to 11 pm as a servant, a lower-governess in a great house (later 1920s), a form of enslavement, and when she finally fled, and got a job at Woolworth’s how liberating it was — just 5 and 1/2 9 hour days a week, a salary of sorts, all Sunday and evenings free and off. The real life details the New York Times writer refers to resonate in this way with ordinary vulnerable working people

Rolling Stone magazine had an obituary featuring her musical career yesterday. I know all the songs mentioned; my favorite album is Other Voices, Other Rooms. I also would play There’s a light Beyond These Woods. She did voice political points of view, mostly strong humane, leftist-liberal, from what I’d call a “soft” or emotional stance: she presented herself as deeply hurt at injustice, racism, and told stories of individuals variously stymied, thwarted, and then making do with what they had. An underlying thread, not made explicit ever, was about women, abused as girls, deluded themselves. A rare tragic song: “Tecumseh Valley:”

I can never listen to this too many times. Never tire of it. Caroline is what I could have ended as

Surely this next one — “The Great Divide” — is utterly characteristic and when I listen to it tonight tears come to my eyes – one of her themes is the pain of cherished memories:

While I found real variety in her songs and music, she had a particular personal feel to her angle on country music, which included yodelling (which I loved when she accompanied it) because she presented country in ways that felt old-fashioned, with the kinds of instruments, voice sounds, and stories one expected from early on. NPR says her original inspiration was Loretta Lynn (I’ll add EmmyLou Harris & Linda Rondstadt & Patsy Cline); that she was the interpreter of other people’s songs, but it is also true that a song she originally wrote or was the first one to sing became a hit when done by some more mainstream personality — for again she retained in her music a strong sense of her origins in Texas, and working class rural American life. “When you can’t find a friend, listen to the radio” speaks to us all in the cities too: from Austen City Limits: here she names some of her favorite female predecessors

Izzy came with Jim and I to the Berkshire in the early 1990s, when she could still not command a mass crowd: it was a small venue for people sat at tables eating and drinking (in Annandale) and her personal style, seeming unassuming friendliness went over very well. But we also went once to Wolf Trap, and she filled the Filene Center — that must’ve been not far off from summer 2000. She was a big hit in Ireland and often sang with the Chieftains — this Irish group is a real favorite of mine. I love listening to Irish and Scots music.

My friend, Nick Hay, wrote on Twitter: “She always said either ‘I will always believe’ or ‘I still believe’ which was I always found intensely moving. So I still and will always believe Nanci.” I agree with him that it is vital not to forget her political commitment which is summed up in “It’s a Hard Life:”

Ellen who grieves for the loss of her very much

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