Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

From The Graphic, Women reading in the London Free Library, from Lady’s Pictorial, 1895)

A Syllabus

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Eight weeks: Monday, 11:50 am to 1:15 pm, September 20 & 27; October 11 – November 8
Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax Va

Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

We will ask what did a woman writer’s career look like, what genres and journalism women published, what obstacles & advantages women experienced, like & unlike today. We’ll read Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance,” and Oliphant’s Kirsteen.  We’ll also dip into on-line excerpts from Martineau’s Autobiography, Norton’s English Laws for Women in the 19th Century, Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, “Freedom or Death” and journalism; Virginia Woolf’s “Professions for Women”

Required Texts in the order we’ll read them:

Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life, ed Macdonald Daly. Penguin, 1996 ISBN: 0-140-43464-X There’s a reading of unabridged text by Juliet Stevenson on CDs, Cover to Cover)

George Eliot, “Janet’s Repentance,” from Scenes of Clerical Life, ed. Jennifer Gribble Penguin, 1998. ISBN: 0-14-043638-3. There is also an online edition of Janet’s Repentance at the University of Adelaide’s website:


Margaret Oliphant, Kirsteen, edited by Anne Schriven. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Studies, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-948877-99-5 or Kirsteen; or the Story of a Scotch Family Seventy Years ago, ed. Merryn Williams. 1984; rpt. London: Dent Everyman, 2012. ISBNs: 9780460011457; 0460011456. Not listed at Amazon. Available at Bookfinder: http://tinyurl.com/ycn3m6rz Also Booksource: https://mybooksource.com/kirsteen.html. Here are the covers:

Kirsteen, Association of Scottish Studies

Kirsteen, Dent Everyman

Digital editions of Kirsteen (if you are willing to read online): it is available online at the University of Pennsylvania:


There’s a version of Kirsteen on Kindle for $4.99; The Complete Works of George Eliot are on Kindle for $1.99, and these include Scenes of Clerical Life (which would include “Janet’s Repentance”).


Harriet Martineau, from her Autobiography (The Fourth Period), pp 139-60 and the first few pages of Section 2:


You can also read some of her masterwork travel analysis: Society of America:


An excerpt:

Caroline Norton, from English Laws for Women: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/norton/elfw/elfw.html
Emmeline Pankhurst, “Freedom or Death,” Great Speeches from The Guardian, 2007: https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/apr/27/greatspeeches1
Sylvia Pankhurst Archive: Selection, https://www.marxists.org/archive/pankhurst-sylvia/index.htm
Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women:”
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91d/chapter27.html (Also available in Paperback titled The Death of the Moth and other Essays)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion (essays mentioned will be sent by attachment or are on-line).

Sept 20: In class: The writing career for women and Gaskell’s. For next time: begin Mary Barton; Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, Part IV, Section 1 and 2, pp 206-17.
Sept 27: In class: Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Martineau’s career and writing. For next time Woolf’s “Professions for Women.”
Oct 4: I must cancel the class as I’ll be out of town. Read ahead and on your own.
Oct 11: In class: Mary Barton. The topic of women’s professions. George Eliot’s career.
Oct 18: “Janet’s Repentance.” For next week Sections 1 and 2 of Caroline Norton’s English Laws  
Oct 25: “Janet’s Repentance.” Caroline Norton; marital laws, custody of children, violence towards women. Read as much as you can of Kirsteen.
Nov 1: Oliphant’s career and Kirsteen. Reading Kirsteen and Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Freedom or Death.”
Nov 8: Kirsteen. The Suffragettes.

Margaret Oliphant when young (click on the image to enlarge it)

Supplementary books, films, audio CDs:

Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. The Real Life of Mary Ann Evans aka George Eliot, Her Letters and Fiction. Ithaca: Cornell, 1994.
Bulwer-Lytton, Rosina. A Blighted Life: A True Story, introd Marie Mulvey Roberts. Bristol: Thoemmes, 1994.
Mackenzie, Midge. Shoulder to Shoulder: A Documentary. NY: Knopf, 1975.
Mill, John Stuart. On the Subjection of Women (1861). Broadview Press, 2000.
Mitchell, Sally. Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer. University Press of Virginia: 2004.
Robins, Elizabeth, The Convert: https://reveriesunderthesignofausten.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/elizabeth-robinss-the-convert-excellent-suffragette-novel/
Shoulder to Shoulder. Script: Ken Taylor, Alan Plater, Midge Mackenzie. Dir. Waris Hussein, Moira Armstrong. Perf: Sian Philips, Angela Downs, Judy Parfitt, Georgia Brown. Six 75 minute episodes available on YouTube. BBC, 1974.
Stebbins, Lucy. A Victorian Album [Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Margaret Oliphant, Miscellanies of writers]. NY: Columbia UP, 1946.

I am desolated to discover all but one of the 6 parts of Shoulder to Shoulder have been removed from YouTube. If you have looked at YouTube in the last couple of months or so, you will see this has happened to many.  I did discover one of the parts still there: Christabal Pankhurst, which includes her speech and a new video of the women’s marching song (that’s the song they sang when they marched. So here are the two still on YouTube:

Shoulder to Shoulder Part 2
Christabel Panckhurst

the Marching Son

Here are the titles and the list — so if you better at finding this stuff maybe you can find these:

Episode 1: Emmeline Pankhurst (Sian Phillips); Episode 2: Annie Kenney(Georgia Brown); Episode 3: Lady Constance Lytton (Judy Parfitt); Episode 4:Christabel Pankhurst (Patricia Quinn); Episode 5: Outrage! (it ends on Emily Davison’s suicide by throwing herself under a group of race-horses, Sheila Ballantine as Davison and Bob Hoskins as Jack Dunn); Episode 6: Sylvia Pankhurst (Angela Down).


Sturridge, Lisa. Bleak House: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction. Athens: Ohio UP, 2005.
Uglow, Jenny. Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993. The best.
Webb, R. K. Harriet Martineau: A Radical Victorian. NY: Columbia UP, 1960.
Williams, Merryn. Margaret Oliphant: A Critical Biography. NY: St. Martin’s, 1987. Excellent.
Wingert, Lee. Battered, Bruised and Abused Women: Domestic Violence in 19th century Fiction. Ph.D. Thesis, Iowa State University. On-line pdf

Ralph Hedley, Seeking Situations (1894)


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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: Five Tuesday later morning into afternoons,, 11:50 to 1:15 pm,
June 13th to to July 18th
Tallwood, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va
Dr Ellen Moody


Description of Course

Our topic will be the nature of recent post-modern historical fiction and how it differs from traditional historical romance. We’ll read as examples the older The King’s General by Daphne DuMaurier (1946) against the innovative The Volcano Lover (1992) by Susan Sontag. We’ll explore how such books use documents and relics from an era, history, biography, life-writing, and fantasy, to recreate an irretrievable, unknowable past. We’ll ask why historical fiction has become a central prestigious and popular genre in books and films in the last 40 years.

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

DuMaurier, Daphne. The King’s General. 1946; rpt. Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-4022-1708-1
Sontag, Susan. The Volcano Lover: A Romance. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1992. ISBN0-374-28516-0 (Any recent reprint will do.)

John Everett Millais: mid-19th century illustration of a historical novel set in later 17th century, The Hampdens

June 13th: Historical fiction and romance; Daphne DuMaurier; The King’s General
June 20th: The King’s General
June 27th: Finish The King’s General; post-modern novels; Susan Sontag; begin The Volcano Lover
July 11th: The Volcano Lover
July 18th: The Volcano Lover. Last thoughts on the comparison.

Suggested supplementary reading & film:

Daphne. Dir. Clare Bevan. Script. Margaret Foster, Amy Jenkins. Featuring: Geraldine Somerville, Jane McTeer, Elizabeth McGovern. BBC, 2008.
DuMaurier, Daphne, any other of her historical novels (e.g., Jamaica Inn); her books on Cornwall (Vanishing Cornwall); her life-writing (Myself when Young)
Foster, Margaret. Daphne DuMaurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller. NY: Doubleday, 1993.
Horner, Avril and Sue Zlosnik. Daphne Du Maurier; Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination. London: MacMillan, 1998.
Jenkins, Jane and Kim Sloan, edd. Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection. London: British Museum Press, 1996.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993.

Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, before Falmouth harbor, today


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

Dear friends,

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

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

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Modern Women

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

19th Century Women of Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geraldine Jewsbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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