Posts Tagged ‘time-traveling’

Drums of Autumn (detail from original 1996 cover)

Friends and readers,

Having queried three lists, I discovered that there is very little in the thousands of pages Diana Gabaldon wrote for her Outlander series on Christmas. The rational presented for this is that in Scotland after the repression of medieval customs by the Presbyters, hardly anyone keeps Christmas. Instead the winter solstice is celebrated on New Year’s Eve and day as Hogmanay. I pointed out that Catholics surreptitiously kept up Christmas even in the later 17th century in Scotland (see The Days of Queen Anne [Hamilton]), and that parts of the Outlander books occur in Boston and North Carolina. I was told that in A Fiery Cross (No 5), there is a brief mention of Christmas, Jamie gives Claire a kitchen utensil that looked to my eyes like a thin spatula, and a celebration of Hogmanay occurs (Chapters 31-33). As far as I could tell, the emphasis is not only this ritual holiday.

But there is a long passage in Drums of Autumn where a Christmas story is made doubly central. I’ve linked in the story line of this fourth Outlander novel, and baldly retold the way it’s being dramatized this year – without the many interludes – the novel seems ridiculous. Jamie mistakes poor Roger for Briana’s rapist, beats Roger up badly, and with Ian, sells him to the Indians; Briana has become pregnant by Mr Bonnet (the actual rapist) and is almost persuaded to marry Lord John Grey, who happens to be visiting her Aunt Jocasta at River Run ….

What saves this resort to patently obvious contrivances are these long interludes where little overt action in term of story moving occurs and we get long meditative sequences, sometimes about a victim they come across, sometimes an idyllic fantasy of Gabaldon’s own, e.g., Jamie and Claire walking in a lush forest come across a field of strawberries. There are sequences where the idea is to present them as colonial settlers, coping with the different classes, upper establishment and middling rebels (against unfair taxes), floating down river, building their house, furniture, getting stock together, he hunting, she sewing.

Outlander winter landscape

In one of these where they are building their home together, he goes out in the night to bring back an animal to cook for a meal, and seems never to return. It’s late December, snow everywhere. She worries after several hours and goes to seek him. She finds him wounded and nearly frozen in a sunken sort of meadow. Claire tells Jamie Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to help keep him awake and both of them warm while they are stranded in the snow late in December, having built themselves a nest out of logs, leaves, their cloaks; and where she remembers also being stranded in the snow more than 20 years ago inside a car with Frank and Brian as a child where Frank Randall told the story to Briana, with Claire filling bits, as they huddled in their car amidst blankets.

Here is the passage: Drums of Autumn, Chapter 21: “Night on a Snowy Mountain, December 1767

From the serial drama Outlander: Promotional Snow scene (not sure if this is Scotland or North Carolina ….)

Jamie’s hair and shoulders were lightly dusted with snow, and flakes were settling on the exposed backs of his legs. I pulled the hem of his cloak down, then brushed the snow away from his face. His cheek was nearly the same color as the big wet flakes, and his flesh felt stiff when I touched it.

Fresh alarm surged through me as I realized that he might be a lot closer to freezing already than I had thought. His eyes were half closed, and cold as it was, he didn’t seem to be shivering much. That was bloody dangerous; with no movement, his muscles were generating no heat, and what warmth he had was leaching slowly from his body. His cloak was already heavy with damp; if I allowed his clothes to become soaked through, he might very well die of hypothermia right in front of me.

“Wake up!” I said, shaking him urgently by the shoulder. He opened his eyes and smiled drowsily at me.
“Move!” I said. “Jamie, you’ve got to move!”
“I can’t,” he said calmly. “I told ye that.” He shut his eyes again.
I grabbed him by the ear and dug my fingernails into the tender lobe. He grunted and jerked his head away.
“Wake up,” I said peremptorily. “Do you hear me? Wake up this moment! Move, damn you! Give me your hand.”
I didn’t wait for him to comply, but dug under the cloak and seized his hand, which I chafed madly between my own. He opened his eyes again and frowned at me.
“I’m all right,” he said. “But I’m gey tired, aye?”
“Move your arms,” I ordered, flinging the hand at him. “Flap them, up and down. Can you move your legs at all?”
He sighed wearily, as though dragging himself out of a sticky bog, and muttered something under his breath in Gaelic, but very slowly he began to move his arms back and forth. With more prodding, he succeeded in flexing his ankles—though any further movement caused instant spasms in his back—and with great reluctance, began to waggle his feet.
He looked rather like a frog trying to fly, but I wasn’t in any mood to laugh. I didn’t know whether he was actually in danger of freezing or not, but I wasn’t taking any chances. By dint of constant exhortation, aided by judicious pokings, I kept him at this exercise until I had got him altogether awake and shivering. In a thoroughly bad temper, too, but I didn’t mind that.
“Keep moving,” I advised him. I got up with some difficulty, having grown quite stiff from crouching over him so long. “Move, I say!” I added sharply, as he showed symptoms of flagging. “Stop and I’ll step square on your back, I swear I will!”
I glanced around, a little blearily. The snow was still falling, and it was difficult to see more than a few feet. We needed shelter—more than the rock alone could provide.
“Hemlock,” he said between his teeth. I glanced down at him, and he jerked his head toward a clump of trees nearby. “Take the hatchet. Bi branches. Six feet. C-cut four.” He was breathing heavily, and there was a tinge of color visible in his face, despite the dim light. He’d stopped moving in spite of my threats, but his teeth were clenched because they were chattering–a sign I rejoiced to see.
I stooped and groped beneath his cloak again, this time searching for the hatchet belted round his waist. I couldn’t resist sliding a hand under him, inside the neck of his fringed woolen hunting shirt. Warm! Thank God, he was still warm. His chest felt superficially chilled from its contact with the wet ground, but it was still warmer than my fingers.
“Right,” I said, taking my hand away and standing up with the hatchet. “Hemlock. Six-foot branches, do you mean?”
He nodded, shivering violently, and I set off at once for the trees he indicated.
Inside the silent grove, the fragrance of hemlock and cedar enfolded me at once in a mist of resins and turpenes, the odor cold and sharp, clean and invigorating. Many of the trees were enormous, with the lower branches well above my head, but there were smaller ones scattered here and there. I saw at once the virtues of this particular tree—no snow fell under them; the fanlike boughs caught the falling snow like umbrellas.
I hacked at the lower branches, torn between the need for haste and the very real fear of chopping off a few fingers by accident; my hands were numb and awkward with the cold.
The wood was green and elastic and it took forever to chop through the tough, springy fibers. At last, though, I had four good-sized branches, sporting multiple fans of dense needles. They looked soft and black against the new snow, like big fans of feathers; it was almost a surprise to touch them and feel the hard, cold prick of the needles.
I dragged them back to the rock, and found that Jamie had managed to scoop more leaves together; he was almost invisible, submerged in a huge drift of black and gray against the foot of the rock.
Under his terse direction I leaned the hemlock branches fan-up against the face of the rock, the chopped butt ends stuck into the earth at an angle, so as to form a small triangular refuge underneath. Then I took the hatchet again and chopped small pine and spruce branches, pulled up big clumps of dried grass, and piled it all against and over the hemlock screen. Then at last, panting with exertion, I crawled into the shelter beside him.
I nestled down in the leaves between his body and the rock, wrapped my cloak around both of us, put my arms around his body, and held on hard. Then I found the leisure to shake a bit. Not from cold—not yet—but from a mixture of relief and fear.

Frank and Claire’s Boston apartment (Season 2)

He felt me shivering, and reached awkwardly back to pat me in reassurance.

“It will be all right, Sassenach,” he said. “With the two of us, it will be all right ….
“All right, all right,” I said. “What if I tell you a story, instead?”
Highlanders loved stories, and Jamie was no exception.
“Oh, aye,” he said, sounding much happier. ‘What sort of story is it?”
“A Christmas story,” I said, settling myself along the curve of his body. “About a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.”
“An Englishman, I daresay.”
“Yes,” I said. “Be quiet and listen.”
I could see my own breath as I talked, white in the dim, cold air. The snow was falling heavily outside out shelter; when I paused in the story, I could hear the whisper of flakes against the hemlock branches, and the far-off whine of wind in the trees.
I knew the story very well; it had been part of our Christmas ritual, Frank’s and Brianna’s and mine. From the time Bree was five or six, we had read A Christmas Carol every year, starting a week or two before Christmas, Frank and I taking it in turns to read to her each night before bed.
“And the specter said, ‘ I am the Ghost of Christmas Past…’”
I might not be freezing to death, but the cold had a strange hypnotic effect nonetheless. I had gone past the phase of acute discomfort and felt now slightly disembodied. I knew my hands and feet were icy, and my body chilled half through, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. I floated in a peaceful white mist, seeing the words swirl round my head like snowflakes as I spoke them.
“…and there was dear old Fezziwig, among the lights and music…”
I couldn’t tell whether I was gradually thawing or becoming colder. I was conscious of an overall feeling of relaxation, and an altogether peculiar sense of déjà vu, as though I had once before been entombed, insulated in snow, snug despite desolation outside.

Boston Christmas — Roger visiting from Scotland

A memory within this subjective narrative:

As Bob Cratchit bought his meager bird, I remembered. I went on talking automatically, the flow of the story coming from somewhere well below the level of consciousness, but my memory was in the front seat of a stalled 1956 Oldsmobile, its windscreen caked with snow.
We had been on our way to visit an elderly relative of Frank’s, somewhere in upstate New York. The snow came on hard, halfway there, howling down across the icy roads with gusts of wind. Before we knew where we were, we had skidded off the road and halfway into a ditch, the windscreen wipers slashing futilely at the pelting snow.
There was nothing to be done but wait for morning, and rescue. We had had a picnic hamper and some old blankets; we brought Brianna up into the front seat between us, and huddled all together under coats and blankets, sipping lukewarm cocoa from the thermos and making jokes to keep her from being frightened.
As it grew later, and colder, we huddled closer, and to distract Brianna, Frank began to tell her Dickens’s story from memory, counting on me to supply the missing bits. Neither of us could have done it alone, but between us, we managed well. By the time the sinister Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had made his appearance, Brianna was snuggled sound asleep under the coats, a warm, boneless weight against my side.
There was no need to finish the story, but we did, talking to each other below the words, hands touching below the layers of blankets. I remembered Frank’s hands, warm and strong on mine, thumb stroking my palm, outlining my fingers. Frank had always loved my hands.
The car had filled with the mist of our breathing, and drops of water ran down inside the white-choked windows. Frank’s head had been a dark cameo, dim against the white. He had leaned toward me at the last, nose and cheeks chilled, lips warm on mine as he whispered the last words of the story.
“’God bless us, every one,’” I ended, and lay silent, a small needle of grief like an ice splinter through my heart. It was quiet inside the shelter, and seemed darker; snow had covered over all the openings.
Jamie reached back and touched my leg.
“Put your hands inside my shirt, Sassenach,” he said softly. I slid one hand up under his shirt in front, to rest against his chest, the other up his back. The faded whip marks felt like threads under his skin.
He laid his hand against mine, pressing it tight against his chest. He was very warm, and his heart beat slow and strong under my fingers.
“Sleep, a nighean donn,” he said. “I wilna let ye freeze.”

Three different covers thus far

This retelling is fun because so many readers enjoy realizing that we remember the story with others. I do. I feel less lonely tonight at the thought.

I am just now watching Outlander Season 5, episode by episode, and listening to Davina Porter read the novel aloud in car (audiobook in CDS) and next year, Season 5, I’ll again watch and listening to Porter again read the next novel, A Fiery Cross, and should be able to supply the scenes of Hogmanay.


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Carnarvon 1800 by John Sell Cotman 1782-1842
John Sell Cotman (1782-182), Carnarvon — one vision of her poetry, geologic cataclysmic time

To Hope

Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
    How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
    And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
    Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
    Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
    Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
    ‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.

Dear friends and readers,

A milestone on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake for Valancourt: I’ve typed two volumes and have begun the third. I’m slowly accumulating material for an introduction and notes. It ought to have been titled Newenden (the way d’Epinay titled hers Montbrillant).

I cannot say my reading of the novel has changed much. It’s more a matter of emphasis. I had not realized quite how central & dominant to the novel are the slow devolution into a bitter loneliness on the part of Sir Edward and adultery on the part of Lady Newenden. I find the depiction more true to life on the part of both people and their slow interaction with others than anything in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Smith gives us the how and why, the real feel of such a drift. Ethelinde a study in adulterous longing from a genuinely woman’s point of view: sexual fulfillment and companionship ached for.

She is Sir Edward and in later novels he as a figure will be given her poems. Her rotten marriage transposed sexually. I’m puzzled why Sir Edward does not kill himself. Outflanked by the social hypocrisies of his wife’s parents, the vicious rumors of Lord Danesforte about him and Ethelinde; a clever man the wife’s apparent lover, his misery because she is such a bitch (Lady Newenden), his relationship with Ethy a ruin, Ethy’s father taking the money loaned him and gambling and giving it to Lady Newenden’s lover. In other novels Smith’s greatest poetry is often attributed to such a male figure.

There is ever a male who is obsessively after the heroine. Whether his general behavior otherwise be reprehensible (Delamare in Emmeline) or noble & self-sacrificing (Montgomery), it’s this obsessive pursuit of the heroine that makes for the discomfort and misery of the story. In Emmeline, the heroine is not openly willing to reject him but rather flees; in Ethelinde we get these emotionally twisted scenes of her not being able to say yes or no. Could this be a version of her relationship with her husband? of what he was? these have an individuality beyond the typical portrait of the upper class male educated to be a vicious bully and amoral and yet think very well of himself — as we see in Stael’s and Epinay’s fictions — how Smith read the French! In the light of French women’s more explicit fiction, when we place Ethelinde’s wastrel selfish gambling brother and the father’s original behavior, the novel becomes feminist in the 18th century way.

Cotman: Normandy fantasy

I would have much preferred for Sir Edward to end up with Ethelinde: I almost believe in their relationship as much as any marriage. Her Manon is deeply transgressive in its sympathy for the lovers and Manon herself, The Romance of Real Life reveals families as they are and this book fits right into this trajectory too.

The recluse would have been left out at the end, but she would then have been a more tragic figure had the son drowned as we thought — a sixth volume had been in the works. Could it be she was planning to have Montgomery return after Sir Edward marries Ethy; it would have become an emotional version of the Martin Guerre story.

I was blaming Smith for marginalizing transgressive heroines, female characters led to live with men outside wedlock, for making her heroine super-chaste, but after reading Wollstonecraft’s really stinging attack on Adeline in that novel, and realizing how much time and space and sympathy Smith gives such heroines across her oeuvre (here Caroline’s unnamed mother, Montgomery’s grandmother) and the thoughts she gives her — in this novel several female figures have lovers and children outside marriage — to have some joy, they take a risk and pay.

The novel has little specific politics of Desmond and the later books. The wide landscape there, but here acid satire on the hypocrisies and snobberies of social life is central to her purpose. I just love it. It connects her to Thackeray. Long obsessive conversations between Ethelinde and Montgomery about how they cannot afford to marry, how this will “ruin” their chances in life go round and round. I can only think there is a personal element here, she must have been herself subjected to this morbid nagging. When she is pictured sitting on the stairs as her father and Montgomery talk, the scene feels like a memory — maybe when she was sold to Benjamin Smith. Austen’s Persuasion with its thrust to trust at the close, and several stories by Crabbe are aimed at just this kind of cruel prohibition — which in Crabbe ruins lives all the more, as the people haven’t got a chance of growing rich anyway. Whatever happiness they can have is in personal fulfillment.

I probably enjoy the novel more when it approaches from a frank and caustic point of view the kind of satire we find in Austen towards say Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mrs Norris. For example, the hypocrisy and insolence (Smith’s narrator calls it) when Mrs Ludford, Ethelinde’s rich aunt pretends to forget her siblings’ ages and says how good it was Ethy’s mother’s other children except for the one brother did die (p 186 in 1790 ed, p 40 in my edition: Mrs Norris expresses the same idea only it’s presented more indirectly. (The line is later in MP than I thought). These intersections they bring out Austen for me where I could be exhilarated in a twisted kind of way as we both dig the imaginary knife in and so doing expose the pettiness meanness of the world — there is more truth in Smith’s opener version: paradoxically it’s true that Colonel Chesterville has not put his son to the right path; maybe he would have been better off apprenticed (p 187) than brought up in idleness and self-indulgence. But this establishment view is presented against a backdrop that makes us see the ugly nature of Mrs Ludford’s motives for saying this (unlike Trollope say where such establishment comments are not undercut in this way).

There are long similar stretches in Celestina.

It’s remarkable how many scenes in Austen occur in variation in other novels by women of the era. The difference between Austen and Smith includes Smith lets us feel the full bitterness of these. I’m struck by how the tone of the plangent section of Volume 2 when Montgomery comes to London, Edward is in love with Ethelinde and she more in love with Edward than she realizes, is close the mood and atmosphere of the 1983 S&S mini-series by Alexander Baron. The 1980s darker mini-series were more like these novels than any films before or since.

Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood, Bosco Hogan as Edward — conversing over her drawings, the landscape, sitting together — perfect image for Smith’s Edward and Ethelinde (1981 BBC S&S by Alexander Baron)

What emerges in the latter part of Volume 2 is that Chesterville is a stand-in for Charlotte Smith’s own father who failed her so abysmally, who sold her, betrayed her. The acid in the soul of his novelist is Colonel Chesterville’s not caring for his daughter, and when Ethelinde’s aunt (it was an aunt who suggested to the father to marry Charlotte off and married Charlotte’s farther herself), Mrs Ludford, suggests Ethelinde needs another situation and her father would be glad to get rid of her (by implication) this touches upon how the orignal sin in her life was her father’s deserting her for a nasty woman and giving her up to an awful boy. If Charlotte was too young to know, Mr Turner was not (Elibon, Vol 2,, p 203, p 44 my typescript)

The novel’s scenery is all great prose poetry wants but it remains a framing.

Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Temple of Winds, Blackdown, Sussex — another, botanic, allusive, southern England

The undermining of false stereotypes of masculinity.

Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in 1935 A Tale of Two Cities — perfect for Sir Edward

Sir Edward refuses to duel. After reading on Inimitable-Boz, a defense of Carton’s sexuality and courtship of Lucie Manette I began to see Sir Edward as anticipating Sydney Carton.

Sir Edward’s wife, Maria, is a cold tempered socialite, presented as nasty-tongued, nervy, bored with anything but her vanity, loving gambling, despising anyone who likes to read or walk in the landscape and mocking the depression marriage with her is causing Sir Edward. He married her for her money but also to be her husband, and she wanted his title, but now she is clever enough to throw this up to him and when he forbids her to see or be with Lord Danesforte any more — on the score of gambling debts too – she turns on him and accuses him of adultery with her cousin, Ethelinde. There is no adultery (both too virtuous) but he loves Ethelinde intensely and now feels he must cut himself off from her and her improvident father (a gambler) and brother (yet worse)

A long meditation of Sir Edward as he contemplates Ethelinde’s future as the wife of a man without any adequate monetary support and connections — his desire to help alleviate any of her difficulties at any cost to himself reminds me of Sydney Carton. We might historicize Carton too: this is a time when there is no state or gov’t or any kind of safety net. Reading the brilliant analysis of Charlotte Smith’s depiction of Edward’s selfless yet deeply selfish (she is so deeply congenial a spirit, so good) and sexual (she is beautiful ohim) love for Ethelinde, and how persuasive their relationship, teaches me that the problem we have in reading Dickens’s Carton and many other heroes of “sensibility” and depression, is that the time is indeed more than 160 years ago when women also had no means of getting decent support on their own either. I find Volume 2, chapter 10, pp 239-44, the long inward delving into this man astonishing still.

Smith provides the psychological underpinning that Dickens & other male authnors omit to understand this kind of male temperament — they are too embarrassed. Who would admit desperation at their class background in this way (except for Godwin). To call them men of sensibility is to use a label to erase what the text does: undermine masculine stereotypes.

It’s ridiculous to get too worked up over a novel but as I’m typing it I do bond with it, and did find myself intensely hurt when at the ASECS someone ridiculed Sir Edward and read the book as if we were to empathize genuinely with Lady Newenden when she is the cruel pernicious presence of the piece from her outward conduct.

Smith gives Edward a good phrase for his attitude towards Ethelinde: she has a sanctity of character. So much better than purity which brings in this baggage of asexuality no no sexuality in this woman for real. She’s not corrupted or corruptible because of her background and asocial-ability. Sanctity of character is a phrase I’d use for Esther Summerson as well as Jarndyce as played by Denholm Elliot (the 1988 Bleak House like the 1989 ATOTC written by Arthur Hopcroft).

How Edward feels about Ethelinde:

that her whole life might be exposed to trials, he could not soften, to difficulties he could not alleviate; all his sense, his morality, his resolution, hardly supported him when he considered it; and he sometimes fancied he could rather bear to destroy her, and then himself, than endure the certainty of that, the very idea of which inflicted anguish so acute

When she writes so moving and ably and subtly we have to see that she did value her fiction and talked denigratingly of it because others didn’t value it or wouldn’t admit they saw it what is there (p 241-43 of Elibron, pp 52-53 of my new edition)

Again the lone figure against time and nature.

John Sell Cotman, from a Dulwich exhibit of his Normandy watercolors

From her poetry: the autobiographical background: Her terrors for her children, several of whom predeceased her and did know hardship. I’ve no doubt she saw a version of this woman who lies at several removes behind this novel; Sir Edward’s terrors for Ethelinde’s future

The Female Exile.
WRITTEN AT BRIGHTHELMSTONE IN NOV. 1792. [from Elegiac sonnets (1797-1800)]

November’s chill blast on the rough beach is howling,
   The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the shore,
Dark clouds o’er the sea gather heavy and scowling,
   And the white cliffs re-echo the wild wintry roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger reclining
   Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely seat;
Her eyes fill’d with tears, and her heart with repining,
   She starts at the billows that burst at her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart heaving,
   She watches the waves where they mingle with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes deceiving,
   May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing tresses,
   Once woven with garlands of gay Summer flowers;
Her dress unregarded, bespeaks her distresses,
   And beauty is blighted by grief’s heavy hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
   To seek the gloss’d shell, or the crimson weed stray;
Amused with the present, they heed not to-morrow,
   Nor think of the storm that is gathering to day.

The gilt, fairy ship, with its ribbon-sail spreading,
   They launch on the salt pool the tide left behind;
Ah! victims—for whom their sad mother is dreading
   The multiplied miseries that wait on mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them with anguish,
   Now wanderers with her on a once hostile soil,
Perhaps doom’d for life in chill penury to languish,
   Or abject dependance, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors renewing,
   O’er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin
   All breathless with haste, half expiring with fears.

Poor mourner!—I would that my fortune had left me
   The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But like thine my hard fate has of affluence bereft me,
   I can warm the cold heart of the wretched no more!


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Romola Garai as Gwendoleth Harleth in Daniel Deronda (2002 scripted Andrew Davies, directed by Tom Hooper, George Eliot’s 19th century then contempoary masterpiece) — Garai is found in historical films from all sorts of sources

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to report that I’ve written twice more about Winston Graham’s Poldark novels: a new slant and real qualifications about what I said the first time round on his second quartet, or, to put it another way, Upon rereading The Stranger from the Sea and The Miller’s Dance; and then Rereading and Outlining The Loving Cup and The Twisted Sword. I then linked both blogs to my Winston Graham mostly Poldark website.

I’m almost there with a second reading of Graham’s Bella, which I’ve discovered almost makes a central use of history: both about the discoveries and importation into the UK of great apes, the training of singers and the nature of a career on the stage at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century and how the frequent pretense of legitimacy for children born to mothers whose fathers were not their claimed legal fathers and bigamy existed in tension with the family-patronage, private property through primogeniture systems of the era.

I tried to write about the centrality of history in the later Poldark books at their society message board or facebook site said to be about these novels, the first two mini-series. But unhappily have discovered myself thwarted on both sites. There has been no serious talk about these books ever on either it seems (nothing scholarly, nothing academic) and the people are not used to it. I wrote of the hybrid nature of historical fiction (part actual history which can be trusted), of the particularly disquieting use of unconventional transgressive sex in the books. Clowance sustains a bigamous relationship; another how all 12 novels imitate 18th century novels’ plot-designs, type scenes and characters and themes while presenting tactfully realistically psychological support, then adjusting to today’s norms in popular visual media — as 18th century films imitate one another.

Garai as Barbara Spooner Wilberforce’s wife in the (since Mrs Siddon’s portrait in upper class lady’s clothes) signature Gainsborough studio hat, an extravaganza (from 2006 Amazing Grace)

Quickly a petty tenacious bully resentful of my (to her) apparently offensive (I can never figure out what’s offensive) postings on the facebook was able to delete my last posting on the message board on the grounds it was off-topic. Ah, I then realized that the playful pseudonyms which seemed so delightful to me also can allow non-accountability. “Nampara Girl” used the same paragraphs as Karen Knight on facebook so was none other than the woman in the other bit of cyberspace who managed to sneer at me and impugn my character when I said I would no longer post — “what you don’t want to be challenged?” says she in this self-righteous tone. On the facebook page I spoke back forthrightly saying she had written an insinuating (I didn’t use the word snide) remark when I had never said anything about her character and was attacking my honesty and sincerity. So she was getting back. All I could do then on the Literary Board was point out I was on topic, describe the nature of her behavior, motives and power and (so to speak) walk away.

Positions are all in cyberspace communities. Who can control, censor, withhold, delete a message. At core (as can be seen in Austen studies, in various cult groups), it’s virtually impossible to wrench a body of writing out of its popular readership’s use of it. Winston Graham found this when he tried to persuade the larger indifferent public that the 1996 film adaptation of his book was a worthy new start for filming the later books; he writes in his Memoirs of a Private Man that he could not get beyond the vilification of the new film by the cult tenaciously wedded to the 1970s mini-series. An important social lesson about how what one writes is taken from you once you put it out in the social world and encountering intransigent cult readerships.

So the dream of doing a genuinely historical handbook (a la Patrick O’Brien books) is out. If I’m to write about this I must stick to blogs and my website for now, but eventually (or again) look out for panels and groups who study historical fiction and then how how the Poldarks enact and brilliantly transcend the two also. And I can try my historical fiction of Elizabeth’s Story. A third outlet is to try to write something on the novels in the semi-popular essay kind for History Today. Here I know no one (a usual situation for me) and experience in publishing articles shows me the truly “blind article” submitted and chosen is a myth.

I set aside a unit in my library, a shelf all their own for historical fiction and women’s historical fiction. I repeatedly have trouble remembering my books since I often do not recall the author or even the exact title of the book, but simply that it’s on the subject of historical fiction from this or that angle.

Right now these are:

Beasley, Faith. Revising Memory: Womens’ Fiction and Memoirs in Seventeenth Century France.

Bird, Stephanie. Recasting Historical Fiction: Female Identity German Biographical Fiction.

Fleischman, Avrom. The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf.

Groot, Jermone de. The Historical Novel.

Harman, Leah. The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England.

Hughes, Helen. The Historical Romance.

Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archives in Contemporary British Fiction. Also her “The Historical Turn” in James E. English’s Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fictionn.

Looser, Devoney. British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670-1820.

Lukacs, George. The Historical Novel.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel.

Sanders, Andrew. The Victorian Historical Novel, 1840-80.

White, Hayden. The Content of the form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation.

Zlotnick, Susan. Women, Writing, and the Industrial Revolution.

Graham writes about his use of historical fiction in his Poldark’s Cornwall and I’ve discovered that other historical novelists write about theirs. He identifies three types and my friend Nick added a fourth. Graham does not as some woman have write history books as personal travel writing, a subject I’ve never seen treated in any essay. Of possible interest too are studies of historical films: Pam Cook, Fashioning the Nation: Costume and Identity. David Ellis, Hollywood’s History Films, Andrew Higson, English Heritage, English Cinema. History writing is ever sliding off into writing about people in costume, writing political novels (you are looking for a usable past for the present).

Garai as Sugar in Crimson Petal and White (from Michael Faber’s 20th century neo-Victorian novel) – this one I note has that strange thing done to it, bits pulled out and re-strung to highly romantic music which sentimentalizes the mood & degrades the film’s meaning

As you can see, I am especially interested in how women writing historical fiction has changed its nature, downgraded its respectability — by the injection of romance and feminist thought in which Graham participates by the way and also various mystery-suspense motifs and formula. In rewritten novels as projecting the history of a previous era. Again these later are seen far more heavily in the last 5 novels (almost not at all in the first 7). I am also interested in the serious use of film for history and how its costume aspects make it relevant to us today, speak to us today. I’ve this past months been steadily watching first all 26 hour long episodes of the 1967 Forsyte Saga and now I’ve just finished Part 8 of 13 parts of the 2002 version. For each one making summaries and saving stills.

So that’s where I am tonight. Tomorrow we are going off to the annual East Central 18th century conference, our 11th, this one in Baltimore, the Inner Harbor and I hope to come back with much to tell of what I heard and learned.

Garai, the much (unfairly) punished & poignant Briony in Ian McEwan’s 2007 Atonement (anti-Clarissa rewrite of Richardson’s Clarissa)


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Sir Charles Pasley (1780-1861)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a high-spirited letter. S&S has been published, a success d’estime; in three days P&P will be announced and on sale; she is working on her final published version to come of MP. What more could she want? a dream come true.

Diana Birchall uses the word “jubilant” for one set of phrases and I agree she feeling strong; alas, though her big wins are not doing her generosity of spirit much good. This is a demented sort of jubilation: Austen triumphs in her books, but she has little to show for it: no companionship with the women she wanted, no money, no open reputation. In fact she has not gained anything tangible or in status. She’s still like a porcupine within, still sore. She is not living the life she wants but what that is she can’t say, thwarted at every turn as she’s been — except for these books for which she sacrificed time, energy, spent all within her that she had as she successively corrected and revived.

She is just determinedly cheerful in the opening paragraph. She slides over a lack of reciprocating letters from Cassandra or others. Usually the lack of a letter is rationale enough to justify a sense of hurt, loss, emptiness. On top of that it’s cold. And as if this weren’t enough, Cassandra is at the ambiguous Steventon. Yet “this is exactly the weather we should wish for …” If they have had no letter, they have an “excellent Stilton cheese and after Mr Digwood’s base usage (he didn’t come? didn’t write?) they have had Miss Benn (a source for Miss Bates).

She has been reading. She assumes we (like Cassandra) understand the political content of the books, and when we do know, her strongly stated preference is significant. Southam (see my blog on his JA and the Navy and her brother Frances) however made clear and it’s significant. Pasley was a deeply reactionary conservative politician whose book defended imperialism to where and to do what few were willing to go or do. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperialist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. the book ws a Society-Octavo (Alton book club had its own binding). Southey reviewed it and said it was the most important political document of the era.

Jane approves — because her brothers stand to make money? (Remember her flipancy about Sir John Moore’s defeat: how many dead, but how nice we know none of them.) Pasley kept at “expansionist politics” supported by “a certain easy ruthlessness,:” the English should enact “the ambition of
conquerors,” those who loved Burke loved this. Let us attack and destroy all our enemies” by force, take Buenos Aires as an operation.

Jane returns to this book repeatedly in this letter. She says she loves it as much as she ever did Clarkson (the abolitionist). Buchanan’s Christian Researches in Asia is also preferred. A proselytizing Evangelical Christianizer. The two Mr Smiths are parodists of contemporary (often romantic) poetry, the Rejected Addresses. From the aside to Mrs Digwood and their placement next to the flirting couple the content is about courtship: in each someone’s address is rejected.

She also sidelines Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountains; she slyly insinuates she’d like to get rid of the book. I’m not a one woman fan club but I like Grant and find her criticism head and shoulders above Austen’s, she is romantic, but a thinking feeling tolerant one. Her poetry and stance of moderate conservatism fits Austen’s notions of reasonableness and tender feeling. Had Austen written but one passage of critical assessment like Grant’s we’d never hear the end of it. We can’t know what displeased Jane exactly and she knows she can’t attack frontally. Perhaps again she wants no peer.

LeFaye gives us no help on Mr White. Her mother is reading John Carr’s Travels in Spain from Miss B (he was a diplomat) to make sure she is literally accurate in MP. Tellingly for those who want the book to have general application outside the UK (outside what we’d call the Eurocentric), she does worry about a reference to the Government house at Gibraltar. Maybe we should pay attention to this detail as much as Fanny’s not getting any information about slavery in Antigua.

Austen does love to debunk so we get a lot about the parody of contemporary poets called Rejected Addresses by the Smiths. I wish I knew which poets were parodied and on what grounds. Not a peep on this from LeFaye. But the book and its courtship thme does serve to enable Jane to sneer at the Papillon’s niece Eleanor. Why does she come in for a shot? Austen often mocks the Papillon; one of them was suggested for a husband for her. Perhaps they were dim. At the opening of Miss Austen Regrets Gwyneth Hughes has Olivia Williams as Austen sending him up, quizzing him meanly.

I suggest the line “What she meant, poor Woman who shall say?” is a reference to a certain imbecility in understanding and that’s what leads her to talk of the Papillons. Austen doesn’t like Whist but certainly decamps hastily from playing rounds with this set. She did read Anne Grant for she remembers detail from a card party in Grant’s letters and says there were just as many for their round table as there were at some similar party in Grant’s letters.


Tax or spring cart (1903)

On Wednesday she went to a party with the Clements in their tax (or spring cart — you paid little taxes). A party on previous Wednesday to which she went with the Clements in a tax cart. It’s small and no doubt a declasse way to travel. She let them know it. “I would rather have walked, & no doubt they must have wished I had.”

So she didn’t bother to hide her disdain or make herself pleasant. and much preferred to ‘run home with my own dear Thomas” — luxury in comparison to the cart. No doubt the cart was lousy, bumpy and uncomfortable. but I find nothing to admire in her making the others know it. If she couldn’t really be polite, then walk there.

But of course that would have been even more socially low.

There were 11 there and one man who would have pleased her father. Whenever her father is brought up in these letters, Jane Austen’s morality improves. Mr T is nothing but dark-complexioned, but Mr W, a “very young man, hardly 20 perhaps … of St Johns, Cambridge & spoke very highly of H. Walter as a Schollar.” Walter was a family member too. Austen is never not partisan. Then the sort of vignette Henry James puts down in his notebooks for later
use to write up for his novels:

I could see nothing very promising between Mr P & Miss Pt — She placed herself on one side of him at first, but Miss Benn obliged her to move up higher; –& she had an empty plate, & even asked him to give her some Mutton without being attended to for some time. — There might be Design in this, to be sure, on his side; — he might think an empty Stomach the most favourable for Love. —

So Mr P and Miss Patience Terry are flirting. Jane then turns to Mrs Digweed, and becomes polite; she hopes the Rejected Addresses amused Mrs Digweed but Mrs Digweed’s silly mind flies off to some detail that is unimportant. Then that Eleanor looks like someone rejected.

She decamped at 10 and “not ashamed of my dutiful Delicacy” — she made her mother at home an excuse, but still she goes on to include more of this barbed gossip about the people there. I agree with Diana that Austen is just loving to disparage and be superior here:

WWhat can be a stronger proof of that superiority of ours over the Steventon & Manydown Society, which I have always foreseen & felt?”

But it’s not on grounds of the Rejected Addresses that the Miss Sibleys are sitting around not-reading (for they are reading the book, but rather that the Miss Sibleys openly want to
imitate Austen’s group. Austen’s group has never been caught wanting to emulate some other book society. No. And then we get a series of references to which books the Miss Sibleys prefer. Biglands, and Barrows, and Macartney’s and Mackenzies. Since in another place (MP) Fanny Price likes MacCartney perhaps this is just high spirits catching on to anything to laugh at and the alliteration is part of what the writer is enjoying.

But again there is a political meaning here. Austen prefers that ruthless imperialist. The other books are travels, about the peninsular war (perhaps critical of war policy) and the places include Iceland. Who would want to read of Iceland, pray? maybe that’s part of this not so funny joke.

The Coulthards were talked of you may be sure; no end of them; Miss Terry had heard they were going to rent Mr Bramston’s house at Oakley, & Mrs Clement that they were going to live at Streethams Mr Digweed 8{ I agreed that the House at Oakley could not possibly be large enough for them, 8{ now we find they have really taken it. — Mr Gauntlett is thought very agreable, & there are no Children at all. —

Streatham was a beautiful place, but how many children can any place stand? Austen is with Mr Gauntlett. People who go on rejoicing at Jane Austen’s warm love of children prompt me to echo her: “What [they] mean … who shall say?”

Then we turn to activities after Wednesday. Jane went for a walk. Happily (she says) it provided her with someone to unload Anne Grant’s Letters to the Mountains onto. Jane said she found the walk agreeable and if the others didn’t, the fault was theirs, for “I was quite as entertaining as she was.”

Dame G. is pretty well, & we found her surrounded by her well-behaved, healthy, large-eyed Children. — I took her an old Shift & promised her a set of our Linen; & my Companion left some of her Bank Stock’? with her

We might stop here and consider the typical character or core of a satirist. It often does come from alienation of some sort. Then a sudden drop down to calm decency. Austen was not irritated by the poor villagers they visited. They aroused no antagonisms.

And then we get a reference to a Tuesday which is I think a quiet reference to the game of Tuesdays in the novels:: “Tuesday has done its duty & I have had the pleasure of reading a very comfortable Letter.” It had a lot in it, the cover written on, and Austen’s mood improves after she reads it.


1983 BBC MP: Nicholas Farrell as Edmund listening with distaste and discomfort to

Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary talking of how admired are men in the professions (unlike clergymen)

The last part of the letter is not as barbed nor does Austen get a kick out of mocking other people or showing herself to have been disdainful of things she for the moment deems beneath her (like the cart). She really does not like these social occasions with people whose minds she finds imbecilic, and with no reference to arouse her competitiveness, her shots after Tuesday are limited to those who’ve genuinely taken potshots at her or have hurt her for real in some way.

Potshots include Mrs Bramston:

LeFaye shows herself a pro-family editor. Austen says Mrs Bramston is the sort of woman she detests. Why? LeFaye without admitting she is justifying Austen offers the “information” in her appendix that John Byng said she was “an artful worldly woman, of a notable self-sufficient capacity, … not selon mon gout; and her son is letter better than a blockhead,” to which LeFaye adds one of the two Mrs Bramstons thought “the first three of JA’s publishd novels boring and nonsensical.” A stupid woman: the boring gives it away. She probably let it be known she despised _S&S; this tells us the people in the neighborhood all around knew the authoress was none other than Miss Austen.

People who have hurt her (or other members of the family) include the people who took Steventon: so Austen says she does not recognize Steventon from Cassandra’s description of if justifying why probably Mary and James too behave the way they do, not omitting Anna’s responses to them:

I cannot imagine what sort of place Steventon can be.

Cassandra has been saying see how Mary is not so bad, and Austen acknowledges “kind intentions”). But Mrs Austen not keen on sharing the cooked pork; better to offer a share in the pigs. (Well yuk, maybe it is not so nice to have someone send cooked stuff that are left-overs. The parallel is in Emma where the rich Woodhouses and Emma remember to send pork to Miss Bates and Jane. Here Mary is in the position of the grand lady Emma and Austen’s mother and herself Miss Bates and Jane.

But in turn Mrs Austen is just filled with “great pleasure” to send a pair of garters and “is very glad she had them ready knit.” Enigmatic in tone because probably the mother did not feel about all this the way Austen patently does — she thinks the whole thing absurd – as we can see from how this “twig” entered _Emma_.

I thank Christy for identifying the specific Papillon Jane found herself having nearly to sit down to whist with. There Austen after all found the suggestion she marry him grating enough to hold the grudge in her letters.

I read Diana on the reference to Gibraltar in MP. But Diana ignores the meaning of the passage she quotes, its political content which fits into this letter.

It’s interesting because it shows one of the characters intuitively uncomfortable with what the author Austen is so keen in this letter would think would exult him. Pasley’s imperialism (and those who want to see MP as about colonialism do not usually remember she said she likes Pasley as much as Clarkson) would suggest people dressing up in uniform because they’ve been promoted should exult. Not Edmund. Only Fanny reconciles him to anything. Edmund is a portrait of someone not for sale, someone who does not want a position or place that does not involve him in duties his conscience makes palatable to him.

Here we can compare bring Austen’s MP in comparison with Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde: Montgomery a lord who has no money must force himself to take a job with the East India company (just the sort of thing Mary Crawford would respect) and knows it will be distasteful and require him to exploit the natives; Edmund does not make such a distaste explicit but it’s behind his enigmatic comment to Mary that he would have to do things for the kinds of positions she wants to take he would not be able to endure.

This is a good place to see how Austen’s fiction slips away from her conscious meaning — probably upon a revision. She is “in character,” Edmund a hero in her mind and we have an anti-imperialistic stance towards uniforms. By contrast, William is continually apparently naive and will take promotion and riches at any price; Austen says at one point he was not too kind to another man aboard his ship as he wished he could supersede him when the guy died. This is precisely Tom’s attitude towards Dr Grant. Very human.

So after the important event of the Tuesday (some Tuesdays are not bad, they are rather important), the comfortable letter from Cassandra, what do we have? mostly a thicket of gossip and doings.

She’s glad to go for walks. As she knows “Mary is interested” to know that Miss Benn is not neglected, Mary is to be told that Miss B dined last Wednesday at Mr Papillons.”

Another hit. It’s sarcastic. How lucky is Miss Benn. (Of course like Marianne Jane is forgetting perhaps Miss Benn might have enjoyed it? Maybe Miss Benn was no fool. And we get a list of people she dined with in a row. She had little money for food let us recall. Once she even wore her new shawl! Remember how they had to be sure not to buy her a too nice one for then she’d never wear it.

Jane is glad to hear that Martha is not at Barton. No wonder she hardly mentioned the employer. There is no barb here, only (perhaps) a reference to something under the bed. It could be dogs, but LeFaye reminds us that the single ladies at Cranford had myths about spirits beneath the beds both mischievous and protecting.

I had fancied that Martha would be at Barton from last Saturday, but am best pleased to be mistaken. I hope she is now quite well. — Tell her that I hunt away the rogues” every night from under her bed; they feel the difference of her being gone. —

Not far from it is this delight in walking and in winter no matter how filthy, greasy, cold, and ugly the roads: It’s here the slightly demented gaiety comes out.

A very sloppy lane” last Friday! — What an odd sort of country you must be in! I cannot at all understand it! It was just greasy here on Friday, in consequence of the little snow that had fallen in the night. — Perhaps it was cold on Wednesday, yes, I beleive it certainly was — but nothing terrible.-Upon the whole, the Weather for Winter-weather is delightful, the walking excellent.

It seems that Anna is going to come to Chawton for a visit. Mrs Austen’s letter will be forwarded by someone else (saving postage) but if they do not manage it, Anna will have it to read when she comes.

Scarlets is the country estate where the harridan Aunt, Jane-Austen Leigh resides. Austen is glad to hear anything “so tolerable” of them from Mr Leigh’s letter,. (He will double-cross them; he leads them to think he will share his wealth with Mrs Austen and hers when he dies but leaves it all to his wife who then holds it of over JEAL’s head for years to come).

“Poor Charles and his frigate. But there could be no chance of his having one, while it was thought such a certainty.” Charles not given a frigate. She’s ironic. Because they want something, things are against us.

The letter ends with a hit at Anna’s suitor’s news — she can scarcely believe him) and her dismissal/irritation at Mrs Bramston. She says she had rather been called liar by Mr Cotterell than to excite no interest in Mrs Bramston who (see above) insulted her book perhaps knowing it would get round to her.

Jane in form,

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Kellynch as glimpsed in the 1971 BBC Persuasion movie

Dear Friends and readers,

I’m still trying to reach beyond the printed, published versions of Austen’s letters and novels to see if I can find more sources about her. Do some of the sequels further explicate her novels or letters insightfully? I’m reading a few to find out. I’m just now reading The Younger Sister, a three volume intelligent continuation-type sequel by Austen’s niece, Catherine Anne Austen Hubback (one of Francis’s daughters) of her aunts, The Watsons, and when I’ve done I’ll blog about it. Tonight I want to share a few notes about the first sequel to Austen’s novels I ever read: Margaret Drabble’s The Dowerhouse at Kellynch.a story published in Persuasions, 15 (1993):75-88

Nowadays people need to define the way they are using the term. Its primary original meaning referred to 1) a continuation of Austen’s story and characters either to finish story or to give a different ending, or tell what happened to these characters after the book closed or at some gap in the story where something was left out. It could also 2) be a prequel: what happened before the book opened. The key is the use and development out of Austen’s own characters and stories. With the commercial spread of the Jane cult, many more sequels than this type have been written and sell and the term is used loosely to mean 3) any book which “channels” (like a medium) an Austen novel or novels, be through 4) a recreation of the story line and characters in analogous modern characters and stories (The Jane Austen Book Club, My Jane Austen Summer), or 4) a novel which is modern with modern characters where there are merely parallels and allusions (Bridget Jones’s Diary), or 6) a supposed recreation of Austen’s personality or life put into a formulaic book (romance, mystery). There are other possibilities, 7) parodies, 8) texts which combine features of Austen’s stories and characters with features and characters from another older classic author, 9) Mash-ups.

Drabble’s story (it’s short) seems to fit my type 4. I read this around the time I first came onto Austen-l (1994 or 1995), or not long afterward and remembered it ever after as remarkable.

Amanda Price in the gardens at Pemberly (2009 Lost in Austen)

Drabble imagines herself (like Edith Wharton in a vampire story called “Mr Jones”) as someone named Emma Watson who tries to reach back in time and escape the modern city anonymous world. Ms Watson is a rich tourist who is so entranched by the dower house located on the property of Kellynch that she purchases it. she conceives this intense desire to own, to possess this
property, if only by obsessively dwelling in it. She immerses herself in what she finds there, and what is it, the detritus of many often wasted and understandably unrecorded lives. Bad pictures on the walls, faded poor furniture, remnants of things left over from a host of daily activities. Amusingly (to me) in 2012 there are more than a few whiff’s of the Downton Abbey syndrome, for example, the Dower house itself, and a Canadian newspaper proprietor who marries in or attempts to. Drabble is not deluded about the nature of these earlier lives or those of their servants.

The story comments on what Drabble takes to be the origin of so many of these sequels and costume dramas: the desire to get back to some ideal past that never was. So her text is superb for debunking this as she goes along all the while her language is rich and redolent with nouns and adjectives describing dream objects, lovely landscapes. What were these people lives buried in such places: “A daughter had taken her brother’s shotgun and blown out her brains on Dunkery Beacon” (so much for Charles Musgrave’s shotgun; at least it had some use beyond murdering animals). “A son had drowned himself in the pond …” Characters wandering about in frenzies of remorse … That’s what she sees too.

To be Lost in Austen here is to land in a world of melancholy ennui, rich in foliage and rot. There are many jokes. A self-reflexive one about the former owner, Bill Elliot’s sister, Henrietta, “dowerless” who “had insisted on appearing as an extra in the hunting sequence, had taken a nasty fall, and had been wooed on her sickbed in Taunton Hospital by one of the film’s more portly and substantial stars who had married her.” Mrs Clay’s story becomes: “there had been a scandalous liaison round the time of Waterloo, which had scattered illegitimate children through the country …”

Some comments are self-reflexive. The allusions include memories of Trollope. In Drabble’s review of my book (yes she reviewed my book, Trollope on the Net for the Sunday Times), she said that like me she had a father who liked Trollope very much. She jokes: Emma asks the reader if she knows Binkie? maybe I had seen him as a bishop in the latest Trollope series? He was really rather good.” Drabble’s first husband was Clive Swift who played Bishop Proudie and she did try to be an actress (got bit parts). Like Austen, this is a form of getting back.

And she is serious: Drabble’s style becomes rich, as she enriches it slowly with all the artefacts of the previous century, dwell leisurely as she recreates the landscape and house and people nearby and ghostly people inside. Yes the quiet and the stillness and rhythms of daily life unmoored from modern tasks, the clock, social life take over. In the end Emma Watson cannot bear to leave. The world of the Dowerhouse engulfs her, but unlike Lost in Austen, the effect is not comic.

Ana Mendieta Silueta (Works, Iowa)


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First modern edition of Sir Charles Grandison, a five act play (ed. B. Southam, 1980)

Dear friends and readers,

Still on the trail of Jane Austen and her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy I read that strange oddity, Jane Austen’s Sir Charles Grandison, and decided it’s not so odd after all. It’s a collaboration between niece and aunt; the ms resembles what we find in the other extant worked-over ms’s; it’s a sort of unfinished, first version play adaptation or sequel. As a ms this text tells the same tale of development from caricature as the other ms’s.


This afternoon I reread the short play (playlet really) called Sir Charles Grandison, which has become a site of mild controversy. A diplomatic transcript of the ms has been published by Southam in a now famous edition (it gave rise to a Merchant/Irovy/Jhabvala movie, Jane Austen in Manhattan) and in an Italian edition by Beatrice Battaglia.

The nightmare of abduction, done comically (Jane Austen in Manhattan)

Who wrote it is the question? It exists in a ms with corrections in Jane Austen’s handwriting, so it’s very like the ms of The Watsons, Sanditon, and the two concluding chapters of Persuasion, the penultimate of which did not make it into the novel. Only there are fewer of these nuanced revisions and crossings out; it’s not as hard worked over. Perhaps whether you opt for 1) it was written by Anna Austen Lefroy dictating to her aunt Jane; or 2) written by the aunt giving the 8-10 year old credit, or 3) a collaboration — does not matter as much as the reasoning behind what what you opt for.

Here again I find myself agreeing with Deirdre LeFaye: it’s a collaboration (see her Family Record). The text is just too sharp (adult) and adept in its pulling out of precisely the most memorable scenes of Pollexfen’s abduction of Harriet Bryon (Vol 1, letter 29); astute observations about human nature from Grandison on a few occasions (and scattered in the original text); strong lines (“I will not be bribed into liking your wit”); and funny ones of the type we find in her Juvenilia: to me who have read Grandison and written a chapter of my dissertation on this book, the best of these is his sister, Charlotte, Lady G, explaining why Sir Charles has hitherto not fallen in love or courted anyone: he hasn’t the time, “for he is constantly going from one place to another. But what for, we cannot tell”. There are lines from from Vol 4, Letters 14 & 15, Vol 6, Letter 43 — could a child get that far?

People may not know that Grandison was published in two omniscient abridgements of the modern type (rewrites which simplify) before the end of the 18th century. This was done once to Clary. Readers Digest anticipated? It is possible Anna was given one of these to read first, thought I doubt it. In this reading and writing family, it’d be a come-down. There’s a good later abridgement of Grandison in its epistolary form by none other than George Saintsbury who apparently wanted to get more people reading it – it’s a fat 2 volumes. (See Leah Price’s The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel).

The illustrations suggest this was a favorite scene

Yet the text of this playlet is often flat and doing tiresome things: who comes in? signals to get on and off the stage. Yes, it’s about getting married and brings up no new objections to the sort of bullying Grandison is famous for (though the word is not used), no matter how well meant. There’s inanity in what is kept. There’s a happy ending of marriage. Miss J[ervois] has nothing to do.

One thing that can help is the diplomatic transcript and this shows Grandison to look like the ms’s of Watsons, Sanditon and Persuasion. The same kind of nuanced crossings out, second thoughts – fewer but of the same type. One crossed out scene (and thus relegated to notes in Todd and Bree) is a really deft sketch of a series of actions of violent pulling and pushing and forcing clothes on that we rarely see in an Austen novel (Italian edition, p 65). Unfortunately, this diplomatic ms is not included in the online editions nor the Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen in the Cambridge Edition.

The “fun” (as Jane Austen might say) of the Italian edition is it has both sides of the quarrel in direct opposition. Battaglia opens the book by arguing this text is Jane Austen’s; she agrees with Southam, Halperin and those who say this is clearly a Jane Austen project and even brilliant text (there’s over-speak here). It’s a sort of Juvenilia ironed out, a much longer developed playlet for family performance. Then Colasini (the post-script) closes the book by asserting this is the detritus of the family; it’s brief sketches contained within the acts shows what happens when you have a family getting together. Colasini finds traces of Austen’s spirit; yes it’s a collaboration but nothing something we should study. It’s a left-over remnant of the family life, rather like the family “bout rimes” and poems ending in “rose.”

I also reread the letters in Grandison by Richardson that Southam claims lies behind the play. What bothers me about this text as a reader of Richardson’s Grandison is Austen has omitted the intensities of Richardson’s depth. Even in comedy Richardson cannot be light. But then that fits too as I am coming to see her when she starts out, before she begins rewriting.

That is to say, we see in the playlet ms Sir Charles Grandison, the same start in caricature we have seen in Juvenilia, in Sanditon, in Plan of a Novel. The difference is there are no leaps here such as we see in the others ms’s. This is not an oddity. Simply this time Austen did not go further than that as she was working with and amusing a lonely young niece, a reading girl like herself. She did not go much beyond her niece, did not return again and again to this ms. Southam suggests that some of Austen’s changes (minor) to Richardson’s story show an attempt at improvement. So it might be considered a weak adaptation, a kind of sequel.

Remember Miss Andrews? she could not get through the first volume (Northanger Abbey, I:6), so wholly unlike was it to Udolpho. Isabella Thorpe herself “thought it had not been readable” (I:6), though we must not forget Mrs Morland year in and year out reading and re-reading but then new books do not often fall in her way. Nevertheless, I don’t dismiss it: I believe Henry was telling the truth when he said Grandison was one of Jane’s favorite books and her niece might have idolized her when she was 8-10.

In 1986 BBC Northanger Abbey: Isabella and Catherine shut themselves up (or in) to read novels together

Margaret Anne Doody is the English influential voice who vigorously claimed Jane Austen could not be the author (Nineteenth Century Fiction 38:2 (Sept 1983):220-04. Perhaps because it irritates her. Like other more radical readers (those who want to find the transgressive & romantic Jane), Doody prefers the Italian plot (Clementina della Poretta, her brother Jeronimo) and this Italian matter is omitted altogether. This is a paradox as Doody just loves Austen’s Juvenilia.

From my reading of the letters and now these m’s, I’d argue that much of what is found in the Juvenilia is read into them; I’m not saying the diabolic and anger is not there, but that it was not consciously intended or admitted to. Like her family, Jane Austen deflected the satire, anger, resentment of her texts; the family called such passages “nonsense” or neutrally “vigorous;” Austen described it as “fun,” delightful, and laughed.

So, given Austen’s preference for the “gay” consciously (as seen in her letters to Anna), Austen would go for Harriet Byron primarily to start with. Then maybe she’d swing round for another correction, and then another.

What is missing here that makes Doody feel it’s not by Austen: on the one hand, in the early writing the irritation, the breaking of taboos by abrupt violences within and without the characters; and in the later the slowing down, the avoidance of these sorts of tricks, the use of propriety and naturalness to control the surface.

My argument is this is an early first draft for a full length play that like many another author’s first work, the author writes in imitation or or inhabiting what she loves. She just never went back to it because it was only partly hers and the motive for writing therefore too much a social occasion, not an inner need.

There was a time Anna and Jane were very close.


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Caroline Bowles Southey (1786-1854), Southey’s second wife and a fine poet and writer in her own right, Robert’s Window Study, Greta Hall

We have got the 2nd vol. of Espriella’s Letters, & I read it aloud by candlelight. The Man describes well, but is horribly anti-English. He deserves to be the foreigner he assumes. — Jane Austen, 1-2 Oct 1808, at Castle Square, Southampton (LeFaye 141)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been reading Robert Southey’s Letters from England in the evening since mid-summer, partly in reaction to Austen’s off-hand dismissal. I’ve discovered it to be a work of original genius: presented appealingly as the story of imagined journeys through England by a Spanish Catholic, Southey’s Letters from England is a perceptive cultural, indeed anthropological analysis of England, circa 1807. He is unusual for seeing in the way medicine is practised has to be seen in the understood of religious attitudes of people as much as their political maneuvering. His depiction of the economic and political doings of English people is relevant to our world today. There is a long varied disquisition on religion and religious sects at the time. Southey’s descriptions of places he loves (the Lake District for example), make parts of his book an exquistely lovely prose poem. He celebrates libraries; he analyses the literary marketplace of his day in a candid sophisticated way (book history!) He is funny. I especially loved his genuine concern for animals, his hatred of slavery, and empathy with the oppressed poor and vulnerable. His book is a rich gem.

Southey is disappointing when he comes to speak of specific women. While not overtly anti-feminist, not concerned with women as such most of the time, one chapter (Joanne Southcote) brings out a startlingly virulent misogynistic strain linking this book to his famous corrosive rejection of Charlotte Bronte’s book. His book does connect to Austen: she read and didn’t like it (she says for its anti-englishness) and fits into (soars above) the popular “letters from” genre of the era, which I find Austen often read.

Southey is particularly good for 19th century England; you would have to go far to find as ample, alive and interesting a book on England in the early 19th century as this. I recommend it to anyone seeking to get a feel for England rather than most 21st century books. The perspective is that of a radical left critique (for the most part). I found I could not easily summarize the book or rewrite in synopsis style, so after a brief introduction these are the summaries and evaluations I’ve been writing on Eighteenth Century Worlds at Yahoo (corrected) these months — with a few appropriate pictures.

My edition is a good older one: adequately enough annotated with an insightful introduction by Jack Simmon (Prof of History, University College, London), it was printed in 1951 by The Cresset Press. Particularly good are his notes connecting the book to England in 1951. For those on a budget who nonetheless do not want to resort to a struggle with a google book or find a facsimile reprint (book on demand), it’s a fine choice. You’ll cherish your volume when you’ve done.

There is a new expensive edition published by Chatto & Pickering, said to be the “first fully annotated, critical edition” by Carol Colton. I guess the word “fully” is key to this statement. Simmons’s notes are accurate, detailed enough and often give you good analogies from contemporary works and he reprints Southey’s notes by Espriella too. Chatto & Pickering’s critical blurb tells you how Southey “blurs the boundaries of fact and fiction to produce a complex work of literary merit — there is no other prose work of its kind during the Romantic period. Among the topics covered are: provincial customs, political intrigues; theater and sports; religious sects; poverty and criminality in urban centers; science and medical progress; Georgian London; social change” and the state of the army and navy.”

Note the values here. To say a work crosses the boundaries of fact and fiction would not have appealed then. It is true that like many travelogues a lot of the travel is half-imagined and our narrator is an imagined character. The blurb entirely omits the radical politics of the book and its relationship to our world today. Price 100 pounds now and 180 pounds later. ISBN: 978 1 84893 209 8


Gretna Hall as first seen by Coleridge

Letters 1 – 3

I read the introduction and first chapter. It’s a book hard to summarize; much
of its quality thus far is a product of the interaction of the persona and what he sees. Since Southey’s Spaniard gentleman begins in Cornwall (I can’t seem to leave Cornwall in my reading these months) I can compare the opening to Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways. Collins presents himself as an unnamed version of himself (hired journalist) and can fill us in on what he read about Cornwall to start; Espriella is a traveler who might be compared to an independent scholar i in a library. It’s not a job (like Collin’s is); Espriella travels for the love of it and to inform his fellow Spaniards what England is really like. The idea is he knows nothing and on top of this he admits his Catholicism may get in the way of understanding what he sees.

I wonder about this persona. In the introduction to the book, Simmons goes over Southey’s life and tells how he had a wealthy uncle who lived in Lisbon and went to stay with the uncle at a formative moment (early 20s, after the friendship with Coleridge reached its first collapse); he visited Portugal again after he married and spent 14 months there. He had been an ardent Republican and the experience of the Peninsula and how he saw France in 1793 made him begin to turn conservative. He was a radical politically and that meant religion, and we are told he hated Catholicism as this imprisoning repressive system/religion. He returned in 1801 to do aimless unquiet wandering, a struggling writers writing all the time (poetry which hardly ever makes anyone any money); a turning point was someone (there must be a person) began to give him reviewing for the Quarterly Review. After that he reviewed all his life and the payments for this, a small annuity (oh how wonderful such things are) were a kind of continual small grease to go on with as he wrote and wrote much else. In 1803 he and his wife were invited to visit Gretna Hall. He never left. A huge room was set up for him (with a lovely view) and from there he wrote as if his life depended on it — well at any rate everyone around him did depend too.

I can only think that the assumption of this religion is a kind of excuse to
fend off criticism of him. In her nasty comment Austen refers to this
Spanishness as simply an irritant. For my part he does not seem to be at all
Spanish, not even a little bit. His perspective is that of the middle class
English man when he describes the coach.

The first chapter reminds me of travel books which start with complaints, only
his depiction of Cornwall is of a place physically beautiful (desolate too) and economically desperate. Like many travelers he sees the travelers’ world and it is one of high bustle, inconvenience, with thus far comic vignettes – in the coach.

Southey’s book is very good. Witty, lively, and quietly critical of the established order. This is the moderate radical people speak of (an oxymoron I know).

A few examples: he tends to tell stories of catastrophic awful behavior to women as if it’s a half joke when he knows it’s not. A man who does not imprison his wife, but rather rows her out to an island rock at low water, and leaves her there to think he will not come back. He only returns when the tide is close to drowning her (p. 19)

Very hard physical labor performed by women (p. 22) pointed out to us as unfair affliction.

A sequence where he shows how the countryside around Launceston (Cornwall) is ruined by enclosures (25). Another where he points out how people are driven to starve and move into towns where they are beggars and prostitutes.

In Exeter he tells of how a literary society attached to a circuliating club which was lively and thriving was “broke” up by the gov’t because it was said to foster French Revolution ideas. A thrown-away line tells us this has been done in “every town, village, and almost every family in the kingdom”. When you read this, you can remember that he is talking as a Spaniard, who would be seen as a reactionary so this is a double mask.

In Devonshire he shows how a “notoriously venal” rotten borough really works, How few people live in Honiton, the number of representatives (p. 31) and so on

How Gilbert Wakefield was (in effect) murdered by the British gov’t by his imprisonment. This man was a “favourer of the French revolution.” He was locked up on a trumped up charga=e — having in an answer to a Bishop on the question of dissenters used the fable of teh ass and his panniers. It was a threat to rulers it was said. Public feeling ran high on his behalf. Nonetheless about a show trial (all pretense of justice acted out_), he was put in a prison under rules which permitted no visits. His family could not give him good regularly or warm clothes. (Prisons are themselves shown to be death-like horrible places.) He became very ill and nothing was done (like Edward Fitzgerarld). Shortly after Wakefield was released he died. (p. 35). Southey spoke to someone in power about it and said how much ‘more humane” it would be to repress such documents in the first place (no one believes Milton); the reply, ah but yes then the public would see “too open a violation of the liberty of the press.” Why people think that people in earlier eras were less sophisticated in their viciousness than we today I’ve never figured out.

So amid he wit and humor and realistic descriptions of counties, towns, roads, we have a quiet telling of the intense repressions of the 1790s and early 1800s.

Unexpected (I was not surprised by any of the details of the above) was Southey’s real sympathy for horses. So he was part of the new movement for sympathy for animals. There are a couple of striking examples by the third chapter. So, e.g., in his description of post-chaises, Southey shows how “the life of a post-horse is truly wretched.” One of them in the particular instance had been “rubbed raw by a harness.” They are given little or no rest between journeys. The rationale (as Southey knows) resembles that of slavery. The owner finds “it more profitable to over work their beasts and kill them by hard labour in two or three years than to let them do half the work and live out their natural length of life” (p. 32).

Jane Austen’s criticism is as usual so general (mild xenophobic resentment) and off the cuff it’s hard to say that she’s displeased because of the liberal perspective of Southey’s book, but it cannot be dismissed that that may be it.


John Constable (1773-1837), Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds (1825)

Letters 4 – 7

Salisbury Cathedral gives him a chance to critique the destructive behavior of all the fanatic religious cliques as well as the establishment, all the while celebrating its beauty. Although he does the strange beauty of their configurations justices, he does not like ugly modern iron bridges. Nor do I

He has carefully read earlier travel books — interesting this. A scholarly type.

Then he gets into London. I can see that a huge swatch of the book takes place in London. Southey was not that much of a traveler after all.

I read on into Southey’s first days in London and discovered two passages I’ve come across before. This is not a forgotten book. It’s read and remembered.

Both are part of an increasingly strong critique of fundamental customs in 18th and early 19th century life. Southey tells the story of one Governor Wall who during a crisis at sea became so hysterical and brutal he had three men flogged to death. The event was so ugly (it included the floggers tiring and everyone resting and then continuing) and horrifying that it went even beyond the bounds of what was considered acceptable. And what was acceptable was vicious. Wall had to flee and lived in hiding for many years; finally his own circumstances and the post-Revolutionary era made him think that the propaganda would be on his side. Not so. He was hanged — but not (as Southey points out) for brutality or over-flogging, rather on a point of law, whether what he had done was an execution (that would have been fine) or murder (not fine). In other words the court maintained the right and justness of flogging to death.

Southey’s retelling of the incident is part of larger chapter where he critiques the military system of the UK then. He says there should be a clearly demarcated limited term of service, for then you would get more volunteers. He clearly regards pressing as an outrage. The “grievous evils” of the military system includes the way the rich can buy a substitute and the poor can’t. The famous passage comes at the end of an account of the brutalizing and corrupt ways of spending time: he writes that “he who has once been a solider is commonly for ever after unfit for everything else.”

I’ve seen that quoted. I should add that Southey is horrified by the custom of leaving rotting bodies hanging and tells stories of families trying to retrieve their relative or friend’s body — thus reinforcing the thesis of _Albion’s Fatal Tree_ that friends tried to rescue bodies from the scapels of the medical establishment.

The other piece I’ve come across comes first in the sequence on London. Southey really gives the reader an idea of the immense crowdedness of London — or so it felt then. The remarkable variety and press of goods. Southey’s uses his Spanish persona and shows shopping in London is a mode of exhibiting oneself and one’s class instead of getting what you need.

He imagines the reader walking with him up the street past St Paul’s, and then critiques the way the streets around St Paul’s obscure its beauty which he says is not really cared about no matter what people claim. Why so? After the 1660 fire there was a chance to re-landscape and leave it free and that was ignored, and again in the 18th century there had been a chance to re-landscape and again no one did anything. The passage is too long for me to quote but it was quoted by J. R. H. Weaver after WW2 was over to support an argument for preserving an open view of the church after all around it had been destroyed (p. 51)

Southey also in a comic description reveals English people are bad at pageantry. This section may be intended as a satire on Spanish customs.

Byron has done great harm to this man’s general reputation and deprived us of good books showing that there was a middle kind of decency in the UK at the time – the political positions here are that of Radcliffe — Southey cannot inveigh against nunneries but he is not keen.


“That might do,” John Everett Millais’s illustration for Trollope’s Small House at Allington (Chapter 20): shopping

Letters 8 – 17

Several superb chapters. This is really able satire which is at the same time realistic enough to present to the reader a sense of London life at the time.

Letter 11 describes London shopping showing beyond a doubt how much of it is done to forward your position, your caste, how the shops are themselves become very fancy in order to appeal to what I’d called identity-snob politics. The section reminded me of a brilliant chapter in Trollope’s Small House at Allingham where the DeCourcy’s go shopping for carpets and the cad of the novel who has jilted the novel’s wonderful heroine, Lily, sees what shits they are and also how much he is going to have to cough up in money earned beyond the dowry to keep this woman and her tribe in countenance. A new fangled “comfort” is spreading throughout London.

Southey’s tone is not harsh, but he makes some subtle points which are relevant still: such as “this metropolis of fashion” is actually growing more “monotonous in appearance” because of the need to appeal to this broader swathe of upper class or aspiring types. He can’t get over the windows and the verandas – which make a place colder. For the first time I realize the veranda in Persuasion which the Mary Musgrave and Charles are proud of is ludicrous in their climate. Part of the point.

Letter 12 a serious disquisition on larger politics. Southey shows that most people did not understand why a peace treaty had emerged, nor who the individuals in the parties were or what was at stake. He doesn’t say a lot (protecting himself) but enough to suggest it’s a matter of individuals jockeying for position. Here his not being a Spaniard is plain (the way he discusses Ireland). He is with Pitt for Peace and admires Addington

Letters 13 and 14 give real descriptions of typical rooms in London and typical dress, not so satirically presented. A production design person for a costume drama could do worse than read this. Details of furniture, of conveniences, of hats. Chapter 15 gives us the meals Londoners ate, the luxuries. This again brings out Southey’s humanity when it comes to animals. How savage and shocking really the brutal treatment of the animals in butcheries. Southey comes up close and gives details, we are to feel for these sheep covered wit their own blood, herded mercilessly and sometimes slaughtered slowly for fun. He makes us aware how much of the food on the English table comes from elsewhere. Also again politics. A law against brewing or roasting your own coffee to protect an industry. A long piece on the brutal uses of chimney sweeps – here as a Spaniard he can make points.

A great deal of the pleasure is in the style, natural, easy yet not infrequently aphoristic, as in: “If humanity is in better natures an instinct, no instinct is so easily deadened, and in the mass of mankind it seems not to exist. There’s some fun, like a rage for conveniences, the new ingenious mechanics and inventions (e.g., corkscrews). I’m with Southey on innovation 🙂

A letter on espionage — not for politics but revenue. We see how people preyed upon one another to snitch to the revenue officer such that vast protection rackets emerged. I felt I was reading a Dickens novel or material for one.

Letter 17: there is a realistic description of the insecurity and fragileness of the theater building itself as well as a funny treatment of the audience’s behavior: Southey is part of the modern (group who want quiet in a theater, who have come there to see the show, and such a segment of the audience was not the dominant force until later in the 19th century. I re-read Southey’s funny chapter on the rage for “comfort.” In 1807 these “proud islanders” seemed to want to enjoy themselves and have many conveniences and they could do so and get all sorts of things in London.


Drury Lane Theater, mid-18th century

Letters 18 – 20

Letter 18 is about Drury-Lane Theater and our Spanish friend, Espriella, goes to a performance of The Winter’s Tale, which on one level astonishes him for its splendour, size (so many people brought together), beauty (richness and light).

However, the performance left much to be desired. I felt I was reading a cross between Charles Lamb dismayed at what in reality people can do on a stage when they try to enact something adequate to Shakespeare’s conceptions and a Voltaire-like take on the absurdities of the half-wild half-madness of a Shakespeare play. Not that he does not take time out to describe the impressiveness of Mrs Siddon’s arresting Hermione (surpassing in theatrical effect is what he called her performance, costume, presence), with a little on Kemble as Leontes.

Then the afterpiece which sounds like a full play in its own right of Don Juan — no playwright is named. He emphasizes the ending of whatever it was he saw, the statue saying this seemed to be the favorite part of the spectacle and himself found it a “high style of fancy, truly fine and terrifice. The sound of his marble footsteps upon the atage struck a dead silence throughout house.”

As a Spaniard he complains English writers are not very respectful of the Spanish stage or audience while their audiences continue to “delight in one of the most monstrous of our dramas.” About the content or themes, he has nothing to do. Austen does mention Don Juan and it’s a a cruel monster of depravity (despite the comedy).

I recently re-read Trollope’s Barchester Towers and he has a long rant by his narrator decrying the awfulness of sermons; Southey’s apparently milder send-up of these awful sermons is actually more radical in its content. Trollope protests against the boredom, egoism, and stupidity of what’s said without giving any idea of the probable content. Southey gives an idea of the content (moral and theological) and then tells of the trading and business of sermon-selling, sharing, the creation of “outlines” sold. He says the popular preachers are those most into histrionics and those who give upbeat accounts of the world which never trouble or disquiet the unthinking norms of their listeners at all. He gives a general outline and mocks the kinds of quotations used (Ossian!). It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing for (as I wrote last time) many of these preachers are acting to forward their careers, make deals outside the pulpit, somehow make small bits of money then too.

After I read Catherine Jones’s The passionate Sisterhood, Southey went up enormously in my estimation. He was the only one of these male romantics really to support the women he married (plus some of those he had not married but were his friends’ “women”), he inflicted least children on them; I was impressed by his habits of hard-work and genuine cooperation and sacrifice of himself (not quite enough to forgive the putdown of Bronte which I fear he did on other women, or not enough to forget it), and I’ve liked very much his occasional poetry, radical abolitionist verse and early radical play Wat Tyler. Now I see much more to the man in his thought.

Letter 19 is a description of an English church service and here the Spanish point of view is serviceable. He is an outsider, not sympathetic, seeing in. It’s like somebody from Mars retailing these curious behaviors. The rigid hierarchies (e.g., the powerful own or rent their pews)). One problem is that as a satire which gives real insight it falls flat. A methodist perspective would read the meaning into these details and de-construct them. I suspect Southey was aware the mask here freed him from having to say something dangerous (risky)

It’s a letter I can’t do justice to. Southey attempts to characterize the religious spirit or attitudes of the British people as it were from an anthropological point of view. He sees a lack of mysticism, looks at the specific customs that go with each festival (what’s eaten, rituals of medicine). He find traces of Catholic or high church behavior (icons, lights). In Spain much in daily life is calculated to remind people of religion; in the UK it’s utterly played down, down to the outfits the priests wear and how they marry.

He finds the religion of death is cut off — meaning religious practices which bring people in their minds in close proximity to the world of the dead. He finds this strange: no consolation offered, just cut off, as if there is nothing there on the other side. He talks of being cut off from one’s sorrow, not given rituals or ways actively to cope (prayers). I can’t make out if this is ironic, but I think not.

He says this schism did result in a Bible in English, clergy who preach in English. He seems to see no gain here. It’s imaginary the claim that Roman Catholics cannot read their Bible in the vernacular he says. All they must do is translate the Vulgate (an approved text of course). He says that they drink wine is at least one thing left to them — so “they are right to make the most of what they have.” As to marriage, it brings poverty, which gets him to how the clergy is more a sheer profession or career in the UK.

It was also in France and Spain too.

How clergymen are commercial adventurers selling and buying curacies.

Letter 20: a passion for collecting, from books to tulips. Each type with their devotees explained:
A long piece on flowers and the tulip rage elsewhere.

A fun part is about how people collect china and cats – cats. He maintains that the English believe there is no such thing as a male “tortoise-shell colored cat.” Well there are. Court cases not so funny of someone suborning one another and trying to get someone hanged so he can get his hands on a certain kind of farthing.

I found of real interest Southey’s description of physical books, what people with mania collect (margins, tall books, rarities). The good is to preserve volumes that would otherwise perish. Private people allow others to use their collections (a class bias and connections would come in here though) and then Southey explodes in complaints about how public libraries run; badly managed, absurd restrictions. The want of convents is here deplored — in Spain did such places keep libraries open to the public?.

Letter 20: He of course is against the total want of respect for the Virgin Mary, “cold unimpassionated uninteresting” when it comes to stories, all moral lecture.

The best thing is the ambition of the preacher or clergyman, what they are there to get for themselves – rendered comically but there.


Cover illustration for volume of gothic stories by women, Restless Spirits

Letters 21 – 25

From collecting as a significant habit of the English, Southey moves (Letter 22) onto coins as such (what they look like, how made, how recently debased and diminished, then a history of money (physical money), paper circulation and finally forgery and its dread punishments (hanging, remorseless and very
hard to get off). In this free-shaped sort of book, he can then extend his
remarks and there is an insightful discussion of the rationales given for
the draconian punishments for forgery, stealing and petty theft at the time.

Southey moves beyond the usual, we have to defend the reality of money, to a
more general principle I’ve never seen enunciated. A punishment should be
harsh not in accordance with the violence or cruelty of the crime itself,
but how easy it is to be done. I was startled. According to this, then
smoking marijuana should perhaps get torture? But such was the supposed
rationale. I rush to say this section by Southey is informed by his
rejection of such inhumanity, rigor and he is as against putting people into
prison for debt as Johnson in his famous Ramblers was, but I’ve never seen
the rationale before. Southey then speaks to this rationale: if it be that a
punishment should be fitted to the ease of the crime, he says the community
must make the crime harder. He comes out with suggestions of how to make it
hard to forge a note. He suggests something hard to engrave which is large
and visible to the common eye, and shows how this may be done.

Perhaps he means to expose this rationale as hypocritical, but as other of
his sections I’m not sure he is ironical here.

Then to the city, and where else but Westminster Abbey (Letter 23). The three
foundings (it was founded, then refounded, and then rebuilt). First when it
was converted from a temple of Apollo (Diocletian) and its second place
after Gastonbury Abbey; the miracle story told to explain this. Southey has
some fun with this, and then turns about and says anyone who says he does
wrong to tell such bogus nonsense would be wrong, for it is “important to
know what has been believed, whether it be truth or not.” He is
anthropological in this book. And sceptical too: no individual opinion can
be a “standard of truth” either. The ravages of the Danes, the long period
of the Tudors with gothic rebuilding. Southey as a Spaniard is against the
puritanical destructions; “instead of erecting tombs, their delight was to
deface the old.”

This leads into an interesting discussion of the gothic. In an earlier
chapter Southey had said the English are not mystic, and looks at these
monuments as symbols of power and prestige — Newton on one and the Earl of
Stanhope on another great pile. He gets a kick out of referring to Cromwell
(whose bones were dug up and thrown out and tomb destroyed) as “the
celebrated usurper.”

The strangeness of going round looking at tombs which moves into a portrait
of a verger who emerges as a gothic figure (in the genre sense) himself.

After the portrait of the gothic-like verger (Letter 23), we move round Westminster and our Spanish conductor tells us how the English have this habit of touching everything and you can find little quarrels played out by paying attention to what’s defaced or ruined. If they hate a book, they”ll cut out a leaf in it. He points to a major monument to Major Andre, hanged by Washington as a spy; the story is told in relief. Well it’s head was struck off after someone else struck off Washington’s (as a traitor). He ends saying that if the public “were indiscriminately admitted” into many of the public places, including churches, “everything valuable … would soon be destroyed.”

So much for the happy camper theory of contented non-violent English people.

Then skin and hair color and names (Letter 24). Southey offers the idea that the complexions and hair colors of English people show their favorite myths about their origins of themselves cannot be. If Celts were had fair hair and eyes, where does all this dark hair, dark eyes, and swarthy (brownish) skin come from. (Alas, he had not Steve Olson’s Mapping Human History to refer us to.)

Then names: how they reflect identity politics (the Bible), partisan ship (politics), snobbery (Cecilia Amelia and Wilhemina now shoving out Bridget, Joan and Dorothy; how abbreviations are formed, fashions from war heroes (news-stories of the day — like people today naming their children after favorite TV characters).

Months are latin-derived but not days and the “Saxon Paganism” of these leads him to say how no one in England gets married on a Friday; superstition denominates that bad luck.. St Swithin’s and valentine’s day (which Austen wrote her last poem when she lay dying upon). He sees this as sad vestiges of Catholicism, as well as their statuary Again I can’t tell if he’s ironic or which is his target (Spanish customs or English) or perhaps human nature itself as comical.

Ch 25: the prevalence of “vermin” everywhere (bed bugs) leads to foxes and fox-hunting and by a natural transition back to something more felt: Southey’s feeling for animals. The regulation shooting — murdering of birds — which in similar terms Austen dislikes. This wholesale butchery is described and what results from or swirls round it. The poaching laws which make it illegal for ordinary people to kill in order to have something to eat. Sales everywhere and sale signs too (including coaches), larders of inns supplied — in Southey’s account this gross killing is not done just for sport, but to make money, to sell the animals for food. He says the real reason more middling farmers resent the killing because they are not profiting. And the section ends:

“Some species by these continual persecutions have been quite rooted out, others are nearly extinct, and others only to be found in remote parts of the island. Sportsmen lament this, and naturalists lament it also with better reason.”

He would support Jane Goodall and the environmental as well as pro-animal lobbies today. The use of the word “persecution” is right. What have these animals done to be so persecuted? And it fits his persona too.


Samuel Fildes (1848-1927), Applicants to a Casual Ward (1844)
Letter 26

The “field sports” lead to a chapter on the poor laws and workhouses which is immense, and one Southey shows much compassion and thought in. for the reader of 2011 that I summarize it separately. Southey’s description of the way the poor were treated in 1807 and the attitudes underlying this treatment is directly parallel to the treatment we see meted out to the poor (unemployed, people getting food stamps, disabled people) today.

He begins by saying with the Spanish “charity is a religious duty”. He then basically dismisses what the Spanish do, saying only they “support the poor” by alms, hardly adequate.

His interest is England. It’s a matter of law. So he goes back to Elizabethan times, the dissolution of the monasteries and describes the “disgrace” of the poor laws. These are supported by a system of parish taxation which is seen by those who pay the taxes as a grievance.

The agents are “overseers” and the office so troublesome only lower middle people do it, and they do it with “rigid parsimony.” They are lavish with their own enjoyments (salaries they get for doing this work). Each penny is given reluctantly and made to “feel his poverty as a reproach.”

This system is backed up by a “worst evil:” each parish bound to provide for its poor works hard to throw out everyone else no matter how sick, how desperate. “There is no liberty in England for the poor.” Anyone not belonging to a parish and poor is “apprehended as if he were a criminal” and “sent back to his parish.” Women giving birth are thrown out while doing so.

He says the “principle” of the poor laws is that the price of labor is enough to support a family; if the season is unusually hard, the parish assists them. Otherwise not. Southey says this behavior is backed up by the notion if you give poor people more than subsistence they will waste it in riot, drink or worse yet be idle. “Plausible” as this seems (Southey’s irony I’m beginning to see is very quiet), it’s “fallacious” and cruel. It assumes as its “as is the depravity of human nature.” In fact were the poor to have more than subsistence, they would and do when this happens save, live healthier more productive lives with opportunities for advancement from education.

But no one pays attention to this.

When the poor grow too old to work, they are thrown in workhouses. Humiliated by being forbidden to live as adults (separated from spouses so no sex can go on). The kind of people who work in work houses are those who get no better situation. Any children here grow up without love. For an older person it is particularly “heart-breaking” to be subjected to “harsh and unfeeling authority” from someone much younger “neither better born or bred,” just as often worse.

England boasts of its wealth, but it has huge numbers of people living in abysmal poverty. Southey then depicts a typical street in London and villages in winter. Riots break out in times of scarcity and the reaction is draconian punishment (this happens in Graham’s Four Swansthe novel I’m just now reading).

Beyond what human nature is, Southey fingers “the manufacturing system” as the “main cause” of all this misery. It is the “inevitable tendency of that system to multiply the number of the poor, and to make them vicious, diseased and miserable”. Rousseau is see by Southey (perhaps ironically) as committing “high treason” against “human nature” and blaspheming “Omniscient Goodness” by his comparing people in savage to people in social states. But Southey says then that they “who say society ought to stop where it is; that it has no further amelioration to expect, do not less blaspheme the one [God] and betray the other [human nature?]. As now set up the improvements of society do not reach the poor. The gentry are better lodged, better educated, but the poor live as “the slaves of old,” work hard, badly bed, not well taught at all [I add it’s in no one’s interest to teach them]. He says if we compare the well off in social states (modern) we see they have “full enjoyment of all” their powers, bodily and intellectual.” In savage states all have equal access to what is on offer, and he concludes therefore it’s better for poor people to be born in primitive society “than in a civilized country, where he is in fact the victim of the civilization”.


St Paul’s Cathedral, London (photo)

Letters 27 – 30

Chapter 27 takes us through St Paul’s in the same thorough way as our
narrator took us through Wesminster (the monuments, the nakedness of the
church — to a catholic — its summit and a sublime view; this leads to Ch
27 all about Catholicism in England. It’s hard for me to grasp where Southey
is, much of it seems sympathetic to Catholics yet I read he disliked
Catholicism intensely — all his talk about nuns escaping persecution just
doesn’t feel ironic. I have a similar problem with the next chapter, on
non-conformity. I do think the underlying narrator is intensely sympathetic;
the point is made over and over that the establishment has nothing to fear
from either group and seems at heart against persecutions: of catholics or
nonconformists. But again I’ve read Southey opposed the extensions of the

Then a lovely travelogue type chapter on the pictures, seaside places, which
is made to have some bite because Southey says such places have really grown
up as place where “parents” try to dispose of their daughters. (This has
connections to the Austen letters where the parents have brought the
daughters to Bath and then tour, except all the girls meet are other poor
fringe young women, mostly unmarried.)

Espriella is going to the lake district – where we (and Southey’s first readers) knew he lived.

Chapter 30 is a sort of satire and exposure of the picturesque. Southey’s theme is how “within the last thirty years a taste for the picturesque has sprung up; — and a course of summer traveling is now looked upon to be as essential as ever a course of physic was in old times …” Some flock to the shore, others to the mountains, some to lakes, yet more to Scotland …

Thus his commentary in his travelogue that people do this to palm off their unmarried daughters, to show off their material goods, as a form of conspicuous consumption (though he doesn’t use the term that’s what he means), enrichening Bath and doctors and encouraging mountebanks is attached to this new movement.

He would have approved of Marianne Dashwood’s satire on the use of cliched language.

Nonetheless, he is eager to set forth, and we get him packing and heading for the lake district. He does not go there directly but begins at a stage coach to Oxford and he provides a realistic yet comic description of what it was like to travel inside, on top of a coach and four just laden down with luggage, and what ensues is a very interesting description of the landscape and places.

Still reading this one — albeit very slowly — Southey turns just charming (there’s no other word for it) as he begins to travel in group of picturesque seeming places. As he says “it’s impossible not to like the villas” one sees as a tourist, “so much opulence, and so much ornament is visible about them,” all orderly and aesthetically so consoling. He has his narrator stand in the middle of a corn field looking about Oxford: it’s as good as a costume drama film adaptation (see p. 172). The only drawback is some of what happens in inns, for example, the habit of “calling for wine which you know to be bad, and paying an extravagant price for what you’d rather not drink” (p. 171)

He just celebrates Oxford — probably this reflects him as a reading man while threading in the bloody history of individuals; the services in the library, the kinds of degrees available, the history of the Bodleian, and then comes to the Cotswolds — wholesome with much being grown and farmlands everywhere. Not picturesque, better than that he says (so he agrees with Edward Ferrars in the dialogue with Marianne where she complains about cliched ideas and he sasy he prefers to see prosperous farmers, sunny skies, clean roads).

What is good is shown stoutly to be good. He doesn’t satirize to satirize at all.


Christ Church, Oxford (photo)

Letters 32 – 35

Very soothing late at night last night. He doesn’t just celebrate Oxford but brings out lovely things (the old bells with their huge sounds and names) and funny oddities that have changed: he mourns the disappearance of the old topiary once made out of yew,and he points out the irony that these colleges were founded as religious places by the church at the time Catholic, but now Catholics and dissenters are excluded. He does point out how no degrees are gotten by most of the young men; Oxford is there for divinity study. To do law you go to London, medicine Edinburgh, music where the musician pleases. The exams though have been made real, not just pretend going-through the motions as they were before 1800. Protestantism does not build monumental buildings so the people have to depend on the vanity of donors (not to worry) and the buildings are often built for science or knowledge rather than religion.

When he moves on to Godstow he retells the story of Rosamund first poignantly and then (in effect) deconstructs it: tells what probably happened and ironically suggests why the distance.

The beauty of the landscape is presented under the aspect of its uses. What hops look like, how grown, the uses is typical.

I now think the reason I can’t tell when he is satirizing the UK through the persona of a catholic Spaniard and sympathetic to the Spanish, is he’s not clear in his mind about it. He says how in Spain the libraries are very generous and lend out their books to all who come; in Oxford you have to be let in and then the books are chained. It could also just be this anthropological thrust of the book.

But when all is said of the serious content what is striking is Southey’s poetic prose at times and his sudden turn to depth of passion and compassion, an appreciation of the strangenesses and cruelties of life. There’s a long description of Oxford seen during a lightning storm that I’ll scan in for my blog, here’s a bit:

The tower, the bridge, the trees, and the long street, were made as distinct as at noon-day, only without the colours of the day, and with darker shadows — the shadows, indeed, being utterly black. The lightning came not in flashes, but in sheets of flame, quivering and hanging in the sky with visible duration. At times it seemed as if the heaven had opened to the right and left, and permitted a momentary sight of the throne of fire” (pp. 179-80).

I was very moved by a tale of a young mentally retarded or disturbed young man taken care of all his life by his mother who Southey says probably did love having him with her as he so loved her. When she died, he could not understand or appreciate what was happening when she was buried. He went and dug her up, and took her corpse home and attempted to feed her, and Southey gives us this gothic poignant scene complete with dialogue of the poor young man hovering over this dead hand and face says “why d’ye look so pale, mother? why be you so cold?” (p. 191)

We are left to wonder what happen to him as the carriage and narrative moves on to the next day and place.

For the rest of the book, see comments.

Southey when younger


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