Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Richard Rothwell’s Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Dear friends and readers,

I interrupt what has become our regularly scheduled programming recently (conference reports, women artist blogs, Austen films and pictorialism) to be ironically a propos to the dire election results of last Tuesday. A new book of short stories, Eternal Frankenstein, testifies to how Mary Shelley’s transformatively original fable seems never to go away, endlessly susceptible of immediate application. A friend wrote it’s “an anthology of short stories that, for lack of a better term, all riff off of the original Frankenstein. Many of the stories are very good and the last is a retelling of Mary Shelley’s life by her ghost, hence her own pov. Many seem to be written by academics.”

I say ironically because I read it with a group of adults in a class called 19th century Women of Letters where the burden of our song included the truth that most of the great books by women of the 19th century and certainly those who practised successfully (for the first time perhaps in history) sufficiently remunerative professional writing to support themselves are on the one hand, forgotten, not recognized, not in print, or the other, ignored as not mattering. Until today still there are people who insist (John Lauritsen, to be precise) that Mary Shelley wrote none of Frankenstein, and that her diaries recording the inspiration, writing, publication and revised edition are all lies (Lauritsen also insists Percy Bysshe was homosexual). Many readers today do not realize Shelley wrote superlatively fine books and essays for 30 years after Frankenstein.

Brendan Coyle playing Nicholas Higgins in Sandy Welch’s adaptation of Gaskell’s later novel, North and South, would be perfect as John Barton too

Let me first mention the relevance. In 1848, the year of revolutions across Europe (reformist, not reactionary) and of the Communist Manifesto, Elizabeth Gaskell published Mary Barton, the first English novel with a Communist working class man (actually a chartist) as its protagonist. Describing John Barton whom she wanted to name the novel after, she writes at one point:

And so on into the problems and mysteries of life, until, bewildered and lost, unhappy and suffering, the only feeling that remained clear and undisturbed in the tumult of his heart, was hatred to the one class, and keen sympathy with the other. But what availed his sympathy. No education had given him wisdom; and without wisdom, even love, with all its effects, too often works but harm. He acted to the best of his judgment, but it was a widely-erring judgment. The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a soul, a knowledge of the difference between good and evil. The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and we become their enemies. Then, in the sorrowful moment of our triumphant power, their eyes gaze on us with mute reproach. The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and we become their enemies. Then, in the sorrowful moment of our triumphant power, their eyes gaze on us with mute reproach. Why have we made them what they are; a powerful monster, yet Without the inner means for peace and happiness? John Barton became a Chartist, a Communist, all that is commonly called wild and visionary.

The middle class in the US made it against the law to teach a slave to read. Gaskell actually conceives of her tale as a realistic elaboration in the person of John Barton of what Shelley’s monster can stand for. The creature as the outcast slave, as the oppressed, as the victim of society. Vulnerable, loving wanting love and when ignored and treated as hideous, beaten, taking his violent revenge. That was not James Whale’s view in 1931 who took the monster to be the mob. I have seen cartoons of Donald Trump as a Frankenstein monster (many readers do not realize that there are two characters, one a Dr Frankenstein who created the second, a nameless creature sewn out of parts of corpses) where he stalks the world and is followed by madden peasants with pitchforks.

Boris Karloff as the creature innocently trying to make friend with small girl who he turns on when she is revulsed by him

In an absolutely primal way Frankenstein and his creature converse are wholly unreal — to find an equivalent allegorical resonance you have to return to poetry, Blake, Milton, the Greek drama, probably also the dramas of Byron and Shelley too.

We had a wonderful time in my class reading and discussing Frankenstein primarily but also Mary’s life and excerpts from a few of her later works and a poem by her on her lasting grief over Shelley’s death, how she never stopped missing him as a companion.


I must forget thy dark eyes’ love-fraught gaze,
Thy voice, that fill’d me with emotion bland,
Thy vows, which lost me in this ‘wild’ring maze,
The thrilling pressure of thy genrle hand;
And, dearer yet, that interchange of thought,
That drew us nearer still to one another,
Till in two hearts one sole idea wrought,
And neither hoped nor fear’d but for the other.

I must forget to deck myself with flowers:
Are not those wither’d which I gave to thee]
I must forget to count the day-bright hours,
Their sun is set – thou com’st no more to me!
I must forget thy love! – Then let me close
My tearful eyes upon unwelcome day,
And let my tortured thoughts seek that repose
Which corpses find within the tomb alway.

Oh! for the fate of her who, changed to leaves,
No more can weep, nor any longer moan;
Or the lorn Queen, who, chilling as she grieves,
Finds her warm beating heart grow cairn in stone.
Oh! for a draught of that Lethean wave,
Mortal alike to joy and to regret! –
It may not be! not even that would save!
Love, hope, and thee, I never can forget!


What was acceptable for a woman to write? Gothics. Ghost stories. They were allowed into this semi-fantasy genre. The industrial novels of the era. Their children were in those factories; women made up an enormous part of the factory labor force very quickly. Domestic realism and romance. Frankenstein is an explosively unusual multi-faceted gothic. The gothic is an instrument by which you can explore our existence and its meaning fundamentally, ask fundamental questions the premises of a realistic novel doesn’t allow. This leads me into the most subversive theme or perception and complex of emotion in the book. It hovers at the edges more than in the center, it’s there, in the allusions — to Adam and God (though Milton), to the Prometheus myth. At several points in the narrative Victor Frankenstein cries out against vague forces of world and wishes he had never been born; the monster cries out to Victor, why did you make me? Did I ask for life? in all its hideousness? Let us look at epigraph. It comes from Paradise Lost. Adam speaking to God who says to him he deserves the punishment he is getting. There is a similar line spoken by Satan. The Promethean figure has ever been interpreted as ultimate rebel against God. The book is deeply melancholy endlessly questioning.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as Victor Frankenstein), Jonny Lee Miller (as The Creature), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), Ella Smith (as Gretel, prostitute), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
From the National Theater production in London where Bernard Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller took turns playing one role and then the other, in succession

Mary Shelley’s poet-husband, Percy Bysshe wrote a play called Prometheus Unbound in which he takes the Aeschylus situation and shows Prometheus as someone who triumphs over all tyrants, all tyranny including that of any and all Gods. Concept of liberation is central. It is not central for Mary Shelley; rather there is a dark despair more reminiscent of Byron’s closet drama called Cain: in Byron’s play Cain revolts against the heavy toil God has imposed on him and his mother, father and brother; in a fit of passion against Abel who he sees as kissing the rod and in disgust at a blood-sacrifice Abel makes to God, Cain murders Abel and becomes an exile and wanderer. Much like Frankenstein, the creature, Caleb and Falkland. The audacity of Byron’s poem aroused terrific indignation. Mary much influenced by Byron: her novel called The Last Man based on a vision of the universe in Byron’s poem called Darkness. Reads like what the earth would be like after a nuclear holocaust.

Mary Shelley’s book has again and again been identified as not only questioning the complacencies of Christianity: the world is good, and if it’s not you get your reward afterwards – why wait?. That, like her father’s book, it certainly does.

Frankenstein also an attack on whatever Deity it is that is in charge with Victor playing the part of the Deity and his Creature the part of man. There are many references to the Greek and modern usages of the Promethean myth of rebellion; read Blake, and you see that, as other critics have written, Mary Shelley uses the gothic to make a statement about the nature of life which is
exultant in its rejection of the norms of a mercenary foolish society which are trivial, soul-destroying and absurd; despairing in its search for some new source of fulfillment which will not twist human nature into depravities it has not known before (such as we find in deSade — another writer from this era). You can go through this novel finding allusions which recall story of Adam and Eve and Prometheus myth, except that when you do you find Frankenstein is Prometheus. It was Frankenstein who attempted to bring to man the power to stop death and dying, to bring back the dead. You find allusions to Paradise Lost from epitaph on, to end, p 209: when he says he is a Satan after he has read it. So creature is Satan and Adam.

Book’s first critic is Shelley: society is responsible for what the creature becomes, but equally what happens emerges from nature itself, human; we learn to overcome nature a bit by empathizing with what we have never empathized before. Christian readers continued to be horrified when they couldn’t themselves turn it into religious warning and punishment message

There are so many interpretations and ways to approach this novel we could spend a whole semester on it far more easily than people do on Pride and Prejudice or even Eliot’s Middlemarch. Given my course, I concentrated on it as a female gothic.
it is about birthing: Frankenstein, a man who cannot give birth to children, does it through science – which in the period as far as the body goes meant dissecting corpses – and upon the birth of this creature is revulsed. The language tells us the source of this nightmare: Mary knew from quite a young age that her mother had died of the childbirth. She often visited her mother’s grave – people did that. It’s a nightmare of parturition. The child comes up and demands protection, love, absolute devotion. When the creature comes to tell his story – I don’t know how far you got, we get this extraordinary account of how a new born baby might slowly gain perception of the world it is part of. In the era there are others that do this: Dinah Craik’s Olive: this gives us a neonate coming to consciousness. The central character is disabled – the monster is so ugly he is like a disabled person. Motif found in woman’s novels of this era is disability seen sympathetically and from the point of view of the caretaker (burden, responsibility). The one novel easy to find is John Halifax, Gentleman who corresponds to mainstream Victorian novels .Olive does not.

This is distinctly a woman’s gothic and for once not about rape: but the experience of the aftermath of birth, for child and mother, it’s a hideous thing the experience, and early experience is tremblingly in need. The book was written before Mary had given birth five times, and all but one of her children died. It’s prophetic: her first two were alive at the time, Clara and little William. Byron accused the couple of not being careful enough of their children: Mary knew this but didn’t know how to live defying Shelley. We read and discussed Margaret Atwood’s poem, “Speeches for Dr Frankenstein.”


Kenneth Branagh as the hubristic irresponsible doctor-scientist with his technology and Robert de Niro his victim-creature (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, directed and produced by Branagh)

We also went over it as a male gothic and (again) attack on science. he structure of gothic books seen as male gothic are male with wanderer –: atemporal, do not just move forward in time. Pursuit and pursuer as a doppelganger. Often the gothic has some interface which moves us from reality, world of apparent reason into dream romance world. Can be a mirror we walk through, a manuscript, a diary. Design of Frankenstein:

The story opens on the icy edges of the earth, near the North Pole. We have impossible fantastic voyages through mountains, into a crazed laboratory-scene deep in the Orkneys, in furthest Scotland; it takes us back to the ice for the rousing conclusion. It is all letters or first-person narratives — only the epistolary mode could carry such a reverie off and keep you believing. Parts:

1. 4 Letters: We open with Walton to his sister — . He is introducer. Slow moving into madness. She is exploring the body while attacking science. The book has Victor returning to alchemy which is also suggestive. The stealing of bodies. She then makes an analogoy with the quest for north west passage.

2. Chs 1-8; II, Chs 1-2: Walton is supposedly telling us what Frankenstein said word for word. Frankenstein a deep-musing memoir, a flashback. Whole book is a flashback in the center of which we find another flashback Okay first we get Frankenstein’s story up to the time just after Justine’s death. Volume II opens up with Frankenstein home, death of Justine, disillusionment and despair of Elizabeth

3. Vol II, Chapters 3-8: At the center of the novel, we have the creature’s tale. Tell of gentle family. How slowly he learns. Lovely beautiful piece about coming to consciousness of a child. Note though that material resembles story of Count Malvesi and Lucretia. Seems strained romance from far away Europe about oppression of ancien régime

4. Vol II, Ch 9; III, Chs 1-7: Then we return to Frankenstein: he becomes driven figure; creature stalks him, he tries to make another. in this sequence shows we are inside total dream world of gothic: nightmares predominate no one tells a tale in the words of someone else and then recites letters in it. Is it probable in the least bit a man (Walton) could retell the story of Frankenstein to his sister in the words of Frankenstein; then the creature to Frankenstein; then letter writers too. Doesn’t matter. Our sceptical tendencies turned off.

5. Walton, in continuation, more journal-letters. He watches Dr Frankenstein die, the creature grieve over him and then escape into an infinity of ice and a conflagration of fire. Finally back to Walton again: he cannot withstand mutiny and is returning to England. It would seem back to impersonal, world of rationality: except we cannot return, we have seen too much; and one final scene and appearance of creature.


I had just gone to a lecture on Frankenstein Revisited by Bernard Welt, a film and literary scholar (scroll all the way down) at the Smithsonian. I told of that, and that there appear to be a plethora of biographies on Mary Shelley, but when you look into it, most of them, very like the recent Romantic Outlaws, basically end with Shelley’s death, leaving a 30 year rich life where she wrote more novels, at least two as gripping as Frankenstein, and some say her The Last Man is better than Frankenstein, countless biographies, travel writing, 2 plays, essays and lived an interesting life. A rare one to do this and tell some hard truths about Mary Shelley’s life with Shelley is by Mary Seymour. For example, not that I want to be sensational: but the half-sister who traveled with the unmarried pair to Italy, Clare Claremont became Shelley’s mistress for much of the pair’s life together, had at least one child by him, Allegra was probably his not Byron’s two miscarriages, and he impregnated two other women during that time. Mary was determined to cover all this up and almost succeeded. Lots of writers, especially those who are pro-Shelley tell it quite differently. Percy influenced Frankenstein oh yes but she wrote it. The same person who wrote Matilda (about an incestuous love between father and daughter so real Godwin stopped her from publishing it in his lifetime) and The Last Man wrote Frankenstein. Her independent and at times unconventional existence was one she kept out of view: she was in love at times, had a close relationships with a woman who lived her life as a man, and her intense relationship with her radical father, Godwin are all of great interest.

Another popular depiction of Mary – Reginal Easton allegedly drawn from her death mask

Mary was the daughter of the notorious Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin and her father placed the book for her. It was not easy: times were hard, this was after a depression set in after Napoleon unseated and armies disbanded, the next year was the Peterborough massacre, Godwin took it to John Murray, who debated but turned it down, finally an old firm he knew about who dealt in cheap books and it was published cheaply, only 500 copies. But her dedication was to her father, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, also by this time known (Queen Mab), wrote a powerful preface, and soon the familiar story began to circulate: this one acceptable: one very hard summer, cold, miserable earthquake on the other side of the globe, rainy, she, Shelley, Lord Byron (famous) is valet, Polidori and Shelley were reading ghost stories late in a villa on a lake. They proposed a competition, each would write something about a ghost. Why do we know this story? Because it helped sales. Did it happen? Something like it probably did. Godwin wrote an anonymous wild scream of praise. At first it was attacked: Tory Edinburgh critic described it as “blasphemous,” “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdities.” but Walter Scott (the great unknown) wrote a fair appreciation – puzzled saying the author had written an unnerving fantastic tale in precise clear English. ‘An extraordinary tale, in which the author seems to disclose to us uncommon powers of poetic imagination . . . [it is a work which genuinely] excites new reflections and untried sources of emotion’. But there was a price to pay when Shelley died; our present text is the 1831 text – incest is censored out, the impieties muted or softened.

She went on to write five more longish novels and the one novella, Matilda. She became a regular writer of biographies, short stories and tales, literary criticism, did an edition of Shelley’s poems that was influential. She was not able to bring it out fully until her father-in-law died. Her father-in-law was her tyrant you might say: he was very rich and could have made her life easy, but resented her deeply. Alas, her son was his heir, and he was slowly driven to dribble out money for a good school, for clothes, for university. She did fall in love or at least began to; at one point she was involved with woman. I had forgotten the one lesbian relationship Mary probably involved herself in when she returned to England: Mary Dodds, a transvestite was written about in a piquant biography by Betty T. Bennett. Mary’s last 30 years were engaged in a self-effacing cover-up and distortion of her life and Shelley which has done her far worse harm (her reputation, what’s read of her today, how she’s seen) than she managed to do with Shelley whose works and reputation escaped her reframing hand. People remembered he was radical. They did not know he had been a sexual predator after women and died apparently quite fat — utterly self-indulgent too in all areas.

She traveled back to Italy and Germany and wrote about it. Though she never ever would say this when one considers how faithless Shelley was to her and how wretched her life with him, she could have been better off had the situation of women been better, her reputation not so ruined as to drive her to lie, and to try to hide her life.

I’ve more than one friend who has said to me The Last Man is better than Frankenstein: I started it this summer but had to leave off, and am hoping to read it in with a group online this coming spring. I’ve mentioned how there are people who insist Percy wrote Frankenstein: he had a hand in it, was influential but when you read his poetry you say how distanced he is. He wrote a play called Prometheus Unbound in which he takes the Aeschylus situation and shows Prometheus as someone who triumphs over all tyrants, all tyranny including that of any and all Gods. Concept of liberation is central for Shelley himself. She wrote excellent short biographies of Renaissance and other literary period figures. Her criticism defends the idea that the author is central to a work: his or her core spirit has to animate it.

I regretted leaving Mary and her creature. Percy did write about the book society is responsible for what the creature becomes, but equally what happens emerges from nature itself, human; we learn to overcome nature a bit by empathizing with what we have never empathized before. Christian readers continued to be horrified when they couldn’t themselves turn it into religious warning and punishment message.

I know there’s a pleasure in terror, and the aesthetic sublime; the novel lets us move into unspoken and still mostly unmentionable ideas (of grief I’ll mention) which as Scott says were not so much has broached much less discoursed so meaningfully before. Her Frankenstein, Matilda and Last Man are books written by one person under the impetus of strong passionate commitment — endless repeats of something obstructive are hard to resist. Again, over on an academic romantics list Laurens and a couple of others chiming in have persisted to the point that Shelley scholars concede maybe Percy wrote this or what part of that or certainly wrote more than the preface. Laurens goes to the absurd lengths of saying Mary’s diaries are made up and Shelley a frantic closet homosexual (meanwhile two wives, perpetually pregnant and probably a maidservant in Italy by him).

Not so. The paradigm of paranoid pursuit and chase, the intense paranoia, the alienation of the central figure is found in Mary Shelley’s Mathilde — and no one has ever attributed that to her husband. It shows the influence of her mother’s Wrongs of Women. Both Matilde and Frankenstein are deeply influenced by Godwin’s Caleb Williams: obsession, paranoia, deep rebellion against rock-bottom ideas of a hierarchical deeply injust society and human nature fuel all three in a closely similar pattern.


Robert De Niro seems to me to have gotten the peculiar combination of dignity, high intelligence and pathos that is Mary’s creature (when not in a violent rage)

Lastly on the movie tradition, we read an essay by Paul O’Flinn where he began by suggesting there is no such thing as Frankenstein, there are only Frankensteins, as the text is ceaselessly rewritten, reproduced, refilmed and redesigned. The fact that many people call the monster Frankenstein and thus confuse the pair betrays the extent of that restructuring. At the time Mary’s book answered contemporary tensions and issues. It’s a direct response to the machine breaking and industrial conditions at the time. When a group of people peacefully assembled in 1819 in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, where Gaskell lived and where her two industrial tales are set, to demonstrate for representation in Parliament (chartism), calvary charged into the 60,000 to 80,000 people and many were killed. A defining moment of the age; Shelley wrote one of his more readable memorable poems on it, The Mask of Anarchy, whose concluding stanza you’ve probably heard snatches of because Orwell quoted it Shelley urged the people to

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Slake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few.

The earliest framing, Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein, 1823 – a very orthodox view: Frankenstein took God’s place, he presumed and he was punished. Crude and popular. We have had Mrs Gaskell who says that John Barton is a realistic representation of Frankenstein – she too writing as if the creature and his creator are one and the same. Mary hated the Tory despotism; she is also interested in the new science of the age. This is not daft modern leftism. This political way of reading Frankenstein surfaces repeatedly, but against it are the movies.

O’Flinn felt that the 1931 film has been central; James Whale then led to the 1957 film which revived the craze of films. The 1931 movie strips the original book of its philosophical underpinnings and presents an anti-mob fable. Central is the abnormal brain given this monster – so it’s an attack on disability too. Media companies are actively interested in maintaining the status quo – to my mind the incessant commercials have a deeply reactionary subtext. The movie reversed just what Mary wanted: she did not want the creature to be seen as brutal but as brutalized, as deeply hurt. All the highjinks and supernatural grotesqueries drew in an audience, made a great deal of money and spawned an industry of Frankenstein type films. I did bring in Martin Tropp’s qualifications in his study of many Frankenstein films in Barbara Lupack’s excellent anthology, 19th century women at the Movies.

Why people like this kind of thing? I have seen the 1931 film as well as The Bride of Frankenstein. I may well have seen the 1957 one, I’ve read about it. O’Flinn says an altered ideology is now at work: now the doctor is the villain; he’s a Baron and meglomaniac. Now a new set of fears are embodied in the film: of nuclear holocaust, of technology itself. Now the isolated outcast whatever you think about him is replaced by someone with control over weapons. I can add to O’Flinn a lot of the imagery was taken over by Peter Sellers for How I learned to Stop worrying and love the bomb: especially that which is associated with Nazism, and crazy dictators, especially Dr Strangelove himself, said to be partly modelled on Kissenger. Donald Trump invited or visited Kissenger among his day’s activities today.


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John O’Connor (1830-1889), Pentonville — looking west (1884)

A Syllabus

On-line at: https://reveriesunderthesignofausten.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/elizabeth-gaskells-north-and-south-in-context-a-spring-syllabus/

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: Eight Wednesdays, mid-day, 11:50 to 1:15 pm
Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va 22032
Dates: Classes start Mar 23rd; last class May 11, 2016.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

Gaskell wrote introspective domestic fiction, strange melodramatic gothics, political historical fiction, an influential passionate and great biography of Charlotte Bronte, and novels of social protest, including disability, emigration and prostitution, set across the landscape of Victorian industrial cities, the more rural genteel south and London. Born to Unitarians, she became a clergyman’s wife, wrote fiction from her earliest years, published in magazines, and lived for many years in Manchester. Her tale of this city, North and South, which extends to colonial naval adventures abroad and Spain, centers on a strike and lockout, on religious controversies, military injustice, the psychic pain of displacement, regional and class conflicts all aligned with the education of a heroine and her experience of love. We will read her book in the context of Gaskell as a 19th century woman of letters writing in a number of contemporary kinds through reading a few of short stories and her journalism written earlier than this novel and towards the end of her life: “The Old Nurse’s Story (ghost story);” from Cranford, “A love affair of Long Ago/A Visit to an Old Bachelor,” and “Old Letters/Peter”; “Lois the Witch (based on the Salem witch trials); “An Italian Institution” (about La Camorra); and “French Life,” Chapter 3 (a journal diar of her time in Paris, which includes a historical case history of a 16th century woman, abused and murdered by her husband and his brothers, the Marquise de Gange).

Frank Holl (1845-1888), Song of the Shirt

Required Texts:

Elizabeth Gaskell, “A love Affair of Long Ago/A Visit to An Old Bachelor,” “Old Letters/Peter.” Cranford Stories are at:
https://www.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/EG-Cranford.html#5 These are also reprinted in any edition of Cranford. The best (because complete) is Cranford, ed. E. P Watson, intro and notes Charlotte Mitchell. Oxford UP, 1998.
—————–. “The Old Nurse’s Tale”: https://www.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/EG-Nurse.html, , and various anthologies of ghost and gothic stories.
—————–. North and South, ed. intro. Elizabeth Ingram. Penguin, 1995. The recent Oxford classics edition by Angus Easson is also excellent. If you want to understand North and South and its world, you can’t do better than the Norton Critical edition by Alan Shelton.
—————–. “Lois the Witch:” https://www.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/EG-Lois.html,also reprinted in Elizabeth Gaskell, Cousin Phillis and Other Tales, ed, intro. Angus Eason. Oxford Classics, 1981, and available as a separate text (a thin novella), intro by Jenny Uglow ISBN 1-84391-049-7.
——————-. “An Italian Institution:”
——————-. “French Life,” Chapter 3:

I suggest you bookmark the Elizabeth Gaskell site for all texts, information, biography, publications about her, pictures too:


Medium range shot of Thornton’s factory

Anna Maxwell Martin as Bessy Higgins (from Sandy Welch’s North and South, BBC 2004)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.


Mar 23rd: Introduction: Gaskell’s life, career, read for this day, the three Cranford stories; “Love Affair of Long Ago” and “A Visit to an Old Bachelor” “Old Letters/Peter.”
Mar 30th: Read for this day, “Old Nurse’s Tale” and North and South, Chapters 1-6 (“Haste to the Wedding” to “”Farewell”) I will show 3 brief clips from Heidi Thomas’s Cranford Chronicles.
Apr 6th: North and South, Chapters 7-16 (“New Faces and New Scenes” to “What Is a Strike?”); read also Jo Pryke, “The Treatment of Political Economy in North and South, The Gaskell Society Journal 4 (1990). Online.
Apr 13th: North and South, Chapters 17-27 (“Likes and Dislikes” to “Fruit Piece”); read also Rosemarie Bodenheimer, North and South: A Permanent State of Change,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 34:3 (1979):281-301; Hotz, Mary Elizabeth. “‘Taught by Death What Life Should Be’: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Representation of Death in North and South,” Studies in the Novel 32.2 (Summer 2000): 165-184.
Apr 20th: North and South, Chapters 28 – 36 (“Comfort in Sorrow” to “Union Not Always Strength”). Michael D. Lewis, “Mutiny in the Public Sphere Debating Naval Power in Parliament, the Press, and Gaskell’s North and South, Victorian Review, 36:1 (2010):89-113. We see clips from Welch’s North and South too.
Apr 27th: North and South, Chapters 37-44 (“Looking south” to “Ease Not Peace”); read also Julia Sun Joo-Lee, “The Return of the “Unnative”: The Transnational Politics of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 61:4 (2007):449-478; John Pikoulis, North and South: Varieties of Love and Power,” The Yearbook of English Studies, 6 (1976):176-193
May 4th: North and South, Chapters 45-52 (“Not All a Dream” to “Pack Clouds Away”), and “An Italian Institution”. Dorice Williams Elliot, “The Female Visitor and the Marriage of Classes in Gaskell’s North and South,Nineteenth-Century Literature, 49:1 (1994):21-49; Stepfanie Markovits, North and South, East and West, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 59:4 (2005):463-493
May 11th: Read for this day, Lois the Witch, and “French Life, Chapter 3.” From Jenny Uglow’s biography of Gaskell, 5 pages on Lois the Witch. If I can find a suitable clip from Andrew Davies’s Wives and Daughters, I’ll end with that.

From Wives and Daughters, the death of Osborne Hamley (Part 4, Tom Hollander, Michael Gambon, Justine Waddell)

The films, & a few books (any essays will be sent by attachment):

North and South. Dir. Brian Perceval. Screenplay: Sandy Welch. Producer: Kate Bartlett. Featuring Richard Armitage, Daniela Denby-Ashe, Brendan Coyle, Anna Maxwell Martin. BBC, 2004.
Wives and Daughters. Dir. Nicholas Renson. Screenplay: Andrew Davies. Producer: Sue Birtwistle. Featuring: Bill Patterson, Ian Carmichael, Francesca Annis, Justice Waddell, Keeley Hawes, Tom Hollander, Michael Gambon. BBC, 1999.
Cranford: The collection (Chronicles). Dir. Simon Curtis. Screenplay: Heidi Thomas. Produced. Sue Birtwhistle. Featuring: Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Philip Glenister, Francesca Annis, Lesley Manville (among many others). BBC, 2010.
Bonaparte, Felicia. The Gypsy-Bachelor of Manchester: The Life of Mrs Gaskell’s Demon. Charlottesville: Univ Press of Va, 1992.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. If you like any of the movies, you might want to add My Lady Ludow and Mr Harrison’s Confessions (a novella and story woven into Cranford Chronicles); I also recommend her Mary Barton, Life of Charlotte Bronte (one of the great biographies which shaped our view Bronte, strongly recommended as a wonderful read) and Wives and Daughters.
Harman, Barbara. The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England. Charlottesville: Univ Press of Virginia, 1998.
Hughes, Linda K. and Michael Lund. Victorian Publishing and Mrs Gaskell’s Work. Charlottesville: Univ Press of Va, 1999.
Matus, Jill, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell. Cambridge UP, 2007.
Stoneman, Patsy. Elizabeth Gaskell. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.
Steinbach, Susie. Understanding the Victorians: Culture and Society in 19th century Britain. London: Routledge, 2012. There is no better book for understanding intimate and public aspects of Victorian life.
Uglow, Jenny. Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1993. The best single book on Gaskell to date in the way Uglow combines biography, literary criticism,and a political and feminist vision.

See also Gaskell’s house, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester: nowadays a museum

William Parrott (1813-69) The Great Eastern Under Construction at Millwall on the Isle of Dogs in 1857


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Mapping Tom’s Journey

Friends and readers,

I bring together in one place my essay-blogs on the extraordinary learning journey I took with a group of older retired people at the Oscher Institute of Life-long Learning (attached to American University in DC) when we read and discussed Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. I was asked by a few people here on my two blogs to provide what I could of the lectures and class discussions, what we learned from reading the book that was relevant to us today. I found I could do this coherently by providing summaries of the phases of the books and the essays and topics and inexplicable cruxes we came across as we went through the book.

Glastonbury Tor, Somerset

We began with a syllabus

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: a fall syllabus

1. We moved onto Fielding’s life and career and some ways in which the novel does not answer the expectations of 20th and 21st century readers:

Fielding’s life and obstacles to enjoyment

2. We covered a history of reading and commentary; how money worked in the era, and the relationship of sex and sheer survival in the era (“commerce”):

Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood) and Lord Fellamar (David Tomlinson) (1963 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones)

A history of reading the novel, its presentation of money in relationship to sex

3. We then approached specific historical topics still relevant to us today:

Poaching, gamekeepers and injustice; Jacobites, superstition/discontent and Culloden

Peter Watkin’s 1964 documentary of Culloden

Sophia Western (Samantha Morton) and Honor, her maid (Kathy Burke) setting forth (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

4. Tom Jones on the road

An allusive text, filled with sex; gypsies, Punch and Judy, & The Provok’d Husband

Tom (Albert Finney) and Lady Bellaston at the masquerade (1963 Tom Jones)

5. Tom Jones the last 3rd: conclusion out of London

Sexual violence against women, libertinism; Hamlet and a history of the novel

Last, written much earlier: defending the 1997 mini-series

Affectionately dedicated to Mr Fielding


The film particularly effective when capturing the intersections of plot and narrator


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Drinking (Small)
An inn on the road where Tom and the military men at table (Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones, 1963)

A rare flashback in the two films: Bridget Allworthy when young, waving goodbye to Mr Allworthy as he sets off for three months in Bath: she is pregnant, the man who impregnated her dead, and she will have his baby, our hero while Mr Allworthy is gone — a stealth female character (BBC Tom Jones, 1997)

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve come to the end of my lecture notes: my fourth blog will lead you to the whole set. Here I tell our topics in the last third of the novel, and the essays I assigned and discussed, with a coda on the two movies and adieu from our narrator.

An interesting aspect of the last part of the book is Jones’s depression – both movies try to make something of this in the prison scenes. They both have Tom stay in prison and be almost hung in order to do this. His passivity and then self-defense against the crazed male Fitzpatrick is excuse for framing him by bribed lawyers — until Mr Allworthy at least alerted intervenes. The film-makers work up the press gangs subplot in both movies too.

Important in the book in this last phase is female libertinism as seen in Lady Bellaston and Tom’s willingness to be a kept man for a while: so that brought in the word and needed discussion. We read cogent debates between Sophia and her aunt, Sophia and her father, Mr Allworthy and her father, with the stories of Mrs Fitzpatrick woven in so that there is a dramatization supporting Sophia’s defense of a woman’s right to choose her own husband. There is a break for more interwoven histories where in this last third we hear the pathetic widow’s story of Mrs Miller (an epistolary letter from another widow to Tom showing willingness to buy him in a marriage). Women’s stories.

A long chapter on a trip to the theater to see Hamlet.

And after Tom helps Nightingale to do the right thing by Nancy Miller, marry her and have a loving happy marriage, and he is freed from prison, he becomes the most exemplary of characters, even providing Blifil with an allowance. Sir Charles Grandison could talk no more nobly; Tom is in fact more unreal than Sir Charles Grandison. A protracted ending does not exclude the idea that Fortune has ruled what has happened, but the structural emphasis is a benevolent providential pattern, with Blifil alone ejected from the group.

John Sessions as Fielding eating and drinking and telling us what is happening, a gleam in his eye (BBC 1997 Tom Jones)

Over the term we also discussed the “peculiarities” of Tom Jones, the introductory chapters, the inset histories, the narrator, epistolary chapters and I offered a kind of potted history of the novel and when the subject came up, we’d go at it again. I’ve put some of this in a orderly postnote in the comments.

Celia Imrie and Kelly Reilly as Mrs and Nancy Miller (BBC Tom Jones)

Jones at one point marvels at the blindness of Mrs Miller to her daughter’s condition; it’s a repeat of Mr Allworthy’s blindness – in part a convenience for the plot. In her case it’s presented as making her happier – she has this sanguine disposition of mind (p 621). Our narrator says this accounts for happiness more than anything else.


The attempted rape scene in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963) is presented oddly gently

The rape scene in the BBC film (1997) is for real: here Peter Capaldi as Fellamar corners Samantha Morton as Sophia terrifying her

Sexual Violence towards Women in Fielding

Well the essays the class seems to have read was Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.” Review of English Studies, new series 61:251 (2010):572-90. They also read a pdf of Fielding’s defense of Elizabeth Channing that I sent by email. Dickie’s essays is written in lively easy English and the title provoked curiosity. While the first part of Dickie’s essay is about the plays of Fielding, especially Rape upon Rape (which Fielding later under pressure retitled to The Justice Caught in His Own Trap – a justice who is corrupt among other things tries to get to one of our female characters to lie and pretend she was raped) Fielding in these plays regards rape as minor problem, women think it’s okay, want it, it’s treated as a good joke, they fake it; they fantasize; the danger is not that you rape a woman (you being a man) but that someone bribes her to lie, to blackmail you. Simpson’s essays make short shrift of this. Some of scenes in Fielding’s worst later voyeuristic treatises put a different and rather deadly spin on Austen’s famous: “run mad as often as you please, but do not faint.”

It’s when Dickie turns in the second half of his essay and shows how these attitudes play out in the nuanced complex texts of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones and Amelia, it became relevant to Tom Jones and appropriate to talk of how false testimony and sexual violence is treated by Fielding and how his distrust intersects with his misogyny. Alexander Welsh in his book shows in these novels there is a pattern of women’s accusations which are mocked immediately or dismissed; very often when we are sympathetic to the woman we later find out she was somehow at fault: the old way of finding fault: Northerton did not just attack Mrs Walters, she was deeply involved with him, fond of him, arranged to meet him in the wood; he tied her to a tree not to kill her but to escape from her. The way Fielding treats the heroine in Joseph Andrews shows class bias when someone tries to rape her: she is strong armed, thick skinned in mind. Made me wonder how Fielding regarded his second wife, Mary Daniel. He hardly brings her up in any of his work. A curious detail in all is when the man tries to touch the woman’s breast is when she gets excited and angry. In Tom Jones there’s Lady Bellaston persuading Lord Fellamar to rape Sophia and into her mouth is put all the arguments of how unimportant this is, how women want to be raped (p. 699, Bk 15, ch 4) it makes for marriage (Squire Western would like that), comes sort of sinister.

Dickie ends on how Fielding was deeply upset by Richardson’s portrayal of the rape of Clarissa by Lovelace: he wrote Richardson a letter; for once someone has pushed him out of this comfort zone of his, but he moves quickly to show he doesn’t take sexual violence seriously and wants Richardson to marry Clarissa off to Lovelace as an okay ending. I should mention Lovelace drugs Clarissa, she is held down by prostitutes, and kept awake in part and there is a good deal of transgressive sex in the scene forced on her. She has a psychically tramatized week afterwards. Tom Jones has a lot of careless violence in it; Tom is upset to think he’s murdered Mr Fitzpatrick but Nightingale seems to think it’s okay if Tom was just defending himself.

Strong-minded as she is (with pistol), Sophia intensely relieved to meet her cousin, Harriet on the road, and Harriet likewise (BBC Tom Jones)

It was at this point I told them about the Elizabeth Channing and Mary Hamilton cases and what Fielding did and wrote about these. Elizabeth Canning, a servant girl marked by small pox, plain, with no father (an orphan), was accosted on a dark road, perhaps fell into an epileptic fit (it’s the story of a disabled girl), finds herself imprisoned and pressured into becoming a prostitute. Happens all over the world today. Movie in theaters just now is about a woman imprisoned by a man who rapes her continually (Emma Donoghue’s book, The Room). Starved, humiliated, finds a way out, escapes; her mother horrified by her appearance when she turns up, had been advertising about her loss of her daughter. They went to court. Elizabeth identified the house and Mary Squires, apparently working as a prostitute and bawd herself (procurer). The abductors (if they were abductors) found discrepancies in her story, said she lied – they would, wouldn’t they? Virtue Hall working for them was terrified to give evidence – I presume they’d have beat her up – but she corroborated Elizabeth’s story. Mother Wells found guilty to, Mary Squires sentenced to death for stealing Elizabeth’s stays and for assault. People began to give evidence for Squires, an alibi produced; Fielding accused of having presided over injustice and he writes in his defense. There was a gypsy woman involved; someone said it was a plot to discredit Fielding. Mystery never resolved; Mary Squires got off; Elizabeth accused of perjury, of trying to hurt the gypsy woman; it was decided if you put Elizabeth in the stocks, she’d have been stoned to death by the populace so she was sentenced to transportation (indentured servitude) and ended up in Connecticut where she died in 1773. In the end Fielding apologized where he couldn’t explain; he ended up not being respected for all he had done. No good deed goes unpunished. His pamphlet is of interest because of how often he appeals to probability, evidence, common sense.

He comes out much less well in the Mary Hamilton case. In this case I sent them Terry Castle’s “Matters not fit to be mentioned: Fielding’s Female Husband,” ELH, 49:3 (1982):602-22, but I doubt they read it because it is so jargon. I told them about it ans we discussed the contrast with Fielding towards Elizabeth Channing. Mary Hamiltone was accused of fraud for having personated a man, found guilty, whipped sentenced to hard labor in Bridewell. She had a history of doing this before (14 times it was said); he seems to have read the transcript (deposition) where Mary tried to excuse herself by saying she was seduced by one Anne Johnson and suffered under the baneful influence of methodism. He wrote this novelistic tract to make money. It’s prurient and voyeuristic; it reads like a cheap soft-core porn novel; the attack on methodism is pure Fielding, he laments how after her first whipping she tried to buy “a young girl to satisfy her most monstrous and unnatural appetites.” It’s a classic in euphemism – like Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Of course it exposes his masculine point of view.

I also summarized myself Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried:” Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” Modern Language Review, 95:2 (2000): 324-35 Willaputte argues the women at the center of the story (Sophia, Lady Bellaston, Molly, Mrs Walters, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Nancy, Mrs Miller) also show how law and custom render women powerless. The women at the edges yes worse. Mrs Bridget Allworthy who disappears, Mrs Western and the various women we are told of in the stories are stronger examples of how society makes invisibility safety; women are turned into servants of law and family and live in a liminal kind of space.

Tom tenderly rescuing Molly in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones

We do see fearful and arbitrary control; women as “other.” We see scenes where what they want is simply not paid attention to at all. Willaputt instances the Elizabeth Canning case. Women protests against being slaves. Sophia is eloquent even if taken advantage of and not listened to. Even if what Mr Allworthy likes best is her obedience to men.

I recited one of the most reprinted poems by a woman in the period in anthologies – appears in major ones: Mary Lady Chudleigh’s “To the Ladies:”

Wife and Servant are the same,
But only differ in the Name:
For when that fatal Knot is ty’d,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said, [5]
And Man by Law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but State and Pride:
Fierce as an Eastern Prince he grows,
And all his innate Rigor shows: [10]
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the Nuptial Contract break.
Like Mutes she Signs alone must make,
And never any Freedom take:
But still be govern’d by a Nod, [15]
And fear her Husband as her God:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty Lord thinks fit,
Who with the Pow’r, has all the Wit. [20]
Then shun, oh! shun that wretched State,
And all the fawning Flatt’rers hate:
Value your selves, and Men despise,
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.

I like how in Tom Jones we find the narrator objects to mockery of women when they have been sexually seduced or impregnated – Tom calls “jesting” “pieces of brutality.” It’s worth noting that the narrator and sometimes good characters deplore ridicule as very unkind especially of vulnerable or exposed people – like mocking playwrights. None of the critics I read or assigned mentioned this aspect of the book. To me it’s a redeeming feature.


From the masquerade dance in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963)

Illicit transgressive sexuality in Fielding

On libertinism, the best writing I could find (and shortest) were the opening pages of Robert Erickson, “A review of James Turner’s “Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London,” Eighteenth Century Fiction, 17 (2005):269-76. Sophia does call Tom a libertine in his behavior with Mrs Walters and the narrator brings out the idea but he’s such a “good-hearted libertine”. In Erickson’s few pages libetinism is defined as illicit transgressive sexuality which defies orthodox religion and morality – loosen family bonds, respect for maternal authority. Erickson says that Turner uses trash and junk rather than high literary texts (like Tom Jones)and in so doing reveals women’s behavior and attitudes to women in the era. From the second work by Pamela Cheek that Erickson reviews it emerges that women who were educated, or serious intellectuals saw prostitution and especially the female libertinism as something deeply harmful to women’s rights and causes. So Lady Bellaston is someone as destructive of Sophia and Mrs Fitzpatrick as the bully tyrant Squire Western or potentially Blifil or as played by Peter Capaldi Lord Fellamar. A female libertine is a sinister figure. I agree with that — though in the book Lady Bellaston’s words do reveal her to believe she loves Tom Jones, is jealous of Sophia and just wants an ordinary revenge and to get Sophia out of the way by having Fellamar rape and marry her.

From the sexually-suggestive pantomime put on before Sophia by Lady Bellaston in her London townhouse (BBC Tom Jones)

I suggested a kind of wild debauchery & sublimity can be found in abjection (for those who have the appetite and strength for this); it’s sadomasochistic sex seen from the masochistic point of view reveling in itself. In texts low crude stuff enters upper class culture: the aristocratic libertine aligns himself with shamed abject whore. Now in Tom Jones the gender roles are reversed. There is a sense where both Lovelace and Tom Jones (especially in the 1966) film allows himself to be acted upon, is the passive person. The rest of Erickson’s article is on exploitative sexuality in the colonies: global reach. Female libertine could also be a stance that allowed for philosophical radicalism and I brought in Therese Philosophe, showed the illustrations and the elegance of the volume (I tried to show this) startled them.

We looked at the scene of Sophia and Lady Bellaston where Lady Bellaston needles Sophia successfully about Jones because Sophia will not admit the gentleman who came was Jones nor that she loves him, and Lady Bellaston knows that was Jones, she loves him and Sophia learns that Lady Bellaston knows. As Nightingale’s friend Enderson is another male subject victim so Jones has had to let himself be up for sale; and then inset history of Mrs Miller to come we get another story of money, gender, power. To me the target of the book is the very connections of people are utterly corrupted and they can be victimized because they have connections but if they don’t have them, they are in grave trouble. In the scene of Lady Bellaston and Sophia we see an intimate experience of this: Jones is despised because he’s a bastard, homeless: we see how that corrodes the soul. Libertinim is beside the point.

We don’t have a true male libertine in this book: man about town yes, gaming crooks; corrupt gamekeepers, and I suggested Lady Bellaston and Lord Fellamar are the closest we get. I tried to cite examples from works the class would know and could come up only with Les Liaisons Dangereuses Valmont and Madame de Merteuil – you may have seen the film with John Malkovitch and Glenn Close. After class was over I was very glad when someone mentioned Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Yes that’s perfect and many here will have seen it. Brutal, promiscuous, raped women, insouciant, proud of his conquests as conquests and especially he would be taken as an atheistic, irreligious and at the play’s close he is taken down to hell. Libertinism was bound up with radical thought in this era. The first and influential literary text or character is by Thomas Shadwell, the play 1712 called The Libertine. That over the course of the century (as in our own era) the type changed as times changed. Over the course of the century a growth in secularism strong and a rise in sentimentalism with corresponding repression of some of the more frank elements in earlier literature. People parodied the concept too: one night Austen goes to a burlesque play of Don Juan, she finds it funny but says the main character is brutal. Fielding belongs to the first half of the century more or less, Austen to the second half, but we can see sentimentality when Tom weeps over Enderson’s story. Tom is good-natured and wants to be virtuous; is he a moralized libertine? That makes nonsense of the term. We had already talked of seeing him as a low-born scoundrel rogue and Tom Jones an imitation rogue story.

There is a continuum of males in the novel. Fielding explores what happens to masculinity in the world, the norms that people follow, and what these do to people. – he’a a man of wit and pleasure. We are not shown him having much fun. Among the things he enjoys is going to a play and damning it among a mob. Theater at the time was not all silence and passivity – but people went there to meet other people, they booed, hissed, interrupted – again it was at the theater that someone insulted Nancy and Nightingale took this point of view seriously.


The theate: Our characters go see Garrick act out Hamlet

Garrick as Hamlet (contemporary print)

In the midst of the book, time out to see Hamlet. People did go to the theater a lot; in all ranks that could. It was a popular art form. So off go Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge.

What’s really strange or wants explanation here is that Fielding goes through the whole play step by step. He really touches upon each of the phases of Hamlet. If you ‘ve read and remember it, it’s uncanny. Even Hamlet with his mother. Critics have expended much ink on this one. On one level obviously it’s making fun of superstitions, the belief in ghosts we see in Partridge. Partridge is also the naïve audience member who believes the people in front of him are real and gets intensely excited. I suggested we not knock this as if it’s not done anymore: actors have to be careful who they enact, viewers treat repeating characters as real people.

I’m not persuaded the incident has a political Jacobite application – I told them how Stevenson sees this, and that the political application links up with the other politics of the book: that Partridge is a Jacobite, and so worships numinous people; that since Hamlet is a revenge play about a usurpe (Claudius is usurping the throne having killed Hamlet’s father) links because the Hanovers are usurpers or if you like the Stuarts want to usurp a new legitimate king’s throne. Tom says at one proint that the cause of George III is cause of common sense (Protestantism and liberty). But this great play is about common sense.

Max Beasley and Ron Cook as Tom and Patridge at the Miller wedding (BBC Tom Jones)

I wondered if it’s meant to fill out Partridge. Make us like him. If Fielding not so anti-Jacobite, then maybe he feels affection for this man. Fielding loves how Partridge is totally involved with the characters from moment to moment. The class members inclinded to the idea the book is sympathetic to Partridge; that Patridge is the most loyal father to Tom in the book.

There ‘s a tribute to the actors and Garrick as Hamlet, to the theater itself which is part of the skein of metaphor in the book . We are all actors and audience. Against that Fielding as playwright had to cope with this level of delusion in his customers.

Or is Fielding himself taken with the ambivalent presentation of the loyal son and corrupt father?


Thomas Gainsborough, A Suffolk Landscape

So what we were to make of this book?

In the last session I invited them to take a post-modern point of view and give up on conventional moralizing as well as ideas about human progress. What I ended was the amount of caustic and multiple pointed ironic satire in the book. What is the nature of the satire in Fielding? What is its target? He shows how all our human ties, the way we have to conduct ourselves in society forces us to behave corruptly and badly – the target is not the corrupt selfish stupid people but the society they create as a whole, the social connection – force of custom; a complaint against the depravity of society which is unlikely to reform. In that sense Fielding’s conservative -– everywhere we look from people going to a play, a masquerade, we see a network of vice with a few good souls here and there who are very vulnerable. In his writing as a magistrate Fielding recommended harsh justice and punishment even if he recognized at core the source of much evil in the society was mass poverty and not giving people enough useful that they could respect to do. I paraphrased from John Richetti’s review of Bertelson’s book on Fielding as magistrate, man and journalist: “Bertelsen finds in Fielding’s last book, a journal of a trip to Lisbon as he knew he was dying; an associational style so the way to draw the meaning is to look at the self-reflexive stories, contradictions, incongruities – that it’s spontaneous and at its best relativistic and free-wheeling.”

Squire Western in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (at the hunt, 1963)

Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Allworthy towards the end of the story, finally realizing what Blifil is (BBC Tom Jones)

I then showed clips from the 1966 and 1997 movies. We had sent them some short reviews and suggested that the actuating impulse of the two films was different from one another and from Fielding. Richardson and Osborne were showing us the animal savagery of people; their absurdity but also their pathetic ruthlessness. They also presented the book as a sexual romp and zany witty comedy. The BBC film-makers turned Tom Jones insofar as they could into proto-feminism, building up the character of Sophia and bringing her out as strong wherever possible; they tried for sympathy for the defeated Aunt Western (played by Frances de la Tour), a moral romances. John Session was acted the character of Fielding himself as enigmatic, ironic, well-meaning, keeping apart; they dedicated the film to him.

I ended on Fielding’s own good-natured adieu as, which I suggested was the sort of passage that influenced the BBC people’s film:

And now, my Friend, I take this Opportunity (as I shall have no other) of heartily wishing thee well. If I have been an entertaining ompanion to thee, I promise thee it is what I have desired. If in any Thing I have offended, it was really without any Intention. Some Things perhaps here said may have hit thee or thy Friends; but I do most solemnly declare they were not pointed at thee or them. I question not but thou hast been told, among other Stories of me, that thou wast to travel with a very scurrilous Fellow: But whoever told thee so, did me an Injury. No Man detests and despises Scurrility more than myself; nor hath any Man more Reason; for none hath ever been treated with more: And what is a very severe Fate, I have had some of the abusive Writings of those very Men fathered upon me, who in other of their Works have abused me themselves with the utmost Virulence.’

    All these Works, however, I am well convinced, will be dead long before this Page shall offer itself to thy Perusal: For however short the Period may be of my own Performances, they will most probably outlive their own infirm Author, and the weakly Productions of his abusive Contemporaries.

I very much enjoyed reading Tom Jones and the recent criticism of Fielding. It was quite a journey for me to discuss this text with a group of adults my own age. My view of it underwent a sea change. Read aright — deconstructively, historically, autobiographically, from a post-modern standpoint — it still has a lot to teach us. Robert Hume’s idea is that the one way you can bring all Fielding’s stances into one is as a teacher. Yes.


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Fielding and the landlady at Upton who is staring horrified at Mrs Waters’ state of undress (John Sessions and Ruth Sheen, 1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Tom and Mrs Waters aka Jenny Jones eating later that night at Upton (Albert Finney, Joyce Redmond, 1963 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones)

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith a fourth blog on teaching Tom Jones to a group of older and retired people at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning. We have thus far covered the obstacles to reading (an ironic, erudite, allusively classical text with a chameleon ironic narrator) and Fielding’s life (1); 300 Years of reading the novel. Then as these relate to parts of the story: money and property in the 18th century, sex and commerce, how hard it was to escape prostitution in this patronage society (2); poaching and the criminal justice system (class wars); education of children; Culloden or Jacobitism and the 1745 rebellion (3). What is there left? A lot.

In this blog we’ll follow Tom and Partridge out on the road. We have a series of adventures on the road which are not intended as filler (our narrator tells us everything tends to his design, every little detail), so it’s up to us to see what themes they comment upon, or how they relate to the story or main characters.

I’ll treat the allusive quality of Fielding’s text and how this combines with use of the narrator and irony to form a barricade for him to obscure his cynical and iconoclastic attitudes. In these cases we see how ambivalently he treats male sexual violence towards women, how he undermines adherence to the Walpole-Hanoverian gov’t order, and how he views marriage customs in the era as filled with hypocritical feigning. We also see how hard it is to find out where Fielding stands on issues he brings out, and there is something uncanny in this text when you reach near the writer at his core.

Three incidents thematically considered:


The first is one of many places where Fielding titillates his male reader with a sexually knowing woman who is attempting to seduce his hero. We see how lightly he can treat male violence against women, and how women lie. The Orpheus and Eurydice incident in Book 9 (Chapters 2 & 7) has been filmed twice: Tom Jones together with Partridge comes across the brutal soldier Northerton (1963 Julian Glover; 1997 Julian Firth) beating his erstwhile lover, Mrs Waters, seemingly trying to kill her (when he “merely” trying to strip her of every penny she has). Tom, after rescuing her, accompanies her to the inn at Upton. The text says she is just about topless, Tom wraps his jacket around her as best he can, she resisting and they march together, he in front so as not to see her nakedness (especially her breasts)

An 18th century Orpheus and Eurydice: Tom and Mrs Waters (Albert Finney, Joyce Redman, strictly in imitation 1963 Richardson & Osborne’s Tom Jones)


Jones walking ahead of Mrs Walters is Orpheus in the underworld walking ahead of Eurydice and told if he turns back she is dead forever; well in the original misogynistic emblem she won’t shut up, is endlessly curious where she should not be, disobedient, and keeps asking him to turn round, and cries he doesn’t not love her; when he finally turns around, she vanishes forever. Fielding has substituted another kind of slur: Mrs Waters is the older married and hence salacious woman trying to seduce the handsome young man. When she is caught in bed with Jones, she cries rape. In the final chapter of book 9 we discover Northerton did not just attack Mrs Walters, she was deeply involved with him, fond of him, arranged to meet him in the wood; he tied her to a tree not to kill her but to escape from here while merely “naturally” extracting as much money from her as he could in order to flee the country as he believed himself to have killed Jones.

To bring out how male-centered the filmed walk is I read aloud a section from Carol Ann Duffy’s Eurydice where a very different motive is attributed to her trying to make Orpheus look back:

Girls, I was dead and down
in the Underworld, a shade,
a shadow of my former self, nowhen.
It was a place where language stopped,
a black full stop, a black hole
where words had to come to an end.
And end they did there,
last words,
famous or not.
It suited me down to the ground.
So imagine me there,
out of this world,
then picture my face in that place
of Eternal Repose,
in the one place you’d think a girl would be safe
from the kind of a man
who follows her round
writing poems,
hovers about
while she reads them,
calls her His Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns.
Just picture my face
when I heard –
Ye Gods –
a familiar knock-knock-knock at Death’s door.

Big O.
Larger than life.
With his lyre
and a poem to pitch, with me as the prize.

Things were different back then.
For the men, verse-wise,
Big O was the boy. Legendary.
The blurb on the back of his books claimed
that animals,
aardvark to zebra,
flocked to his side when he sang,
fish leapt in their shoals
at the sound of his voice,
even the mute, sullen stones at his feet
wept wee, silver tears.

Bollocks. (I’d done all the typing myself,
I should know.)
And given my time all over again,
rest assured that I’d rather speak for myself
than be Dearest, Beloved, Dark Lady, White Goddess, etc., etc.

In fact, girls, I’d rather be dead.

But the Gods are like publishers, usually male,
and what you doubtless know of my tale
is the deal.

Orpheus strutted his stuff.

The bloodless ghosts were in tears.
Sisyphus sat on his rock for the first time in years.
Tantalus was permitted a couple of beers.

The woman in question could scarcely believe her ears.

Like it or not,
I must follow him back to our life –
Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife –
to be trapped in his images, metaphors, similes,
octaves and sextets, quatrains and couplets,
elegies, limericks, villanelles,
histories, myths . . .

He’d been told that he mustn’t look back
or turn round,
but walk steadily upwards,
myself right behind him,
out of the Underworld
into the upper air that for me was the past.
He’d been warned
that one look would lose me
for ever and ever.

So we walked, we walked.
Nobody talked.

Girls, forget what you’ve read.
It happened like this —
I did everything in my power
to make him look back.
What did I have to do, I said,
to make him see we were through?
I was dead. Deceased.
I was Resting in Peace. Passe. Late.
Past my sell-by date .. .
I stretched out my hand
to touch him once
on the back of his neck.
Please let me stay.
But already the light had saddened from purple to grey.

It was an uphill schlep
from death to life
and with every step
I willed him to turn.
I was thinking of filching the poem
out of his cloak,
when inspiration finally struck.
I stopped, thrilled.
He was a yard in front.
My voice shook when I spoke –
“Orpheus, your poem’s a masterpiece.
I’d love to hear it again .. .”

He was smiling modestly
when he turned,
when he turned and he looked at me.

What else?
I noticed he hadn’t shaved.
I waved once and was gone.

The dead are so talented.
The living walk by the edge of a vast lake
near the wise, drowned silence of the dead.
(from The World’s Wife)

I had assigned Anthony Simpson’s essays (“Popular Perceptions of Rape in the 18th century.” and “The Blackmail myth and the prosecution of rape: the creation of a legal tradition.” The first is on the press and the trial of Francis Charteris, a notorious serial rapist, and the means he used to get away with brutal behavior. The second is on the perception that women lie, that they pretend to have been raped and that they blackmail men and get into court lying. The reality is that only a tiny percentage of real rapes ever prosecuted because most of the time over history women suffer badly even if they get a conviction, and they have in history rarely gotten convictions. Men just don’t believe women don’t want to be raped and they think they lie. Fielding in his fiction appears to think that women lie, that they don’t take rape seriously, pretend to have been raped and hold men hostage that way.( In his judicial career he was actually much fairer; he decided his cases on the particulars of a case, not on making examples of anyone (which in law you are not supposed to).

Also Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes” is about Fielding’s attitude towards violence towards women. First he discusses Fielding’s plays, especially Rape upon Rape (which Fielding later under pressure retitled to The Justice Caught in His Own Trap – a justice who is corrupt among other things tries to get to one of our female characters to lie and pretend she was raped). Fielding in these plays regards rape as minor problem, women think it’s okay, want it, it’s treated as a good joke, they fake it; they fantasize; the danger is not that you rape a woman (you being a man) but that someone bribes her to lie, to blackmail you. Simpson’s essays make short shrift of this. Some of scenes in Fielding’s worst later voyeuristic treatises put a different and rather deadly spin on Austen’s famous: “run mad as often as you please, but do not faint.” Dickie doesn’t mention these.

In the second half of Dickie’s essay, he shows how these attitudes play out in the nuanced complex texts of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones and Amelia. There is a pattern of women’s accusations which are mocked immediately or dismissed; very often when we are sympathetic to the woman we later find out she was somehow at fault: the old way of finding fault. The way Fielding treats the heroine in Joseph Andrews shows class bias when someone tries to rape her: she is strong armed, thick skinned in mind. So too is Mrs Waters described as sturdy, strong, not fussy over her appetites. A curious detail in all is when the man tries to touch the woman’s breast is when she gets excited and angry. In Tom Jones there’s Lady Bellaston persuading Lord Fellamar to rape Sophia and into her mouth is put all the arguments of how unimportant this is, how women want to be raped (p. 699, Bk 15, ch 4) it makes for marriage (Squire Western would like that), comes sort of sinister.

Fielding was deeply upset by Richardson’s portrayal of the rape of Clarissa by Lovelace: he wrote Richardson a letter; for once someone has pushed him out of this comfort zone of his, but he moves quickly to show he doesn’t take sexual violence seriously and wants Richardson to marry Clarissa off to Lovelace as an okay ending. I should mention Lovelace drugs Clarissa, she is held down by prostitutes, and kept awake in part and there is a good deal of transgressive sex in the scene forced on her. She has a psychically traumatized week afterwards. Tom Jones has a lot of careless violence in it; Tom is upset to think he’s murdered Mr Fitzpatrick but Nightingale seems to think it’s okay if Tom was just defending himself.

A little later in the term we read Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried: Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” ” who qualifies the above considerably. The women at the center of the story (Sophia, Lady Bellaston, Molly, Mrs Walters, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Nancy, Mrs Miller) show how law and custom render women powerless. The women at the edges fare worse. Mrs Bridget Allworthy who disappears, Mrs Western and the various women we are told of in the stories are stronger examples of how society makes invisibility safety; women are turned into servants of law and family and live in a liminal kind of space. They have to be hypocrites to survive, but a woman like Squire Western’s wife was in effect coerced into a rape situation for marriage, bullied into death. We do see fearful and arbitrary control; women as “other.” We see scenes where what they want is simply not paid attention to at all. Willaputt does bring in the Elizabeth Canning case where Fielding defended the woman who had been abducted, raped and complained and was later herself accused and in the end punished for perjury. In Tom Jones we find the narrator objecting to mockery of women when they have been sexually seduced or impregnated – Tom calls “jesting” “pieces of brutality.” Willaputte does not mention that the narrator and sometimes good characters deplore ridicule as very unkind especially of vulnerable or exposed people – like playwrights.


An 18th century print of a gypsy queen

18th century print image of an itinerant gypsy

The second has never been filmed but critics have used much ink trying to explicate it. In Book 12, Chapter 12, just before Tom and Partridge begin to approach London they come upon what seems a happy community of gypsies, are welcomed among them, and Tom talks with a Gypsy King. What happens is meanwhile Partridge thinks he is seducing one of the gypsy wives; she cries out and claims she was forced (does not quite cry rape), and her husband demands payment for this fornication and adultery. Unlike Squire Allworthy, this king carefully interrogates everyone, thinks sceptically and decides this was a blackmail scheme concocted by the husband and shames him. The king (reminding me of Gulliver talking to the Brobingnag king) that see absolute monarchy when headed by truly wise man the best form of gov’t – because supposed disinterested (TJ, Penguin ed, Keymer and Whately, pp 590-92). Jones is very impressed. Look how happy these people are. But then narrator interjects strongly and produces a heated series of argument which add up to denying that there can be such a person. How are we to take this?

We read two essays: Martin Battestin identifies the narrator’s rejection of the gypsy king with Fielding. The good Whig, Hanoverian, anti-Jacobitism where people were to adhere to an divine right monarch. J Lee Green is sceptical of Battestin’s neat conclusion: he showed there is a close analogy in Don Quixote (which Fielding has alluded to and imitated in Tom Jones, as for example, the traveling companions). Sancho takes over a gov’t and becomes judicious. Green suggests that the gypsy king is a foil for Allworthy and Western. He says we are not to accept the narrator’s view which is a rejection of any sort of Utopia. He does not repudiate the gypsies at all. They are living a happy life. It’s an attack on pre-conceptions.

John Allen Stevenson (whose book we read excerpts from) takes a third tack: he sees the incident as Swiftian; the wedding, feasting whole feel of this society is good, Utopian, and emotional. Fortune-telling and therefore superstition are associated with them, and throughout the journey we have people reacting superstitiously to all that occurs around them, as it were naturally. Sometime after Fielding published Tom Jones, a man who called himself Bampfylde-Moore Carew, the king of the gypsies himself, an impartial account correcting that personage Thomas Jones.

BamfyldeCarew (Large)

Said to be a scoundrel rogue. The name is based on a man who was a mole, a spy, a double-dealer, and some critics say Bampfylde-Moore Carew suggests that this Utopian scheme was a radical attack on the part of Fielding on the English way of handling gypsies: which was to hunt them down as thieving vagrants when not ignoring them. The book is really a picaro novel, sympathetic to gypsy types. Did Fielding know Carew?

It’s telling that neither man pays attention to the content of all the cases at hand, including Sancho’s: all rape cases. If you pay attention to the role of women here, Simpson says that blackmail was highly uncommon – neither Battestin nor Green nor any of them interested in that gypsy woman – why did she behave the way she did? A number of novels in the era show women going to bed with men because they are forced to by husbands who have become victims of debt – just like Mr Watson, and our man on the hill. On the road Tom meets a lieutenant who is a good man and helps him against Northerton: we learn he can’t get promoted because he won’t sell his wife to the officer above him. So is Fielding unthinkingly stigmatizing women?

The incident is preceded by Jones’s meeting with Mr Dowling who pumps him for information and is no friend of his though he appears to be, followed by Partridge and Jones discussing what happened Jones becomes incensed once again when Partridge wants to take Sophia’s money to support them, only to be interrupted by a beggar who tries to be a highway man, but is an utter failure at this, turns out to be Mrs Miller’s brother or brother-in-law who has 5 starving children and anther one on the way. Things are not always what they seem.

TheirEverShiftingHome (Large)
Stanford Forbes, Their Ever Shifting Home (a late 19th century depiction of gypsies, Newlyn School, Cornwall)


The third is the incident of the puppet show of Punch and Judy (Book 12, Chapter 5). A puppeteer at the inn after Upton refuses to use his puppets to put on a Punch and Judy show. It is “idle trumpery” and “low.” Instead he has his puppets perform a “fine and serious Part of the Provok’d Husband.”

The Audience were all highly pleased. A grave Matron told the Master that she would bring her two Daughters the next Night, as he did not show any Stuff; and an Attorney’s Clerk, and an Exciseman, both declared, that the Characters of Lord and Lady Townnley were well preserved, and highly in Nature. Partridge likewise concurred with this Opinion.

Everyone is “elated with these encomiums,” until Jones protests that the puppeteer has ruined a godo entertainment, he misses Master Punch and his merry Wife Joan. Everyone attacked Jones as low and the language used by Fielding is one which implies all these people are utterly hypocritical, uttering cant.

Stage (2)

Stage (1)
In the 1997 Tom Jones the puppet show is The Tragedy of Macbeth with however leading characters George III and Prince Charlie; the audience approves but here Partridge is given Jones’s speech of protest.

No one mentions the play is misogynistic farce, but if we looked at the full context, we find the incident is surrounded by stories where violence is explicitly discussed, objected to, carried on freely. If we look at all this, we could understand this incident quite differently and again say that in the book Tom and in the film Partridge has got it wrong.

Much of Book 11 is taken up by Mrs Fitzpatrick’s story of how her husband married her for money, took her to Ireland, had a mistress, abused her; she is likened to a
“trembling hare” fleeing him. Men were allowed to lock up their wives; they could beat them; a woman was supposed to obey, and people did marry for money sheerly (it was the only way to become rich if you were not born to it). Harriet tells Sophie her “companions” were “my own racking Thoughts, which plagued and and in a manner haunted me Night and Day. In this situation I passed through a Scene, the Horrors of which cannot be imagined …” – a childbirth alone, and childbirth in this period was a hard ordeal often ending in death (Book 11, Ch 12, p 320).

Right afterward the scene of the puppet show we hear the landlady’s maid defend herself from being beaten by her mistress on the grounds that her betters are not better than she; “what was the fine Lady in the puppet-show just now? I suppose she did not lie all night out from her husband for nothing” (p 563). Vanbrugh and Colley Cibber’s The Provok’d Husband is a play which runs on lines similar to Fielding’s own The Modern Husband: it’s about a couple who treat one another as commodities; they live in an adulterous world and imitate to find status and compete with one another. Its subtitle is Journey to London. There’s a scene between Lord and Lady Townley where she says he is so abusive she will leave him and he replies, leave this house madam, and you’ll never come in again and I will give you no money whatsoever. She is subject to him. At its close there is a moving dialogue between husband and wife where she reasons with him – oh she’s had a lover but so has he had a mistress: “what indiscretions have I committed that are not daily practised by hundred other women of quality” (II: 675). Both plays were received hostilely but was reprinted and read and remembered.

As the characters talk, the landlady remembers when good scripture stories were made from the Bible (as opposed to either Punch and Judy or The Provok’d Husband), and she refers to Jepththah’s rash vow? (p 564. Jephthah vowed to sacrifice his daughter on return from battle if God would only give him a win (it’s an Iphigenia story, note p 946). Before he sacrificed her she sat around bewailing her virginity. The idea is she wouldn’t have minded had she had sex, married, had a husband. It’s a ploy of the female character to try to stop the father. He will not.

Partridge is a Jacobite. A barber, a surgeon, a teacher, he’ll do anything. His story of desperate scrabble – it’s superficial or not so to say he’s simply mocked; there are several notable instances where we can take his side: in the book his preference for a serious play based on play in London while Jones prefers Punch and Judy (about as misogynistic a play as one can find; nothing in the book comparable to Hogarth’s attack on cruelty to animals, I’m not sure it’s brought up) fits here. We went over his story of the cruel hanging judge.

During most of these arguments Partridge has fallen asleep in a profound nap; he often falls asleep when Fielding does not want us to hear the true low ironic person’s comment. He is himself an abused husband. Once they get off the road, we find ourselves in the story of Lady Bellaston, a female libertine who hires males for sex, but is herself deeply unwilling to marry for then she will be subject to a master. As the narrator over the gypsy king can be shown to be totally inadequate so is Jones (pp. 562-563). Around the text swirls all this stuff And Fielding knows it.

The chapter ends with Jones going off to mouth his muff — which stands in for Sophia’s vagina. There is a curious wild hilarity behind this incident. And it’s here I sense something I’ll call uncanny, very unfamiliar not our good old home-y comfortable narrator at all. for is not Fielding a puppeteer? Thackeray saw that and called himself not inn-keeper but puppeteer. “Come children let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.”

The conversation of the great minds in the kitchen before we meet Mr Dowling once again (who pumps Jones) includes the question if Jones mad or not? (Is Fielding? does he ask himself if he is mad to write this book?) They go on about people put in madhouses by their relatives: happy is he who learns caution from the mishaps of others. Remarkably dumb talk, but they discuss who has right over others, whether Catholics seek to make all the world Catholic; as for the puppet show man, he cares not who’s in charge as long as it’s not Presbyterians who are against puppet -shows. They were strict in behavior and they were important in the closing the theaters again and again (p. 570): to be sure every man values his livelihood first.

The puppeteer, his assistant and lady all quarreling hard

Tellingly the puppet show in the film ends in a debacle: the puppeteer discovers his assistant behind the curtain having sex with the puppeteer’s mistress; when he objects, they vociferously defend themselves and attack him. As Partridge and Jones leave because they are told Sophia and her maid pass by, we hear some ruffians debate whether to follow and rape them. I take it the film makers were attempting to get into this incident some of the densely allusive texts on the road.


What kind of help is the narrator?

John Sessions as the narrator walking along the road (1997 Tom Jones) — in the film he directs traffic and utters ironic quips

Fielding’s introductory disquisitions frame, comment on, justify, undermine the themes of the book at hand (and novel as a whole). Well Book 8 opens with Fielding advising the reader that his novel will not overindulge in the marvelous. As if writing a recipe for authors, the narrator says as a novelist the marvelous must be used with discretion. We talked in class about how the “new” novel differed from romance and (using Fielding’s book and introductory chapters) came up with: probability; real characters; historical time; accounting for space and a real map; accounting for how someone knows something; slow moving structure; death is not something that you get up from; social themes (love, sex, marriage, real courts, politics), psychological depths and above all no supernatural. But shortly after this Tom meets Partridge, the man reputed to be his father; he is himself taken for a ghost; and then in the next book (9), he meets Mrs Waters who we soon discovers is Jenny Jones, the woman reputed to be Tom’s mother. Marvelous coincidences, no? What the narrator seems to suggest is he offers what happens just on this edge of believability and not too often.

It is just the sort of thing that would happen in the world of Greek romance: a vast watery world (here it’s roads) where characters lost and find their closest relations. I did offer a brief history of the novel. We like such fantasy. It’s piquant, alluring, reassuring.

Book 9 tells us who may lawfully write novels or what talents, knowledge and moral qualities an author must have — to invent good stories is not easy hence the envy of the ever carping critics; genius, invention, judgement, learning, conversation, knowledge of manners – and an author must have a good heart and make us weep. The opening of Book 10 launches into classical examples and allusions, from fops of the 18th century stage to “Dido” whom he says critics would claim was a model for “every amorous Widow” but that “very few of our Play-house Critics understand enough of Latin to read Virgil.” In this book Jones and Mrs Waters enact Orpheus and Eurydice.

In Chapter 11 the narrator attacks and/or exposes (depends on your view) critics: slanderers, people who injure the author by making him miserable over “the offspring of his brain.” Fielding knows he can be castigated for the open sex, the presentation of the soldiers, just about everything; so he defends himself: has he not preserved the characteristics of his characters or people; has he not distinguished his characters from their type carefully. In another part of the book he boasts of having carefully distinguished his landladies. He mentions Dido (like Aeneas a character everyone was familiar with), as the widow who fell in love with Aeneas and he her and he deserted her for his duty; it’s here he insists that everything in the book is part of a great design. If you don’t see how it all fits, it’s your lack not his. Fielding is exposing his hurt here too, trying to make readers think of the book as carrying the author’s spirit about; they are malicious says he, wantonly destroying what they don’t understand and (worse yet) have not read! They invent absurd rules that no author can live with. It’s quite a bleak and black diatribe. This book includes the long story of Mrs Fitzpatrick.

Finally 12 justifies plagiarism, or rather explains borrowing. It’s a book crowded with incident, very long justifies Fielding’s allusive use of other texts (which are heavily used throughout the center third of the book) and distinguishes justified plagiarism. It’s not thievery. Here Fielding shows how repeatedly he harks back to older ideas: in the 18th century a new definition of creativity, originality, of property was gradually emerging. Previous to this stories were seen as common property; no one owned a story or a character until the Renaissance when in-depth psychology emerges and a character is recognizably the product of a single sensibility, some could be recognized as the writer of “works.” Shakespeare’s folio among the first of this type. He did not gather them himself but his friends and colleagues. Fielding stakes himself on the idea that “the Antients provide a rich common ground” and as long as he makes it clear he’s borrowing, does not abuse the previous text, this is part of the poetical trade. Throughout the novel there are continual borrowings, but 12 contains the puppet, kitchen and gypsy sequences.

Jack MacGowan as Partridge upon meeting Tom on the road (1963 Tom Jones)

For my part I like to think of Tom and Partridge as an 18th century Estragon and Vladmir who meet all sorts of Luckys and Pogos on the road.


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Wm Hogarth, The March to Finley, a scene from the ’45’ Rebellion (1749) (click to enlarge)

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Ten Monday afternoons, 1:00 to 2:50 pm
St Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 2815 36th Street, Northwest, Washington DC
Dates: Classes start Sept 28th; last class Nov 30th, 2015.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

For ten weeks the class will read and study Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together.  We will read a few essays on Fielding in the context of his age and several careers (dramatist, attorney-magistrate, journalist, novelist). Why was the book was called “immoral” then and how does it emerge from and today belong to strong satiric and erotic schools of art (from Swift and Hogarth to Richardson and Sade). Why in the 20th century it was adapted into oddly innocent films first filled with wild hilarity and sexual salaciousness, when it’s a deeply subversive and disquieting book. We’ll focus on the slippery narrator, the evasive nature of the text, and discuss themes like where power, sex and commerce; and the masks of social and psychological life. Can you imagine a world without novels? This is one of the books that established the genre

Required Text: Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, ed., introd., notes Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. London: Penguin, 2005 (975 pages). An alternative recommended edition: The History of Tom Jones, ed. R. P. C. Mutter. NY: Penguin, 1983 (911 pages)

Tom’s Journey Across England (click for clear comprehension)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 21: No class but it’s asked that everyone start the book, and read for the first week: TJ, Bk 1, Ch 1 though Bk 3, Ch 4 (pp. 35-119). If possible, please also watch on your own one of the films and have come to the ending of either by Oct 5th.
Sept 28: First class: An introduction: Fielding’s life, learning & plays. Read for next time: Bk 3, Ch 5 through Bk 5, Ch 4 (pp. 119-201).
Oct 5: In class: the narrator, obstacles to enjoyment.  Read for next time: Bk 4, Ch 5 through Bk 7, Ch 2 (pp. 201-294) & Stevenson’s “Black George and the Gaming Laws” (chapter from his book or an essay).
Oct 12: In class: as a novel; crime (poaching, game laws), punishment, injustice, class in Tom Jones. Read for next time: Bk 7, Ch 3 through Bk 8, Ch 8 (pp. 295-383) & Simpson’s Popular Perceptions of Rape in 18th Century England: The Press and the trial of Francis Charteris in the Old Bailey, 1730,” and his “The Blackmail Myth and the Prosecution of Rape and Its Attempt in 18th Century London: the creation of a tradition.”
Oct 19: In class: Ethics & sex in 18th century life and art & TJ. For next time read Bk 8, Ch 9 through Bk 10, Ch 2 (pp. 383-466); Stevenson’s “Stuart Ghosts” (chapter from his book or an essay; Gene Koppel’s “Sexual Education and Sexual Values in Tom Jones,” Confusion at the Core,” Studies in the Novel, 12:1 (1980):1-11.
Oct 26: In class: the journey, sentimentality, gyspy kings in TJ. Read for next time Bk 10, Ch 3 through Bk 12, Ch 2 (pp. 466-550). Martin Battestin, Tom Jones and “His Eygptian Majesty, on the Gypsy King. PMLA, 82:1 (1967):68-77; J.Lee Green, “Fielding’s Gypsy Episode and Sancho Panza’s governorship,” Atlantic Bulletin, 39:2 (1974):117-21.
Nov 2: In class: history, politics, war in TJ; read for next time Bk 12, Ch 3 through Bk 13, Ch 8 (pp. 551-634). Thompson on Personal Property and Money in Tom Jones, Eighteenth Century Fiction, 3:1 (1990):21-42; Amanda Vickery’s “‘Mutton Dress’d as Lamb’: Fashioning Age in Georgian England,” Journal of British Studies, 52:4 (2013):858-886.
Nov 9: In class: Money, personal property, the London sections:  funny or nihilistic? Read for next time: Bk 13, Ch 9 through Bk 15, Ch 8 (pp. 634-719); a chapter from Laura Rosenthal’s Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in 18th century Literature and Culture (on Tom as prostitute). Also sent Terry Castle’s “Matters not fit to be mentioned: Fielding’s Female Husband,” ELH, 49:3 (1982):602-22; Fielding’s The Female Husband (first published 1746), and A Clear Statement of the Case of Elizabeth Canning (first published 1753).
Nov 16: In class: The masquerade, the theater in TJ: Read for next time: Bk 15, Ch 9 through Bk 17, Ch 8 (pp. 720-801). Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried:” Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” Modern Language Review, 95:2 (2000)324-35; & Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.” Review of English Studies, new series 61:251 (2010):572-90.
Nov 23: In class: Tom Jones discussion continued: London and Tom Jones. Read for next time Bk 17, Ch 9 through Bk 18, Chapter the Last (pp. 801-875). John Richetti, “A review of Lance Bertelsen’s Henry Fielding At Work,Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 101:4 (2002):578-80; and Robert Erickson, “A review of James Turner’s “Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London,” Eighteenth Century Fiction, 17 (2005):269-76.
Nov 30: Tom Jones and pornography; libertinism, sex and power, Partridge and Hamlet; as a conduct book too. How does the book speak to us today? Late Fielding, magistrate and journalist. Read Ira Konisberg, “Review of 1966 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 4:4 (1992):353-355; Martin Battestin, “Tom Jones: Fielding, the BBC, and Sister Arts,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 10:4 (1998):501-5.
Dec 7: Final class. Last two books of TJ. Class watches clips from MGM Tom Jones (Osborne/Richardson); from BBC/A&E Tom Jones (Burke/Harrison).

A contemporary print of Ralph Allen’s Prior Park just outside Bath (click to enlarge)

Photograph of the grounds open to tourists (2002)

The films, a website & selection of books (the articles all sent by attachment):

Bertelsen, Lance. Henry Fielding At Work: Magistrate, Business and Writer. NY: Palgave Macmillan, 2000. Full of real interest: he connects the real life legal cases Fielding worked on and how his career in the employment cases and reveals fresh and persuasive ethical ways of reading Fielding’s fiction in context.
Campbell, Jill. Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding’s Plays and Novels. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. Heavy-going but persuasive on Fielding’s sympathetic attitudes towards women across his work and life.
Hume, Robert D., “Fielding at 300: Elusive, Confusing, Misappropriated, or (Perhaps) Obvious?”, Modern Philology, 108:2 (2010):224-262
Mayer, Robert, ed. Eighteenth-Century Fiction on Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Dated but good for the era and films covered.
Thomas, Donald. Henry Fielding. NY: St Martin’s Press, 1990. Much better on the life and Fielding’s basic attitudes than the reviews have been willing to concede. Very readable.
Paulson, Ronald. The Life of Henry Fielding. NY: Wiley/Blackwell, 2000.
Smallwood, Angela. Fielding and the Woman Question: the Novels of Henry Fielding and the Feminist Debate. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. Makes Fielding into an advanced feminist (!).
Stevenson, John Allen. The Real History of Tom Jones. London: Macmillan Palgrave, 2008 All the articles by him are chapters in this book; there is too much academic jargon but he’s rich in insight and information.
Tom Jones. Dr. Tony Richardson. Writer John Osborne. Perf. Albert Finney, Susannah York, Edith Evans. MGM/1963.
Tom Jones. Dr. Meteyin Husein. Writer Simon Burke. Perf. John Sessions, Max Besley, Samantha Morton, Ron Cook, Brian Blessed, Frances de la Tour, Benjamin Whitgrow, BBC/A&E/1997.
Wikipedia: life and works of Fielding, with links

A bust of Fielding carved after his death (click to see beauty of the piece)

Relevant blogs on movies:

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon & Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones: compared
Affectionately Dedicated to Mr Fielding: the 1997 BBC/A&E Tom Jones
Poldark books and films: Handy list (some on subjects found in TJ)
La Nuit de Varennes: serendipitous life, 18th century style

Partridge kisses and hugs Tom upon learning who the stranger is (one of my favorite moments from the 1997 TJ)

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Dear friends and readers,

I want again to report on, share part of a review of a book, this time because I suspect its title, Sentimental Memorials, as well as the marmoreal cover illustration, will put potential readers off. Norma Clarke’s own books are uniformly insightful and informative, and her description of Sodeman’s book is to be trusted (appeared in TLS, July 31, 2015, but not on-line). Clarke suggests that Sodeman shows a direct line from 18th century novels by women to those of women writers of the later 20th and early 21st century. Sodeman discovers

in the novels of Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson a concern with the status of their own writings at a time when literature was becoming professionalized and when the novel, increasingly popular, became downgraded as genre. Women established the new genre of historical fiction, and left to friends the task of including them in their histories, while in fact the participation of women in popular genres was then and still is seen as an embarrassment.

But the most popular works offered debased forms of excessive emotionalism or action-adventure. By contrast, says Clarke,

Sodeman imagines the generation of women writing and publishing in the 1780s and 90s as sharing “a vibrant memory of elite women’s literary accomplishments … while becoming aware that their own efforts were culturally devalued, and that history-writing and and canon-formation were leaving women out. Frances Brooke in 1785 complained that “the road of literary fame” was closed to most women. They were not included in the multi-volume collections; they were not being memorialized. Sentimental Memorials rescues each of its subjects not from obscurity, for they are now much studied, but from negative characterization.

More profoundly, she argues that the establishment of the literary canon itself depended on a sentimental reading of the past shaped by illusions of historical recovery. Historians like Hume and Robertson used the devices of sentimental fiction to fill gaps, inviting readers to imagine what Mary Queen of Scots felt, for example, as she left France. Antiquarians found or forged manuscripts and built invented pasts on these “authentic” fragments. The “found” manuscript was already part of gothic convention when Ann Radcliffe made powerful use of it in The Romance of the Forest (1791). Jane Austen gets a little slap for missing the point in Northanger Abbey: Radcliffe was critiquing a device, not simple-mindedly deploying it to create terror.

Sodeman asks us to consider her subjects as women who possessed a heightened awareness of the historicity of forms, and of the likely obsolescence of their own fictions. It is an ingenious way of reclaiming elements — such as Radcliffe’s use of interpolated lyrics, Smith’s repeated appeals to her readers to sympathize with her as a victim of the legal system — that have dissatisfied stem critics. It leads to a subtle blend of textual criticism with literary history and single-author study.

Sentimental Memorials … takes the ephemerality of sentimental fiction and discovers in it a concern for enduring reputation. It examines the uses of autobiographical detail in imaginative prose that depicts national and international concerns while at the same time conveying personal truths that have public meanings … Sodeman is steeped in the critical literature about realist fiction and its relation to facts or history

There are some flaws:

[Sodeman] has little to say about the longer history of women’s writers; and although she quotes Clifford Siskin’s formulation, the “Great Forgetting,” she manages when discussing Mary Robinson as “the English Sappho” to make no mention of Aphra Behn, the most famous “Sappho” in the English tradition… Similarly, Sodeman explains Ann Radcliffe’s interpolated lyrics as a strategy to accentuate artifice and intensify feeling without indicating that many readers would already have associated the device with the sentimental figure of an oppressed woman: Radcliffe was following a model set in the mid-century by Laetitia Pilkington in her Memoirs. In the “Great Forgetting”, it was the so-called scandalous women who were most forgotten. Their works tended not to be realist fictions but memoirs, stories of lived lives that were compelling because they were real.

Clarke concludes:

Writers such as Smith and Robinson owed as much to this tradition as they did to realist fiction. Questions about fictionality, truth, the status of individual experience and the forms in which it was received and believed were crucial to memoir. So, too, for readers, was the mingling of wonder and scepticism. The vibrant memory” of women writers in the ’80s and 90s operated on literary materials that have yet to receive the attention that has been paid to realist fiction and forms which, as seller lists demonstrate …

are far from obsolete.


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