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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Dear readers and friends,

Back from this year’s EC/ASECS (its 50th anniversary) at Gettysburg, I’m re-filled with enthusiasm for all things long 18th century, and return with new topics to think about, new perspectives, and old interests made new. Among the highlights for me of the evening and two days, was a guided visit during the long lunch on the first day through a Maria Sibylla Merian exhibit at the Schmucker Art Gallery on the Gettysburg campus, made richer by a lecture given later that afternoon by its professorial curator, Kay Etheridge. I heard that first morning intriguing papers on theater which attempted to get beyond the relics, remnants, remains in the form of verbal texts, costumes and setting to convey to us today what the experience of the theatrical representation might have been like in concrete breathing, noisy, living details. What are our aids today and were used in the 18th century to capture the fleeting presence performing in our memories.

Of course I was deeply engaged by the panel I chaired where we were once again immersed in Samuel Johnson (with a little bit of help from Boswell), and in the panel dedicated to Jacobitism where I gave my paper where themes of colonialism, migrancy, and religious-political conflicts emerged. But in this first of two blogs on this conference I will just write about the conference’s first panel on theater, the group trip to the Art Gallery and talks on Maria Sibylla Merian. As with last and a couple of years previous the views I offer and accounts of papers are necessarily partial since I could attend but one panel at a time, and my summary reports are imprecise, and omit much because my stenography is not what it once was.

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A frontispiece from Bell’s British Theater

I was fascinated by the first panel on theatrical history (Friday morning, session 1, 9-10:15), chaired by Matthew Kinservik. One of the central questions coming out of Jane Wessel’s “Samuel Foote’s Strategic Ephemerality” was the problem that the theatrical experience disappears as it is acted. How do you know, study, understand performances before there were moving pictures (photography, movies, films, DVDs, video, digital YouTubes). Jane said professional enacted mimicry; that they looked in the scripts to enable imitation. Diaries, journals, and news descriptions constitute snapshots; you puzzle over what is meant by the familiar “character performed with additions.” Her paper attempted to get beyond the notion that ephemerality means loss: performances can escape censorship, others could not control what was immediately represented; you were as much going to see the performer as the work; the performed was the work. She showed evidence of Foote attempting to lure people using print. She read a footnote telling the reader which actors or actresses were imitating which.

Aparna Gollapudi’s “Theater in the Reading Closet: Bell’s Frontispieces” attempted to uncover what literally happened, live performances and audience response similarly. She discussed the texts, pictures, paratexts (like frontispieces) that circulated after a performance. The pictures do what they can to bring into people’s “closets” (rooms, homes) actual experiences of the stage. But they also are fanciful and illustrate what the audience might like to dream could epitomize the action or character but is in reality not possible for stage action. She showed a favorite print of a scene from Cibber’s Careless Husband which in the script occurred before the play began (two principals having sex); a moral play like Steele’s Conscious Lovers is accompanied by a picture which is not moral, but comic, leering, hinting at sexual availability. The frames outside the print have playful vignettes. Sometimes an actor is pictured in roles never played; substitutions like this abound as celebrity culture does its work. Illustrators were a kind of play critic, a reader of inner dreams of what did not happen.

Matthew’s “Charles Macklin’s Career as Theatre Manager” was about how the written records do not begin to record Macklin’s varied remarkable work for decades on the stage.


John Conde’s 1792 engraving of a painting of Macklin (from John Opie’s painting)

Macklin was not just an actor and playwright; if you pay attention to who is on the stage, who is involved in the acting, staging, presentation, you discover that for 30 years (1740-72) he acted, taught (he had in effect an acting school at a coffee house), deputy managed the most popular famous plays and actors (Garrick, Foote) too. He was one of those who could make up for the incompetence and parsimony of Fleetwood. He lectured on acting. As the novelty of some of what he did wore off, he behaved in less dignified ways, he found himself ridiculed. It seems one problem Macklin had was he angered people, another he had no money of his own to invest.He was a bankrupt in the 1750s, but went to Dublin and became a partner in the Crowe St Theater competing against Smock Alley. He got into disputes with Barry. In London his expertise in great acting roles (Shylock, Macbeth) was recognized by Colman. But his paper trail is through the courts: his Love a la Mode was so popular he declined to print it and would sue people for performing it.

In the general discussion afterwards people talked of those who could do shorthand and would take down quaker speeches and found that publishers and other people went after them to stop. As a stenographer who could once upon a time take down every word people said at a meeting, this interested me. I have experienced many different reactions to and uses of my ability to do this: early on, a lawyer I worked for used my work to his advantage in negotiations; later on as a graduate student in committee meetings I curbed myself rather than become too involved. They also talked of the terms of legal suits.

A second topic I started was about (I suppose) celebrity. I said that on face-book I noticed YouTubes put on of incidents in serial dramas that never occurred. I eventually learned these sorts of re-doings of bits of videos in order to change the scene (usually to make it more sentimental, more erotic, sometimes to make fun of something) are common. Many focus on a famous or admired star. No one but me appeared bothered about this. I suggested this sort of falsifying (as I see it) is the modern version of fanciful illustrations of theatrical scenes and actors in the 18th century.

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Pear Blossom?

I wish I could do justice to the talk by the graduate student-curator who took a group of us through the exhibition — together with an art history professor. I came away with a slender catalogue paperback, Artful Nature and the Legacy of Maria Sibylla Merian, where the major pictures in the gallery are reproduced together with essays by the students on Merian’s life, science, the social norms of her class as well as the work of three other naturalists of Merian’s era.


From Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surianemensium (she went to Surinam)

I was able to take down some of what Prof. Kay Etheridge (biologist) told the whole conference in her talk in the afternoon. Merian was the daughter of an middle class artist, Matthäus Merian the Elder, and was highly educated. Her father died in 1650, and in 1651 her mother remarried Jacob Marrel, the flower and still life painter. Marrel encouraged Merian to draw and paint. While he lived mostly in Holland, his pupil Abraham Mignon trained her. She married Marrel’s apprentice, and had two daughters, but eventually separated from him. She gave drawing lessons to the daughters of the wealthy and this gave her access to their gardens; she collected specimens, insects, studied botany, and devoting herself to her art and studies, she produced pattern books, and became a much respected scientific illustrator and then naturalist; she was among the first to study insects directly. Prof Etheridge went over (as far as she could) the steps Merian might have taken as she gained expertise. What was remarkable was she put the life cycles of insects together with plants. She wrote, engraved, published remarkable books, financing herself to go to Dutch Surinam. She talked to the indigenous people and to enslaved people and wrote about their desperation (how the women cared deeply for their children and would even kill them rather than see them grow up into an enslaved person); an indigenous woman accompanied her home. Her images tell ecological stories and Prof Fletcher showed how. We can see great cruelty in nature in some of what is observed in many of these illustrations.

Among the famous and wealthy who wrote or commemorated her: Alexander Humboldt named a flower after her; Hans Sloane collected her work; Tsar Peter; she was imitated by many major and minor scientific illustrators. Popularizers spread her work, e.g., Friedrich J. Bertuch in his picture books for children, attempting to teach a scientific way of seeing the world (published between 1780 and 1839); in English she cited Oliver Goldsmith. She talked about the 18th century naturalist, horticulturist, and illustrator Mark Catesby (1683-1749) best known for witty books based on his observations in the Carolinas, Florida and Bahama Islands. Catesby’s work is included in the exhibit.

The Gettysburg art gallery had another exhibit, the work of Andrew Ellis Johnson and Susanne Slavick dwelling on the present humanitarian crisis around the world; it consists of images, chosen poetry (a psalm by Wislawa Szymborska), essays (one by Suketu Mehta), commentaries on politics. historical incidents. I took home the catalogue for this too. It includes Warsan Shire’s

Home

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten …

For the rest and about Shire, click here.


New butterfly named after Merian (Smithsonian Museum page)

Ellen

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Those who come to this blog regularly know I’ve written about Chris Brindle’s musical play of Jane Austen’s Sanditon completed by way of Anna Lefroy’s extension before, and of an available DVD. Well here is a reminder that the performance is now 11 days away (!) in London, at the “other place,” Victoria, in London, Friday, July 26th, 8 pm.

Once again the poster:

Just below (as prelude) the song “Dishonoured’ in rehearsal. In this version of events Mr Tracy manages to bring down the Bank of Eastbourne, from which Tom Parker is borrowing money to pay for the land he is buying from Lady Denham, and where Lady Denham has all her money on deposit. Because of this Lady Denham is outraged that she cannot afford to buy a new coach. Thus

A narrated concert version of a proposed full stage production. They are using a small stage in a cabaret like environment. Lovely and rousing songs, a remarkable contemporary story, intriguing colorful characters, some originally invented by Austen. See also for more information, pictures, music https://twitter.com/brindle_chris

I wish I could go …

Ellen

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A 2017 production of Etheredge’s Man of Mode


A painting of an unknown young woman in the Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum

Friends and readers,

I held off writing about the rest of the autumn EC/ASECS conference separate sessions this past fall at the East Central, American 18th century society, a regional group (for a brief account and link to my paper on “Intertextuality: Charlotte Smith, Prior and Crabbe in Persuasion”), I held, I say, off for so long that I have lost my stenographer’s pad of what my now slow weak fingers and clumsier hands can capture. So I have determined not to wait so long for transcribing what was I able to take down, from the ASECS (American 18th century Society) conference I went to three weeks ago, March.

For the rest of the EC/ASECS I’ve described what the trip ordeal was like and what I saw of Denver in my Sylvia II blog Afterpiece (scroll down, not too far) and the two panels, Factual Fictions and Fictional Facts, one of which I chaired, and in one of which I gave my paper on the historical fiction of Winston Graham. Now I can offer a summary of the keynote lecture.

Matthew Kinservik on Etherege’s “Man of Mode and Its influence on 18th century comedy” has just been published in the March issue of the Intelligencer this year too. He asked why such an “oddly unfunny play” should have been such a hit and deemed representative of the finest intellect, controlled emotionalism, and satiric nature of comedy in the Restoration era. He explicated Steele’s adverse response and Dennis’s defense of the play. From close reading this debate Matt demonstrated that The Man of Mode survived as a period piece, highly artificial, a throw-back to an earlier era, historically acceptable, in which a central (no longer socially admired) aristocratic type, Dorimant, does whatever he wants and is made acceptable by the hypocritical codes of England “of the past.” It was therefore seen as safe, non threatening, and as a flattering view of the Restoration — all the while presenting sex-antagonism, on a bedrock of spite, as a serious exposure of earlier (still ambiguously attractive) norms. Etherege’s text emerges as even then (the early 18th century) the darker play it feels like and must be played for today. Perhaps I should have mentioned that of two of the plays performed in the Blackfriars theater next door to our conference while we were there, one was The Man of Mode — so after Matt’s paper we had quite a frank discussion and dispute over all sorts of aspects of the production, which used costumes that combined 21st century motifs with later 17th century ones.


Walking in the Wood (Davies’s 2007 NA)

Onto ASECS, Denver:  I link Matt’s lecture/paper to a Thursday afternoon session on “The Eighteenth Century on Film” (a NE/ASECS panel) where the topic was TV movies mostly, popular social art of our own time, using texts either from or based on 18th century history. Sarah Schaefer gave a paper (and did a power-point presentation of on the openings, framings (paratexts) of Black Sails, Outlander, Poldark and Westeros, Westworld and Games of Thrones were all brought together.


Poldark paratext (2015 — the oceans of the world gazed at)


Outlander paratext (2015 — linking 18th to 20th century world)

She argued the point of the images was to build a global world in which we see geopolitical tropes at play. Poldark is the most heritage-like of the costume drama films she covered; in Outlander the fantastical leads to a historical setting. In these liminal vast pictorial spaces we enter foregroundings of humanistic feelings and themes. Emily Sferra spoke on Andrew Davies’s 2007 adaptation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey: she criticized the film for making Henry as teacher of needed moral lessons to Catherine instead of allowing Catherine’s movement from a naive response to gothic to a mature understanding of how true terror, oppression, cruelty enters our lives. She felt Davies had lost Austen’s peculiar satirical tone. The movie also pleases the male gaze and desire (say) to look at other males as JJ Fields is sexy in an elegant artificial way. I add that in that this interest in the male body and beauty Andrew Davies’s NA then resembles the movies Sarah Schaefer was discussing. Zoe Eckmann made a case for regarding the depiction of female sexuality in The Favourite as liberating for the 21st century female gazer; she saw it as satire presenting women as aggressors. It overturns the way we expect women to behave submissively; audiences don’t care about historical accuracy.


Emma Stone as Abigail Masham


Rachel Weisz and Olivia Coleman and Lady Churchill and Queen Anne

The audience for these papers turned out to be people who had watched precisely these film adaptations with real care and investment of themselves. I presented an argument against Zoe’s view (made in my blog-review a couple of months ago: “Repulsive, obscene, gut-level anti-feminism”) and then the conversation became as lively as the one over Matt’s paper and the production of Man of Mode that audience saw. I wish I could remember all that was said, we went way over time ….

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On Friday early morning, I again found myself able to take down what was said about Gilpin and his relationship to other landscape gardeners and illustrators on “The Landscape Garden in the Eighteenth Century” panel. Elizabeth Mjelde talk on Gilpin’s work at Stowe began unexpectedly in Sri Lanka where she located evidence of the global impact of Gilpin’s work in an English officer’s private commonplace book about seeking new sciences for transforming the landscape, exploring it, testing it. In a place where harsh colonialist practices were the norm, here are dialogues and pictures about one’s duty to keep the desire for retirement, and another way of life “in its place.” Dana Gliseman’s paper was about the intersection of literary and artful imaginative terrains (descending from Gilpin) with concrete literal places. The ha-ha comes from a desire to make a trompe-d’oeil. I think she meant to suggest that the central concern with sexual reproduction (marriage, sexual transgression) found in characters in novels otherwise highly pictorial and picturesque show a linkage between landscape, the natural world and moral meaning.


Villa Medici, Fiesole

I assume others like me when we moved from these papers citing the usual English novels (Tristram Shandy, Sidney Biddulph, Mansfield Park), to Felix Martin’s remarkable talk on the development of landscape art (JW Turner), then schools of picturesque and classical architecture, parks which are genuinely global, rooted in documentable history, and finally considered philosophical aesthetics — were bowled over. Mr Martin was himself an architect who has studied in Italy, Dublin and the Warburg Institute and he brought a wealth of slides to enable us to journey through time and space and end on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen (his own country seat in Wisconsin), landscaped houses, and those of followers of his work. He went over different architectural schools as seen say in Blenheim and the Medici gardens in Fiesole, Castle Howard (familiar to some of us as Brideshead in the movie). He moved from the writing of Shaftesbury to Blake, to modern landscape design in Arizona. As Olmstead had come up in the panel I chaired where there was a paper on the later Gilpin-rooted influences on environmentalism, so Olmstead came up again as against false pomposity and for a cosmopolitanism that builds with local geography and flora in mind. The Denver park is an Olmstead creation.


Wright’s creations in Taliesen restore the landscape

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Prometheus Painting by Prince Hoare

I’ve two more papers to report, one from a Friday mid-morning panel called “Picturing the Stage,” the other the key note address of the conference by Melissa Hyde on women artist of the era, especially two almost unknown Frenchwomen, much of whose work seems to have disappeared. Mark Ledbury’s “Painter, Playwright, Entrepreneur: Prince Hoare in 1790s London told the remarkable story of a man whose father had been a painter, and who somehow went to good schools, learned several lagnauges, got himself to Rome where he was supported and befriended by radical talent and rich people (Fuseli, and the Cortellini family) who was continually re-inventing himself, and turned to acting, to writing plays (one farce out of a tragedy), left a book of fascinating essays about his own era from an artistic and theater man’s point of view called The Artist. He asked why is this man forgotten and the answer he came up with is “art history” is still plagued with and organized around (money given) the respectable known canon


Marianne Loir, Portrait of a Gentleman reading

The title of Melissa Hyde’s “Ambitions, Modest and Otherwise: Women and the Visual Arts in France,” emphasizes the perspective of her talk: the struggle of women artists to find time and space and materials to paint with, to find clients to paint for, to have them recognized, their name known and talked about. Women artists had the problem unreal depictions of the female body were used as a matter of course to embody “the glory and fame” denied most women whose bodies did not at all look so well-fed and fecund. She discussed French 18th century women artists and learned women whose names have come down to us, whose rare but nowadays sometimes re-printed books are known, findable, in print even. She contrasted the famous successful Vigee LeBrun (with brilliant memoirs to make her presence understood). The first woman is Marianne Loir, who died age 28. She painted Jean-Francois de Troy; produced a portrait of Madame de Chatelet. she never married and appears to have lived independently, alone for a while and also with a sister. Francois Hubert was her teacher; Prof Hyde showed us images Loir made of women as young girls, society ladies, ordinary unidealized people. Prof Hyde was forced to start her lecture late (an unnecessarily prolonged giving out of prizes ate the time up), and I had to rush away to my panel, so only heard of the beginning of Mme Lusuler’s career (I am not even sure I have her name correctly): she painted men, a “boy with a violin,” psychologically revealing portraits. She was well-connected, studied with academy teachers, received an “eloge” in two columns

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I had to leave on Saturday sometime mid-morning at the latest so missed a panel I would have loved to hear, “Marriage Rites and Marriage Wrongs: Feminist Thinking, especially a paper Condorcet: “One injustice can never become a legitimate reason to commit another (on women’s suffrage and marriage reform) by Guillaume Ansart; “Domestic Tyranny and Civil Slavery: Marriage in Catherine Macauley’s History of England” by Wendy Gunther-Canada;” Louise d’Epinay as a site to study the need to reform marriage and the state through education.” There was in the early morning a panel on health and disease in the 18th century chaired by Chris Mounsey (he chairs excellent panels on disability). But I did the wise thing in leaving at 9 am or so: given plane delays, airport troubles the trip took me 9 hours, and I needed to be home on Sunday to work towards my teaching, to drive Izzy to ice-skating, to say nothing of resting myself.


Unknown little girls in the Berger collection — each girl has a symbolic toy

I also did not attend a panel I could have: at 9:45 on Thursday morning, chaired by Benedicte Miyamoto, four papers on artists: three enjoyable sounding papers were Sarah Bakkali, “The Portfolio as Portable Museum: Disrupting French Collecting Practices,” Cristina S. Martinez’s “The Removal of Poussin’s Sacramento from Italy: smuggling, displacing cultural property and developing copyright,” and Louisiane Ferlier’s “Royal Society: Classifying the Collections then and now,” which Benedicte followed up with a visit for her panelist at the Denver Art Museum were they viewed the Denver Berger Collection. I know about this (noticed it) only because this Friday night I went to Eleanor Shevlin and Sabrina Baron’s Washington Area Print group’s talk by Benedicte (on her study of marginalia and reading practices in artistic manuals) and afterwards their dinner (or supper) at a local Thai restaurant. She and I got to talking of the conference we found we had both attended, and she told me of this panel (which I had missed) and showed me the above picture on her cell phone. Another graces the top of this blog.

I did not mention in my blog on my panels what a good time some people in the hotel appeared to be having on Friday evening. There was a concert on harpsichord and flute by two 18th century women musicians, Elisabetta de Gambarini and Anna Bon, both of whom seem to have had a hard life (one included beating by a husband): I attended this concert, quiet and unassuming and lovely. A film was shown in another part of the hotel. There was another concert in another venue further off (you needed to get a cab). People were drinking and began to play Dungeons and Dragons it was said — in 18th century costumes?

I did see some old friends (had coffee with them), and made some new acquaintances; got myself used to eating breakfast out of Starbucks (they have good coffee and yummy croissants) and hoarding snacks in my room. I took home a new edition of poetry by Charlotte Smith and bought on a discount when I got home two more biographies (of Catherine Clive and of Charlotte Lennox). I went to an enjoyable Burney dinner Friday evening, which dinner lasted until well after 10, and afterwards up to bed. I have still not tried to master putting on or changing the channels of any of the buttonless TVs in these fancy modern large hotels. It is still just that too much to ask. I worry the programs will be awful and I will not be able to turn the thing off.

And so ended another conference for me, not just this past Friday night but also in the act of writing out, and remembering what happened and some of what was said that I was able to join in on.

Ellen

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LutzBronteCabinet

the_real_jane_austen_a_life_in_small_things-byrne_paula

Dear friends and readers,

It feels wrong to have an Austen reveries blog where of late I so rarely post on Austen herself: yes, she’s a cynosure, sign under which women’s art, l’ecriture-femme, women writers may find sympathetic hearing; yes, if she be not an 18th century writer, I know not where an 18th century writer is to be found. But since I finished the reading and discussion of Austen’s letter and at least the opening of the Austen papers, I’ve not found much occasion to write something useful or (one of my goals for this blog) insightful on Austen’s texts. I hope to remedy this a wee bit tonight.

This week I went to a splendid lecture at the Smithsonian museum by Deborah Lutz out of her book, The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which reminded me of the methodology of Bryne’s finest accurate book on Austen where she finds 18 small (and larger) objects to dwell on: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. When I asked a couple of questions and commented on Lutz’s lecture, as did many others (she was generous enough to stay for a full half-hour and addressed herself sincerely to the questions), she confirmed that the core idea of her book, what shapes its presentation, was Byrne’s book. She also credited Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame, for her sceptical outlook over the Austen’s family’s attitude towards her published writing. I can confirm all three are lucidly written, perceptive, and the first two especially offer a wide range of the sense of life of the era through material objects and intimate doings and norms.

Lutz talked of museums as places which preserve relics secularly conceived. In this pre-photography period where death was so ubiquitous, and paper so expensive, people turned to objects to preserve the life they had loved and made theirs meaningful. Her lecture was thus about death, and how the Victorians did not flinch from body parts even if an increasing number of people lacked a religious sensibility. Lutz discussed how Charlotte specifically but Victorians in general meditated the relics, scrapbooks, drawings, relics they all created. It was a lecture about death, Victorian ways of accepting and living around and through the omnipresent reality, especially strong in this family. Gaskell thinks we are centrally taught about life through death.In the Brontes’ case they preserved plants, flowers, the person’s hair, hand-written lines of poetry, small furniture, the dogs’ collars. Charlotte was a superb visual illustrator and they preserved her drawings of the places they had been and objects acquired. Byrne concentrates on objects found in the novels, and especially how they were acquired by the Austens in life and related to what they were doing then and are transmuted indirectly into the novels. It is a deeply secular book as befits Austen somehow. Things here and now and found in the novels as allusive objects. The opening phase of Harman’s book is similar: how do we relate what we read what’s in the family poetry, memoirs, with what we know literally of Austen’s life at that point. She shows how little respect Austen had at first, how her brother was jealous, and how the legacy grew from James-Edward Austen-Leigh whose book she rightly concentrates on.

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Noyes

I’ve been thinking about Austen’s relationship to the theater of her time — you could call this another aspect of the real life and things surrounding Austen (not so much the Brontes who lived so far off from the “center”). Are there not enough playbooks to pile them up readily on tables in Mansfield Park? Marianne Dashwood has a TBR pile. Anne Eliot a veritable library of life-writing and texts to help one through grief and depression, to rebel with? We must remember the novel did not become ubiquitous until near the end of the 18th century. People read sermons, they read texts to help with emotionally distraught states designed as ways to resign yourself religiously, to cope with death. For entertainment and subversion, throughout the 18th century people continued to read plays the way we might today read a novel. The wealthy in great houses acted them out. Mid-century the novel was just emerging as a popular form and circulating libraries would not have a substantial stock until later in the century. Respectability came with Scott and later for women Austen and her followers. The unspoken reality of plays was their lack of respectability didn’t matter, was their raison d’etre. These books of plays were often several single plays bound together. You can find them in research libraries. I own a 5 volume set — beautifully done — printed in 1804. It has learned essays at the opening of the 2 volumes of comedy (on comedy), the 2 volumes of tragedy (on tragedy), and 1 volume of farce, burlesque and opera (ditto for 3). The volume of comedy is about 1/3 from the restoration and early 18th century.

WmHamitonMrsSiddonsSonIsabella1785
Mrs Siddons as Southerne’s Isabella with her son as Isabella’s child (Wm Hamilton)

It’s probable Austen read this sort of thing, that her father had versions of it in the library. Let us recall the recorded reality that among the gentry people acted out amateur plays. I’ve always wondered what they did for individual scripts – – someone had to copy parts out. A guide to what people were willing to discuss and quote are two books which record what plays people did.I really recommend reading (for fun) Robert Noyes’s The neglected muse &Thesian Mirror. The neglected muse is about Restoration and 18th century plays played; Thespian Mirror is sheerly Shakespeare. He has taken into account people did the revisions that were popular (Garrick’s where Romeo and Juliet wake up first and then die; Tate’s Lear). He’s read about 900 novels and tells the stories of productions in these novels, or quotations found in them, allusions, but mostly productions. Edgeworth has her characters in Patronage act out Aaron Hills’ transation of one of Voltaire’s popular plays — that reminds us that people read and watched French (and Italian too) drama in translation (when they were translated). In the 1790s books of German plays were translated: the Folger has a whole bunch of these, and I’ve read in them. Much better translation of Lovers Vows than Inchbald’s by a man named Thompson. Also plays made out of novels in the 1790s were available: there’s two from Radcliffe, one from “Monk” Lewis.

MrsYoungHortensia
Mrs Young as Hortensia

The way to gauge what Austen might really be alluding to is to see the plays she openly cites: look at the ones cited in MP: the interesting thing is how many come from the later 18th century, and how many are mixed (tragi-comedy). Tom wants to do The Heir at Law: there Austen is alluding to his unfitness because the play has an unfit heir. We can adduce Shakespeare here and there because of Austen’s explicit remarks about her reading and what she thought English people read at the time. She avoids the ribald. We are told by family records the Austens in their barn preferred comedy – -these pseudo-oriental harem nonsense, but that James loved tragedy and sometimes won.

JAandtheater

While the Noyes’ volumes might be superior for the purpose of understanding the full milieu of Austen’s reading and dramatic allusions, Paula Byrne (again) and Penny Gay’s books on Austen and the Theater jump directly from Austen’s allusions to plays in her letters and what there is in the novel (as well as speculation); the problem here is they do sometimes go on about a play they have little solid evidence in the novel for because they’d like to believe this play is alluded to. They use Austen’s letters — overread them. All you need is one reference and Byrne acts as if Austen memorized the play just about. But as histories of drama gone to, read, familiar in the period, they are useful concrete descriptions of the milieu.

What we do see is the gradual censoring of the ribald, a growth in proto-feminism, at least more strong women in strong roles. There were women playwrights at the end of the era and some of Austen’s comments in her letters and allusions ferreted out by Byrne and Gay show she did favor these in her reading or had read them (like Hannah Cowley’s play).
That Austen read and alluded to drama is so and that allusions are there is so if you base your suppositions on what Austen clearly says (she has no reason to hide the sort of thing she alludes to — she wants her readers to understand her) or alludes to, and her letters if used with discretion are helpful. Also records of what was played in London, Southampton, Bath while she or relatives were there.

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Last the early translations, another way into Austen’s texts: the Francophone world of publishing and the Anglophone were in continual exchange. In London French texts are continually published; English novels are translated into French language — and culture — continually (and find their way to Italy, Germany, even Russia). I rejoice to say the early French translations of Austen’s texts are now all available now in good texts for a reasonable price.

Austenraisonsensibility

AustenOrgeuilprevention

Some are typed books.  LLC Classic series from Memphis offers the whole book typed, proof read carefully, and evenly distributed from page to page in three columns (rather like Book-of-the-Month club used to do in the 1950s).  I have two copies of two different hard-to-buy books among my Jane Austen library of this type. One is Isabelle de Montolieu’s French translation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — if you buy the commercial copy you will find it’s been doctored, changed by a modern translator to come closer to Austen — which kills the value of the book. The typed version of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Raison et Sensibilite does not include her even more invaluable preface. It was reprinted by Gilson in his magisterial bibliography of 1998. You can purchase a similarly typed version of the early 19th century French translation of Pride and Prejudice by Eloise Perks (1822), Orgueil et Prevention; said by those who have studied the issue the best of the contemporary translations.

Some are facsimiles of varying quality. I cite the ones which are readable, include the complete text, reliable.

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There is a facsimile of the French translation of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Persuasion, La Famille Elliot ou l’Ancienne Inclination, and I rejoice to say it includes her invaluable preface – she explains her choices, tells how Austen was regarded by a serious French reader of women’s books at the time. It’s not beautifully done; it looks like someone just put the book down on a scanner and the pages are smaller than the white page alloted to each but you can read it. ISBN 9781273394805 Elibron does a much better job at this — I love Elibron facsimiles.

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For Mansfield Park, Hachette has produced a beautiful three volume set from la Biblioteque Nationale de France: La parc de Mansfield, ou Les Trois Cousines, translator Henry Vilemain. ISBN 9782012570368

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For Emma there are the beautifully done volumes by Hachette: La Nouvelle Emm, ou Les caracteres angelas du siecle. The translator is unknown. You can now also buy an FB edition, one volume, La Nouvelle Emma, all four volumes in one, beautifully typed ISB 9781503193185.

And for Northanger Abbey, I have the 1946 reprint by classiques Garnier of the very best translation into Frenc of an Austen text that exists:  Felix Feneon’s Catherine Morland, done from prison (he was an anarchist and came closer to her spirit than anyone else ever has). See my essay focusing on this brilliant translation in the context of translations of Sense and Sensibility.

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Another excellent volume I’ve described in earlier blogs

Ellen

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Kate Eastwood Norris as Mary with Nancy Robinette as Hannah Kennedy, her beloved nurse

Dear friends and readers,

This past Saturday Izzy and I were riveted into intense watching and listening at the latest production of Peter Oswald’s translation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the Folger. As I discover Izzy and I (with Jim) saw precisely this play done before, and here in DC, by the WSC company when it was in Arlington, I won’t go into detail but to say it’s praiseworthy for much the same reasons as the WSC and London productions before it. This translation and its director, Richard Clifford, has once again strangely, considering that Mary Stuart was no rebel against state power, and as to her political machinations anything but virtuous, well-meaning, selfless, and Elizabeth the admirable controlled person genuinely seeking the interest of the people in her state as her best support, turned this famous execution into a parable where Mary stands for framed victims of ruthless state power, while Elizabeth, however sympathized with, a tortured jealous female tyrant. When in January 2013, we three saw the HD Met production of Maria Stuarda, Joyce Didonato became this poignant figure with whom the audience is urged to identify, the emphasis focused on worlds of prisons, and executions deliberately turned into savage spectacles. I was then moved further to point out how since Schiller, Scott’s Kenilworth and Abbot and Monastery, and a series of movies since were moving into new distortions so that Elizabeth is now becoming the compensatory glamorous victim by virtue of her love for Leicester and Essex and their betrayal of her and I wrote about the Cate Blanchett films with Joseph Fiennes as the young Leicester, and for part two, Barbara Flynn as an aging evil Mary.

Is it probably true to say the modern audience which might care that what happened between Martin Luther King and President Johnson at Selma is misrepresented by the recent otherwise good (if pious) movie, does not care that what these two women were in life? If so, that’s a problem in itself, as it suggests we don’t care about the few powerful women who rise to prominence in history. But if a feminist complained that once again women are ultimately being judged as sexual creatures, and that is the source of the antagonism to Elizabeth and refusal to see her as the powerful effective ruler, the reply could or would be, but see how central are the women, how respected and treated with dignity and concern and allowed to be moving psychological portraits. And the performances of just about all the actors was stunningly good, and as the women have been praised elsewhere strongly, I’ll single out Louis Butelli as Sir Amias Poulet who was Cassius in this company’s recent Julius Caesar, and Paul-Emile Cendron as the utterly untrustworthy, half-crazed religious fanatic, Mortimer. It is curious how other types from this era seem to re-fit our own. Why hold out? Two people on my Under the Sign of Sylvia I blog said they had and regretted it.

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Holly Twyford as Elizabeth with her advisors

I think perhaps because of the quieter costumes and complete lack of distraction at the Folger (just a somber background prison, little furniture, lights used to suggest the wood) this time though I also found myself wondering how the audience felt watching it; they were an intelligent group; how did they take it? If we want to have plays about our modern militarist security states, surely we could write more directly about them? Surely many were watching this drama to watch this female rivalry. It’s known that Eastwood Noris and Twyford are partners in life and are planning a wedding this summer and I heard audience members discussing that. For me it was also an opportunity to watch 18th century dramaturgy because the play clearly descends from the she-tragedies of the 18th century and Dryden’s formulation that admiration should be part of the tragic emotion. As Izzy and I were walking away, we talked of the biographies of Mary Stuart we’d read and she said that the recent one by Fraser showed that Mary had to marry, that once she was forced out of France, she found herself surrounded by in effect gangs of male thugs in Scotland, and it was her regent, John Murray who handed her over to Elizabeth and was ultimately her triumphant enemy. She was thinking of the real Mary Stuart’s life, failed alliances and political military contexts.

Probably I was also led to think this way this time because recently I’d read a fine essay by Sabrina Baron in Leggott and Taddeo’s Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey. In Baron’s “Desacralizing the icon: Elizabeth I on Television,” she surveys the large number of films featuring the character or figure of Elizabeth I throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. Baron suggests her icon in in the Renaissance era was manipulated to present an transcendent female figure effectively doing what men did, a kind of male in hieratic female dress; in the 20th century she is “a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence.” If you look at her time, you see to many Elizabeth was a mystery, a curiosity, an anomaly, not an abomination. What she proceeded to do gradually was showcase her virginity, insist on it as what wedded her to England. In 1596 an order was issued that all unflattering portraits of the queen should be destroyed. As a consequence a very few depictions of Elizabeth for real in her later years have survived. What was one to do with this unmarrying, unreproducing, later undesirable woman. Her relationships with Leicester and Essex (and others) so romanticized were in the real era about their desire for financial favor, and political preferment. So you did not present her as a woman once she got older. Baron sees both ploys as erasure, and the modern reversals as revenge.

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They had witty exchanges

Baron’s essay is so chock-a-block with so many films (she also covers some cinema) and details I can just offer a few. She covers US films, especially the influential Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. I was startled to discover the second BBC film about this queen was an adaptation of Kenilworth and starred a very young Jeremy Irons as Leicester and Gemma Jones as Elizabeth. Scott was first adapted in in 1956 and then 1967. Both videos were alas wiped out. Irons returned in the same role on HBO in 2005 in a wildly popular version of Elizabeth the Queen, with Helen Mirren (Hugh Dancy the Essex). A sad fall away from Jane Tennison. Alessandra Stanley (who wrote a sequel to GWTW) was a rare critic to dare to show how it wallowed in painful pity for this aging woman — none of her public successes made much of, hardly mentioned.

Blackadder’s rendition of Elizabeth had an actress dressed up absurdly as a kind of wooden doll with wig, but to me this parody is no improvement.

I never have seen a drama of her earlier years when as a young woman she overcame a number of attempts to kill or assassinate her, remarkably came to power (to Catholics, the illegitimate Protestant daughter of Anne Boleyn) and then stayed there, effectively, with few wars, none on her soil. For this you must read good biographies, and the one I remember best is the older Elizabeth Jenkins’s Elizabeth I.

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Said to be a portrait of Elizabeth when a princess, well before her sister, Mary came to power

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Known to be a portrait of Mary when age 12 by Francois Clouet

Ellen

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An illustration to Tam O’Shanter

Dear friends and readers,

A third and final blog on the EC/ASECS conference which I thought I had less to share than I do (1st, 2nd). There really was a wealth of new insights and (for me) new or different information on a variety of 18th century topics, beyond the night of Shakespeare Restored, the Winterthur museum, and a late evening of reading of poetry aloud the first night. All that in itself a pleasure (the conference’s subject, along with leisure and entertainment).

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I did go to two panels of the more traditional type, with papers on major figures, major works, using close reading and historical approaches.

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Robert Burns (1759-96) by Alexander Nasmyth (1787): best known portrait

My favorite paper was second on a panel on the Scottish enlightenment (Friday, mid-morning) was by Carol McGuirk, a moving autobiographical and thematic exegesis of Burn’s “Tam O’Shanter” (with English transliteration), which is often looked at from the angle of Burns’s use of mock-heroic conventions. Ms McGuirk showed us that Burne=s was revisiting his relationship with his father. It is his first known extended work, a strange intense poem where he looks back to scenes of his early childhood and adolescence. The scene of witch-nanny brings us back to Burns when young, from which there was a long-lasting estrangement between Burns and his father. Burns had gone to a dance when forbidden; this was seen by his father as a solemn breaking of the fourth commandment, and from this instance of rebellion Burns felt his father took a dislike to him, which led to his later rebellions, especially when the paternal dislike developed into a fear for Burns’s soul. The Victorian editor of Burns’s work softened an anecdote Burns’s sister told where the dying father denied he’d see his son in the afterlife. The poem has been misread as about retributive justice, but is rather a deft depiction of an old central psychic wound, about a life-altering conflict. The narrator is caustic but this is not a poem advocating prudent conformity; the thrust of the poem is on the side of tolerance as the poet faces the residual power of memory to hurt again. Ms McGuirk reminded everyone that Burns’s wife Jean was a woman who accepted and tolerated Burns’s flaws and suggested in the poem Kate stands in for Burns’s father. Tom’s experience is a painful memory. Alluded to figures in the poem include Margaret Thompson who Burns said distracted him from his trigonometry studies and whom he remembered with deep affection; he visited her and sent her a copy of this poem.

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Arthur Murphy (1727-1805) by Nathaniel Dance (1777)

I slipped off to another panel I had longed to hear too (going on at the same time): Samuel Johnson. Unfortunately I missed the first two papers, and came in only at the middle of the third and a discussion of all three afterward. A. J. Schmidt’s paper (2nd) had been about Johnson’s attitude towards the American colonies and touched on the Hudson river and empire, and as I came in Jane Wessel was talking about how and why although Murphy defended literary property rights (against booksellers) he also defended the right of an author to imitate, adapt, use and said this was not plagiarism. Murphy was arguing for a modern low threshold definition of originality: the expression of the idea is protected not the idea itself. In an essay on the “Genius of Fielding” Murphy had urged that complete invention is a myth, and what was central to the new work was the establishment of an authorial persona. Murphy himself adapted and transferred plots and other elements from other people’s plays to his own, and cited his own name on his later adaptations. John Radner further elaborated on his argument that for Johnson hope is less related to despair than a forward-looking vein of nostalgia; the future is seen with anxiety; morally we need to spend well the present time, not try to escape it. (I remembered how Johnson tormented himself over his waste of his gifts and time.) It was mentioned that Murphy had apparently met Johnson after Murphy had accidentally plagiarized Johnson, and the similarities between one of his own plays and one of Sheridan’s had made him wonder if Sheridan plagiarized him. (So Murphy’s spontaneous thinking belies his theory.) Johnson’s defense of abridgements and his own imitations supported Murphy’s outlook too. Anna Foy talked more about how Johnson praised James Grainger’s Georgic, “Sugar-Cane” as a new original poem though derivative; Grainger brought into poetry new images and refreshed the reader’s mind; Gilmore’s book on Grainger’s poem, The Poetics of Empire was mentioned.

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A photograph of a contemporary actress as Nell Gwyn delivering one of Dryden’s satiric epilogues sending up he pious character she had just acted

Late on Friday afternoon, the plenary lecture which preceded Shakespeare Restored was appropriately about 18th century audience’s tastes. In “Hamlet with a Hornpipe,” Diana Solomon (who has published a book on 18th century prologues and epilogues), suggested the 18th century general preference was strongly for comedy, and audiences especially seemed to have enjoyed the disruptive effect of mockery interjected into serious texts. Comic scenes may have been controversial or forbidden under strict “rules,” but audiences liked a mixed experience, with comic entr’actes between acts of tragedy (even), lively comic dances, and ridicule framing or joking parts of plangent and poignant nights. A pantomime might follow an anguished suicide scene in a proto-feminist she-tragedy (say about rape). These were often short disconnected spectacles. She cited many many kinds of disruption and burlesque. Some statistics: after 1760 plays by dead writers predominated, only 10 were new; out of 371 performances 20% were tragedies, with comic after-pieces a must. She conceded there were those who decried this situation. Addison was one of those who decried these practices, and often they were treated as guilty pleasures (not much discussed). Cibber said he included gross derision (cross-dressing) “against my conscience.” Perhaps some found graphic distress too hard to take (she instanced Johnson’s response to the dreadful murder scene in Othello, the despair of Lear). Should we look at these entracts as curative, the epilogues as a form of release? The discussion afterward was fun. People talked of how we watch TV today: continually changing channels, having more than one program on the screen at a time; how a row of disconnected commercials is part of most people’s experience of whatever program they are watching, and they don’t seem to object over-strenuously. It is true that certain things were not mocked: nobility or the aristocracy as such; religion.

The last panel and last two papers I heard on late Saturday afternoon into evening questioned the extent of debauchery claimed as experienced by John Wilkes, Charles Churchill and the Hell-fire club. Kevin Knott’s very long paper, “Necessary Lies: Sodomy Hysteria and the Heroic Grotesque in Charles Churchill’s The Times and David Garrick’s The Fribbleriad” opened with Hazlitt’s comment on the pleasure of hating, and how mockery of exaggerated disgusting versions of transgressive behavior were used as to attack and satirize and erase homosexuality. He went through Ned Ward’s writings, Molly-house culture, how Garrick tapped into cultural prejudice against effeminacy (for his own theatrical needs), sought to titillate, encourage violence (at least in emotion), discipline by hostility (turn what was feared into the abject). He went over a number of texts psychoanalytically (the persistent fear, oppositional ideologies), quoting Byrne Fone, Rictor Norton. Churchill used viotriolic discourse to disrupt the social order; a public display of a venomous nature was a mode of outing. He quoted private ugly letters by Wilkes and Churchill which seem to suggest that yes debauchery went on.

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Modern photograph of 18th century print of Medenham Abbey

Jack Fruchtman’s presentation, “‘Was it all true or made up? Hell-Fire, Tory Politics,and Aborted Reform in 18th century Britain was a similarly complicated text. He first surveyed a group of aristocratic politicians regarded as radical who were themselves involved in transgressive behaviors with infamous members of Francis Dashwood’s circle (among these Bolingbroke, Frederick Prince of Wales, John Montague, Lord Sandwich, George Bubb Doddington, famed obese man) or very much in opposition to them (Walpole). See the Wikipedia list of people, with Hogarth’s depiction of Francis Dashwood as a parody of St Francis. Mr Fruchtman showed slides of the mansion in which the orgies and uses of prostitutes were said to have occurred (said to have been 12 inner circles in Medmenham Abbey), how much money these people had as income, how they dressed, heir libertine doctrines; he named individuals from several walks of life (archbishops involved), told of their lives, their relationships to kings and princes (Lord Bute). Hogarth hated admiration of such people and his art was effective in characterizing these people for many people. Unfortunately I had to leave because the clock turned 5 (like Cinderella at midnight — I was driving home with a friend) so missed out on specific political legislation some of these people urged (increases in taxes, Wilkes’s famous No 45 North Briton). Mr Fruchtman though was moving towards scepticism: that in his words in an email to me “We will never know for certain whether it was all made up or real. The evidence was destroyed or lost so all we have are second-hand accounts like those of Walpole and Wilkes.”

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the Abbey is now private property and people photograph the Francis Dashwood gate which allows a glimpse of the building

While listening to Mr Knott I thought about modern day uses of snark in newspapers and on the Net. I also wondered and took down scattered notes to the effect that perhaps Wilkes and Walpole’s accounts of the Hell-fire club were fabricated for political and personal reasons. There was a patness in the descriptions of the cells — it all seemed so archetypal. What I had wanted to ask about was a parallel in stories told of Madame du Deffand and the French Prince Regent, Duke of Orleans (to put it in the English form) when she were young and “said to have been his mistress.” I remembered coming across a passage of salacious innuendo which suggested nefarious goings-on in the grass at Sceaux late at night — everyone very drunk and some naked. Now that had a feel of reality,but by the time it reaches the public written down the text has been shaped by a temptation to make it more shapely as well as certain. Some people want to deny such things occur and others want to build them up.

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Angora cats were popular subjects for paintings at mid-century: these two were said to be owned by Madame du Deffand, late in life blind, living alone, but bravely writing on (to Walpole, to Voltaire) and holding salons

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Next year they meet at West Chester University (Pennsylvania), and the topic is “Networks.” I’ve thought of a topic for a CFP: “Forging Connections among non-elite women:” it is a truth once universally acknowledged that the way societies have organized themselves isolates the average women; they may socialize within the space they find themselves in with their families and friends, but there are enormous pressures and social and economic constraints keeping them from reaching out to people beyond where chance has thrown them. Thus the writing of poetry, novels, plays, and especially memoirs by women become ways for the average woman or women below the gentry, working class women (some wrote poetry, many could read) to dialogue with other women; they also beat time and space by writing and receiving letters; by visits to others; by attempting to travel and write about it; if they had the funds, go to a spa or town where there was a public life they could enter into, someone’s salon they could attend; or perhaps run a shop where they would not be under the monitored control of the house servant class. We can have papers on the elite (married or connected to powerful men, with access to large funds) but how did they address the shared question of being a woman, given that the salon and the “behind the curtains” operator may be said to support the male hegemonic order by not trying for her own position, salary, independence but supporting his and that of hegemonic families. I’ll invite papers on this subject.

Connections

Ellen

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Ellen and Jim Moody as servants in Love’s Last Shift (1972-73 production at the Graduate Center, NYC)

Dear friends and readers,

You may not have heard of this kind: salacious comedy. Well Jeremy Collier certainly did. He called it smut — in the case of LLS probably unfairly. The play is about a rake who reforms, and is sometimes said to herald sentimentalism. The text is on-line in various forms. (Two dissertations; an intelligent older article: “Equivocation” by Paul Parnell.) Vanbrugh’s reply was to write The Relapse in which the hero does just that.

The play has been seen as a bellwether and there is on-line a surprising amount of commentary on it. Myself having read much better Cibber in later years, e.g., especially The Constant Husband which really centers on a brutal one whose brutality of stance and emotion escapes Cibber, I’d call LLS hard comedy in disguise. I read it through last night and the most interesting character is the theatrical novelty (at the time), Sir Novelty Fashion, presented as utter fop, but (I’ve always thought) a way of introducing transgressive sex, especially gay males as fops.

Tellingly — if you want to think about the mysteries of how the history of literature proceeds — this particular play did not last the century; that is to say, if you look at what plays were bound into collections and rented at circulating libraries, what reprinted, what played on stage, this one fell from the repertoire. The Relapse stayed a while, and other of Van Brugh and Cibber’s plays (often with Anne Oldfield in a leading role) remained until near the end of the century when sensibility and currents repressive of sex made them impossible to play. It affected the stage partly because of its crassness is my guess (it was “available” to all).

This is by way of remembering: I’ve just reread the play; for our mostly silent parts I had remembered only that we were a pair of promiscuous servants, amoral, had few lines and lots of stage business. Unless memory is fooling me (which she may) I realize we did not do the whole play; Byrne Fone, the director produced a cut-down text (rather like the Aural/Oral experience we have at our East Central Regional group of the American 18th century society). I remember as a climax of one of the acts, I fucked on the floor with was whoever he was (a kind of climax in the sub or lower plots); at another that Jim as servant was a successful sly cheat at cards. Jim is 24 there and his expression is an acted one: it’s put on as part of the character, and reminds me just now of Rob James-Cellier’s playing the footman Thomas (a similar faux hauteur put on) in Downton Abbey. I’m 26 there and trying to smile knowingly.

Ellen

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