Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Travel book’

frontispiecetothemoon
Frontispiece to 1788 edition of Elegiac Sonnets

To the Goddess of Botany:

OF Folly weary, shrinking from the view
Of Violence and Fraud, allow’d to take
All peace from humble life; I would forsake
Their haunts for ever, and, sweet Nymph! with you
Find shelter; where my tired, and tear-swollen eyes
Among your silent shades of soothing hue,
Your ‘bells and florrets of unnumber’d dyes’
Might rest–And learn the bright varieties
That from your lovely hands are fed with dew;
And every veined leaf, that trembling sighs
In mead or woodland; or in wilds remote,
Or lurk with mosses in the humid caves,
Mantle the cliffs, on dimpling rivers float,
Or stream from coral rocks beneath the ocean’s waves

Dear friends and readers,

This is my 2nd report on the Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton House Library (October 14th-16th). I’ve described the morning panels and musical recitals; in the afternoon, there were three more panels, two again on Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets and her poetry, the third on her novels. This suggests someone preferred the poetry papers or more likely there were more of them and they were strong: this verse first made her reputation, and continued to be respected (if forgotten). I first fell in love with Smith’s poetry. I report on only these two on poetry here (saving the third for third blog in order to keep the reports shorter). I want to stress here, this is just the gist of what was said, many details and sub-arguments omitted.

illuselegiacsonnets
From Elegiac Sonnets, 1789.

We began with The Marketplace and the Canon.

Michael Gramer’s “Subscription and the Poetic Corpus,” was a comparative study of the first 3 editions of the Elegiac Sonnets. He compared Smith’s sequencing of her first 19 poems in the first and second editions; for the third, he suggested the 35 poems open and close in the same fundamental trajectory of permanent heartbreak. The compelling goal of the 1st edition was to support her husband and herself and children while in the debtor’s prison, and to hire lawyers or do whatever was necessary to see him freed. What we see is a drama of non-renewal, of indifference before the poet in nature and outside in society. I agreed with the pairings Michael outlined: thus sonnets 7 (“On the Departure of the Nightingale”) and 8 (“To spring”) revisit and deepen sonnets 2 (“Written at the Close of Spring”) and 3 (“To a Nightingale”). In Sonnet 9 (“Blest is yon shepherd on the turf reclined”) Smith envies the shepherd; in Sonnet 10 (“To Mrs G,” “Ah! why will memory with officious care”) she fails to bring her memories out vividly or repeat them; 11 (“To Sleep”) and 12 (“Written on the sea shore. — October, 1784) drift towards death, with the last registering an indifferent universe. Mid-way Sonnet 6 (“O Hope! thou sooth sweetener of human woes!”) and the last, 12 (below) offer a sense of closure.

Written on the Sea Shore, Oct. 1784.
ON some rude fragment of the rocky shore,
Where on the fractured cliff the billows break,
Musing, my solitary seat I take,
And listen to the deep and solemn roar.
O’er the dark waves the winds tempestuous howl;
The screaming sea-bird quits the troubled sea:
But the wild gloomy scene has charms for me,
And suits the mournful temper of my soul.
Already shipwreck’d by the storms of Fate,
Like the poor mariner methinks I stand,
Cast on a rock; who sees the distant land
From whence no succour comes–or comes too late.
Faint and more faint are heard his feeble cries,
Till in the rising tide the exhausted sufferer dies.

There is some change in ordering in the 2nd edition, but not significant. The third edition extends the perspective further to create a world of widening allusions, with the poet still the lone wanderer who is not cured, but (as yet) feels not altogether hopeless. It was published by subscription, usually not favored by women; it too sold widely, and then there was a second subscription. Almost unheard-of. The fifth edition listed the subscribers’ names. At one point her husband, Benjamin (she had left them by then), heard she was making money, broke into her house (she was in law his), attempted to beat her, through violent attacks got her to give him the money in her desk.

constableseascape-large
John Constable, A Seascape

Bethan Roberts’ “On the margin” returned us to Smith’s 44th sonnet, “Written in the churchyard in Middleton in Sussex” (it had been discussed in the morning). We were looking at the sonnet’s content about a church near the sea from a geological standpoint: Bethan had illustrations (1796 1807, 1828, 1847) showing showing the gradual encircling of the church by the waters. It’s a poem about erosion; all dissolves away, only she fated to remain (and endure hard-work, geological, archealogy). The poet wishes she could escape the noise and movement of the oceans, mountains, life itself. She is intensely desolate. Bethan also showed images of paintings by Constable of this area. She ended on Smith’s poem to St Monica. The learned antiquary no longer comes to this spot, no holiday rituals occur here, not even “the pensive stranger” who looks at the place from afar. Only the poet comes close to find meaning in this spot

The antiquary comes not to explore,
As once, the unrafter’d roof and pathless floor;
For now, no more beneath the vaulted ground
Is crosier, cross, or sculptur’d chalice found,
Nor record telling of the wassail ale,
What time the welcome summons to regale,
Given by the matin peal on holiday,
The villagers rejoicing to obey,
Feasted, in honour of Saint Monica.
Yet often still at eve, or early morn,
Among these ruins shagg’d with fern and thorn,
A pensive stranger from his lonely seat
Observes the rapid martin, threading fleet

The broken arch: or follows with his eye,
The wall-creeper that hunts the burnish’d fly;
Sees the newt basking in the sunny ray,
Or snail that sinuous winds his shining way,
O’er the time-fretted walls of Monica.
He comes not here, from the sepulchral stone
To tear the oblivious pall that Time has thrown,
But meditating, marks the power proceed
From the mapped lichen, to the plumed weed,
From thready mosses to the veined flower,
The silent, slow, but ever active power
Of Vegetative Life, that o’er Decay
Weaves her green mantle, when returning May
Dresses the ruins of Saint Monica.

Oh Nature ! ever lovely, ever new,
He whom his earliest vows has paid to you
Still finds, that life has something to bestow;
And while to dark Forgetfulness they go,
Man, and the works of man; immortal Youth,
Unfading Beauty, and eternal Truth,
Your Heaven-indited volume will display,
While Art’s elaborate monuments decay,
Even as these shatter’d aisles, deserted Monica!

M.O. Grenby returned us to Charlotte Smith as a businesswoman as well as poet. We learned how in her letters dealing with her publishers, Smith would demand higher prices than they were willing to pay, would argue with their assertions they had made less than they had; used them (and her work in effect) as stocking a bank from which she could draw needed money. Smith also wanted to influence almost every level of the publication process, was actively interventionist, changing the order, the content. She suggested a French translator. (What kind of translation matters.) Her later books meant for children were also published to make money. We know exact sums Smith asked for and what she got. She was willing to move from one publisher to another. It does seem most of Smith’s efforts did not bring the money she wanted. When the older Cadell with whom she began as a writer died, she had an even worse time and eventually cut off relationship with the younger Cadell. It’s telling that at the end of her life when the liberal brave publisher, Joseph Johnson, began to publish her, she got better payment and advances without doing half as much strenuous negotiation (or hardly any at all).

hardy_under_beachy_head
Thomas Bush Hardy, “Under Beachy Head” (the poem published by Johnson was “Beachy Head”)

There was not much time for discussion afterward (the musical recital and lunch had made us much later in the afternoon by that time than intended), so we had a brief coffee, and immediately after another panel of papers.

******************************

Now the topic was Nature and Art.

Lisa Vargos’s paper on Smith’s “Nature Writings for Children,” suggested how original or at least different was Smith’s approach to the natural world and time from that of most romantics or readers at the time. (Reminding me of Mme de Genlis in her Adele and Theodore and many another woman writer before and since (discussed so long ago by Ellen Moers in her Literary Women), Smith sets herself up as a teacher, Mrs Woodfield, who with her two pupils, Elizabeth and Henrietta, explores the landscape. Mrs Woodfield shows how hard it is to control nature, rather they, as people, must join in on an intimate community within the natural world and exert influence on behalf of this continuum of living creatures and plants. Rural Walks contains innovative dialogues, and anticipates aspects of our contemporary theories about climate change. Often Elizabeth cannot see or respond to what Mrs Woodfield is putting before her while Henrietta is more receptive and perceptive. A kind of common humanity is felt, as Mrs Woodfield describes the tragic death of a small animal (dormouse). In her Conversations Introducing Poetry Smith is Mrs Talbot talking to George and Emily. Lisa discussed “To the Snow-drop” which shows Smith’s knowledge of Erasmus Darwin. Smith had in mind Anna Barbauld’s poetry for children; her book also aligns itself with Gilbert White’s writing. As a teacher she is not a disciplinarian, she challenges children to say why this or that is happening. One underlying aim is to help them find (or create) a permanent place to dwell within themselves.

museumsite

Richard Ritter’s talk, “Finding ‘Remote Pleasures at Home:’ Charlotte Smith’s Conversations and the Leverian Museum,” was about the museum as such, and how museums in the later 18th century functioned commercially. Smith as teacher is in this part of her book bringing the children there to see the collection; everything is neatly displayed, and the children supposed to look, ask questions and given a sense of a system within which specimens were set up with great care, and made to look “alive.” The limitations of taxonomy were felt. Here and there Smith’s poetry registers the sudden violent destructive power of natural history. What made his talk interesting was the conflicts he described between those like Smith who had their doubts about such displays:

The birds, or insects, or quadrupeds, though they may be very well preserved, lose that spirit and brilliancy, which living objects only can possess. The attitudes of the birds are stiff and forced, and without their natural accompaniments. Their eyes are seldom so contrived as to resemble those of the living bird; and altogether, their formal or awkward appearances, when stuffed and set on wires, always convey to my mind ideas of the sufferings of the poor birds when they were caught and killed, and the disagreeable operations of embowelling and drying them. — Charlotte Smith, Conversations, Introducing Poetry: Chiefly on Subjects of Natural History. For the Use of Children and Young Persons, 2 vols (London: J. Johnson, 1804), ii, 64-65.

and those so enthusiastic for this kind of show that they overlooked the down side, such as imprisoning animals in an unnatural environment which gives false impressions to those come to see.

Oil painting on canvas, River Landscape, with Fisherman, and distant Ruins of an Abbey, manner of George Smith of Chichester (Chichester 1714 - Chichester 1776) and John Smith (Chichester 1717 - Chichester 1764).Tall tree in foreground; river runs across the centre of the picture. A fanciful ruin of slender Gothic arches on an eminence at right. A fisherman seated on near bank.
River Landscape, with Fisherman, and distant Ruins of an Abbey, manner of George Smith of Chichester (1714-1776) and John Smith (1717-1764).A fanciful ruin of slender Gothic arches on an eminence at right.

Valerie Derbyshire’s paper, “In pursuit of the picturesque: Looking a Smith’s places with an Artist’s Eye,” was about the effect of a some popular contemporary landscape artists on Smith’s poetry. Valerie dwelt on George and John Smith, followers of Gilpin, especially; she seemed to feel his paintings were liked by Smith; but she also mentioned Thomas Hearne’s paintings based on an artificial aesthetic, putting nature in an ordered landscape; Paul Sandby, with his ideal classical landscapes of anywhere and everywhere; Richard Wilson’s more romanticized (as to light and mood), but more accurate landscapes. And of course Gilpin, whom Austen’s brother and Austen herself mention with much delight and respect. Val showed us where specific landscapes could have been influential. Smith rejoices in her picturesque memories of her childhood and uses them: Emmeline is herself outside the social world; Ethelinde makes heavy use of some recognizably real places; Celestina is another homeless heroine, living in an exiled state. Valerie said the descriptions of the Isle of Wight and some of the English countrysides owe a good deal to this kind of painting.

a_winter_landscapegeorgesmith
John Smith of Chichester, A Winter Landscape

The talk afterward was informative. Lisa talked about botany in the era, the use of herbs for medicine. There is a poignancy about Smith’s tone in her children’s books. I asked Val how she felt about John Barrell’s Dark Side of the Landscape where he argued that most of these landscapes were unreal because they left out the rural poor, the hard work, the disordered dismal existences. Valerie acknowledged the cogency of Barrell’s objections and said Smith must’ve been aware of this gap or discrepancy between these distanced views as she describes beggars, exiles, soldiers the desperately poor in her poetry. There was not time to talk about why such figures are not found in Smith’s novels more often — perhaps readers wanted romancing?

I have now thought about this problem of the source of Smith’s landscapes. I know that Radcliffe studied travel books to concoct her landscapes and perhaps Smith did this for the Hebrides. Her years at Bignor Park were important and in her letters and the poetry until she is too sick and in pain to walk she wanders in the English countryside. She had herself been to France. She orders books from libraries and borrows them when she is writing her novels, and she grieved so about their loss because (as she says in her letters) she used books too to write with.

I also thought about Smith’s depiction of a debtor’s prison where she does not dwell on the other people surrounding her hero and heroine sympathetically, but as dangers to the heroine (sexually) and people the hero keeps away from (this in Marchmont). I’ll end on this sonnet, one whose political point of view was not much covered in the conference:

Sonnet 67: To dependence

Dependence! heavy, heavy are thy chains,
And happier they who from the dangerous sea,
Or the dark mine, procure with ceaseless pains
An hard-earn’d pittance — than who trust to thee!
More blest the hind, who from his bed of flock
Starts — when the birds of morn their summons give,
And waken’d by the lark — ‘the shepherd’s clock,’
Lives but to labour — labouring but to live.
More noble than the sycophant, whose art
Must heap with taudry flowers thy hated shrine;
I envy not the meed thou canst impart
To crown his service — while, tho’ Pride combine
With Fraud to crush me — my unfetter’d heart
Still to the Mountain’s Nymph may offer mine.

It’s a bitter poem. It’s said in studies of emigration to the US and Australia and Canada from the UK what was longed for most was independence, liberty from the clique-patronage system of the ancien regime, which Smith loathed. So the problem of dependence in the poem is much larger than a woman seeking a position or freedom from a tyrannical husband or family. She attacks the ancien regime system at its corrupt narrow source, and at the same time asserts a secular ethical outlook that strengthens people. So if she does not truly identify with the poor or lower class people, she does understand what makes the world everyone lives in so corrosively destructive.

It was time for coffee and some biscuits. My next report will cover papers on Smith’s fictions.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Angelica Kauffman, Hector Taking leave of Andromache (1768)

‘All I possess has been attained by my work and industry … ‘ (from Angelica Goddden’s Miss Angel, Kauffman)

Friends and readers,

I return to my series of blogs on women artists. Thus far in this second round, we’ve looked at Giovanna Garzoni (1600-70), Strange and magnificent still lifes; Sofonsiba and Lucia Anguissola (1535/6-1625; 1546/8-1565), Sober, contemplative and self-aware portraits; and Mary Beale(1633-99), An unknown famous Restoration painter. As in the first series I can’t ignore altogether those women artists whose work has been paid a great deal of attention to, at least at times, and if not uniformly respectfully. So we come to Angelica Kauffman, one of two women to help found and be inducted into the Royal Academy of Art in England.

selfportrait
A self-portrait In the Traditional Costume of the Bregenz Forest (1781)

The complaint has been, her work is all “soft femininity,” weak in drawing, no sharp aggressive action (how can this be a history or heroic painting?), her men silly, coy, effeminate, her women utterly dependent.

How the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. What was used to dismiss and marginalize her work is now central to the arguments for its value. Angelica Rosenthal (AK: Art and sensibility) shows how Kauffman disssolves gender polarities, achieves fluid sexuality; provides an imaginary realm for exploring female sexuality, domestic women who choose to be soft, virtuous, civil; built a network of female patrons and painted them; shows us affectionate ties, androgynous forms; “pictorially mines a broad array of possible gender identifications; does not emulate scandalous and illicit behavior but rather is intent on producing figures who are heroic and feminine/effeminate;” we have a “”masquerade” that “uncovers women’s dissatisfaction with the roles they play in the world and their desire for power.”

tremorandinibaca
Tremor and Inibaca (1772, from James Macpherson’s Ossian)

More: the lasting fame that Angelica Kauffman had achieved by the end of the nineteenth-century was as the betrayed victim heroine of a sentimentalized liar husband, all the while she loved and was loved by David Garrick. Anne Isabel Thackeray Ritchie (Wm Makepeace’s daughter, 1837-1919) wrote the novel, Miss Angel (1875) and Margaret Isabel Dicksee (1858-1903, sister of Frank) painted the picture: Miss Angel is the title of Godden’s biography:

Margaret Isabel Dicksee-MissAngelblackandwhite
Angelica Kauffman Visits Mr Reynolds’s Studio

Nowadays Kauffman is seen, along with Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun (1759-1842), her contemporary peer, as contriving her paintings to attract patrons from what we may call luxurious and prestigious marketplace niches.

None of these perspectives is simply an artefact out of what’s fashionable this decade: Kauffman did lead an unconventional private life where she trusted to men, fathers, lovers, husbands, and to follow the outline of her life is to follow a series of astute career choices. At the same time the now numerous respectful studies of her work show her to be creating & choosing a sympathetically female-centered aesthetic and narrative moments the equivalent of l’ecriture-femme in visual art.

In two previous blogs (Women Artists: a few thoughts on “the obstacle race”, Linda Nochlin’s “Why have there been no great women artists?”), I reprinted masterpieces which show her extraordinary talent for color, expressionism, and individual thought where we see her attempting to escape the wanted soft-core porn perspectives imposed on her by popular classical-historical stories,

Kauffmann, Angelica; Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses; National Trust, Saltram; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/penelope-taking-down-the-bow-of-ulysses-101590
Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses (1788)

most often altering these images strikingly to make a contemplative, meditative, an imaginary space outside male control (their “inner orient”), liberating because meant for women to identify with, images to satisfy the female gaze and female patrons.

kauffmanATurkishLadyRecliningGazingatMiniature
A Turkish Lady Reclining, Gazing at a Miniature (1773).

Wendy Roworth (A Continental Artist in Georgian England) is not so keen on “soulscapes”, but rather shows us a woman determined to defy her customers who (in England at any rate, where she spent her 15 most productive celebrated years) wanted portraits and landscapes (preferably showing off their wealth), which in the case of portraits she did comply with, viz.,

Angelica_Kauffman_-_portrait_of_Lady_Elizabeth_Foster
Lady Elizabeth Foster (1785).

Now I want to do a portrait life, with some characterization of the pictures. Overlooked has been her strong personal feeling for the subject (particular woman) in some of them. We will look at her as a professional woman artist, but also see how she would read and use (talk about) her reading individually, to express herself.

To begin, Kauffman was a magnificent colorist, but when we see the picture just through the lines we see she does give women bodies, strength and her lines are central to her effect:

ladybinghan
Lady Bingham

What’s more Lady Bingham is there to project a determined defensive stance over her position among the various objects signalling art and imagination.

Kauffman persisted in stories from classical history, allegories of art and the imagination in order to aspire and train herself to do what men did (use perspective, large group compositions, chiaroscuros), and to put women (versions of herself in the men’s places, so she painted witty, thoughtful, portraits successfully (through commissions), but portraits which often displeased the sitters, e.g., the Goethe below.

winckelman
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764)

johnbyng
John Byng (1764) — we see Coriolanus beseiged by his mother and wife in the book

goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1787/8)

Goethe registered signs of an ambivalance in herself towards her ambition, desire for fame and need of money that he observed:

Jordi Vigue (Great Women Masters of Art): “[Goethe] is captured as a young, wide-eyed dreamer. He thus recalls Werther … a symbol of the spiritual movement of sentimentalism … he read his play Iphigenia, from which [she] painted several scenes, for the first time before a large audience at her house on Via Sistina, 72, Rome … she visited galleries with her husband, Goethe, and other friends … In 1787 Goethe wrote ‘she is not as happy as she deserves to be for her outstanding talent and heritage which increases daily. She is tired of painting to sell. Nevertheless, her husband finds it only too lovely to cash in on so much money for such easy work. She would feel more satisfied if she could work with more tranquility, care and study.'”

*********************************

AngelicaKaufmannSelfPortrait
One of many idealizing self-portraits (they begin in her earliest years as a painter and continue to her last years)

Contemporary information and documents about her begin with in her first biographer, Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi, an Italian friend from her years in Rome, a contemporary commentator Joseph Farington, and reviews and documents from her extensive activities across England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland. She was born in Chur, Switzerland in 1741, her father a painter, Joseph Johann Kauffman, early recognized her talent and spent much of his life teaching, enabling, living with this daughter. Her mother (about whom little is said) died in 1757. Her father and she traveled in Italy, she copied paintings in Milan galleries, went south to enable her to study works in Parma, Bologna, and Florence (1762). She copied in Uffizzi galleries and was accepted as member of Florentine Accademia del Disegno; in 1763 they were in Rome, and she got a commission in Naples to copy paintings so lived there until 1764 when they returned to Rome. In Rome she met neoclassical male artists there: West, Dance (it’s said she was engaged to him for a time), Winckelmann. She saw or knew about the excavations in Herculaneum and Pompeii just outside Naples. She was musical and received musical training and in a well-known painting modeled on the story of Hercules choosing between virtue and vice, she records by a painting how she was torn between the two; I like better this quiet drawing of a Female Figure as Music:

musicfemalefigure

She was also a great reader; her love and knowledge of books comes out in the variety of books she takes from, in her choice of more obscure subjects, and the details of her allegories.

In 1766 she was invited to come and set herself up in a studio, showroom in London. She did make a bad false step within a year. She was induced to entangle herself in a secret marriage with a Count Frederick de Horn; luckily, that he was an imposter came out quickly, and the marriage was annuled, with little harm to her reputation, for within a year she was named with Mary Moser as a founding member of the National Academy of Art; Nathaniel Dance painted her portrait. However, emotionally she must have been shocked by the experience. Rosenthal tells of her experiences in her studio where she could not avoid being seen as flirting, as trying to seduce a man or being seduced by him by others. Rumors about her and Reynolds circulated (and are given novelistic life more than a hundred years late in Ritchie’s novel). At any rate, if she wrote about this brief marriage or any of these denigrating rumors, nothing of the intimate resonances for her within has survived. We can see her ambition and continual hard work carried on.

A third full-length 20th century book, Angelica Godden’s Miss Angel, is a muddled biography (poorly organized), but attempts a more personal approach. There’s a review in the online Independent by Clare Colvin who discusses this rare “Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, London, February 1, 1766. To Miss Anne Sharp.” A Miss Willen sold the original letter in one of her auctions 15 years ago.

I am indeed infinitely obliged to Miss Anne Sharp for the remembrance she is so Kind to have of me, and thank her for the very pretty present she has been so good as to send me. I received it abought [sic] ten days ago, and would have made this acknowledgment sooner had I not been prevented by hurry of a removal and my having begun some Portraits which take up my time a good deal. The miniature was a triffle [sic] not worth your mentioning, but if it gives Miss Anne pleasure I am happy I hade [sic] the honor to paint it—I hope all your Family are in good health. Lady Wentworth was perfectly well a few days ago when I had the honor to see her—I am with the greatest respect Miss Anne Sharps’ [sic] most obedient and most humble

Servant
Angelica Kauffman.

Here is what Willen wrote of it:

“If dukes and duchesses may look at a painting, plainer men and women can at least look at an autograph. This is, then, our sole consolation at not having been born am English aristocrat with an Angelica Kaufmann hanging in our picture gallery. And while nothing can adequately explain how we came to be what we are, this letter vividly illustrates how Angelica Kaufmann got to be what she was: hung in the finest collections in England, the darling of Queen Charlotte and George III, and one of the most commercially successful artists of all time.

In deference to the cognoscenti, we note that when Miss Kaufmann penned this missive, she was newly arrived from Venice, and the protégé of Lady Wentworth. This prodigious lady, they will know, was instrumental in the meteoric ascendancy of Kaufmann’s career.”

There was a trip to Ireland in 1771 where she produces etchings with the man who would become her brother-in-law, Giuseppe Carlo Zucchi. It may be conjectured her relationship with her future (much older husband), a Venetian painter, Antonio Zucchi, began around this time. He was distinguished, took over selection, purchase of materials, enabled her to be much freer because he took on organization tasks. She probably began more and more to lean on him. Meanwhile, alongside Joshua Reynolds, Nathaniel Dance, James Barry and Giovanni Battista Cipriani, she is selected to decorate St Paul’s cathedral with history scenes. The project is never realized.

She was also made fun of: what is a woman doing taking herself seriously in this way: the headgear is intended to suggest she must be mad:

properstudy
An anonymous print after Robert Dighton, The Paintress: the Proper Study of Mankind (172, a mezzotint).

Unexpectedly, Nathaniel Dance modeled (or anticipated) his defense of her on the same kind of arrangement and thin figure:

dance
Angelica Kauffman Drawing a Torso (1767-70)

In 1775 she’s seen as a threat in Nathaniel Hone’s mocking Conjurer. Here Kauffman successfully demanded the picture removed from submission to the Royal Academy. In 1780 she completes the prestigious commission for four magnificent ceiling paintings, Invention, Composition, Design and Colouring, for Somerset House, home of the Royal Academy (Ill. 31-34). W. W. Ryland exhibits 146 engravings after her paintings. This is the height of her fame.

AngelicaKaufmannMuseofComposition
Composition (a detail from a soft-colored version)

Invention
Invention

She did portraits, scenes from novels, erotic allegories erotic (from Tasso); work by her and Benjamin West are today found in Burlington House at Piccadilly from this period. Throughout her career she was involved in the production of decorative art. Some of this or versions of what she executed as designs to be copied by others can be found on sale today:

KauffmannPottery
Beautiful pottery

China
Wedgewood China?

Soldtoday
The picture at the bottom is modelled on a Kauffman-like designs — these still sell

There are roundels (Lady Jane Grey imploring Edward IV); chimney pieces; paintings on furniture. She takes advantage of new mechanical processes, using the stipple dot method (colors could be blended, acquatint plates), and her work is used in the explosion of a print market in this era.

One should mention here the famous Nine Living Muses of Richard Samuel, of whom Kauffman is one:

Portraits_in_the_Characters_of_the_Muses_in_the_Temple_of_Apollo_by_Richard_Samuel
They are in the Temple of Apollo (1777)

She is the only non-English woman among them: Anna Laetitia Barbauld is there for poetry; Elizabeth Carter, for scholarship; Elizabeth Griffith as a playwright, Charlotte Lennox, an author of prose fiction, letter editions, critic; Catharine Macaulay, the historian. Elizabeth Montagu, a leader of society (the word bluestocking must be brought in); Hannah More there as religious writer and playwright, and Elizabeth Sheridan, for music, a singer.

In 1781 she married Zucchi, and with her father, they returned to Italy, at first living in Venice. Following the death of her father in 1782, they moved to Rome and she began a flourishing career there and in Naples. It’s during this time she paints a number of male artists, various aristocratic men and women who come as tourists, courtiers. The comment from Goethe comes from this period. Her palette becomes more austere, and she produces more somber historical pictures: Virgil writing in epitaph in Brundisium; a painting of Cornelia pointing to her children as her treasures:

cornelia

The picture does not emphasize the wealth of these women, the necklace is not central to the feel of the figures.

In her last ten years she has a diminishing output, especially after her husband died in 1795. A cousin was then living with her: Anton Joseph Kauffman, but it seems she felt the loss of presence.

Clara Colvin’s review of Gooden’s book directly contradicts what Germaine Greer (The Obstacle Race) asserts confidently: Greer says that Kauffman’s second marriage was a love match, deeply personally fulfilling for her, and that Kauffmann was devastated at the death of Antonio Zucchi. Greer also presented Kauffman as having lived somewhat estranged from both her parents because she wanted to present a more upper class image than their literal presence would allow. Who is to say? It seems to me she was reliant upon her second husband and father for essential career help while working enormously hard herself to be the best painter and mistress of drawings and designs she could.

But when her husband died, Kauffman was again subject to rumors and worried about her private papers. It’s said that she destroyed the majority of them around this time. Perhaps she grew more inward; you can follow her keeping up with excavations in her letters. She wishes she could visit England “to which my heart so much attached.” She died at 66 and was buried in same church as her husband.

lettergirlreadingkauffman
She drew all her life as a matter of course: this is a girl reading

kauffman_angelica-johann_friedrich_reiffenstein.jg
From these later post-England years: Johann Friedrich Refiffenstein

Parallels and contrasts with LeBrun: LeBrun also was thwarted in marriage; she learned to be self-dependent prudent, a businesswoman in a traveling vein, and she poured herself into her brilliant journals (which I’ve read in an unabridged French 2 volume edition). The relationship which mattered most eventually was with her daughter, whom she painted again and again. I will write about LeBrun in my third series

********************************

I close on some personal thoughts and reactions: As in this picture taken from Paul de Rapin-Thoyras’s History of England (1726-31), she was capable of startling implicitly sexually transgressive conceptions.

eleanorsuckingvenomkauffman
The Tender Eleanor Sucking the Venom out of the Wound (1776)

She was not made uncomfortable about sex. If she avoids salaciousness, it’s out of respect for her characters, audience and purchasers:

deathofadonis
This death of Adonis could come from Shakespeare, Spenser.

Unfortunately among her most popular images are the sentimental ones, like this from Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey of a mad Maria being comforted:

SterneInsaneMaria

We should be paying attention to her rich inventiveness and personal intensity: She lost her mother at a young age, had no children herself; there was a niece. Yet there are so many depictions of women as mothers longingly loving their children,how often she will turn a story that does not on the face of it seem to yield such a conception: the title of this is Papirius Praetextatus Entreated by His Mother to Disclose the Secrets of the Deliberation of the Roman Senate.

Papirius_Praetextatus_Entreated_by_his_Mother_to_Disclose_the_Secrets_of_the_Deliberations_of_the_Roman_Senate_by_Angelica_Kauffman

Her self-reflexivity is often discussed. Here she is as Design listening to Poetry:

KauffmannDesignLeft (Medium)

On the following:

virgil
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia

Vigue comments:

“the principal figure of this painting is not, as the title could lead one to believe, the Latin poet Virgil, nor the Emperor Augustus, but his sister, Octavia. As if in a play, the scene represents Virgil on the left reading the last part of the hero Aeneas’s vicissitudes.” [But here is not a story of the founding of a nation or heroes.] Through Virgil’s verses, Octavia becomes aware of the premature death of her son Marcelo and faints from grief. Her servants hold her up while Augustus fearfully rises from his throne to help his sister. The compassionate Virgil gazes at Octavia with consternation. Kauffman unites two determining factors of her work in this historical painting.

Three women are at the center of this picture. The composition is made harmonious, balanced, with a classical landscape glimpsed through the arch.

I’m attracted to how underneath the classical costumes she presents real scenes from life from a woman’s point of view: she is expressing herself through the popular seasonal motifs of the time, she shows us women with their children trying to keep warm in:

winter.jph
Winter

My favorites remain her still contemplative figures drawing, reading, dreaming. Sometimes they feel silly, overdone, but this is the unconscious security of a neoclassical artist suffused by the newly allowed emotions of sensibility:

famedecoratingshakespearwestombkauffman
Fame Decorating the Tomb of Shakespeare

The finest are often of her women patrons, her friends, where she uses “Turkish” or “oriental” imagery:

AKauffmanMorningAmusement

It doesn’t hurt to see Lady Bingham again, this time in color:

binghamincolor

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Heroine … no sooner settled in one country or Europe than they [Antigone-like heroine has father in tow] are necessitated to quit it … always making new acquaintance & always obliged to leave them … the scene will be for ever shifting from one Set of People to another … At last, hunted down … quite worn down … crawls back towards her former country … in the very nick of time, turning a corner … — Austen, Plan of a Novel

Wild Movie Film Sinopsis (Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski)

A walk is like a life in miniature … a pilgrimage, Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

cdn.indiewire.com

Dear friends and readers,

Twas the season of two hour and more movies.

This is to recommend not missing a powerful film based on a trope familiar to anyone who has read women’s narratives: Wild, based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, and starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as her mother, Bobbie (directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, screenplay Nick Hornby). I’ve come across telling complaints about it: it lacks a story-line, is told in fragments, gets nowhere (she does walk over 1000 miles in natural that is mostly deserted and therefore risky landscape) and is of course tedious, i.e., no climaxes where one would expect (see “1st user review”).

The long walk as an escape, a refuge, a refusal to be coopted by a society, and what outcasts often have to live with, as a quest to achieve something by reaching a powerful person, or more simply a journey where you are by yourself and can think, remember, achieve some perspective while keeping yourself intensely busy trying to survive: eating, drinking, shelter, sleeping, going to the bathroom, each of these supposed diurnal and uninteresting activities present which even in ordinary travel assume more central attention become arduous problems for Cheryl as she carries all that she needs on her back — this trope goes back to classical literature with Antigone leading her blind father, Oedipus, wandering (and there are many closet plays in imitation), but the first modern version I know of was a tremendous hit in its time, Sophie Cottin’s Elisabeth, ou les Exiles de Siberie, which Austen parodied in one of her last fragments, The Plan of a Novel (see etext from Republic of Pemberley)). Scott’s Jeanie Dean walking from Edinburgh to London to save her sister Effie, accused of infanticide, from hanging, consolidated Scott’s reputation and Heart of Mid-lothian is one of Scott’s novels still read. Fast forward: who has not read Rebecca Solnit? Wanderlust? Solnit says the walk is under assault and tells of 19th century women (from memoirs) who walked.

The movie is done through what makes movies movies: audio-visual experience, the camera moving from panorama, to juxtaposed vignettes (sometimes ironic), and montage. The essence of film art, what differentiates it from novels, theatre, capturing birds in flight, weather patterns, hand-held, and of course the close-up. Cheryl has hit an anguished nadir before she sets off on her journey.

hemother

Slowly it’s revealed as her memories come and go (flashbacks with voice-over) her single-mother was diagnosed with spinal cancer at age 45 and within a month was dead. Less time to experience the indifference of the medical establishment, but she was told she had a year. She was someone who tried hard to go through life with cheer and hope and we first see her dancing by the kitchen sink as the young child Cheryl looks on, then going to the same high school Cheryl is in; dialogues of them going into bad debt and trying to pay for their loans as waitresses; she serves her son when she should be doing her homeback; moving back in time, we see her violent husband, how she fled him with her children when young and lived in a car for a time. The desperate straits of the 75% we might call this. (Movies have been reflecting the condition of a huge number of people in the US since 2004/5, three years before the financial crash.)

tattoos
They go in for painful tattooes together

Another set of memories is Cheryl’s as a waitress in a diner. To make ends meet she prostitutes herself, allows men to bugger, rape, whatever her. How she descends into smoking heroin, then shooting it, then ending up on the sidewalks of a filthy alley. These are woven in with present and past time scene with an ex-husband, Paul. Paul remains important to Cheryl: it is he whose residence she writes down on registers when she stays in motels; it is he whom she phones when she reaches this or that spot on her trip (she needs to feel someone somewhere knows her and might be concerned if she stopped phoning). It’s not clear how the marriage failed, but it included violence on his part, and on hers an inexplicable self-destructive and hostilely reactive behavior she cannot explain to him. Now he is with another girlfriend.

The scary-near rape has the moral “no good deed goes [nearly] unpunished.” She has run out of water in the desert and finally come upon a vile puddle which she had equipment to filter and make two large bottles of water for herself. Two young man with backpacks like hers come along, and she shares. One of them attempts an attack a short time later. She is unusual as a woman. It’s remarked upon more than once. One night she is the only woman among five people, all of whom have her sort of tent.

Nonetheless, the movie is not pessimistic (as I assume the memoir is not). Cheryl’s encounters on the road reminded me of Darwin’s paragraph at the end of his Voyage of the Beagle: it’s not the people who turned from him, but the large number of people who were friendly, courteous and occasionally went out of their way to help him that would stay in his mind. She fears rape and her first encounter with an older man driving a tractor as she asked him to drive her to somewhere she could get the right gas for her stove and supplies made me nervous. But in fact he drove her to an isolated poor looking house which in the inside was comfortably appointed, with lots of plants, a kindly wife who said she would like to accompany Cheryl but no she didn’t think she was up to it. Heavy, older, inclined to watch TV all day. They give her a splendid meal and she showers. There are rests along the way for hikers like herself; places for her to receive packages and mail. Set in 1995 we have some Bohemian-hippy scenes which seemed to me more like a 1960s amibiance, when she reaches California she goes to a concert and has a casual encounter in bed with a young man seemingly like herself.

I was deeply moved by her mother’s death — this is yet another story from the omnipresent epidemic we are experiencing and no one does anything about fundamentally. Her wild cry as she brings her brother to see her mother at long last (he has apparently been keeping away from the hospital) and is told her mother’s eyes are iced as she wanted to donate them, and realizes he is too late. Her mother is a corpse. She rocks and rocks with her mother’s body in her arms.

She needed to get over all she has experienced in this life of ours for a young women, circa later 20th early 21st century. The credits included photos the real Cheryl on the various stages of her journey.

Most touching to me were her encounters with small creatures. Margaret Anne Doody has identified women’s poets’ identification with small animals as a hallmark of women’s poetry as by women, in the 18th century and elsewhere. A hissing rattlesnake rightly terrifies her. She tries to get a fox which improbably keeps turning up at points in her journey to come to her. He or she looks hurt — his eyes are bloodshot, he looks wounded; Cheryl has on her body numerous sores and wounds we see when she showers or undresses. Terrible the moment where her brother shoots to death with a rifle the horse her mother loved and who has sickened and they can no longer afford to keep. Her mother asked her to protect the horse as best she could from cruelty.

FOX_5059.psd
Her mother had some original background which taught her to ride and riding when Cheryl was young was a something her mother actually enjoyed — there are close-ups of the horse’s face

She is said to stink when she gets to various stopping points. One woman who sells her a lipstick says she needs to address “more fundamental problems.” But she meets another woman walker taking the same trail and they spend an evening staring out at the sky talking to one another.

FOX_3750.psd

At last she reaches the bridge we have been told will be the end of her journey. The film-makers probably were somewhat forced into having the voice-over tell us 9 years from then she would marry and would eventually have two children. For me this information was somewhat meretricious — happy and sad endings depend on where you pull down the curtain. For me it was enough that she had made it. She looks out at the waters below. I could not do what she did but metaphorically she was telling of the journey I’ve known. And where I am now.

Women’s art, women’s lives. Even if Austen made fun of this trope, she recognized its importance.

-cheryl-strayed
Cheryl Strayed

Ellen

Read Full Post »

TempleofConcord114GreenParkblog
Temple of Concord at Green Park (for this and the other French engraved landscape I am indebted to Susanne Alleyn)

Dear friends and readers,

The second of two reports on the conference of 18th century scholars I attended 3 weeks ago at Philly. While “Retirement, Renewal and Reappraisal” comprised the central theme of the gathering, other themes engaged panelists. I heard a marvelous plenary lecture on the male classical ideal of retirement, attended three panels whose focus was women writers, women’s books, women’s issues (a festschrift for Betty Rizzo, violence towards women so retirement as recovery, re-evaluating retirement) and, in lieu of attending, read a couple of the papers on “the empty nest syndrome,” which brings together aging and women’s experience’s of (forced) retirement.

Give me Great God (said I) a Little Farm
in Summer shady, & in Winter warm
where a cool spring gives birth to a clear brook
by Nature slideing down a mossy Rock
Not artfully in Leaden Pipes convey’d
Or greatly falling in a forc’d Cascade …

— Mary Wortley Montague, Written January 1718 in the Chiosk at Pera overlooking Constantinople

***********************

The plenary speech on later Friday afternoon by John Richetti, “Retirement or Retreat” was particularly fine. He began by remarking that retirement was not understood then as it is now. Today if someone here were asked, “Are you retired?” that would be asking (if you are an academic) “if you have stopped teaching, but carry on doing everything else” (research, writing, meetings, civic duties). In the 17th and 18th century what would be meant might be, “Have you retired to the countryside? away from the world.” Two words are significant here. “Otium” means to be free from public duties, “negotium” is the Latin word for business. Defoe never sought otium for himself; otiose today implies a lazy nature, practically speaking ineffective behavior. People then honored the contemplative life. The puritan sensibility includes winning a good life (peaceful, moral) but distrusts not carrying on a battle against evil.

Prof Richetti then went over a number of key texts. Pomfret’s “Choice” was enormously popular, a banal poem about a wholly self-indulgent man whose women seem to be paid prostitutes. This type of poem is studied in the old-fashioned foundational text of Rostvig on “The Happy Man” where Pope is frequently quoted; his “Windsor Forest,” a sort of retirement community for the well-connected, central. By contrast, Dryden’s work (translations and original texts on this topic) shows a real philosophical perspective on contentment.

Prof Richetti then suggested that the era’s novels reject retirement throughout the long 18th century (and again in our 20th to 21st century books). In novels characters want to change their environment and circumstances. Robinson Crusoe lives in a world of expanding economic opportunity; he cannot stay still; he is too busy to fall into depression. In Fielding’s Tom Jones the hero is betrayed by the Man on the Hill. Tom Jones implies the man is utterly selfish and amoral. Tristram Shandy makes mocking use of the classical ideal of retirement. Rasselas meets failed hermits going mad.

In the course of the lecture, Prof Richetti discussed various individuals and comments about them. For example, Pope’s relationships with various writers: Bolingbroke acted out the happy man retirement trope for public consumption, but he had been fired, exiled for treason, and his reaction was misanthropy. Mary Wortley Montagu’s “Constantinople: Written in the chiosk at Pera overlooking the reality of Constantinople is in the classical mode of Pope’s, though her poem project how alone she feels. He mentioned poems that show disorder results from retreat (Mary Leapor’s Crumble Hall). Pope recognized in Defoe a different spirit: “restless Daniel” of the “unceasing movement;” but Swift carelessly (posing) snubbed him as “the fellow that was pilloried, I forget his name.” Prof Richetti talked a lot about Swift and his relationship with Stella: Swift in his verse jeers at women seeking retirement (in 20th and 21st day off), for he combines attitudes: leisure is unearned privilege, yet he celebrates retirement when he imagines it with Stella: they will built a private alternative of mutual affection and rest from the world; Stella herself has lived a worth while life, reliant on her self.

pont-neuf and the pump houseblog
Pont Neuf and the Pump House

In the discussion afterward, it emerged that Richetti felt the ideal for retirement as understood in the 18th century is possible for only upper class males, even though it’s a fiction. Female experience, he suggested, does not allow for retirement; it is too different (female friendship may part of a woman’s version of retirement) and impossible to fit in.

*************************
Hardenblog
Print of ideal Scottish Drawing Room: all learning, making music together

Three women’s panels. At 8:30 Saturday morning, the “empty nest” panel had two remarkable papers. Rosemary Wake talked of the life of Beatrice Grant, apparently a cousin of some sort to Anne Grant: hers is the story of a woman who was quietly unconventional and when both her children left her and then pre-deceased her, turned to writing as an outlet, advice sort of books where she recreates the presence of her son especially. Frances Singh’s paper was filled with highly original research into the life of Jane Cumming, an illegitimate and mixed race Scotswoman the phases of whose existence show her to have been very hurt at how she was treated and to have taken a little understood revenge. Her experience and the accusations of sexual misconduct she accused two of her teachers of became the basis for Lilian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour.

At 10:15 am I attended Jan Stahl’s “Violence against Women, Recovery and Renewal.” Kristen Distel compared the memoir of Hortense Mazarin and her life after she escaped the abuse of her fanatically abusive and controlling husband to the depiction of Pamela and Mr B’s relationship in Richardson’s Pamela,and she discussed solutions for giving women independence and respect in Mary Astell’s work. The Duchess was forced to seem to retire, and the many miseries of her position formed part of the basis of Astell’s project to improve the education of women.

The other three papers were about books where female friendship is central. Tracey Hutchings-Goetz argued the important shaping relationship in Richardson’s Clarissa is that of Anna Howe and Clarissa Harlowe. They would like to escape the roles forced on them as women, and retire together as friends. Ms Hutchings-Goetz saw a parallel between Richardson’s fictional heroines and the real life lesbian relationship of Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill. Mary Harris discussed an American epistolary novel, Leonora Sansay’s 1808 Secret History; or the Horrors of St. Domingo: the back story of one of the heroines is of repetitive terrifying violent abuse by her husband. Finally Chloe Smith’s paper on Charlotte Lennox’s Euphemia, a 1790 epistolary novel provides a diptych of two friends’ perspectives: marriage brings hardship, male tyranny; they cannot choose for their children. The two women recuperate through their correspondence, but need men’s money to help themselves. Buried in this novel is a captivity narrative, recalling Behn’s Oroonoko.

Frances_d'Arblay_('Fanny_Burney'EdwardBurneysmall
Frances Burney (1785) by her cousin, Edward Francesco Burney — Betty Rizzo edited the 4th volume, 2nd half of the Early Journals

After lunch, there was book launch, a round table chaired by Temma Berg on behalf of a book she and Sonia Kane edited, Women, Gender and Print Culture in 18th Century Britain: Essays in Memory of Betty Rizzo. Eight women briefly described their contributions to the volume where ideally the writers had known Betty and could combine talk about their relationship with her and the shared topic of research. Sylvia Casey Marks discussed Sarah Fielding’s The Governess and paid tribute to Betty as a friend and scholar who wrote about unappreciated authors and books. Betty had given an assignment to Stephanie Oppenheim, a graduate student at the time, which led to Stephanie reading 100 issues of the London Gazette (1750-80) where one can recover the lives women led (travel stories), find bankruptcies they shared in and criminal cases. Beth Lambert discussed the published and unpublished letters of Gilbert Elliot (1751-1814) his wife, Maria Amyand, Lady Elliot (1752-1829); the family estate was Minto; Betty alerted Beth to an interesting love story the family had hidden, Elliot’s relationship with Ann Hayman, a lady at court. Mary Margaret Stewart, another of Betty’s friends, talked about how she and Betty corresponded about Lady Francis Coningsby whose mental troubles and distress led to her being treated as mad, and Francis’s relationship with her caregiver, Mary Trevor (whose letters were unfortunately not saved).

Three people did not know Betty but their interests coincided. Lorna Clarke had written about the lesser known Burney women writers, the whole artistic and writing environment in which they grew up. Frances Singh again talked of Jane Cumming and her relationship with her teachers, about which archival research is the only way to find out anything close to the truth. Lisa Berglund wrote about Hester Lynch Piozzi’s British Synonymy; Lisa said that fortitude is a feminine word (all its connotations and uses). Lisa had had an encounter with Betty on-line where Betty was seeking to work out some charades; later on she was able to move the woman known as Johnson’s great woman friend from the periphery of Johnson studies to a center of her own.

Beverly Schneller seems to have known Betty Rizzo best and gave a portrait of her character and career (the essay in the volume is titled: “A New and Braver Point to Make”) Beverly argued that Betty ran counter to aspects of academic culture and took risks, spending years researching unfashionable authors and topics. She was a scholar who disrupted things, who kept an open mind, followed her curiosity, found unexpected links.

Wybrand Hendriks (Dutch painter, 1744-1831) Old Woman Readingblog
Wybrand Henricks (1744-1831, Dutch): an old woman reading

There was a discussion afterward where people talked of their relationship with Betty and/or her scholarship and work. I mentioned that her editing of the 2nd volume of Burney’s early journals is far more thorough, detailed, and tells of incidents in a dramatic and candid way unlike what is found in the other volumes. I have a story to tell here too (which I didn’t mention in the session): after I came on-line on C18-l, Betty emailed me and said she thought she had met me on the steps of the New York Public Library when I was in mid-20s and at the Graduate Center. She said she had met this young graduate student whose conversation struck her and my photo on my blog made her think that young woman had been me. We then exchanged emails about ice-skating in the later 18th century: why women often didn’t do it and some beautiful sequences of ice-skating in Trollope and the early 20th century novel by H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia.

For the last session of the conference on late Saturday afternoon, two panels were combined under the topic of “Retirement Re-evaluated.” Three papers were on women’s novels. Aleksondar Hultquist discussed Eliza Haywood’s philosophical views on passion and reason as reflected in her novels: amorous inclination leads to knowledge: if you follow our passion, you teach yourself about yourself. Spiritual relationships cannot last, move must move into the body. In the novels, love plays out differently for men and women; ironically, the person who is more intelligent, capable of receiving a depth of impression is at greater risk for pain; love and friendship are positives for women in relationships with one another, with marriage is as generally not beneficial. By contrast, Michael Genovese gave a stimulating paper where he read Eliza Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless against its grain and I can only indicate a couple of the insights he offered. He suggested that a wildly anarchic group of desires are resisted by the novel’s overt teachings: in reality Trueworth is sadistic, aggressive; Eliza enjoys giving pain to men; Betsy is supposed to be learning to choose sensible prudent men when what happens is she enjoys triumphing over male characters.

Catherine Keohane discussed Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall, an novel about exemplary busy retirements for upper class women helping the world’s female victims. The histories told bely what we see: in the world women are powerless, have no control over their lives, suffer. The novel means to offer an alternative to a life where the woman is not valued and is abused. The hall is a place of refuge which becomes publicly oriented, charity behind which the women make a new life for themselves. Rebecca Shapiro’s paper was on how dictionaries address women, specifically Robert Cawdrey’s which dwells on a vocabulary thought appropriate to women’s refined and leisured lives. She also suggested that by being included in the lexicography women gain a status and can seek a way out of the private sphere.

WatteauSignGersaintblog
Antoine Watteau, The Signboard at Gersaint (1720)

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MPJulietStevenson

Dear friends and readers,

After shoverdosing on the MP movies, I followed up my intermittent preparation for the Montreal JASNA AGM, topic Mansfield Park, with debating with fellow readers what should be the topic for the student essay contest. The winner was:

Consider the role of silence in Mansfield Park. Sometimes silence is chosen, sometimes it is forced, and sometimes it just happens. The number of times the narrator remarks that people say nothing is quite surprising, yet the narrator too is silent on important points. And sometimes only the narrator fills the silence on equally important points, especially about Fanny. What do we learn from the silences of Mansfield Park?

One person had objected to the over-guided nature of most of the suggestions; I suggested one can argue that through silence one can possess one’s soul wholly and apart — as Elinor Dashwood argues (in effect) to Marianne (Chapter 17, Vol 1) in one of their disputes:

My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of the understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning. I am guilty, I confess, of having often wished you to treat our acquaintance in general with greater attention; but when have I advised you to adopt their sentiments or conform to their judgment in serious matters?”

Elinor keeps her views even if no one agrees and she never voices or even acts on them openly. One can keep a space for peace. But equally one can argue that silence is a weak weapon, indeed one that easily can be manipulated against you as in law and custom: silence assumes consent. Lucy could easily have taken Edward Ferrars: she preferred the new (false) eldest, Robert (made so by the mother’s will). (Shades of Mary Crawford at first, when she said she knew it was her way to prefer the eldest, and then at last, when she thought Tom lay dying, so Edmund would be the heir.) Which of Austen’s heroines is pro-active on her own behalf? Maybe Jane Fairfax with her clandestine engagement? Which speaks truth to power. Elizabeth Bennet to Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes firmly to mind. But then what if you have no opportunity, but can only possess your soul — Anne Elliot’s case for 8 years?

So, is silence a effective weapon or shield in lives where (as the narrator suggests at the close of MP) we are born to struggle and endure? Or is it counterproductive?

**********************

Silence. What is it like to be without Jim. It’s silence. And more silence. It’s he’s not here and there is no one I can turn to as any kind of replacement for the function he had in my life. Or for himself. Silence. He is not palpably absent; there is no sense of him except in my mind.

As I listen to Juliet Stevenson read aloud MP, it comes to me Austen is such a comfort because of her style and restraint. Stevenson reads the book exquisitely right. No over-reading, but not mindless or toneless. This steady graceful rhythm that enters my soul. Austere hard ironies are contained in it (strong stuff), pathos quietly conveyed (moving), and it soothes my soul because I can hold firm onto those rhythms. I manage to still my beating heart by holding to them. My rib cage doesn’t strain so. And the calm is not false for the words Austen uses are true to nature and human life.

Juliet-Stevensonblog
Juliet Stevenson, a little about her

Still listening as of 11/7/13.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Sir, the biographical part of writing is what I like best — Johnson as quoted by Boswell

Writingadiary

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written about the social life and place of this year’s ASECS meeting in Cleveland; now I’ll turn to some notes on the sessions and papers. I discover that I have rather more notes than usual on three related sessions: Biographies, travel-writing, and “Frances Burney at court” (this combines life-, travel and fiction writing). So I’ll begin by transcribing my notes from just two of these three panels and on another day go on to Frances D’Arblay (once again).

I’m with Johnson: there’s nothing I enjoy reading more than a superb literary biography or someone’s life-writing when well done; and I think the author or artist remains central to how we understand their art. All the forms of life-writing as an art first emerged in the long 18th century. . I bring together two really marvelous and informative sessions on writing biography and 18th century women travelers.

************************

220px-Charles-Joseph_Natoireblog
Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700-77)

Eight in the morning on Thursday and after pouring myself a coffee in the central meeting area, I went off to a room on the side to listen to five people tell of their experience in writing a biography. Reed Benhamou was the chair and began: how does one write a biography? She wanted to learn things about the authors she was devoting her life to and for herself she felt she had to like her subject. So she chose Charles-Joseph Natoire, a French painter and director of the French academy in Rome. She wanted to re-insert him among his peers, and she examined known cases where he was accused of unfairness, bigotry, expelling a student unfairly.

Vin Carretta who wrote a life of Olauda Equiano (using the autobiography) and edited the poems of and wrote a biography of Phillis Wheatley. He soon found he needed a methodology: “trust but verify.” One of his subjects had written an autobiography and so he had to re-construct the puzzle where pieces are missing using this text. You have to cope with problematic and contradictory evidence. What do you do with critics today? Prof Carretta felt the best biographies move straightforwardly, and the problem is you can be tempted to fill your narrative too strongly with reception history or allow yourself to spend too much time answering literary critics. He mentioned that people had looked at Equiano as a precursor of Frederick Douglas; he wanted to show how Equiano had dealt with previous biography. As to Phillis Wheatley, With enslaved women their identity is reached through property papers; married, their existence can be buried. You must turn to her poetry.

Gene Hammond wanted to write about Swift as a humanist. His problems included what do you do with a series of letters widely apart in time. Where is it best to cover something? Where is it best to cover something? Swift is said to have been deserted by his mother between the ages 6 and 18; he looked at shipping records to see if she ever visited him; he found Swift’s grandmother did. Esther was illegitimate and thought Swift would marry her; they probably had an affair, and when he didn’t marry her, she threatened blackmail or to kill herself. When Swift later in life tells of his young years, you must put the information in the young years, yet the writing reflects the time it’s written in. How seriously do you take letters? His most powerful influential years were 1710-14 and later he tried to help those women who wanted to to flee the noxious town. Biography is also a story of several characters.

Portrait-Of-Josef-Franz-Maximilian-7th-Prince-Of-Lobkowiczsmall
Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz (1772–1816

Kathryn Libin told a story about how after the communist party lost control (1989), she was hired to come to Czechoslovakia to inventory the private music papers of the wealthy Lobkowicz family. She asks us to imagine her sitting on the floor of the local large library surrounded by the papers of a Prince Lobkowicz of the Habsburg empire who had been Beethoven’s patron. The family had collected thousands of sheets of music. There had been no archivist. The archive is rich beyond belief and she has been formulating a chronology. Her difficulties included access, the ancientness of some of the materials. Her talk centered on the actual circumstances in which a research project is carried out and how that affects what the biographer can write.

Anastasia_Robinsonsmall
Anastasia Robinson (1692-1755)

Kathryn Lowere’s subject is the 18th century soprano and actress, Anastasia Robinson. There is a story Robinson was born in Italy, her father died, and she had gone into a theater for first time in a long time. Lowere found fashion to be helpful chronological evidence. Anastasia was involved in Queen Anne’s court as a vocalist-musician and when the planes went down she broadened her appeal by learning to sing Italian opera too. This to carry on earning a living. She knew a lot of people (Mary Delany, Italian diplomats), lived in an English nunnery; her Catholicism is often marginalized in biographical sketches of her. Her letters are scattered everywhere (she is known to have asked Handel to rewrite her letters).

There was then general discussion among the panelists, and ideas thrown out: epigraphs can help you start a chapter; when a person’s life has gaps, you have to decide how much context outside to give. Who do you think your core readership is going to be controls what you write. Every biographer has to deal with a series of specific issues. Leave no stone unturned. You have the right to take control of your narrative. You can treat something as a mystery as long as you are forthright about it. When and where people are born limits their life’s choices. You can write a biography of someone from different people’s points of view.

The audience did join in: a few people told of their projects and the art of biography was defended as the basis of understanding a writer or his or her text in fundamental common sense ways. I told of my work on later 17th century women’s life-writing, Anne Finch, and how I had to have a story of a life in my mind to annotate Anne Murray Halkett’s remnant autobiography and the poems I have translated by Colonna and Gambara.

**********************

Travel-Writingblog

Later that day (11:30) I went to a marvelously informative session on a form of writing related to biography and autobiography: travel-writing is a special form of memoir. This particular set were by women, where 3 were seen as offering knowledge of “exotic” places (Fay, Clive, Falconbridge), 1 seemed wildly adventurous (Ashbridge) and a last by someone thought to be a poetic genius and is filled with intelligent political thought (Radcliffe). They are all joined by the reality that what influences them most on their journey is the male closest to them. Abusive male sexuality, a domineering presence, or (in the case of the lucky Radcliffe), a kindly husband who is equally intellectual but just as cautious. This relationship remains what counts most — unless the woman goes out on her own.

Melissa Antonucci spoke about Elizabeth Ashbridge’s (1713-55) conversion narrative as moving into “self-authorship.” Ms Antonucci felt that women who move away from home to another place, usually stay, and develop for themselves a new world and life. When a girl Ashbridge had a love affair that made her resolve to elope with him; he died young, and what was left were painful memories. She found herself financially destitute, homeless, and relied on neighbors until she left for Ireland for the first time. She seems to have remarried a stocking weaver, and had a conversion experience into Quakerism. She went to the US through indentured servitude, and when she got there was sold illegally by a man called Sullivan whom she did not love. They moved to Rhode Island, and again she joins with someone who is not good for her. She and her husband kept moving, partly because the husband wanted to jolt her out of her religious piety. They go from Boston to Pennsylvania. A story is told of how her husband tried to get her to dance at an inn and she refused. They went on to Freehold as teachers, again among Quakers, and he threatens to kill her. They moved again and she genuinely tries to reform him, but he gets drunk, enlists, moves to Cuba. He died. She returned to Ireland and became an itinerent Quaker preacher. Ms. Antonucci suggested an early exclusion from the dominant community had led to Ashbridge choosing quakerism and here she could “share the light” with like-minded people.

20090710-radcliffeblog
Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823)

JoEllen Delucia discussed Ann Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794. Ms Delucia suggested this text feels anomalous after her gothics, but that this text has gothic, picturesque and sublime description. Radcliffe availed herself of antiquarian sources and history, and held onto her native tongue. Mr Delucia felt this book was written to change the way people were regarding Radcliffe who wanted to present herself as British foremost. In her journeys Radcliffe comes close to genuine want, hunger, and does not seek to be picturesque. She goes through zones of war and sieges and suggests that as a nation we are an artificial construct, easily dismantled bit by bit. She also knew fear: she and her husband were stopped at the Switzerland boundaries, and the roughness with which they were treated made both of them fear imprisonment in a place where the individual has no or few rights. So they turned round and went home. As far as she gets Switzerland is described sublimely. In the later journal (it’s not clear when she went) through English lake district she was seen to anticipate Wordsworth and looks at her books once again and seeks history and place. Ms Delucia’s insight was to notice how the aesthetic categories of Radcliffe’s usual modes dissolve away once she moves into an imaginative passionate encounter with experience, history, past people.

I suggested afterward that the Journey book is not anomalous but rather another way of presenting the same violent and disquieting matter. Even in the lake district she visits dungeons and shows how rituals are forms of tyranny. Ms Delucia agreed that the Journey book is another face of the same gothic artist.

Henrietta_Clive,_Countess_of_Powissmaller
Henrietta Clive, Countess of Powis (1758-1830)

Mona Narain told us about two women British travel-writers who went to India: first, Eliza Fay. Fay’s book was published posthumously. Fay was alone, a daughter of a sailor; she had married “up”, a lawyer who hoped to prosper with her. The marriage was unhappy; he had an Indian mistress and child. She conveys her personal feelings. When she and her husband were imprisoned for a short time, she seemingly couldn’t believe treatment could be this bad. Later she finds her husband cannot make a living as a colonist, most cope with his intemperate behavior, and slowly return home (England). She discovers she is more at risk from her husband’s failures than from Indian people about them. Henrietta Clive published more than her travel book; at the time of her arrest by her husband she was reading Birds of Passage. Gender is but one valence by which we understand a travel book: class position, reasons for travel, stance in writing all affect and shape the process and thus product. She shows us the national pleasures, cultural aspirations, and argues for spontaneity and heterogeneity. Her aspiration is everywhere. Seh married Edward, Lord Clive’s oldest son who was appointed governor of Madras; they travelled richly with a huge retinue to impress the Nawab. Nonetheless Lady Clive wanted to return home but they had to stay to recover costs and get out of debt. She learns material circumstances are not enough as a basis for existence and that she was fooled by Mary Montagu’s Turkish Letters. Her framework with her husband fell apart too. For both women male sexuality was central to their experience, and they find they can activate their own agency only by travelling alone.

Elizabeth Zold’s topic was Anna Marie Falconbridge’s (1769-1816?) 2 voyages to Sierrra Leone. For the rest of this summary see comments.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

acadian-diaspora

Funestes ont été pareilles dispersions et pareil abandon (Emile Lauvrière, Brève histoire tragique du peuple acadien, Paris 1947)

Dear friends and readers,

Every once in a while I read a book, do a review on it, which requires much reading in books I’ve never gone into before, and I come away with a new perspective that enables me to see much that I had been reading before or studying in a new light, from a point of view that I hadn’t considered before and opens up whole new ways of looking at books and art and life too.

Such a book was Christopher Hodson’s Acadian Diaspora, which has had a (mildly) transformative effect on me, not so much for itself, but for the whole outlook it belongs to, the set of books, I had to read to understand it, including the Cambridge Companion to Post-Colonial Studies, ed Neil Lazarus. So you can imagine how chuffed I am to see it in print — it’s just been published in the (18th century periodical) The Intelligencer. From my restatement of one of the many insights of Hodson’s book:

Hodson thoroughly undermines the argument that we can explain what happened to the Acadians before and since 1755 (and by implication that of other peoples so dispersed) by examining their technological know-how (referred to as level of “sophistication” or “civilization”), willingness to work hard, or cultural norms (family values, religion, particulars of an ethnicity). Once people are dispersed, displaced, divided up, we see how easily people’s cultural norms, their local social capital (to use Bourdieu’s term), sentimental ties dissolve, or are bypassed … We see how technological abilities are blocked or made counterproductive … Hodson demonstrates that for individuals and family groups with only small or no property, no connections they can call on to enable them to overcome local exclusionary customs, and no military to support them, the ability to control their circumstances and future is extremely limited (169-71). He shows that “ordinary people’s safeguards” are long-standing and recognized commercial and familial relationships and also known and understood local economic environments that cannot be misrepresented to them ..

If you read the review, you’ll see summaries and references to the central books I read — much worth reading. I particularly enjoyed Marie-Therese Humbert’s epistolary La Montagne des Signaux:

LesMontagnesdeSignaux;

Margaret Saunder’s Rose of Arcadia:

RoseofAcadia
(try to glimpse the lovely later 19th century painting),

and the French history of the Acadian “derangement” by Emile Lauvrière. Very important was an early “straight” history of Trinidad by V. S. Naipaul, The Loss of El Dorado which in context (for me) read like a more imaginative passionate version of Acadian Diaspora. The same motives, the same savagery (barbarity), the same delusions led to analogous disasters and cruel societies on the coast of Latin and South America. Both encompass colonialism across a wide swath of the earth during the long 18th century and then focus in on specific concrete instances (some of these overlap). Naipaul’s begins with Ralegh’s Discovery of Guiana.

I didn’t, though, mention one I will probably continue to cherish, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival and only mentioned in passing his The Loss of El Dorado. I’ve been wanting to write to tell of my new discovery and sudden real love for at least one side of V.S. Naipaul’s writing but have not known quite how to do it. The content of Enigma of Arrival, its subjective outlook made it tangential to my review-essay. That’s why I never mention it, let alone describe it, and and yet it centrally helped cause my new understanding and the use I can make of the post-colonial point of view in my writing and thinking.

********************

EnigmaofArrival.

The Enigma of Arrival has no central story line that quite makes sense, and its individual anecdotes of the lives going on around our narrator are not individuated, often the people are not named, only the outlines of their fates and some sense of the meaning of these fates told. It’s partly autobiographical, partly fictionalized: a writer brought up in Trinidad, of Indian ancestry, comes to live in a cottage not far from Stonehenge on the English Salisbury plain — where to him it seems cold and to snow a lot. His stories of getting used to England reminded me of my experience: of cold, yukky, pub drinking and music, and how I went from a dreamy reader of English books to a stranger wandering about to being at home in England, finding an identity I was given that I could live with there, in Leeds especially. it was one where I was left alone to join in with others or not, given a lot of individual social liberty.

The Enigma of Arrival is a deeply meditative book which through memory and imagination takes us back to neolithic time in the UK, through to the hardships of Elizabethan and 18th century history in Latin America and India, and fast forwarding to the moment in the mid-20th century when the narrator is taking his walks and interacting with his neighbors (workmen and others in cottages) and landlords. I identified with his quest for an identity different from the one imposed on him, his attempt to read and write and re-form a history he could endure to place himself against. Of course that’s what I did too when I came to England. He is telling us of how he became sort of English, while remaining at-home nowhere like all around him, and yet rootedly local. Funny, poignant (sometimes tragic as people kill themselves) with people half-mad the way they are in life. Writing strengthens him. Me too. I’ve felt the way he does when he’s up in planes and landing here and there on the earth.

In these meditations he made post-colonialism a new vital area of understanding for me, one I now see which relates us all to one another today — as the US gov’t acts out the latest elites’ will.
When do we arrive? when we reach a landscape, how do we become part of it, its past, a part of its people? when we begin to understand what? He says he leaves South Wind unread for a long time: it’s a book of conversations on an island off Italy by ex-pats. Gradually he feels he contains in him the worlds he creates and reads, and it’s not that there is no love between people for real (as Rushdie mistakenly thinks, a sad pastoral); rather that all of the characters and our narrator are seeking love and meaning and he finds it by seeing back in time and across in space to find stories like his (and mine and yours) everywhere.

The calm achieved he talks of is one I’ve found in Trollope. I’d like to think the Mr Harding of the book, a boarding house manager, is an allusion to Trollope. Much more likely Naipaul chose the name for the reason Trollope did: it’s quintessentially English.

The Acadians were chased all over the Atlantic; they are us too.

I’m happy to put a copy of my review on my website.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »