Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2010


Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), Le Singe Peintre

Dear friends and readers,

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a reasonable biography of Sade, Francine du Plessix-Grey’s At Home with the Marquis, and some of his works, including three novels: La Marquise de Gange, Eugenie de Franval, Justine; and two philosophical dialogues: Philosophy of the Boudoir, and a Dialogue between a Dying Man and a Priest. My argument is that Sade is both egregiously over-execrated but also egregiously over-praised.

Another way of looking at this blog is it’s about my adventures reading about and a few of the works of the famed Donatien de Sade. In the first half I discuss his little-known late gothic novella (based on a real life notorious court case), La Marquise de Gange. In the second half I summarize and review Francine du Plessix-Grey’s At Home with the Marquis de Sade (Chez Sade). The comments offer a few notes on his other works, calling attention to a gem, Eugenie de Franval.

Both La Marquise de Gange and Eugenie de Franval are instances of attempts at the female gothic. Justine is written in the tradition of heroine’s texts in the era, where the authors are men in drag. Another shorter earlier novella, Miss Henrietta Stalson, is a third book combining these modes.

Plessix-Gray’s book was sold as woman’s look at Sade, and especially providing insights about his wife. It is a book by a woman certainly, but is written to a stereotypical formula, exonerating Pelagie (Sade’s wife) as ignorant and presenting her as sexually enthralled by Sade, both of which seem to me preposterous views to take — even if they are common.

If the reader is interested in anther ‘take’ on Sade: how he’s viewed and used in the movie, Quills, see “a horror and biopic film”.

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

In the 1991 film rendition of Richardson’s Clarissa, Clary chooses death too (Anna [Hermione Norris] mourning her beloved friend, knows this)

Marquise de Gange: the horror of life

I finished this novella yesterday and have mixed feelings about it. In brief, it begins as an imitation of Lafayette’s La Princesse de Cleves, which turns into philosophical debate structured like Milton’s Comus (versus the Lady) and towards becomes a novel imitating Richardson’s Clarissa, with a female villain reminiscent of Madame de Merteuil. (One of the villain-heroes of Eugenie is called Valmont.)

I read the article by Mary Trouille which I recommended here: “Good and Evil, Faith & irreligion in Marquise de Grange. Trouille divides groups reading this novella into three: 1) a 2nd rate text by an aging author; 2) a parody of sentimental, moralistic novels, nihilistic in outlook, a pastiche of the maudlin popular lit of the time; she belongs to 3) a third: she argues the novel stands up to an analysis as a seriously intended questioning work, and says Sade does feel sympathy for the victim-heroine.

Towards the end she does acknowledge or somewhat reverse, when she describes the novel as a series of episodes (kidnapping, piracy, imprisonment, tricks), comic effect despite brutality and ugliness of motives; that he took a sadistic pleasure in writing the account. She acknowledges a fundamental discontinuity between tone and structure at the novel’s core: Sade’s La marquise de Gange is a parodic gothic fiction superimposed on historical novel based on court documents and chronicle accounts

It pains me to disagree with her, but my take combines positions 1 and 2) that is, while Sade shows sympathy for the victim heroine, this is both a 2nd rate work because he didn’t work hard enough on it and is more of a parody, ultimately (if you think about it) a send up of many popular elements and (because Sade is tactless and reveals connections others keep off the page) insightful about some of these. Part of the last sequence shows Sade’s marquise is a kind of Clarissa but it cannot be read consistently from that point of view. I find the dialogue on marriage at the center of the Lady and Comus debate actually more central to the work’s gothicism than the one on the existence of God and experience of nature as evil between the Abbe and the Marquise.

The heroine, Euphrasie (Diane in real life) does stand for the horror of existence and he does identify with her — her and the abbe both. When she is abducted, escapes from prison and finds herself in a hideous storm, without shelter, inappropriate clothes and someone approaches, what can she do but shudder. This is 1813, consider what Sade had really seen and participated in, no need for the exaggerated theatrical tortures of Quills:

“. . . un bruit se fait entendre; on approche. L’interessante et trist creature ne sait si elle doit ou desirer ou craindre ce qui parait se diriger vers elle. Que me voulez-vous? s’ecrie-t-elle. Est-ce moi que vous cherchez? Si c’est pourm’immoler, laissez-moi plutot mourir ici; le ciel exaucerta mes voeux, and j’aime mieux perir par sa main que part la votre …” (p. 236)

Primogeniture is exposed as a pernicious influence: so the husband, the marquis’s two brothers talk, one to the other hard to be so dependent on marquis (p 210-11). All need that inheritance from grandfather but suppose she leave it to son. Their business to blacken the woman comes from this need to weaken her position in society so as to get her husband to get her to leave disposition of property to him, then they can get the “rest” — a share.

Fascinating: one portrait of a woman suborned to trick the countess is frank portrait of a Madame de Merteuil. Madame de donis is a woman all believe virtuous but actually amoral, very dangerous says Sade. What emerges here is how some men believe in this spider woman: Sade really cannot conceive women are not hungry for sex with men and want to trap them and are hypocrites. (I find this idea in Pope). Madame de Merteuil is apparently what men believe is true of women (they love sex as men practice it, for power especially, and hide it, they are ever entrapping men), p216; Donis good friend of Marquise and mother, persuades her to win back her husband by behaving as a sexy mistress – not likely psychologically p 219-20; she falls into a trap, man she approaches not her husband, her husband watching and castigates her and there is Donis backing him up

***************
Some specifics:


Watteau, A Party in the Open Air

The novella begins as an imitation of Lafayette’s La Princesse de Cleves! The same portrait of a past court life, only in this case instead of 16th century, Henri II, we are in the later 17th century, or just before, with the regency of Louis XIII. The same build up of see how beautiful and polished and sophisticated are these people, with just an edge of “in” historical references, before we move on to our little group of characters.

The marquise is introduced indirectly too: a pawn in a game of marriage. She is not called Diane (her actual name) but Euphrasie, and we are told how beautiful and virtuous she was. She is first Mlle de Rossan, and married to the Marquis de Castellane; he dies. She meets and marries again, an excellent match from his wealth; the marquis is thought to be good husband material and off to his province they go.

But it’s also a conte and there is this strange undercurrent or outbreaks of sudden scathing sarcasm and harsh reactions of burning irritation. This is a hard book to translate even roughly because Sade’s French is vigorous and tightly put together so the sentence structure is very different from English; he has been influenced by Latin and writes in nouns plus his tone switches.

So, for example, in the preface we are told this is an edifying story and you see it’s so painful to him to offer a happy crime (a crime which goes unpunished, which in effect Ganges did) if we cannot show that fate corrected the event, that he has softened the facts so as not to distress the virtuous and also to have a virtuous moral (it’s at this point the irony becomes unmistakable), he doesn’t say everything (one does not tell all). Thus our author not to shake hope, “si consolant pour la vertu, que ceux qui l’ont persecutee doivent infailliblement l’etre a leur tour.”

It’s so consoling for virtue to know that those who have been persecuted infallibly persecute in turn.

Yes how consoling is that thought. Our heroine persecuted no one, and to say her complicit mother (for having married her to this man and also not doing anything about what she was told for ever so long) did is absurd. Sade is thinking of what he experienced and saw in the 1790s. Remember my posting on counter-revolutionary politics.

There are a lot of over-the-top phrases which break the serene surface, sudden brutalities and I just feel someone grinning. Oh this unfortunate woman. On the way to the province, she has a bad dream. Oh dear, it’s bad enough what is to come, but must one be made miserable by prophecies.

At one point he likens his tale to a conte and can’t resist calling Voltaire “un sot.” Voltaire’s tales it seems are amusing and meant to be so. And what an credulous person was Voltaire if he thought to reason when he should have laughed, and “si ses attaques sont devenues pour nous des triomphes, c’est que la verite qui convainc [sic] l’homme sage ne fait jamais rire que les sots.”

If Voltaire’s attacks are today read as triumphs, the truth which convinces the wise man only makes imbeciles laugh. Bitter, Sade is bitter. So after all this is not a Lafayette romance.

At the same time look at the league he has put his novella in. He knows Lafayette’s romance is a masterpiece (or considered so) and partners himself with Voltaire.

******************
Reading on through the first half of this novel. It’s disappointing. It’s much inferior to both Genlis’s Duchess of C****** and Smith’s Montalbert. To give himself a story and entertainment instead of resorting to the documentary facts (which are only really central to the retelling of this story popularly in 20th century versions), like Genlis and Smith he invents: but his invention is a fabliau type story of the Abbe trying to trick the Marquise into going to bed with others. Silly masculinist stuff. It reminds of plays where people get into the wrong bed or Renaissance chapbook matter. It’s hard to tell what his attitudes are: he does not seem to identify with the Abbe or the Marquise. This excuses him to make him jealous. In reality he was simply a vicious horror. These stories of love intrigues and sexual jealousy (including one I happen to be reading from the Victorian era, Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right) have the effect of deflecting, displacing attention from the basic cruelty for its own sake, as a result of power, at the core of the story.

On line at ECCO I found that Charlotte Smith’s Romance of Real life is available. This is a three volume redaction, abridgement and translation of the popular court cases that were read avidly in France — and Smith’s book sold well. We can say now that Austen probably knew the story of the Marquise de Ganges. (It has an “s” in all versions but Sade’s). Smith comes closer to stating the facts than most but she, following her source, attributes erotic/sexual love to the brothers’ desire to destroy the Marquise. Smith centers their hatred in the Marquise’s inheritance: like Clarissa, the Marquise stands to and does inherit an enormous property from her grandfather and she is murdered for it. Basically she is tricked, isolated and then dies a slow death from poison. The village finds out about it and the three men are sought.

In Smith’s version (from Gayot), the husband and one of the brothers is punished; the Abbe goes to Amsterdam and slowly rehabitates himself. Hers is a better version than Sade’s for it least tries to center on the truth, and she brings up (but skirts away from) the terrible humiliations and beatings the Marquise endured. She makes no attempt to titillate and does not enjoy violence.

I do have the second half to go and things are getting very bad for the Marquise at this point in the tale: the husband no longer pretends to love her, and he is driven wildly jealous. According to Trouille, Sade does enjoy retelling the vicious cruelties so I suppose I will be going through that this afternoon.

I don’t want to discount Sade altogether. I’ve started Radcliffe’s Sicilian romance and while on the surface this novella (again a very short book) is beautiful, the attitude of mind is on the conscious level repressive and foolishly sentimental with the characters utterly wooden. Sade does make fun of this in his tale: he is sending up these gothic tales through the ironies of his narrator. But intrinsically he has no real sympathy for the victims, mostly women. He sees the world as evil, and the thing a victim has to do is protect herself; there’s a great problem how, and I suppose if he were ever for reform for real, this is what he’d say reform is for.


Hogarth’s world of the Night

****************
Second half: What mish-mash. The last thing Sade cares about is a woman’s powerlessness, though he is engaged by the experience someone imprisoned has. Half-way through the book, Chapter 6, the wicked Abbe (Theodore) stage-manages a false scene so the (convenient) dupe, Villefranche, once again fooled into thinking that the Marquise is anxious, eager to go to bed with him, charges after her in a peculiarly compromising position. Abbe has the Marquise’s husband set up where he can see this, and the Marquis attacks, murders and then throws into the sea Villefranche.

The Abbe is a kind of Iago with the Marquis playing Othello. Now at long last he’s convinced his wife is unfaithful and he allows the Abbey to imprison her. Then we get the oddest long chapter: the Abbe has the Marquise alone in the house, in prison and attempts to seduce her. He is trying to get her to go to bed with him by first the carrot and then stick formulas. His agent is her servant, Rose. What emerges is a Miltonic Comus v the lady debate. They debate issues. He’s for divorce as marriage is a pact and surely the Marquis has broken his bargain. The marquise of course will not have this — marriage is for bringing up children. It is a debate that was going on in the 1790s and (as Mary Trouille shows) for about 7 years some of the most liberal positions promulgated until the 20th century were law in France — alas not custom and never accepted and then turned back.

Repeatedly they debate whether there is a God, and nature of existence as evil. The reader sees through this as a ruse to get Marquise to go to bed with Abbe.

Story sometimes strips the Marquise of all but a pallet of straw; at other times she has books, papers, desk, bed, all she could want. None of this is visualizedn or are we made to feel much of Marquise’s agony — except once in a while a powerful description of her screaming or in distress as she is frustrated by these games but dare not break out and cannot run away. There are effective descriptions of the tedium & meaninglessness of life in prison, a real sense of it, but these are short. They reflect Sade’s own experience, but unlike Genlis he’s not interested in this. Genlis was asked if she were ever in prison and she said not, that she imagined it. Genlis’s book was written in the 1780s well before she fled the terror and lived hand-to-mouth in fear. Marquise of Gange was published 1813 well after the terror.

Sade’s narrator begins to present the Marquise de Gange as a type of Clarissa: wholly virtuous, an example to us all, rather like Milton’s Lady.


Clarissa in prison-spunging house (from 1991 BBC Clarissa)

Another chapter and the Marquise’s mother. Mme de Chateaublanc comes to see her daughter. She is not only forbidden but we are asked to believe the mother submits to be shut up. She has brought the marquise’s son and the marquise is not permitted to see him at all. Here the gothic conventions just creak. It’s moving when the Marquise grieves, but it’s not probable at all. but Sade wants this. The Abbe does all he can to lie to each woman but neither believes him.

At this point the narrative made me think of Pauline Reage’s famous pornographic Story of O – which I have read the first sequence of. It has women locked up in different places like Mother and daughter here. All for the delectation of the men. Then the woman submit to whatever the men want. What’s missing here is the sexual porn. It belongs here somehow but he has not written it — or pulled it out?

Then Rose, the servant helps them to try to reach one another and we get this labyrinthine sequence, in dim light of course, pure female gothic, but then the abbe’s evil accomplice, Perret catches them and Rose is to be badly punished, but before that can happen the grandfather has died. The Marquis writes and says we have to free them and regain their confidence so they can inherit and change the will to leave it all to us instead of his son. The woman are relieved to be freed — Abbe keeps his lies up.

They pass through Avignon and that gives Sade a chance to paint France: as this degenerate corrupt society, bad or no tax system, lazy do-nothing people. This is a powerful satirical allegory.

Chapter 9 we return to social satire and in a Clarissa situation. The marquise stands to inherit from her grandfather and will not alter the will to leave the money after herself to her son. If she does of course that leaves the room clear for the Marquis and Abbe and Chevalier (the third brother) to kill her and inherit. The third brother has reason to hate her too because when he tried to seduce her in the early part of the book (under instructions from the Abbe) she made fun of him we are told (in front of others), humiliated him, but in the manner of minor and some major 18th century fiction, such scenes are not dramatized so are not felt enough.

The Marquis now refuses to remember all the hideous suspicions and treatment she has had from her husband, the Abbe or the Chevalier. She insists on saying she can see only good and she even deserved to be suspected.

Basically Sade has an outline of real story and larded it with his interests but kept having to come back in order to stick to the “facts” as he read them in the Causes Celebres publications of court cases in the era. It’s the length of a typical woman’s novel of the era and to some extent stays with the outward conventions, but as he has no interest in them he fills it otherwise. I have read that he said the best gothic novel written in his era was Lewis’s Monk, but he hasn’t got what it takes to write that kind of gothic and not be pornographic.

There are two roues, duc de Caderousse, duc de Valbelle, whom Sade appears to condemn outright (most virtuously) (p 224); both older sons, utterly amoral, they agree to play along and help provide evidence to prove Marquise unfaithful and irresponsible.

Invited by mother of one of these roues to a ball, the Marquise shines as in the opening of the story, then invited for a repast by Caderousse; she is drugged and abducted; finds herself in prison, she escapes, storm, she runs out, found by two men who drag her back to room and then her husband’s valet. As the novel opened, we were told he was a bad man; he is now in Caderousse’s service, having quit Marquis de Grange over some “petty” resentment, p 237

But then Sade provides a joke moral (as does Austen so often): while the valet and Marquise flee and she is followed, she says the moral is “the slightest imprudence can entangle an “honnete femme,” p 242 (inveigle, sweep away) and where is she taken but a room where the marquis her husband is 243.

She is blamed by all three men but then taken to Avignon and again treated decently, and urged to change the will to make her husband the executor. When she sees her mother, her first words are this is a dangerous plan then; and don’t trust him; she doesn’t want to give administration of will over to Marquis de Grange because she wants her grandson to inherit; she says humor him basically. p 246

Then we get what I think is a straight imitation of Clarissa: Sade has read it and is imitating: Mother has to go to Avignon about case, leaves no address; Marquise disquieted to be left alone even for a brief time, pp 256-57. Letter arrives from mother asking her to come to her; she’s ill; hurries into coach and find relative of Valbelle, arrives and finds no mother,p 260; they are putting her off and she becomes disquieted, sits down — like Clarissa brought back to the brothel (Clary so much more obvious reason to be in distress), p 262; she manages to get out to a quai (good description of one, ironical visualization of everyone negotiating,seeking advantage) but she knows this is a trick to blacken her reputation, p 264; she is surrounded, forced into carriage (just about) by idea her mother waiting for her (will not take potage) but it’s useless, now we are in another isolated mansoin, surrounded by hedges, and she is far away from help, p 266.

So we are in a gothic house and world. The marquise is fooled, terrified, bullied. Now it’s Valbelle who attempts her virtue; these continual aggressive assaults grow tiresome because each person new and situation the same. He can’t think what else to fill in? Valbelle threatens her with Africa; they will put her off there.

As with Clarissa the women in the house are not the upper class ladies but disguised servants (or promiscuous women) and when Valbelle leaves one, Julie, offers to help her escape, p 270; she is told yet more lies about her mother being nearby and why she is not taken there as yet

Then a pretend pirate scene (!); she is removed to a house of prostitution where a deposition signed that she was there and had sex with someone; and finally she is taken back to Avignon and her mother and she tells her mother what happened; mother says it’s all lies to prove her incompetent
.
All three brothers (including husband, Alphonse) hear of this and decide no more kid gloves; so time to bully the marquise (and if possible) through her her mother into submission; but they will first pretend all love and trust; Alphonse himself comes and Marquise delighted; her mother believes their new ploy has worked and Brothers don’t know; reception and 2 months of good behavior leave the Marquise now believing.

Now her mother gone, the chevalier says no need to have it in trust, why not just leave it to your husband (fatal moment) she does, p 285

But mother had made the previous will set up so no subsequent change can be made (fearing just this sort of thing); so the Abbe curses out the chevalier and says we have to blacken her; now plot is to have her seem to kill herself; gather false proofs. We get retelling of all their tricks in a way that presents her as incapable; they will demand she rescind her mother’s will, but if not no pity at all anyway. p. 288

So Marquis demands this rescinding the next day; she is sweet and tranquil but says no as this is against her honor and duty

The narrator then bursts out with a sudden execration and calling on furies as he says he now has to tell of these terrible scenes and that they are true. The language is over-the-top and feel comic: “O furies des enfers! …” It feels like he’s poking fun.

She grows ill, calls for apothecary, terrible stuff brought and she instead has some pills; she dines gaily with ladies but then into her room come brothers will pistol and sword and say either she drinks this (arsenic laced) concoction or they will brutally murder her with pistol and sword.

Sade gives us the feeling she drank the stuff so quickly because she was tired of life with these horrors around her: “c’est m’obliger que de hater la fin des mes tourments; en avalant la mort dans ce vase, je ne verrai plus mes bourreaux” when narrator asks if God can permit a crime to such a woman he is hinting she chose to die.

On one level, the book has all the stupidity of a popular work: going to culminate in horrific murders to amuse/titillate; the idea is to hold off and there he provides titillation; literature as masturbation. On the other, Here and there one feels were he trying he could write so much better, p 249 — a number of utterances now and again of tremendous force and scepticism, sardonic.

The book reveals a writer who could have written a masterpiece but hadn’t the respect for himself or the world to bother because a lifetime of experience had suggested to him it would not be appreciated by anyone. He was wrong for he certainly has had a strong fan club in the 20th century, as Du Plessix-Gray reveals.


Imaginary portrait of Donatien de Sade, by Man Ray (1938)

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

La Coste, Provence, a recent photo

Plessix-Grey’s Chez Sade, ending on a comparison of Sade’s life and Kaufman-Wright-Chasman’s Quills

Chapters 1-7

Like other biographers of Sade, Plessix-Grey begins with a depiction of the ancien regime and his family (sine qua non for understanding Sade). She assumes a smooth tone in which she outlines this sordid and miserable crew of powerful minor nobility and their vicious lives and motives in order to present a pleasant surface. I recognize this world as the core of the ancien regime — mildly reflected in Austen’s milieu too. It makes the revolution look very refreshing. What a rotten crew this boy was born too — Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis or Count de Sade, an only son (he was just five feet two), later in life obese.

Suffice to say that when one looks at the debaucheries of the uncle whose house he was brought up in, his mother’s life as a sycophant at court and the way she was used by the father — she had sex with him in front of his mistress as the price of the marriage — the schools he went to, pulled out rapidly to be put in the military, it’s a wonder he turned out no worse. In the opening pages, one does see the source of his hatred or at least discomfort around women (he had no solid loving strong mother type near him, only female sycophants of his father and uncle) and cold distant enactment of maleness. There was a kindly decent educated abbe uncle and here and there one spots someone who might be endurable and have taught the boy some values — certainly he had access to a great library, and read much of the famous enlightenment books.

Once Sade comes on the stage the book improves: the smooth language, superlatives, and great gap between the activities before us and Plessix-Grey’s tone ceases. Sade’s own tone comes out. Pressured intensely by his father, he marries a woman who learns to love him and for a while is a an exemplary husband and son-in-law — for the in-laws in this world count. He is in effect bought for his ancient title and rank by a rich bourgeois family; the mother-in-law and he would famously become enemies.


The Young De Sade (Van Loo)

The first scandals erupt when he pretends to go to court to solicit positions (this is what passes for “good” behavior) and instead goes to one of his several hideaways and terrifies a prostitute out of her wits. The incident is bizarre because of his really juvenile like rantings against religion and rituals of impiety mixed with sex, but it goes beyond this. There is (I hesitate use words which badmouth and stigmatize out of a notion there is a norm or present norms are good) something awry in this man’s psyche; he is not psychologically well. He must have seemed mad and the prostitute and madam went direct to the police, big as his rank was, and he was arrested. Only the rank and connections of his relatives set him free.

Plessix-Grey has not warmed to her hero — he’s not easy to warm, but she likes his wife, Pelagie. There is something unusual about Pelagie, but Plessix-Grey does not get to the bottom of it. Her account is at once implicitly salacious and unbelievable. I find (like Gillian Gill in a review she wrote for the Women’s Review of Books) that Plessix-Grey is repeating stereotypical accounts which seek to absolve Pelagie by presenting her as this docile wife who simply accepted Sade’s lies. Plessix-Grey suggests Pelagie was just sexually enthralled by this man. As the story proceeds, we see she facilitated and helped Sade commit some of his most egregious attacks on vulnerable women and her loyalty to him was strongest when they were apart. When he finally got out of prison at the revolution, she began proceedings for divorce.

This distortion at the very center of the book signals a failure of imagination and laziness (or discretion and that’s worse for then we are into lies) matched by the way she treats the people Sade abused. There is a strong tendency here to dismiss people who were servants, prostitutes, workers.

********************
Chs 8-10

Why is Sade (justifiably if somewhat unfairly when we think of other monsters not called that at all) treated as a pariah and repeatedly put in prison. His mother-in-law could not have pulled this off, given who he was (his family, rank, connections), had he not each time freed acted violently and abusively to women mostly, but also some powerless men. Chapters 5 (The First Outrage), 8 (Easter Sunday, the Keller case), and 10 (The Orgy, sometimes referred to as “Little girls” as if prostitutes were not women) tell only what got into police records.

Plessix-Grey compares favorably with Schaeffer and Lever throughout. The way to read her is critically and against the grain and with a sense of humor as I go. She does have far more caustic remarks than Lever, and if he will include more details (such how all Sade’s paternal aunts but one were thrown into nunneries to in effect rot ignorantly), she has others that are intriguing and bring this milieu to life.

She writes novelistically. The three chapters tell of the repercussions of the Arcueil or Keller incident. As Sade’s more intelligent relatives saw, his behavior was picked up as useful for the growing strong sentiments that led to the revolution, to curb not just the egregious abuses of power of the nobles, but to curb the power itself, to change its basis. He became notorious because of the bizarre blasphemous behavior he exhibited and inflicted on others, and the extremity of the distasteful punishments he inflicted on others. After all he did not maim himself.

He himself learned no such lesson from his behavior. His mother-in-law got him off through a lettre de cachet, the king’s justice. Had he had had to take the route of the parlements he could have gone to jail for much longer. But she could not save his reputation; he himself like his father before him was no net-worker; in fact he lived a rather solitary life and preferred the company of people below the rank of the bourgeois; his wife also preferred the company of people below. rank. This was a tie.

To make short the long tangled (and instructive about France at the time) story of how he was gotten off, spent time in a prison where he was given such full liberty that he got his wife pregnant again, and returned to La Coste (his favorite estate mansion in Provence), I’ll stress how 1) his mother said to be so indifferent was instrumental in helping him (though to protect her one reputation), and 2) how all agreed that the hurts he inflicted on the women were nothing different than others nobles did; and 3) once freed he again was able to play the role of an exemplary son-in-law, father, husband and landlord since this long stretch does not match what he does just after. The long stretch also includes his setting up two theaters and doing full and expensive local productions, as if he were running a playhouse and everyone he comes across exists to be in his company or perform as an audience. It’s remarkable to think how he gets everyone into the act. The money spent was enormous though.

Plessix-Gray calls this chapter “A Winter in Provence” and it’s a pleasure to read. Sade does start a liaison with his wife’s youngest sister — all the letters have been destroyed. His uncle the Abbe also joins in. We see how his wife knows all that is going on (despite Plessix-Grey’s assertions not — I’m beginning to think she says this to please the people who provide her sources, i.e., the living Sade people). The material about which plays and how they are put up on stage is fun to read

And so the stretch ends. Why? he returns to Marseilles supposedly to find loans and deal with debts. But what does he do? Within that first day he’s at the brothel with his valet and within a week he has again behaved atrociously, dangerously and crazily to a group of prostitutes. I can hardly get myself to read the details of what he inflicted on them: it’s so sickening, honest. Scatological, having to do withe the excretory system. It’s this accompanied by the juvenile kind of blasphemous tricks that made people really pause.

The women went to the police. They were terrified and horrified. And so I am up to the poor mother-in-law being dragged in again. She has written all sorts of letters to the Abbe trying to enlist him to control his nephew; she has become thoroughly aware of how broke Sade is — how like Becky and Rawdon (Thackeray’s Vanity Fair) he lives through the hopeless hope of creditors.

Ch 12: On the Lam


Miolans, one of the formidable prisons Sade was locked up in

Sade escapes from Miolans; if you look at the photo, you may think this was no mean feat. He didn’t lack for friends from the lower classes, and the Marquise, his wife, welcomed him back to La Coste. On the Lam seems a wee bit inappropriate since his returned to his lair, oops home. He can get away with this because he’s upper class; this is the ancien regime folks.

But his mother-in-law, the redoutable Mme de Monteuil has had enough; he and his wife are spending hugely while at home. They redo the castle (renovation is such fun), order gourmet foods in great quantities, and feed all. Mme de Montreuil paid herself out of pocket to bribe a huge band of police to do their duty; the assault failed; Sade’s wife, pragmatic bourgeois remember (think of the type Meg Tilly played in Forman’s Valmont where she as Madame de Tourvel becomes a canny survivor). There were some betrayals: Fage, Sade’s notary, and Sade’s uncle, the Abbe (utterly untrustworthy man); the mother-in-law tried a lettre de cache and it look months for the order to be processed; Pelagie went to Paris to defeat that.

Who is fighting who here? I see a mother-daughter struggle. Sade between two women. Sade and his favorite valet remind me of Don Giovanni and Leporello in the latest opera buffe I saw this year on HD opera: a comic routine that is very sad too — only here we must not forget (Plessix-Grey does in part) what Sade and his valet can do to the powerless.

When they won (Sade and his wife) they proceeded (as Plessix-Grey says) “to throw all caution to the winds” at La Coste. They spent big, they transgressed with yet more scandals; he did plays again. Plessix-Gey is revealing and informative about them, how they are done, what they were like: witty, sceptical, disillusioned, erotic.

********************
Chs 12-15; the biter bit; the years in prison start

At this point we move into a psychoanalytical analysis of the man. I agree that something was not right: he exhibits extreme schizophrenic behavior: for stretches an exemplary husband, father, writer, maker of plays, and then an egregiously cruel sadist who revels in bizarre mockeries of the church worthy a 13 year old. Two personalities were at war. One half-mad and the other quite reasonable and even decent (he could be very generous and decent to tenants — as long as they stayed in line of course), and the writing is interesting, very. And the other side of this is a fight to the death over living the life in them between Pelagie and her mother (Sade’s mother-in-law).

Among two pages of plausible paragraphs attached to little bullets with labels that are italicized (i.e., “infantile anxiety”), plausible that is if you accept the portraits of his mother as cold, mean and indifferent, his father as worse and so on, is this hilarious (to me) one:

“In every woman there is a potential for destruction and revenge that is part of a far greater communal energy. It erupts [yet] whenever men threaten the structure of the hearths women ahve patiently built over the millennia and menace the calm, conservative harmony of family life. Few are summoned to unleash this force. But when they do, women’s tumult of rage, their “blood-dimmed tide,” as Aeschylus called it, is terrifying in its power, because it is deeply encrusted in the bed of childbirth, in the archaic impulse to protect the future of their young. And that is why it is so often successful. “

Plessix-Grey’s been reading too many Greek tragedies, this lady. Johnson told Boswell not to think cant if he does repeat it; here we have Plessix-Grey writing mystical cant.

These chapters take us up to where the law in the person of Inspector Marais and a band of powerful men finally caught up with Sade (and his wife) in Paris and clapped him into the Bastille.

What led up to this? While at La Coste, Sade’s last escapades (as they are called) included snatching and luring another bunch of adolescent girls and subjecting them to the same terrifying horrific disgusting practices, whippings, scourging. Anal intercourse was the minimum. One got pregnant. Here where’s I began to feel the opening gambit where Plessix-Grey said Sade’s wife knew nothing of all this was a sop to his family, pro-Sade types, and whoever else might be offended. This story suggests to me how it was overtime that the ancien regime be brought down, and I can see why some would say the guillotine was long overdue.

It was a real difficulty to have put this man away. He operated out of la Coste, his lair, and was supported by all sorts of people who identified. He traveled twice to Italy, but not with impunity.

And here’s where the comedy and moral comes in (and my header comes in): if Sade’s life and activities and how he was getting away with all this, and living luxuriously (overspending for things like harpischords — a man must have a harpischord even if there is no glass in his windows) exemplifies how evil (=harm to others, great harm) and lousy (=corrupt) and unsafe was the ancien regime, so when he went to Italy he found himself getting a taste of his own medicine. He was almost put away because of the powerful corrupt networks in Naples. He cursed and despised the Neapolitans in his writing, but they returned the attitude and the vicious machinery of throwing people in jail who are nobodies in the particular crony system was got up against him, and he had to disguise himself and run away.

Sade returns to Provence to resume his usual activities. Another harem, more violence, but this time a father became enraged and got up close and shot (blanks) Sade through the chest. This scared Sade (he was a cowardly kind of sadist — Plessix-Grey calls him a “non-violent sadist” — depends how you define violence). Plessix-Grey says the father “does not seem to have been the most stable of fellows.” You hear her tone there.

Well how could this be? How horrifying. An aristocrat like himself, shot in his own house? what are things coming to? Sade became very upset. Frightened, and broke, he and Pelagie travel to Paris to get justice! his mother had also died and pace all the talk against her he sorrowed over it and wanted to see her into the grave.

And so he was captured. His untrustworthy uncle and his mother-in-law set the trap.


The Bastille

Plessix-Grey’s description of the Bastille does not make light of the place (Sade is her hero). It was dreadful. So much anti-French revolution propaganda makes light of this place. Thick thick walls, no light, chains for many, no food that was decent unless you had money, this was a horrible horrible hellhole for many. Sade did not endure the worst of it as he had money and connections and was given a room where he could be minimally comfortable, read, and write and eat and he proceeded to do so, with walks in the courtyards.

We get a picture of this man in prison, his wife frantic to get to him every order of food, medicine, books, he wants and how he wants his children. The letters start: his wife has no time for the children now, so preoccupied is she with helping him to be comfortable and the mother-in-law is now the mainstay once again. We read of Mirabeau’s correspondence — incarcerated during this time.

Sade would (ironically) be freed at the fall of the Bastille, but for a very short time. He was almost killed, and missed it because he was switched to another prison, but that’s for another day.

Chs 17-18: recaptured, imprisoned, but much-vaunted letters dull

Pretty quickly (the next chapter) his connections — and that dreaded mother-in-law’s heroic efforts — freed him to return to Provence. The uncle-abbe dies, un-mourned by anyone.

Whereupon we again get a short period of exemplary behavior — accompanied by vast spending. Where he gets these people to lend him money I don’t know, or he has access to endless rents (probably the latter) from his wife’s family.

I am by the way on the mother-in-law’s side all the way. She keeps writing her daughter to stop this extravagant spending.

What happens outwardly is Sade got off. What’s ironic is the way he was got off is totally unjust: the women he had abused were paid huge sums to lie and say there had been no sodomy and all had been exaggeration. He misbehaved so was captured and put back into prison. And the way he was put back in prison was also totally unjust: la President de Montreuil (to give his mother-in-law her full title) bribed yet more people who were powerful and would act out a lettre de cachet and he was thrown into Vincennes, a fortress very difficult to escape from.

The second would no longer happen after the revolution of 1789 when lettres de cachet (sometimes called the King’s Justice or Law) were abolished.

This super-powerful mother-in-law then manages to terrify and bully her daughter into living in a convent in Paris, and a friend of Sade’s and hers, Milli de Rousset joins her. They are broke (we are told) except that they are continually putting together these luxurious packages of food and whatever else he wants to Sade. I’m not quite sure how the mother-in-law managed this; it’s skimmed over.

Now we begin to get the prison letters and they include letters to Mlle de Rousset who was a spinster and became an intense confident of Sade. Their relationship at La Coste is said to be filled with badinage and be witty, but none is quoted.

As far as I can see from what’s in this book, these letters are overrated – I am now struck by how many pages of this book I’ve read (up to p 236) and I’ve yet to read an original thought, interesting account of anything by Sade quoted which would justify high respect for him as a thinker or writer. It’s obvious that Plessix-Grey is hampered because she can’t reprint the passages which are basically pornographic but she keeps saying there’s a lot more to Sade than this..

While in Vincennes, he and Mirabeau (also there) got into a very ugly quarrel; Sade despised him as lower in class; he despised Sade as a upper class moribund bully, bankrupt and useless. Of course both had their tempers tried to the utmost in this place — bullies abounded and needled the people in the prison. No adequate walking or any kind of reasonable activities. Both come off badly in this exchange.

Now it may be that because this is a popular biography Plessix-Gray is “not burdening” her book with literary criticism. I do have Levy and can compare eventually and see if he has some analysis and reprints passages which would demonstrate anything of interest. What I do see is someone who either writes exaggerated compliments and fawns and slobbers (over his wife too) or writes these ugly enraged cursing letters (to his wife too). I hope to read Seavers’s edition of the letters in prison and would be glad to find I am wrong.

He does know what is a well-balanced diet. We have the lists of the foods he asks his wife for and it shows all the food groups and is moderate. Alas he had a terrible weakness for sweets and cakes and these things he ate in great quantities and got no exercise.

Plessix-Grey is aware of the dullness and pettiness of the letters and is excusing them when she says we ought to compare them to other letters prisoners have written, most of which are pretty bad. Yes. But not all. How about Havel’s beautiful letters. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote and Auerbach Mimesis.

But it may be that they improve and in later periods of imprisonment (Charenton) Sade will begin to write something worth while reading and reading about.

I’ve been thinking after all Walter Scott was probably a worse person than Donatien (de) Sade. Last all I read and wrote about and made a blog about John Sutherland’s book on Walter Scott. True, Sade attacked individual people directly and hurt some of them very much. Scott on the other hand, was directly vicious to those in his family who acted generously and were good people because he wanted them to do all they could to aggrandize the family; as a judge he put people away for vicious reasons, he worked to push all sorts of reactionary causes (and successfully); he even engineered a duel as I recall to support a Tory publication which slandered liberal types. Sade could be and was very kind to family members; he was good to many tenants, to his servants; he helped people and what he wrote was not in defense of tyranny.

John Sutherland’s Scott tries to redeem Scott on the grounds and the way sensitive readers understood his writings. Scott left a remarkable legacy which influenced others worthily.

The children, Charenton, the necklace. Plessix-Grey takes us through Sade’s attempts to control how his children will be brought up — not very likely this. We see something of the conditions of life at Charenton to which he is taken. Unsurprisingly (to me) Plessix-Grey retells the story of the necklace very well: she is a gifted popularizer who does not dumb down too much, is not lurid, has an eye for the important detail, conveys what this was an important event so widely circulated and harmful to Antoinette’s reputation. Necker’s dismissal — another important moment in the fall of the monarchy and ancien regime – and not unrelated to said necklace.

Things began to calm down between mother and daughter as the years start to pass and Sade could not indulge himself in long horrible orgies or spend extravagantly.

********************
Ch 23: reading, writing

In these chapters we learn about Sade’s reading and writing but there is very little analysis, just general description, especially of Aline and Valcour, which is autobiographical and has Pelagie’s observations in it. So it’s disappointing. She agrees with all three reviewers that Sade is best seen in these short works, a short novel like La Marquis de Granges and the Philosophy in the Boudoir. And I can see that (if it is accurate) Plessix-Grey does include literary analysis and summaries of many of Sade’s works and letters. Many biographers omit this sort of thing! I had a publisher tell me it “drags” the book down and makes for fewer readers.

She does say of 120 Days that “it’s the “crudest, most repellent fictional dystopia ever limned, the creation of a borderline psychotic whose scatological fantasies have grown all the more deranged in the solitude and rage of his jail cell.”

Forbidden Knowledge by Roger Shattuck contains a persuasive (I think) argument against the over-rehabilitation of Sade. It’s not that he is not interesting and worth reading, but that he is an original mind, a victim, or major figure Shattuck is concerned to refute and to show that this emergence tells something ominous about our own era’s callousness and the re-emergence of privileged hierarchies.

Chs 23-27


An imaginary portrait of Sade (around 1790)

Not unsurprisingly, my “bout” with the violent (and yes pornographic)Quills has spurred me to finish Plessix-Grey, especially to get to the chapters about Sade’s Charenton period.

Now the sections where Sade has gotten out of the Bastille and for a while Charenton: he was actually a functioning politician of the republic, very successful, partly because of his strong self-esteem, knowledge of how to manipulate people, personal prestige as an aristocrat (this carries on as one sees in Lampedusa’s masterpiece of the 19450s, an Italian novel set in the rigorismento where a prince after the revolution is the one left standing, a deeply sceptical-conservative, but brilliantly humane work). He gets a new woman to live with, Constance Quetet, nags his attorney with all the old cold ruthlessness he used to pressure Pelagie with (no concern for this man’s lack of money, home, flights, personal life whatever), to get his rents for him, lavish food, even renovates his flat. He was the one who renamed a central part of Paris. Ironies upon ironies in this section.

Pelagie did separate herself from Sade and refuse to give him any money. He did see his two sons, and there was some rapport, but his daughter he depises as “ugly, fat, and boring.” This reminded me of Catherine Slope’s father in Washington Square (Henry James). I quoted this to Jim, my husband, and he laughed and said, “like whom?” Meaning Sade was fat, ugly and boring. He remained fervently in his gut against the revolution and republican principles, he was able to hide this; on one level he was a constitutional monarchist (as were many of the thinking aristocrats, including Stael) but he was also himself deeply subversive because of his own experiences of the law, his temperament. It’s a salutary example (to my mind) of how subversion is nothing in itself to admire.

Here we have by Plessix-Grey’s account of Justine. She argues it’s a Candide where what is exposed is the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of believing in this world virtue is rewarded. Justine is the Pangloss-Candide-Cunegund figure rolled up into one, and when she meets Juliette, the prostitute who is making it big, we are invited to compare. This is not to say the work is not pornographic and crude: Plessix-Grey quotes no passages.


From Quills: Justine burning

Chs 27-29: Many years free of bizarre horrible acts


Geoffrey Rush as the noble melancholy Sade in Quills

Two further chapters on Sade and I am struck by one reality: after the first long incarceration of Sade beginning in 1777 and until the year I’ve gotten up to, 1795 Sade committed no bizarre horrible acts. It will be said, well, most of these were in prison. First, very ugly behavior by aggressive vicious prisoners goes on, and, as far as we know Sade did nothing cruel, ugly, vicious or hurtful to others. Had he, we would probably know about it since he made himself so notorious, and (as people say) alas not for the violence and humiliation and cruelty he inflicted on others (and himself it should be said) but for the stupid childish or bizarre and (to me) silly blasphemies he accompanied his outrages with. I should say it’s these that makes me say he was not well in his mind at all.

And there now have been a number of years outside prison: thanks to the revolution, he was freed for the past 5 years and he lives a more or less common usual life with Constance Quetet to attend to him the way Pelagie did, all the while he interacts a great deal and successfully until he was (like so many) perceived to be another person to be guillotined — he offended by refusing to murder wholesale when he was at the head of committees to do so, he offended by his open atheism, he offended because he was an artisocrat by birth and connected to reactionary and constitutional monarchists, emigres and so on. His is another story of just missing death: in his case his name was not called the day he was to die, probably because on his behalf Constance bribed big an important man (not famous, but very powerful at the time) who a couple of years later Sade sold La Coste to at a bargain price.

I’m amused and sympathetic even when in 1795 without enough income (Pelagie has come out of hiding to get her part of the rents through Sade’s attorney who worked for her too) he can’t get a job! There’s a begging demanding shameless letter from him to someone he is connected to or knows something screeching for work and pay. Feels so contemporary.

I’m enjoying the book now despite Plessix-Grey’s views, very like Schamus, she likes to tell lurid stories of guillotine mass deaths, but has no time for remembering the hideous poverty and mass deaths and despair of hundreds of years before which brought this horrific sudden disappearance of any civilized behavior about. She also enjoys or appears not to mind the ludicrous crude passages in Sade’s books — for he is now filling time with writing — about sex. He loves to write of multiple fuckings, gets a kick out of having heroines who just love to be debauched and then exploited and this is presented by Plessix-Grey in the same tone that she recounts Sade’s few (he does have some) serious ideas that might be paid attention to: like say “the abolition of all dominance in the institution of marriage” (“It’s as unjust to possess a woman exclusively as it is to have slaves”): here you can see her not scrutinizing this idea which on the face of it won’t work since the domination-submission aspect of relationships probably can’t be legislated away, and the wording shows that Sade is still thinking of men as people.

Chez Sade, Chs 30-31


Geoffrey Rush makes a physically appealing Sade as witty writer

I’ve changed my thinking on Sade to the point where I’m feeling sympathetic towards him. While he did have one outbreak of one of these bizarre sexual encounters where he apparently showed himself aggressively and more than a little mad and dangerous in the last years, it was just the once — and it didn’t go very far. Plessix-Grey mentions this incident in passing and doesn’t detail it. Otherwise though from 1877 to the year of his death Sade behaved more or less normally (whatever that was in this frantic era) and was not a danger to others. He was endangered by others.

The argument excusing him on the grounds that others did the same or worse won’t wash. That excuses no one who has done a serious crime. But he may be sympathized with very much for the injustice of the second imprisonment and today we would not try to stop (or put him in prison for) his writing, however crazily pornographic (and tiresome) at stretches.

The last two chapters include more detailed summaries and analysis of Sade’s books, of the plays he put on, and narrative of his last years. I grew even to like him — for his candor and yes intelligence. The Marquise de Ganges is a late novella, one of several which are not at all pornographic. Plessix-Grey uses the derogatory term “chaste” of it as if it’s lack of porn is a drawback. It has to have sex and violence for the woman was abused and beaten by husband and brothers-in-law — while she was pregnant too if I recall.


Maddie Le Clerc (Kate Winslett) and Abbe Coulmiers (Joaquin Phoenix)


Royer-Collard (Michael Caine)

I should include some commentary on the supposed bio-pic Quills: the main characters are based on people who existed and even on some of their behavior but it’s wildly exaggerated. Francois Simonet de Coulmiers, the Abbe (from the high bourgeoisie of Burgundy, very well educated man) was deeply empathetic with Sade and an enlightened psychologist for his time, but he was not a tall handsome man in love with the chambermaid and was not thrown in a dungeon by Royer-Collard. Sade found a strong solace in the company of Coulmier in his later years. Coulmiers was a dwarf in stature. Royer-Collard was a hypocritical puritan after power and he did put a stop to the plays and did all he could to put a stop to Sade’s socializing, dining, life with Constance (in the prison) and managed that. He managed that when he replaced Dr Gastaldy, a liberal type first in charage of Charenton. He never did manage to really turn back the clock on some of the psychological improvements Coulmiers made. There was a chambermaid, Madaleine Leclerc, said to be comely; how much of a liaison they had we can’t know but perhaps some. She loved to eat the gourmet food Sade was still provided with, and received bits of money from Sade; think of her as a teenager who knew that Sade was a famous oddly respected and oddly loathed writer. He was sexually jealous about her.

An important love-hate relationship developed with his older son, Louis-Marie who was something of an intellectual equal. Alas, this son predeceased Sade. A central relationship remained Constance who had replaced Pelagie. And Sade’s lawyer, Gaufridy, who Sade nagged and bothered for years for money and help (Gaufridy came to side with Pelagie); a touching letter by Sade towards the end shows Sade appreciated him.

In the book’s epilogue Plessix-Grey summarizes the aftermath of his death and the history of scholarship and printing of Sade in the 20th century and. Napoleon comes up: she suggests he was aware of Sade, but only tangentially — as a type and individual to be dealt with by agents.

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

Davies’s Fanny being educated (a very 18th century theme)

An excursis: Among several realities in the books (price, printing history, whether in English or not) I read and films I’ve seen I’d like here to adduce just one: I’ll lay a bet Andrew Davies’s supposed film adaptation of John Cleland’s pornographic Memoirs of a Lady Of Pleasure aka Fanny Hill does not seem to me like Cleland’s harsh, crude and jeeringly homosexual novel (at least that’s how it has come across to me), but Sade’s Justine; or the Misfortunes of Virtue combined with his Philosophy of the Boudoir.

Justine is, just, readable. It’s very like Richardson’s Pamela or (better yet) Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne or say Retif’s La Paysanne Pervertie, one of these 18th century heroine’s texts. Sade’s idea is virtue gets it in the head every time. He opens with two heroines, Juliette and Justine, and Juliette, very amoral and strong, thrives and Justine, well, poor child, she does badly. Sade’s Philosophy of the Boudoir. This is porn, for it goes on and on. Those who talk of its philosophical insights are talking about dialogue 5. The thing about it is its joyous. Everyone is just so happy doing all these sex acts which seem to me ludicrous athleticism. I was bored, but I’ve seen this in Aretino’s guide to sex acts (pictures).

This is the first half of Davies’s film to a T.

The opening incidents of Davies’s Fanny’s career are just those of Juliette’s career, including being taken to a brothel, initiated by prostitutes in lesbian sex first, the time with the old man, all but the atmosphere is straight from Justine. Except the atmosphere. Davies’s film adaptation is joyous, and this he gets — from The Philosophy of the Boudoir, not Fanny Hill, which is ill-natured in tone and desperate. The second half of Davies’s film, Fanny’s misery and degradation takes off from Justine, but her winning out (and our happy ending) brings us back to Juliette. Critics who have discussed Davies’s Fanny Hill have hardly bothered to compare the texts as (they say) Davies’s is so different; indeed, it is.

As those who follow my Reveries under the Sign of Austen blog know, this summer I have been engaged with reading and thinking about gothic, libertine, and politically radical novels, memoirs and movies, with my excuse that all this is a prelude to writing two papers on some unusual sources of the gothic in Austen’s Northanger Abbey: I watched and wrote on Austen and Quills; Felicite-Stephanie de Genlis, life, Adele et Theodore, and Austen; Charlotte Smith’s powerful gothic of live burial, Montalbert, and Sara Maza’s book on cause celebres memoirs (the real stories often found behind these novels in popular court case histories of the era); and last a truly harrowing account of a real life case of marital cruelty by Retif and his daughter, Agnes de la Bretonne, Ingenu Saxancour, perhaps the most powerful depiction of spousal abuse ever written, a probing analysis and presentation of the psychology of the abuser and abused. My reading about and writing by Sade is part of this project and I have learned a good deal about him and revised my original hostile views considerably.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Duke of Omnium (Philip Latham) and Phineas (Donal McCann) talking of their political ideals (12:24 1974 Pallisers)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m taking two days out between preparing and putting new materials for teaching “Exploring the Gothic” as well as writing on the natural sciences and technology (particularly in the field of medicine (e.g, “Patients not Prisoners”, and a review of The Doctor); and beginning to write my paper on the gothic and Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Today and tomorrow I’m adding some material to and revamping my website. I’ve been meaning to do this for months.

Back in the spring I was intensely delighted when my etext edition of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield was reviewed in Eighteenth Century Fiction by a French scholar, Isabella Tremblay: some mild strictures are accompanied by strong praise.

I wrote a blog about it at the time. Now I’ve taken the time to answer the strictures and want to point out here that the reviewer did not take the time to notice I had a whole separate section for Cottin and had made a partial edition of Montolieu’s travel book cum-life writing as fantasy.


Woman on a Balcony (Frau auf dem Söller), 1824, by Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), recent cover illustration for an Oxford Mysteries of Udolpho, an image strongly appropriate to the mood and stance of Montolieu’s work


Anna [Hermione Norris] reading Clarissa’s letter telling Anna of her desperate need for some shelter as she’s pressured intensely to marry Mr Solmes (BBC/WBGH Clarissa, 1991

After two new papers on Clarissa, signifying a whole new level of understanding of this novel or at least on my part ability to be candid and explore the full sources of emotional pain in this book, I’ve at long last revamped my Studies of Richardson’s Clarissa website.


Alfonso Simonetti, Ancor Non Torna, illustration for 19th century Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, a gothic image whose outward formation (the crawling woman) is repeatedly found in novels about rape and violation (Diderot’s Nun) of the 18th century

I am also at long last gathering all the (71!) films studies in the form of blog review-essays I wrote on all 26 episodes of the Palliser films and put them in a single handy place in the order they were aired on BBC.


Mrs Jane Carbuncle (Helen Lindsay), wholly changed from Trollope’s conception, this is one of my favorite moments from the series, when she and her lover Sir George de Bruce Caruthers decided their best and natural business is to escape out the back door, unobserved

I began this series in the spring of 2007 and finished it today. It’s an accomplishment. Determined, dared, and done.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

There’s no to-morrow. It doesn’t come. Life’s an illusion. Didn’t you know. Let us make the most of the shadows … Ross to Elizabeth, before raping her (Bk 3, Ch 5, p. 314(


Final shots of Season 1: Film ends with Trenwith burned down, Mark Daniel killed, all money and hopes lost, Ross to go abroad as soldier, leaving Demelza with Jeremy (very different from book here)

Dear friends and readers,

Ross Poldark, jacobin landowner, in the film an unabiding renegade who rapes Elizabeth in order (he tells himself) to try to prevent her from marrying George Warleggan, capitalist villain, ruthless, malevolent. Demelza, refusing to accept this situation, hating herself for not retaliating by going to bed with the hard but fair Captain who tried to capture Ross et alia as smugglers. Caroline, strong woman brought out of 18th century gay witty lady, Enys as disillusioned as Ross. The hard capitalist (new world, our world) Warleggans. How I love these novels. Naturally another blog.

Here am I to relive with a you a little of the experience of this fourth of Winston Graham’s marvelous Poldark novels: Warleggan. We’ve had Ross Poldark, Revenant, Demelza: Mistress Poldark, Herstory, Jeremy Poldark, the midst of life. Warleggan is the name of a family enemy to the Poldarks since their grandfathers’ time, and this novel ends with George (Ralph Bates) taking possession not just of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark (Jill Townsend), Francis’s widow, Ross’s ex (as he thought until the end of the last book) beloved, but also of Trenwith, the family home.

An important theme in this novel is death: early on Demelza tells Captain MacNeil who tries to suggest that Jeremy has replaced Julia that ” “those who are left are different people trying to live the same lives” (p. 55): the death of Francis screws up the lives of three of the principles (Ross, Demelza and Elizabeth) by giving George Warleggan a chance to buy, seduce Elizabeth who in effect makes a second bad marriage. Her disloyalty to Ross leads to his raping her and (as emerges in Black Moon), Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the birth of Valentine, and Elizabeth’s death eventually.

The ending of the filmic Warleggan (Episode 16) differs startlingly from the ending of the novel as the opening of the mini-series (Episode 1) and ending of the first novel (Episode 4) differed from Graham’s Ross Poldark so the themes of the two works emerge quite differently.

What happens in the film is the theme of possession in the novel dominates the close: it’s true that central thematic matter in this novel also includes sexual possession, very much an 18th century theme too: towards the end of Warleggan Ross tells Demelza that he has been possessed by Elizabeth in the sense Lafayette’s La Princess de Cleves is possessed by Nemours (the man who would not mind committing adultery with her). Ross has been erotically enthralled by Elizabeth, and was awakened to his feelings the previous Xmas before Francis died. Ross asserts he is no longer, but we can see that while the grip of this “possession” has been broken during a long night of his ambiguous rape of Elizabeth, it is not altogether gone.

Demelza may be said to be possessed by Ross: she could not get herself to fuck with Captain (prevention man) McNeil (Donald Douglas) in retaliation, because she felt she belonged to or was part of Ross; but she is also possessed by Ross in law, when she’s pregnant with his child, and beholden to him for the respect she gets, her place in society, her name (as it’s put in the book).

The phrase may be used of non-erotic states and bodies: a person may feel he or she is possessed by evil and dark thoughts (the devil); you can be possessed by some pursuit that becomes an obsession. Both Mark Daniels and Dr Enys (Richard Morant) were possessed by Daniels’ wife, Keren (Demelza) in mad self-destructive way. By having the film end in a conflagration and abandonment of all the film emphasizes the destructiveness of this erotic possession and jealousy (George’s of Ross) and hatred (George’s of the community that despised him and he seeks to punish).

It is very easy to become confused between book and film so this time I preface each of the four sections with a summary of Graham’s book; and will make put a summary of 1 Poldark Part 16 in the comments to this blog (the filmic equivalent of the parts of Warleggan which differ radically from the book).
***************
Book One: April-May 1792


The set for the 1975 Poldark mini-series: we see Nampara

This is the first of the books to try to reset the reader into the world of Cornwall: in so doing it reminds me of Trollope’s Dr Thorne: the first two Barsetshire novels were written w/o an aim to make a series, but by the third Trollope knew he had created a world and would be filling it with characters and begins to develop the setting at length.

This is not fictional in the way of Trollope’s: it is meant to be historical places but Graham doing the same thing: he really sketches the area but it’s not wooden or dull as it’s done from the viewpoint of our main characters who have been invited to and are reluctant to go to a party at one of the six gentleman’s houses in the area. Ross and Demelza’s is the smallest, least pretentious, indeed most poverty stricken of the group.

A summary of the book:

Chapter 1: The six houses, Demelza at home with Jeremy, to her Francis, Ross arrives, they discuss return of Caroline; Trenwith George’s (false) courting of Elizabeth and its success; he and Aunt Agatha’s first ugly clash

Chapter 2: Francis home to Elizabeth; Elizabeth’s obtuseness about George; George meets and tries to seduce Enys to his side, fails; Dwight at the Hoblyns, his wandering about moors at night

Chapter 3: Begins with Ross and Demelza’s arrival at Place House, owned by Trevaunances, evening of 24 May 1792 . Dinner party with all major characters at table; major blindness of Trevaunance to invite both Ross and George; flirting of MacNeil with Demelza; charged conversations of Elizabeth with Ross (he loves her), of Elizabeth with Francis (she made serious mistake marrying him); deterioration of conversation when men leave. Four riding home together, Demelza feels something new afoot, Ross declares Caroline “wrong wife for Dwight .. [she will] wipe her feet on him” (p. 43)

Chapter 4: Dwight’s custom growing (Ellery’s death), his wooing of Caroline. MacNeil of Demelza who tells him of death of Julia: “those who are left are different people trying to live the same lives” (anticipates what will happen after Francis’s death too, p 55). Ross home, MacNeil leaves; Ross and Demelza discuss Mark Daniels’ possible find, Ross to Trencom to plan; Trencom aware an informer about and he has to move operation to another cove and keep his stolen goods at Nampara (the hole in the library floor made).

Chapter 5: Dwight visits Hoblyns and finds Kempthorne’s house remarkably improved; Dwight and Caroline’s strained courting.

Chapter 6: Trencom carries on, exchange of witty rebarbative letters between Dwight and Caroline; Pascoe’s letter sounding warning about his selling that note; Francis and Demezla’s important conversation where he tells her how much she means to the family and how lucky they are to get her; and also of his part in betrayal and she cannot forgive (a theme in book); Francis drowning, the child playing at Trenwith

Chapter 7: Ross home to Demelza withi news that the note was passed to Pascoe; the hunt for Francis and realization when they get to the mine he’s drowned, the body

The power of the opening four chapters is a direct development of the five characters at length and from within and in dialogue. It is here that Ross’s love for Elizabeth (Francis, Ross’s cousin’s wife) is brought out more clearly for the first time, both from his desiring point of view and the past they knew; from within. Now she has been so disappointed in Francis (she has not been out of her house in 4 years more times than she can count on one hand) and is bored. She is letting Ross know she’s available. Demelza intuitively sees this and is very hurt.

George Warleggan begins to be central as a presence. We see his spite in the way he insults Aunt Agatha, wishes for her death, calls her ugly in front of her because she’s deaf. She’s pathetic and narrow but not a bad woman, and has nowhere to live but with Francis and Elizabeth. Francis is wry and ironic but not unkind. We see how hard he is trying to support Ross; Francis warns Ross not to participate in the smuggling, even if the money is so desperately needed — as Warleggan is Ross’s enemy and has liens on the authorities.

Dr Enys is among the faithful decent. Alas, partly because of this he is not doing well. He cannot cure people magically and when they die, he’s blamed.

Breaking of sexual norms:

The character of Caroline Penvenen; far from a Gainsborough heroine, like Elizabeth, she is a woman who breaks sentimental norms. Another strong woman emerges: Caroline Penvenen. She’s an important character: in archetype she’s the gay witty lady of Restoration and 18th century comic drama: I can see Anne Oldfield doing her to perfection.

This is from Season 2 where there are scenes capturing this aspect of Caroline; in Season 1 she is much more like the elusive lady of Gainsborough 1940s movies, mischievous, non-serious

IN the book, what Winston Graham did was take this character and make her a proto feminist: she is pro-active and aggressive in her love affair with Dr Enys. He would have shrunk from her because of his lower station background, his lack of money, his sensitivity and gravity as a personality; his past history of having been taken over by another woman’s erotic enthrallment (in which he more than acquiesced) and her murder by her husband, Mark Daniels (still a fugitive in France, helped to get there by Ross Poldark) all in the way. She overcomes this by her wit, determination (Bk 1, ch 5 67-75, Bk 2, ch 2, 115-22). In Jeremy Poldark she had showed her understanding and kindness in the romance of the oranges I described.

In the film and book Enys is in love with her and she knows it; she refuses the older man her uncle wants her to marry. A good set of implicit social scenes does this. Ross is ever shown as intelligent (so too Demelza) and his remark on the relationship of Enys and Caroline rings a dark ominous note: “I certainly think she is the wrong wife for Dwight. She would wipe her feet on him” (ch 3, p 43). Nonetheless, when Warleggan tries to bully Enys into coming on his side, Enys refuses pointblank and is frank in discourtesy.

In both Francis (in Jeremy Poldark he tried to commit suicide; he drinks to drown depression, assumes ironical stance towards life) and Enys (the idealistic doctor who will not kowtow but is susceptible to affection from women) Graham breaks masculinity norms.

The film series does try to do justice to some of this, e.g.,

In the opening segment of season 2: after in the film Ross rescues Enys and Enys and Caroline marry, Caroline in the film lets Demelza know that after his long imprisonment & shattering experience Enys is still impotent but it does not come off sympathetic to him so much as about her frustration, the actress has not much feel for this, or maybe the writer and director (both men).

Finally, McNeil brought back — a Scots customs officer who had warned Ross in the end of Demelza about not getting too far away from law. He is well played in the series by Donald Douglas. He is interested in Demelza and she responsive — partly from her own frustrations. In Captain McNeil, the customs officer’s conversation with Demelza, he expresses regret at the death of Julie to which Demelza replies: “Those who are left are different people trying to live the same lives” (p 55).

It seems a strong remark about a 1 1/2 year old child, but not about the death of Francis. For now Elizabeth the frail widow who Ross knows is willing, Ross, now genuinely grieving yet aware how futile and stupid was Francis’s act (there was nothing there probably), has to take over Francis’s duties, supply the other half of the firm; his absence hurts Demelza’s self-confidence and and growing place. Because he’s not there their roles must be different in law and custom.

Francis’s death (Chapter 6): I can’t speak too highly of the power and effect of the way this is done. Francis having tried so hard to make up for his dereliction in allowing himself to be bribed and pressured to give away who (Ross) was starting up the Copper company, with last intimate talk to Demelza, returns to the mine to see if he can find this ore level Mark Daniels had seen. He goes too far in, slips, falls, and drowns.

That’s what’s seen in the film. In the book we are with this man during the hours he waits to be rescued. In Jeremy Poldark he had tried to kill himself in Dr Enys’s room before the trial, but now he has thought better of it, is going in the direction of a life he wants, with respect for himself (his father never gave) him and wants to live. We are with him as he sinks, as he finds there is no ladder, as he holds onto that nail for three hours and then as the wall crumbles. His thoughts, his frantic shouts. A long sequence, not overdone but each moment felt as the man is there waiting, slipping, frantic and gone. We have heard so many stories of late about miners thrown away (unions useless now), and out infrastructure let go and so many dying this way. 9/11 managed to retrieve only a few and who ultimately brought on that blast? who has profited from it?

And then the silence and narrative returns to Elizabeth waiting for him patiently as yet.

A theme in the book: when an individual dies it matters. Ellery dies, Rosalie Hobyns doesn’t and that changes Enys’s life. Harris Peascoe passes the promissory note Ross originally signed for the first loan to Cary Warleggan. Charles, the old man, now dead and Cary ruthless.

***************************
Book Two, Mid-November 1792:


Botallack Mine, Cornwall

A summary of the book:

Chapter 1: That terrible year (mist, cold), Ross walking meets Caroline in coach, Ross she means to have Dwight and in Ross’s thoughts the renewal of the relationship with Elizabeth, now frail and clinging to him (so he thinks) — he’s like a man with two wives. Dwight visits Demelza who tells him she does not want to be like “Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles” (p. 110); Ross arrives to tell of return again of Caroline, and talks with them “Events do what they like with us, and such — such temporary freedom as we have only fosters an illusion … Look at Francis Was there ever a more sorrier or end … To drown like a dog in a well for nothing .. the wantonness …the useless waste” (P. 113), and Demelza trying to look forward …

Chapter 2: November a bad month for secret assignments out of doors but we have meeting of Caroline and Dwight and at long last agreed upon engagement; she agrees he the most noble but she does see he does not like her Bath plan … (patients need him)

Chapter 3: One of Ross’s weekly visits to Elizabeth; does she know how much he feels responsibility; when he leaves we see she is thinking of saying yes to George’s proposal as solving her problems; Ross to Demelza, about their desperation, talk of how much more of Trencom they will need; she wants to borrow, he does not, dark hours

Chapter 4: Mr Penvenen and Dwight’s clash over Caroline — very like a Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth scene; Caroline’s visit to Pascoe and her determination to provide needed 2000 pounds

Chapter 5: Pascoe tells Ross the good news, Ross’s return to Demelza who we see with dog, with child, with cat, good news, how they will prosper, the presents he means to give her, the love-making

“that odd fusion of desire and affection for which there is no substitute … They stayed for a while hardly moving. His hands were cool on her legs. Remember this, she thought. In the times of jealousy and neglect, remember this” (p. 159). “so you are not to be rid of me my love …”

Chapter 6: Another Christmas, now 1792: they were all to go to Verity (who had taken Francis’s death hard), last moment Elizabeth decides to go to mother (Cusargne); instead she goes to Cardew which makes Trenwith look like country house, and Cusargne an empty barn, the tension among the Warleggans, Nicholas not keen for Poldark widow as a daughter-in-law; Ross’s quixotic gesture; now Ross determined to pay his debt to Francis for mine: to give Elizabeth the 600 pounds and take useless mine from her; Dwight and Caroline’s compromise (he does not want to go but feels he ought, still guilty over Keren); Ross gives Elizabeth the 600 without admitting it’s him; she is all smiles and brilliance, talks of her “dislike to think I was being false to our friendship” (p.175). He is intensely aware of her tight narrow body. We are to guess she has half accepted George.

Chapter 7: Henshawe with new troubles, Ross now has only 75, Henshawe regrets how Ross has spent needed money; could Ross go see Mark, price coming down; Ross tells Demelza he will go find Mark; Dwight among the Hoblyns (we have this thread to remind us of informer as well as Dwight’s work), ends again on a woman, Caroline this time, how she intends to live her life her own way

“I intend to live my life in my own way and shall not be bribed by them into remaining their domestic tabby. It will do me good, Dwight, to stand on my own feet, and I want you to help me.” He says perhaps we shall have to help one another” – p 187

Chapter 8: January 1793, the execution of the king, known by Jan 24th; Ross spends last 75 pounds on purchase of coal (p. 189). Dwight comes to tell Ross he is leaving; he will be home first of February; so Dwight tells her but not about Caroline and leaves her feeling lonelier than ever; Ross in old clothes seeking Daniel on the island, uncle tells Caroline better to leave Friday, Caroline refuses to leave before Sunday; Ross now brought ashore on Thursday

Chapter 9: The meeting between Mark and Ross; Mark white haired, aged; Ross realizes that Mark saw the same vein of apparent copper that Francis did, promises to put up a stone for Keren “by building so much on the chance utterances of a man crazed with rage and grief, he had brought himself to the present pass’ (p. 201). No by giving his money away to Elizabeth. Dwight giving up on seeing Ross; meanwhile MacNeil and Vercoe making their plans; Dwight waiting until midnight, one last call to Rosina’s whose knee is gone again; goes to Hoblyns, hears Kempthorne’s lie and recognizes it, realizes what is occurring and goes to Kempthorne before trying to meet Caroline

Chapter 10: Uncle Ray Penvenen goes to bed at half ten; Caroline and maid sneak out, Dwight exposes Kempthorne to Hoblyns; Dwight and Kempthorne’s struggle; now Lottie cries out that her life is being ruined at this exposure, father hurt in struggle and Dwight flees, Lottie’s grief

Chapter 11: MacNeil come to Nampara to await Ross’s return, Demelza almost tells him but some native caution stops her and they sit waiting; Dwight rushes to the top of the hill and lights the fires of warning

Chapter 12: Ross coming ashore, his talk with Mark’s brother, Paul; they see the gaugers and military and prevention men in time; Ross begins to flee; Ross home and hidden, Demelza tries to prevent Vercoe from coming in; on the beach a terrific struggle ensuing; they examine the floor, go the cache, but it is empty

Chapter 13: Caroline’s goodbye letter to Dwight, letter dated February 3, 1793; he didn’t want to come; the men out to hunt for Kempthorne; hours after the military leave Ross emerges from his hiding place.

Commentary: Things have become desperate for Ross. Harris Pascoe has sold the promissory note to Cary Warleggan — another treachery, and Ross can do nothing about it. Cary demands full payment by December. The loss of their very land looms over Demelza and Ross.

Caroline to the rescue. She goes to Harris and offers to buy the promissory note herself. This is a scene which would startle and feel meaningful to any reader of Trollope: when women try to use money on their own, men won’t listen. At first Pascoe doubts she has the money, then the control of it, and then he says Ross would not accept money from a woman. At each count she persuades him otherwise. When at the last he downright refuses as he is uncomfortable, she asks who else runs a bank here, and is leaving. It reminded me of buying a car from a car dealer. You need to be willing to walk. He caves in and the scene closes. We don’t need to know the negotiations once she has gotten over this hump of being a woman (Bk 2, ch 4, p 144-48, in fact juxtaposed to Enys standing up to Caroline’s uncles).

What makes for the complexity also is she is given the rightist rhetoric: not as a validation but to explain why an heiress would think Tory like thoughts.

Graham is unwilling though to have his hero not be sufficiently manly so he has Enys confront Caroline’s uncle in a scene where the two men rehearse the scene between Lady Catherine de Bourgh v Elizabeth: in this one Enys stands up to all the counts of inappropriateness, future misery because they will not be accepted, the unimportance of love, sneers at his profession, learning, insistence that Caroline does not know her mind. It’s this scene (as in P&P) that persuades Caroline that Enys does love her. It’s hard not to believe Graham had P&P in mind and is reversing the sexes (bk 2, ch 4, 134-44).

That this is a quietly feminist vein is reinforced by Caroline’s riding a horse. She rides dangerously according to her uncle; she insists on riding publicly twice a week with Enys well before the uncle and he have their scene together.

The Ross-Demelza-Elizabeth triangle:

Ross is called over and at first astounded to be told the money is now paid, then perplexed, and then wonders where some treachery lies. He almost walks out but Harris Pascoe (despite his having been squeezed to sell the note) is an old friend and says on his word, this is good and Ross signs the new note. Now he is free for a long time to come (Bk 2, Ch 5, pp 149-52).

Meanwhile though money desperation and the intervention of McNeil and the prevention men has led Trencomb to ask Ross to allow them to store their smuggled goods in his house. He bends to pressure despite Demelza’s concern. Comically or ironically they use the library. We watch the scene (pp. 132-33) and from our visit to the Hoblyns with Enys where Enys’s success in curing the daughter’s broken knee, has made him get customers, begin to suspect Charles Kempthorne is not altogether above board about something. It’s impossible to keep secrets as it takes people to do things is what Graham wants us to see.

Ross’s first act is to re-buy things for the house and to bring Demelza precious presents, including things for her hair. We see and she does how he loves her tenderly despite the attraction (love or lust and a certain congeniality in their amorality) for Elizabeth still. He has had to visit Elizabeth since Francis’s death and they have come closer together — or so he thinks.

I just loved how the scene of the presents ended. Jeremy is there, natch and the dog, Garrick, chasing the cat. He kneels down to her while she sits in a chair and we are told puts his hands on her thighs. She thinks to herself that she wants to remember these moments for a long time, especially when she is feeling not valued or remembers his love for Elizabeth and then they speak:

He said: ‘So you are not to be rid of me my love.’
‘I am not to be rid of you, my love.
Over in the corner by the door Jeremy thumped down and began methodically to pull off his gloves (Book 2, ch 5, pp 158-59)

Life moves on relentlessly or quietly as it does in these novels. Next chapter, Christmas and now they can take up Verity’s invitation to Blamey’s for Christmas: they have clothes and things to bring, can hold up their heads.

We are told that Elizabeth was to come (Ross had urged her) and had planned to go to her parents but does not: We surmise she in fact went to the Warleggans, in effect to George who also has been visiting regularly: been so good to not pull in the debt Francis owed him, has bought her boy presents (pp; 158-159). She (we know) unlike Demelza but like Caroline values things over people, she wants social admiration over cherished private life (which is what matters to Demelza — and to me).

On the one hand, Ross goes to the island of St Mary’s where Mark Daniels is waiting for him. This is his last ditch attempt to be told where Daniels saw this lode of copper in the mine. Ross is shocked at how Daniels looks: decades older, white hair, wild and desperate, not quite right in his mind any more. Daniels has been living as an outcast, fugitive from the law (for murder of his wife, Keren) and has hired himself out to fight in France. It comes home to Ross how tenuous is Daniels’s memory and how foolish and self-deluded he had been to believe this story. It is improbable it appears that Daniels saw anything. And on this he had invested his last large sum, Francis’s loan, that Francis had lost his life seeking out desperately.

We see this desire was natural and Francis fell for it too because he wanted too. Earlier in the book there’s a long monologue by Ross about how life can be so meaningless and people die just for nothing — this in reference to Francis’s death by drowning.

It’s on his way home to Nampara by sea that Ross confronts this scene at the cove of unloading the goods and is almost captured by Vercoe, and actually fights him bodily, is seen and throws Vercoe off and flees home successfully to hide in a cache behind a cache in the family home’s unused (a quiet joke by Graham) library.

How did Ross manage to escape in time and why were not all the smugglers taken?

Dr Enys. As above, Enys has succombed to Caroline’s pressuring and has agreed to flee with her from her uncle’s home and go to live with her in Bath. A fait accompli. She is an heiress and apparently thinks they can live on her income, but if Enys is so determined to practice his medicine, he can set up there very well. We are told in an earlier book (it comes out in the trial scene of Ross in Jeremy Poldark) that Enys is one of those who benefited from the slight glimmerings of a meritocracy, and although from poor middling parents, was recognized for gifts and educated as a genuine physician and we see how much he cares about his patients.

He tells Demelza in an unconscious slip when he is telling her of his and Caroline’s plans, that the going off is a “grief.” It is. We remember Ross’s words about Caroline: she may wipe up the floor with Enys (I suppose like Rosamund Vincy does with Lydgate in Middlemarch though on different grounds and from different psychological/sociological causes).

That night they are to meet at 11. She insists she must not tell her uncle for he will thwart her ferociously (the class system is very real in this book) but will accept a fait accompli after a while. We get a double small interweave here. Caroline trying to say goodbye to the uncle who gains a sense something is afoot and will not go to bed. He goes well after 10 and she arrives with her luggage at the carriage late, to find no Enys.

He too was waiting and there came to him a last emergency: Rosina Hoblyns’s knee is acting up again. He is sitting there waiting for the 11 o’clock time to come near and he figures he’s better off spending the last half hour with a patient whose good health he has gained credit for. When there, he is told that Charlie Kempthorne will not be with the men that night. Why not? Kempthorne is ill and he hears a lie about himself. That he advised Kempthorne to stay in. Now we do have a novelistic providential trick: he suddenly puts together his noticing (which he had) the better condition of Kempthorne’s cottage (as doctor he visits them) and partly because he does not want to meet Caroline, heads for Kempthorne’s cottage.

A confrontation scene of some power ensues. Enys is rarely not soft-spoken and cooperative. He suddenly accused Kempthorne of being the informer and Kempthorne loses it. He is frightened himself, a fight ensues and Kempthorne tries to disable Enys (with a knife) but Enys escapes. The children are frightened by all this and anxious.

Enys then runs high on the hill and sets up a bonfire. A bonfire is an old symbol that something is wrong. He has a gun and when the men begin to land he lights the fire and attempts alerts them. Not only him but some of the smugglers have seen one of McNeil’s men and another figure at a point on a fence they usually use to get the stuff to the library.

Ross is coming onto the beach just around that time, a little tiny bit later and sees the cargo being thrown overboard, sees the first scuffle and is himself beset by Vercoe. He shoots to keep people away and either kills or wounds someone and keeps running home.

Meanwhile Demelza is waiting too — she too is up that night waiting, for Ross. We had a moving scene between them when he went off to find Daniels. We are told little things about Ross’s appearance by this time. Pascoe (his banker) sees he has taken on a wolvish appearance. He insists he must see Daniels and that he will make his way there and back (it’s 1792 and France is dangerous too). She knows this is a night for smuggling and bringing the cargo to the library.

Comes to her house to quarantine it and hold her there McNeil and his men. McNeil has been alerted that his men are seen and he wants to prevent Ross from getting home. He knows from a sub-textual conversation with Ross after the trial that Ross is involved in the smuggling. Demelza for a moment thinks to hint to McNeil the truth for McNeil is decent, has warned Ross friendly-like and would go to bed with her if she acceded. But she looks in his eye and knows there’s no mercy there.

So she sticks to her story, Ross is at St Ives and will be back tomorrow or late tonight. Her house is surrounded. The men won’t let her go upstairs but she insists on seeing her boy. She gets herself out the window, jumps three feet and is off to the beach where she meets Ross coming from it. She warns him and he goes into the library by another entrance than the front of the house. She has no way of climbing back up to her boy’s window and braves the group by just walking in.

A half hour or less later McNeil is there furious, wounded, they look everywhere for Ross, including the library. Demelza can see there’s been an informer for they know to lift part of the library floor where cargo sometimes is. No cargo tonight.

In the film a superbly well-done, tightly knit, expertly interwoven yet sprawling near-disaster. Ross and the “free trade” men he is allowing to land at Nampara cove are informed against by Charlie Kempthorne; they are lit upon by the prevention-men, Captain McNeil, the customs officer and his men, the local government man, Vercoe and 7 smugglers captured, 2 killed and one wounded. McNeil is among those wounded on the other side. The rest of the smugglers escape out to sea with most of their cargo intact. They will be back on another dawn.

This early dawn on the shore does not end Book 2, for its final chapter is a search for Charlie Kempthorne by a group of self-appointed men from the neighborhood. But he has fled, and while a first impulse is to burn the cottage and beat his children, better impulses prevail and the children are simply sent to an aunt and then the cottage burnt (where Kempthorne had been gathering very nice furniture and other hitherto unexplained quietly put-in signs of prosperity for quite a long time).

In the film we see the men throw Kempthorne off a cliff. A group of men seek out Charlie Kempthorne and after a while find him. It’s an ill wind that does no body any good. Kempthorne had made a deal with Rosina’s father to marry her and the father had been willing to beat her into it. Kempthorne is much older than she, brings two children; he would provide a decent home, but she is not sure he is a character she will be treated kindly by. Well, now she need not worry.

A letter from Caroline to Enys ends Book 2. A bitter one about how she has left with her uncle the next morning at 10, and does not expect to return again. She says she was aware how loathe Enys was to leave his practice and friends too at Cornwall.

As I’ve said all this is deepened by the reality of the reading experience of subjectivized narratives for 4 books now and each of the important characters is alive in the reader’s mind as a real presence.
***************
Book Three, begins a week later, still February 1793


Prelude to Rape scene: Ross climbs the walls (Part 15, Episode 5)


The confrontation: he says he will stop her

A summary of the book:

Chapter 1: Trencom takes care of his friends, alibis for all, Dwight’s unease, some loss of custom and increase of admiration from people around as a group. His thoughts: “Far better bitter disappointment now than the humiliation and misery of a lifelong mesalliance” (p 258); Demelza and Ross’s talk, he has to admit he sold Leisure for 675 and discharged a debt of honor with the 600, she says she’s heard George Warleggan very obliging to Elizabeth so maybe not so much in need; Ross’s jealousy over Bodrugan deflects this; he and Henshawe go down Grambler, and feel despair.

Chapter 2: George Warleggan outwits Elizabeth in effect: “streak of hazard blending with good fortune” on Warleggan’s side; he pressures her into a public wedding, says that he’ll repair Trenwith; he will help her with her boy; at the close of the chapters George exults that he had “dealt what he knew would be the deadliest of blows at his bitter enemy” (p. 277)

Chapter 3: Now tin found at Gambler; Demelza to Verity, limit on what you can ask; “if you believe in him,then you’ve no excuse for asking for proofs all the time” (p. 282). Verity to have baby (October due date — so 1793). Demelza thinking, off to do what she can for Bodrugan, meets MacNeil on the way, genuine conversation (man is in his own terms decent) at Bodrugan learns of match of Elizabeth and George

Chapter 4: Large political scene sketched in (counter revolution, war in Europe, Paris open to taker), May 2, 1793 Charlie Kempthorne’s body found floating in sea; Rosina come to Dwight; moving talk; he has no one to talk to; Dwight and Ross rush to where accident; Ross had not spent enough money on mining equipment and bad accident: 2 men killed by fall, 3 seriously injured, work stops

Chapter 5: Failure coming very hard; he comes home to Demelza; odd tone, Elizabeth’s letter dated 9 May 1793 (so the rape is 9 May 1793), he goes dark in mind and heart; goes there, intense conversation which rehearses all the previous backstory history (which is dramatized in melodramatic ways in mini-series, episodes 1-4). They quarrel over his intention to stop her and her refusal to acquiesce; no escape she knows; he insists she is making another mistake; his insistence makes him hateful to her, she now needles him with her love for George and it leads to rape and his staying the night. She: “Tomorrow …:. He: “There’s no tomorrow. It doesn’t come. Life’s an illustion, Didn’t you know. Let us make the most of the shadows” (p. 314)

Chapter 6: Ross comes home to Demelza and Jeremy; terrible scene, “joint betrayal destroyed the basis of their life”; “frightening blazing anger” alive in her and she goes out; the relationship destroyed it seems, they meet at meals, the invitation to Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s party, Demelza will go alone.

Chapter 7: Demelza at party; “desolation” in her heart, the will to retaliate, but not the object; she can’t bear Bodrugan; MacNeil turns up, at heart she feel “lost, irretrievably lost” (p. 333)

Chapter 8: Demelza does lead MacNeil on, a bedroom scene which is counterpart to rape scene; MacNeil a bit too aggressive, and she punts; he will not force himself on her, she feels she must adhere to the one man; she feels debased; MacNeil’s words of interest for they do not blame Demelza by a cliched morality: “When admiration turns to contempt [what he feels for her now] it is time to go” (p. 346). She’d like to die.

Chapter 9: Comical fight of Treneglos and Bodugran outside her door; Bodrugna breaks in and finds her gone, and then thinks of Margaret (not pleasant person in the book at all).

Chapter 10: Ross at Looe on business; Demelza thinks he will leave her; he cannot get himself to go to Elizabeth (p. 356); he was sure of his love for Demelza but cannot speak or talk of it or justify himself; she would have felt better had she yielded to MacNeil. Then Elizabeth and George: Elixabeth attempts to weasel out, then to gain a delay, only manages that; real anger is that Ross had not been near her, had he come she would have reacted differently. As she yields passively to George the lines are: “God, I am in a cage! Lost for ever (why did Ross come, she hates him for coming, despise, only enmity between them, she shall be George’s faithful wife and again) “Why did he have to come? god, I am in a cage. I am lost forever” (p. 367).

So matter of this book is trial aftermath; Crash of Mine; Ross’s night with Elizabeth and its dire results for him and Demelza and for Elizabeth too.

Reading on in Smuggling on Cornwall and Devon: as far as I can tell quietly, unobtrusively, Graham continually accurate in offhand references and suggestive scenes.

The aftermath of the near capture of the smugglers, is a series of trials where the authorities get nowhere. Mary Waugh in her Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall, 1700-1850 says despite draconian legislation and punishment throughout the coastline of the British Isles starting around mid-17th century (to drag tax out of people), in some areas local populations persistently refused to convict and gradually punishments were softened so that you could get off by volunteering for military service (especially if you could bring someone with you).

Well, Trencom the man who runs this smuggling does not forget his friends. He has someone in court stand up with an alibi for Ross; he pays people’s fines. A few do have to pay by the horrors of some years at transportation or a year in prison. The prevention people go off to France to fight – they are eager for this we are told (with some irony in the narrator’s voice). A rare leftist point of view depicts Paris as under siege from the counterrevolutionary and emigrant armies. Graham also shows how the interests of the judges are distinctly against the smugglers for personal gain and stature and out of whack with the locals. Not as history but as realized personalities. The informer’s body, is found drowned some weeks later; the girl who was to have married him is somewhat saddened because after all she would have had an establishment and he showed admiration and affection but now she has the trouble of getting people to believe she knew nothing. She did know nothing.

Graham’s fiction stands out as superior to Daphne Dumaurier’s I now realize for he offers a full sociological feel of smuggling, including how it took organization, money, was a full fledged business operation outside the law. In her books it is all vague romance outside the adventure sequences.

A second set of scenes concerns finding a tin lode. They do find one, but alas, Ross has given back the 600 pounds Francis lent him, seeing (he thinks for a long time to come) Elizabeth’s poverty. He feels terrible over the death of Francis. He also does love Elizabeth too and visits and begins to feel he is an important presence in her house. But she does not consult or go to him because that would interfere with Demelza and they stop at a certain point from too much intimacy.

What happens to the tin lode is Ross mines it dangerously, He does not spend because he does not have the money to set up a careful operation which would preclude a sudden crash within and that is what happens. His men (friends) are wounded badly and the operation must cease now. I say this briefly and swiftly but in the book it is fully dramatized, including scenes of Ross with his money lender and the builders. Of course our hero goes down in the mine for hours to try to save people and does help bring two more men out, one Will Nanfan who I remember accompanies Ross to France to rescue Enys from a French prison in a later book (it’s in Season 2 of the films).

So I come to the sections that most engage me and at a deep level: Elizabeth’s decision to marry George Warleggan, Ross’s arch enemy.

Suffice to say it is not presented simply as a sudden burst of intense passion and revenge hatred, self-satisfaction by a hero who has within him an abiding renegade but a night of harsh love-making which causes a terrible break and tension between Ross and Demelza as she knows about it as he does not hide it — because he can’t get himself too. So as with the marriage and first pregnancy of Demelza, the films turned into something far more melodramatic and simple a sequence of adult experience.

The point I want to make about Ross’s one night with Elizabeth is its ruthlessness as an action, and ambiguity as a non-ethical violent act, however made understandable and mitigated by the past, present circumstances, and how it’s presented. As a reader who sympathizes even intensely with Ross (and equally Demelza), I want to exculpate him, and know that in my presentation of his heading the riot on the beach (for in some sense he did and it’s not clear he didn’t start it) where he and other men seized two incoming ships, fleeced them, and reveled in the exhilaration of the moment, I had an urge to make his role less instigating, dominant, and (as in the courtroom his defense attorney did) kept alive in my narrative how when he saw the action turning into wanton destruction and murder, he turned round to invite the militia (then in danger) to his house. All the while he let everything started up take its course, and even if new groups of men had come in (miners mostly) who he could not have controlled, his hospitality and later return to as benevolent landowner was an evasion.

So too here. In the film, Ross receives Elizabeth’s letter and is so enraged, he flees his house, finds a horse, makes his way to Trenwith, and upon finding the house locked for the night, climbs onto the roof, across the siding and into a window, and without much more ado than an initial face-to-face shot, rapes her. Or so we are to understand. The screen goes dark and he is next seen in the morning returning home to a Demelza who knows where he has been, as much because he then sleeps downstairs, does not go up to their room where she’s laying, baby Jeremy not far off.

That is an accurate outline of what happens — except the letter Elizabeth sends is much more apologetic in the novel. In the film she lashes out at conventions and says she is marrying George for money and power; she has been and continues to be selfish; she did not marry Ross because he had nothing and Francis was the heir to a gainful property at the time, and refuses explicitly to make moral excuses about her son. We know she dreams of going to London for she says so to George who plays along (pretends he is considering it). I doubt she’s have done that realistically :). It’s an anachronism like having Demelza pregnant before marriage in the film (not so in the book) and having her claim she doesn’t know who the father is and not be judged harshly adversely as she would certainly have been.

IN the letter in the novel Elizabeth details what we have seen happening towards the end of Jeremy Poldark and the first 3/4s of this novel. In 5 years she’s been out barely 5 times; she is now living in poverty even if the 600 was returned to her (by Ross); she is beset by creditors, by the trouble of keeping up this huge house, by the problem of what to do about Geoffrey Charles’s education, by all sorts of hard-to-do even impossible to do stuff. And we see in the novel she is fooled by thinking that George is marrying her just for herself, does not know he does it to revenge himself ultimately on Ross: as her husband, he becomes the head of Trenwith, takes over Francis’s place. Graham makes this hypocrisy burningly evident in the narrator’s discourse.

Plus three different long conversations are omitted. Ross does indeed climb into Elizabeth’s room, but then they proceed to talk. This talk taking us back to her original motivations for marrying Francis, her boredom and despair, that she didn’t love him and he knew it (part of his reason for wanting to kill himself), and these long 5 years of an abyss of anything to do, anyone to talk to but Aunt Agatha, makes her marriage understandable to us and even to Ross, but it does not make up for his drive to possess her sexually and his intense frustration. He did think by giving her that 600 he would be a kind of alternative husband. He tells her she should have come to him for all these troubles and he would have helped her find another husband. The novel doesn’t make any or much of his motivations explicit (because they are not conscious with him) but we doubt he’d have found her another husband.

What the film series did was take this long talk turn it into a series of scenes which are interwoven in Season 1 throughout. In Season 1 Ross’s love and lust or urge for Elizabeth begins quite early in his marriage and carries on until this night together. In the novels, it is not evident until he and Demelza visit Francis and Charles on the second Xmas when Elizabeth makes it clear for the first time she would perhaps be willing to go to bed with Ross (over the dishes near midnight) and he responds and would have done “it” there on the floor with her, but that she held back, backed off, fled the room (in Jeremey Poldark). By threading this material throughout the film series, that makes the film series far more coherent, dramatic, psychologically modern, for Demelza knows, is hurt, feels herself someone who was simply felt sorry for and is a barrier. In the novels Ross and Poldark have a period of real euphoria, and his marrying her, giving her his name, is part of his rebellion against his class, and rank and is felt that way — not in the series (which reflects 1970s attitudes).

This reminds me of how long inset histories in novels are often taken to make scenes much earlier in film adaptations nowadays so socially unacceptable materials kept as back-stories in the older books become front stories in the films.

While this conversation cuts against the idea of that the man just went in there and raped this woman as a revenge on her, on George, and on the world for not giving him what he wanted, it is still (I think) a rape because Ross is forcing himself on Elizabeth as far as the scene goes, for as he begins to see she is not going to be persuaded not to marry George, he grows very angry, and he begins to become sexually aggressive in a cruel way, and she tells him he is “contemptible”. As he carries on, and it goes back and forth, she says as she can’t help marrying George, so

‘I can’t help this either.’ He kissed her. She turned her face away but could not get it far enough round to avoid him.
When he lifted his head, her eyes were lit with anger. He’d never seen her like it before, and he found pleasure in it.
‘This is – contemptible! I shouldn’t have believed it of you! To force yourself … To insult me when – when I have no one …
‘I don’t like this marriage to George, Elizabeth. I don’t like it! I should be glad of your assurance that you’ll not go through with it.’
‘I’d be surprised if you believed me if I gave it you! You called me a liar! Well, at least I do not go back on my promises! I love George to distraction and shall marry him next week-‘
He caught her again, and this time began to kiss her with intense passion to which anger had given an extra relish, before anger was lost. Her hair began to fall in plaited tangles. She got her hand up to his mouth, but he brushed it away. Then she smacked his face, so he pinioned her arm …
She suddenly found herself for a brief second nearly free. ‘You treat me -like a slut-‘ ‘It’s time you were so treated-‘
‘Let me go, Ross! You’re hateful — horrible! If George –‘
‘Shall you marry him?’
‘Don’t! I’ll scream! Oh, God, Ross … Please .. .’
‘Whatever you say, I don’t think I can believe you now. Isn’t that so?’
‘Tomorrow-‘
‘There’s no tomorrow,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t come. Life is an illusion. Didn’t you know? Let us make the most of the shadows.’
‘Ross, you can’t intend … Stop! Stop, I tell you.’
But he took no further notice of the words she spoke. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed.

Curtain down. This idea men have “it’s time you were so treated,” as if they are doing the woman a favor by abasing and punishing her.

The next scenes take place at Ross’s house and we are in Demelza’s mind as she watches him. She does misunderstand. She thinks he does not love her, she worries he is thinking of leaving her. He is unwilling to talk about what has happened, and tries to pretend nothing important has. She won’t let this happen and asks him, “‘It won’t be the last time, will it?’ He didn’t speak, but looked down at his pate and pushed it away.” (p. 318). “‘Is their [George and Elizabeth's] wedding to go on?’ ‘I don’t know …” His scar is “noticeable this morning” She asks if Ross will see Elizabeth again, “‘I don’t know.'” What time did he get back? Around 5. He then tries small talk about ribbons for Jeremy, his plans for the day, political news. She spills her tea. “Blazing frightening” anger is what she feels; she wants to kill Elizabeth.

Demelza agrees to go to a party she knows he’d never go to: local landlords, the upper class, one Elizabeth and George will be at: given by one of the men chasing her, Sir Hugh Bodrugan, there is no danger of her taking up with him (old, stupid, lecherous), but once she is ensconced in her bedroom, the music of the dance playing, we are told is “Coming along the path towards the house was Malcolm Neil of the Scots Greys.” McNeil had told since returning to the area after the trial that he did take his men off watching the house less than 18 hours later — he could have kept them there, that would have caught Ross is what he is saying, and he did it for her.

In the fiction (not anachronistic in an obvious way like the film) she does still intensely love Ross: we are told because he took her in at age 13, was “one step more than husband to her … represented a kind of nobility, not of birth, but of character, a person whose standards of behavior always were, and always would be, slightly better, surer than hers” (p. 316). That no longer holds, quite, but his rank and her place do. Still she is incensed, and has become unsure of what is to come, what is what.

Ross does not appear to think about what happened at the ball to Demelza (if she went to bed with McNeil) but she does. He just doesn’t think about her world view except as his wife. In the 1950s/60s way she despises herself for not having gone to bed with McNeil. She sees herself as having reneged on him, having played games with this man when she didn’t mean to, but she also didn’t mean to become his lover or mistress. She is angry with herself for her tie to Ross.

******************
Book Four, June 20, 1793 (date of George and Elizabeth’s wedding)


Ross and George Warleggan’s last confrontation: George needles Ross with the fine madeira in the house (Trenwith) of which he is now master (1 Poldark, Part 16, Episode 4)


Ross has accused Warleggan of destroying the old community with his enclosures, firings, rentracking, and Warleggan counters with accusing Ross of fleecing Geoffrey Charles, using Ross’s taking of the old mine when he gave Elizabeth the 600 pounds

Summary of Book:

Chapter 1: The wedding and George does not at all keep his word in any way. The allied armies have not yet taken Paris. Ross and Demelza not sleeping together. September 1793 George and Elizabeth move to Trenwith and he undertakes extensive repairs. Verity’s letter: the wedding, how much money spent, and Elizabeth is with child. He cannot bear the idea of them living there, it comes out the Wheal Leisure mine has much more of a lode than they dreamed. Riches. Of course the fairy tale must help now. Dr Sylvane calls in Dwight to help with Ray Penvenen.

Chapter 2: Dwight finds Penvenen creating a relationship; George and Ross’s exchange of letters; the scene where George accuses Ross of deliberately buying Wheal Leisure as a rich mine to grab it from a helpless widow when it was that he gave the 600 he needed so desperately. Warleggan will contest the ownership of the now rich mine. With Mr Chynoweth there, they accuse Ross of cheating his ward (Geoffrey Charles). George insults Ross once too often: “Go back to your scullery maid.”

Chapter 3: Jeremy needs to be near Demelza to thrive; Ross home with wounds, he and George fought so hard they almost destroyed the parlor itself, certainly many things in it; Elizabeth upstairs all the while. But he will not give up this mine; George has taken too much from him already. He looks about their house and decides it’s time to make it not so poverty-stricken. A fortnight passes. We are probably in October.

Ross to Pascoe to talk about repaying money and discovers patroness was Caroline. They go shopping, happy trip, ride back together, Demelza says he should repay Caroline by trying to get her and Dwight together, home, affection growing, of course she care; he feels he could go to bed with her, but there is that amount of resistance he decides to put it off, but she has strong feeling in her again for him

Chapter 4: Dwight’s appointment aboard a ship as surgeon (like Jeremy goes to military service). Ross to London, execution of Marie Antoinette (Oct 16, 1793) . Caroline looks ravaged; they grow as people alike who understand one another on class and personal level; talk of what happened, she felt Dwight looked upon what he was doing as shameful; Keren to her was someone in the past; does Ross know what it’s like “when your anger and bitterness are so great that you can only hurt yourself — and go on hurting yourself for ever and ever, so that it seems there’s no escape” (p. 426)? Just the case of Ross and Elizabeth. She says she will not go back; he says she has until Thursday.

Chapter 5: Demelza and Garrick on Trenwith land are accosted by Warleggan’s henchman and she could have been killed, the dog is hurt and she nearly so. In London Ross sees Dwight, Ross brings them together, Caroline does say “the people who come off worst are the people who draw back at the last moment and spend their whole lives regretting it” (p. 439). And yet she walks out again.

Chapter 6: Christmas Wednesday; Ross still not back the next Tuesday (7 days later), January 1, 1794. The story of Garrick and the trespass told him. Then we move to Trenwith and Elizabeth and George: she does not love him, he treats her as a prize possession. She finds she cannot handle or understand him as she did Francis. Ross shows up to demand they be careful of hurting his wife and actually start some reconciliation but discovers that Elizabeth now hates him and it is too late from the ninth of Mary when he had left the situation as it was. And indeed he did desert her, a pregnant woman.

Chapter 7: The quiet close. Dwight and Caroline now there together, he saying she “disguises her goodness as if ashamed of it.” The last talk between Ross and Demelza. She is talking of Elizabeth from a woman’s point of view; he says he does not want to discuss his adultery; they try to talk of it and fall to quarreling (does he want her to get MacNeil for her?). It’s the 7th Christmas of their marriage (married June 24, 1787) It does not help to talk we discover; we will rediscover this when she has her liaison with Hugh Armitage. The novel ends in a moment of truce.

There is a problem in responding to the book the way we are intended to. It’s both too close to us in time (1953) and too far (more half a century ago as I type this).
By cutting off the rape scene from our regard (in the way of middle class novels of the era), what happened is not shown. But as the story progresses, we see that while it’s clear Ross is not leaving Demelza, had he been able to get himself to visit Elizabeth on the next day or a couple of days thereafter there might have been no marriage to George. Elizabeth is waiting for him to return but too proud to call for her or send any kind of sign. So Elizabeth did acquiesce later in the night. But Ross never meant to leave Demelza. He wants both women and cannot have that.

He cannot see that Demelza has become distrustful of him, and only Elizabeth’s marriage to George and then time begins to persuade her that Ross loves her and wants the marriage to continue and supports it utterly.

In the next scene with George (dramatized after Ross and Demelza’s first morning after his night with Elizabeth and their conversation whose motives I just characterized above), Elizabeth tries to weasle out of the marriage. She wants a postponement. She too is hampered by conventions: she would have to break the engagement and admit to this man something of the reason why, and he intuivitely immediately leaps to the idea it’s Ross. He wants to marry her precisely because he thinks Ross is his rival. He manages to first soothe her (which Ross doesn’t do for anyone much, including himself), then fool her, and get her to agree to a marriage a month later. He promises a tiny affair. In fact we see he begins to renege on all his promises. It’s a huge affair. He said they would live at Cardew, his house, when he moves into Trenwith, the Poldark residence. This infuriates Ross as much as his taking Elizabeth. It’s a matter of his status, family place, pride, something not middle class or bourgeois, but stemming from an older aristocratic heritage: it was this that ruined Francis to some extent, and stands in Ross’s way again and again. We know that Aunt Agatha is not in for a good time, for we have seen how spiteful George can be to her.

I called this Ross’s rage because in some real sense the night with Elizabeth was rape as it emerged from rage, and this rage erupts again. I did love how in the scene with Elizabeth in the book Ross said: ‘It doesn’t come. Life is an illusion. Didn’t you know? Let us make the most of the shadows.’ Francis’s life thrown away; the money given to Elizabeth and the money Francis gave him all lost to no good purpose, and the events of the past nights and days (including the ones with Elizabeth and the ones without Demelza) embittering.

This time after the marriage, George sends a letter by attorney to Ross asking him to come and discuss financial matters. Ross has to come to Trenwith. There is a repeat of this in Season 2 (perhaps from Black Moon). When Ross gets there, Elizabeth does not come down although Ross wanted to deal with her. George has taken over and sends a message from Elizabeth she wants to see Ross no more. This is believable: she does dread Ross for he tells hard truths too. The scene in Season 1 from Warleggan that ensues is George needling Ross when he discovers the 600 Ross gave Elizabeth back, and his attempting to cheat Ross once more. Ross’s tin lode is beginning to produce money and George is a cutthroat capitalist. The two begin to argue and George sneers at him to go “back to his scullery maid.” Meaning Demelza.

Ross loses it, and there ensues a physical fight where the new fancy furniture (Ross noticed) in the room and two windows are badly damaged. So too George and Ross until hired men come and throw Ross out.

He then returns home, to Demelza, and what the late chapters in Book 4 show is them gradually coming together again, very slowly. She rushes to him to help him as he is badly wounded and hurt. And they get into a talk. They don’t exactly discuss their motives directly but through discussing Enys’s failed romance with the upper class Caroline. We have a scene where they go shopping together with the new found money — yes you could say begin to become middle class, but it’s more out of personal pride. These are probably modern feelings put into a historical fiction but they resonate with modern readers. They feel good bringing home their stuff. They talk again. Does he want her to stay? yes. She wants to stay. A visit to Pascoe had brought out the information it’s been Caroline Penvenen who gave them the important loan which enabled them to continue. So they agree he should go alone to her to talk of what to do now — in London.

When he returns he and Demelza have another talk. In this one they quarrel first: she is looking at the night’s sex from a woman’s point of view; he as the man who does not want his intimate life undignified. He grows angry and jealous when she brings up MacNeil. They are getting angry and getting nowhere and stop this talk.

The scene ends thus: He says again she should come to London; he would show her London, she could stay in the inn:

‘You could stay at the inn while I went to see her.’ ‘No. This time I’d rather not.’
He had moved a little closer to her. ‘Demelza.’ ‘Yes.’
‘There have been a lot of unhappy things between us in these last months. Not said – but felt. I should be glad to think they are all forgotten.’
‘Of course, Ross. I feel nothing now.’
He put his face against her hair. ‘It is not nothing that I want you to feel.’
‘I’m sorry .. .’
They stayed thus for a moment more. Although unable to feel any tautness within her, he knew it was there. He had not removed it, he had not defeated it. He knew he could take her if he wanted, and her resistance would only be token; yet the token was there, and while it existed the reconciliation would be ashes.
He kissed her abruptly on the hair, released her, went across to the north window, and pulled aside the curtain to look out. Her eyes followed him.
He said: ‘Perhaps you’re right; we don’t ever regain
what we lightly lose.’
‘I don’t think ’twas lightly lost on either side.’ ‘But lost,’
‘Well .. .’
It was so dark outside he could hardly see the sea.
‘And lost to no good purpose,’ he said, half speaking to himself.
‘That I don’t know.’
‘Oh, there was a purpose, a good purpose served, if you come to think of it; though perhaps you would not agree. I don’t know … I have not wanted to talk of it.’
She stood by the cot watching him.
‘Perhaps sometime it will have to be talked of,’ he said. ‘if we are ever to straighten this out between us. Yet I have a prejudice, a feeling that it is a bad thing .. .’
‘What is a bad thing, Ross?’
He turned from the window, let the curtain fall from his long fingers, said wryly: ‘I think there is an etiquette even in adultery, and I cannot bring myself to discuss one woman with another, even when the second happens to be my wife.’ .
‘You don’t suppose 1 should want to hear it?’ ‘Yet it might not displease you.’
‘I can’t see how it would be likely to please me.’ ‘Then you are less perceptive than I suppose.’
“Tis very likely.’ .
There was another pause. Ross came slowly back from the window and after a moment’s hesitation bent and kissed her on the lips.
‘Yes, it is very likely,’ he said, and went out.
She did not move for a time. Jeremy’s breathing was a. little more hurried now, as if he were dreaming. She turned him over expertly, firmly; as if knowing the touch of the familiar hand, he settled more comfortably after it.
She straightened up and went to the window herself There were movements of warmth in her heart where she had not expected to have feeling again.

In fact her trip to London (which she finally undertakes in the end of the trilogy is a failure for her and him (see Angry Tide).

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Carl Haag, The Queen [and Prince] at Balmoral, 1850 (only she loathed blood sports)


The 21st century idealization of this same couple (from 2010 Young Victoria).

Dear friends and readers,

I get through life by reading wonderful books, and this has been one of them. Anyone interested in the Victorian era (trains, home life, 1851 exhibition), who loves to read intimate life-writings intelligently assessed, who finds Albert the real man fascinating, who wants to have respect for Trollope go up (his book on Palmerston) and of course books on the so-called numinous, rich, powerful (and why they became and stay powerful), a queen too (strong woman), should try this book. Naturally, a blog:

Several weeks ago I told the story of how I came to own a copy of Gillian Gill’s We Two. Izzy and I had gone to a JASNA picnic, and the people there were auctioning off a set of books. Someone there said the film, Young Victoria was based on this book (see Reveries under the Sign of Austen) and the book was excellent; and on my Women Writers through the Ages listserv (@ Yahoo), someone else had written a thoughtful critique of film as centering on a young woman’s humiliation (teaching her a lesson to share power).

Well, I did win a book before this one was chosen and brought it home. I began reading it, and at first found it turgid, too many genealogies and royal life histories of people Victoria and Albert were descended from thrust into the narrative in too small a space quickly, but when I got past the opening section, it became a splendid, originally thought-out informative dual biography of the marriage and all it affected while it went on. I write this blog to say why and recommend reading it.

****************
Chapters 1-12: the book’s first phase:


William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, important in the first part of Victoria’s adult career


Sir Robert Peel, became important to Albert in his career and private life too

After summarizing the internecine politics of the sons of George III and their courts, hangers-on and the German court from which the Duchess of Kent came, the book turns to the material of the film, and we get a powerful rendition of the politicking, bullying, and in the end by some of Victoria’s supporters, the desperate corrupt buying off of Conroy (perhaps Victoria’s mother’s lover). Victoria won through by the strength of her personality, because her German uncle and some of her German relatives came over and supported her and she knew of them, and of course her very biological chance position. In addition, there had been and continued to be limits to the tyranny of Conroy and the Duchess of Kent imposed on the girl during her growing-up; they set up a system to control, but not to destroy the princess. By chapter 7 she is ensconced with the governess she managed to hold onto (and who was important in her survival) and is Queen, holding her own with Melbourne and Russell (Melbourne especially) and the first moves have been made to couple her with Albert.

It’s interesting to me how vacuous is the all-encompassing public life of the queen; you might say she is at once there because it’s institutionalized (her power) but everything else is personal and cronyism networks.

Gill’s book becomes very good once Victoria grows up, and marries Albert. She was pushed to marry by her mother and others and was reluctant until she saw and feel in love with Albert. He would be a barrier against the mother she had come to dislike and with good reason.

She got bored with the role of queen pretty quickly, but was close to Melbourne because he knew how to flatter and how to manipulate her.

The chapter on the German princes and Germany in the 19th century is informative, insightful — what a vile sordid bunch they were, we learn of how they had no interest in their particular land or German people, much less the suffering lower class people they ruthlessly exploited: it was aristocratic caste all the way. (This reminds me of bankers today and the way the reactionary press in the US talks of unemployed people and recent legislation (stopping all extensions of benefits) would have pleased this bunch.) Gill tells, for an example from semi-private life of two women whom the Coburg men chose as mistresses and treated abominably. They both wrote memoirs well worth the reading; Paula Panam, Memoires d’une jeune Grecque; and Caroline Bauer, My life on the stage and Theatrical Tours (this is whats’ available in English).

The thing to keep your eye on is Albert, like Victoria, was in rebellion against this. They had common ground here, and in the essential decency of their characters and their intelligence — yes Victoria was intelligent too, but in different areas from Albert. He wanted to escape this petty amoral internecine world where many of the little families were in fact on the edge of bankruptcy. She reveled in the world she was lucky enough to be born to queen.

We know little about Albert’s childhood and young manhood because most papers were destroyed; we would know little about Victoria since her granddaughter destroyed many of her papers, but that Victoria wrote such an amount of life-writing and was so incapable of hiding her real self — or capable of getting herself vividly down on paper.

The bedchamber crisis is fascinating, but it is of course, the author, her voice, and outlook on this pair that makes this book so good.


Albert, 1841 (by Charles Brocky)

Once the marriage is set, Gills tracks back to tell the childhood and young woman-, man-hood of this pair of people. Gill is superb and effective in her description of the home life of Albert growing up — so much better than Francine du Plessix-Grey (Chez Sade which I’ve been reading at the same time and on which I’ll write a separate blog), it’s striking. This despite a paucity of papers. What happened was Albert’s mother had been forced into marrying the father; at first love-making and the birth of two children made the marriage go, but soon the Duke returned to promiscuity, hunting, drinking all night with friends (reminding me of Arthur Huntingdon in Tenant of Wildfell Hall — how these books come together). She found a lover who she escaped with and married. This left the boys to the mercy of the servants and father. Albert was a gifted boy, intelligent and sensitive, much like her who therefore grew up without a mother and in this ancien regime vicious court. So did Sade (grow up without a mother in a vicious court), but Albert reacted against it in decency. It did give him a strong character for that enabled him to survive. He was also valued over his brother because he was so handsome.

Gill makes a subtle and nuanced case for Albert’s being at least bisexual, and suggests Albert and his brother, Ernest, had an intense sexual relationship. Incest and homosexuality are often stigmatized but not here. No girlfriends whatsoever. At the same time Gill shows what a shy, highly intelligent, potentially decent person Albert was, and how he had to be guided into marrying Victoria.

Unlike the film Albert (played by Rupert Friend, Young Victoria) there was no immediate physical attraction by Albert to Victoria at all. After a short while, they saw eye-to-eye in the sense of their values and sensibilities and to Albert England was a breath of fresh air where one could hope to actually do some work that might be of use. He would have been a good professional, but this sort of work (and training for it) was the one thing not allowed this aristocrat. The chapters show Albert’s traveling, schooling — all with Ernest. The break with his older brother was hard and was done by the older male relatives.

The portrait of this aristocratic German community is precisely like that of Donatien de Sade’s in the ancien regime in France and had Albert wanted to, he could have tried (and many did do) some of the same antics (not to extreme). The two communities worked in the same ways, drew power and interacted too.

Victoria was a very strong and determined personality who has now overcome her mother and is close to Melbourne. We see her being a strong force and we know that Albert too likes his own way (as Trollope’s narrator in HKHWR would say — a fourth book), so the clash the movie’s core is about is about to start in Chapter 12: “Victoria plans her marriage”

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

Although photography was available by the second decade of the marriage, there are remarkably few photos of the royal family because then as now the royal family’s image was strictly controlled: the painting we glimpse is by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

These are fascinating chapters which intersect with Anthony Trollope’s HKHWR, a novel about a struggle for power between a central married pair: one immediate trouble for Victoria and Albert is the norm was that a woman “lost all her independent legal and civil status. .. A married woman’s property [unless upper class family pre-nuptial trusts set up] was her husband’s’. Anything she earned was legally his to do with as he would. She could not buy or sell property or enter into any transaction without his leave.” He could “legally enforce sexual congress. .. physically chastise his wife, sequester .. commit her to a madhouse … the children were his …”

Now Victoria is the great exception — which did make lots of people very uncomfortable and especially Albert.

Albert was at first controlled and distrusted and not given an income of his own, or allowed to have his people around him, but gradually he began to take some power. How? he won Victoria in bed: Gill suggests that he was in reality no innocent as people keep saying; he was experienced as a gay man, especially with his brother. Second, she became pregnant and kept getting pregnant and all these pregnancies and then the children took up her time and energy. Third, it began to be perceived how smart he was, how astute, and well-educated and it was obvious to all Victoria was highly limited in her understanding.

But what’s interesting in these chapters is to watch the two struggle with their unusual positions, him with humiliation and boredom, and her trying to hold onto her power yet give him something. She had learned from her miserable childhood how important it was to hold out against others taking power over you and then bullying you.

Another chapter (14), and Victoria has ceded enormous amounts of power to Albert. Why? Yes the ministers and everyone began to realize how bright and decent Albert really was, but also the pregnancies. It’s they who did her in, and the taking care of all this progeny in their early years. Even a queen can’t escape (for my part I’ve thought Mary Stuart lost out against Elizabeth I because she had lovers).

Victoria did hate being pregnant: “The thing is odious and if all one’s plagues are rewarded only by a nasty girl [sic!], I shall drown it, I think. I will know nothing else but a boy. I never will have a girl.” She had several.

None of this cloying “baby worship” Trollope fervently believes is common to women for Vicky. Her letters and diaries are refreshingly frank. No self-inflicted ritual humiliation here.

It’s not true that Albert was able to take power because he was smarter. In fact he was narrow in a number of central ways, and in fact Victoria was a shrewd judge of people and very sharp about social manners and how they worked and connected to primal selves. She fought successfully to take power and it was her taking it that allowed him to come in. Without her, nothing.

She wrote superbly well: she comes alive in her diaries, but she was unable or inhibited from putting in her diaries the intimate realities she saw and experienced. On top of that papers that mattered about these were destroyed.

Gill’s book is filled with original insight into the relationship of these two people, she really goes into the money and accounts, how they got, what it cost them to live and how they spent it. She understands all about how their households worked; what happened in the nurseries and is on top of the Parliamentary politics too.

At the same time, Victoria’s pregnancies did her in. On top of that that she was a woman. In fact Albert half-despised all women and drove a hard bargain with her: he would behave nicely and kindly and do all she wanted if she submitted to him. Now he was super-competent, a terrific manager and ruthless, and he had the sort of liberal insight (wide) that was appreciated in the era. But he was a cruel and narrow type who was willing to destroy people to get his way: including her faithful governess, Lehzen who was responsible for her growing up with any strength, and managing to wrest her power from her mother. Very cruel: she was ejected and sent back to Germany. Victoria did give her a decent pension, but Albert’s conduct broke her heart. She is not the only one Albert managed to peel away from Victoria and didn’t care what happened to them.

He was German aristocratic left over from the ancien regime.

Albert was (Gill thinks) not centrally heterosexual so one of his tricks was to lock himself in. He would not come out. Victoria would go to the door and say this is the Queen of England. Silence. Time passes. She’d come back and say Albert, this is your wife. Then the door would open. She also understood how much she’d have to struggle everywhere as a woman to keep her power in parliamentary dealings and it was easier to let Albert do it. He did become close with Peel; he was a Peelite Tory, she a Melbourne Whig.

The stories about her and Disreali are mocking denigration, really the usual anti-women talk.

I said Victoria gave in because Albert did lots of good things and made life easy for her too –. Though she hated the endless pregnancies she did know that’s what she was “hired” for. He cataloged the paintings and fixed the indexes in the libraries by hiring the right people. One of the massive things he did was set the royal household in order. It was run like a university with the people who hire someone and fire him or her different from the people who work with him and who he or she serves. In the Victorian era most people lived on the edge of ruin (as we are beginning to experience now) and this kept jobs intact. One set of people also were say responsible for the outside of the windows, and another for the inside. Result: dirty windows because both sides never cleaned at the same time and not at the rate those looking out wanted, but at the rate those who paid them demanded — who were different from those who had hired and could fire them.

Albert ferociously worked to change all this. He did this in several areas and he was not liked.

Those who saw and liked the movie, Young Victoria should read this book. Indeed as I read it I begin to think she is as and maybe more important as an instance fo what happens to a women in power who is successful in part as any Elizabeth I or other icon. More because her ways are still touted today — not well understood either.

One of Gill’s purposes is to correct Strachey who presents Victoria as a shallow stream, is condescending, dismissive, making fun. It’s this idea of Victoria as stupid that Gill refutes utterly. Yes Albert had learning she didn’t, had far more liberal attitudes, and was respected by the parliamentary men as she was not: but all this is familiar to us. It’s anti-woman, anti-feminist. Gill nowhere mentioned Strachey directly, but it’s his withering portrait she demolishes: what he did was take what Victoria wrote as really reflecting her mind and her work and what she did. Much of her real life is left out of these, what was private was destroyed by her granddaughter.

We have another case like so many others in this misrepresentation of her.

A lack is nowhere is Victoria’s reading discussed in any detail by Gill, probably because Victoria didn’t discuss it. She was a busy lady.

It does seem as if Victoria can see how much time the children take when they get older and how they are getting in the way of her being queen too, but there are no remarks about that. If they existed, they were destroyed by the granddaughter.

****************
“The Court of St Albert,” “Finding Friends” and “A Home of Their own”


Osborne House, the Isle of Wight

Josephine and Napoleon have been characterized as two political animals; well, Albert and Victoria were that but they were something much more and that they were beloved is explained as well as aspects of the Victorian world put before us: the effect of trains allowing everyone to go places quickly and the growth of vacations, holidays and how Albert and Victoria first built a beautiful place on the Isle of Wight (Austen’s Fanny Price called it “the island’) and then Balmoral.

Their difficulties in finding friends — very touching. Both so intelligent, with Victoria able to fit in such much more easily and Albert standoffish but the one doing the politics in parliament.
It’s fitting their real friends were their maids and valets who themselves left nothing of the intimate life — all veiled. Albert may have turned “his merry non-judgemental wife into a censorious prude just like himself” but that was for public consumption.

Victoria instinctively did dislike his brother, Ernest — again some hints the two men had been lovers. And the other friends she made and his need of Carl, the Swiss valet whose death left a big gap, and so too Albert’s dog’s death.

We have another case like so many others in this misrepresentation of women, one she did cooperate in partly to please Albert whose ‘war against sin” Gill says was irrational and about himself. We see Albert’s picture near her. It’s a studied pose, set up by her. Jim suggested to me there is something odd about there being so few or no photographs of the royal family from the 1860s on (when Albert was alive). The US civil war begins the era of photography and if we have so few photos, and instead only these mostly very fake (as the queen marveling over Alfred’s many dead birds when she hated blood sports, or other absurdities) and ceremonial paintings. Albert and Victoria didn’t want us seeing into their real private lives or selves. Only very late did she succumb when photography had become ubiquitous and then she presents herself repeatedly as grieving widow retired from life.

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

The Great Exhibition


John Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston

“The Greatest Show on Earth” and “Lord Palmerston Says No”

“The Greatest Show on Earth” shows Albert in his finest hour: he created an intelligent exhibit to which everyone was invited, and all but those who pride themselves on and live by exclusion came. By train often. It was offered at different prices to accommodate all too, and for stated periods free entrance to the big building itself. There was something for all intellects and tastes too. He could and did work very hard with men like the best aspects of himself: entrepreneurial, scientists, artists, musicians, intellectuals, middle class effective businessmen, professionals.

At the same time he could not make friends with them, and two of his closest associates died: Peel, his ‘second father,’ and Anson, ‘almost like a brother.” In his deepest outlook Albert remained a man of the ancien regime in Germany, and he really thought he could and should run the British government behind its machinery the way the prince-run states in Germany or tzar ran his. He was no republican, or democrat and could not understand why or like Palmerston (first an undersecretary in the foreign office and hen foreign secretary) supported revolutions against his, Albert and Victoria’s relatives in Germany and Russia — as well as Italy, France and other places.

He discovered that machinery — the political establishment was not a front. He was. And Lord Palmerston says No shows our prince at his feeblest, worst, though by the end, when he found he could not dismiss Palmerston and run the government, compromising and again acting decently and working hard to help the effort to win and quickly end the Crimean war, an expensive, bloody and useless event which Albert’s behavior in getting rid of Palmerston had partly helped bring on.


Queen Victoria reviewing the troops (this one is supposedly with Duke of Wellington so earlier): an example of how little portraits of the era have to do with the realities of the people acting; here militarism celebrated

Gill’s story of the Queen and Prince’s attempt to get rid of Palmerston and why they could not relies a little on Trollope’s portrait of Palmerston, and at one crux, Gill quotes Trollope to great effect. [Palmerson] took it [life, how the world is set up to work] as it came, resolving to be useful after his kind, and resolving also to be powerful,” and his social and sexual talents keep him afloat in the highest levels of British society. Gill lays bare the power structure of the era, its real sexual mores, and also how the queen in the end had to come out publicly and work in the public arena and how good she was at it. How relieved to when the “shadow life” of endless pregnancies came to an end.

Gill’s portrait of Palmerston’s early career (Irish, a man on the make, not too scrupulous but pro-English, hunting, drinking, and promiscuous sex including an unwise attempted rape on one of the queen’s ladies), his first successes and choice of a lower office in government, finally marriage to the rich and canny Lady Emily, worldly as his, a real partner — bears a striking resemblance, transmuted to Phineas Finn and Madame Max’s slow coming to partnership and later years.

****************
Chapters 23 and 24: hemophilia and French influence


Prince, Queen, and their children by John Jabez Edwin Mayall

If I had been told that hemophilia emerged in the British royal family and then spread to most of the others around Europe (as they so intermarried), I had forgotten, and in any case did not think about what this meant to the private lives of those without genetic knowledge. Chapter 22 is powerful because Gill structures the story of Albert and Victoria’s early years bringing up their children around the reality that he and she did everything they could to deny there was anything wrong with Leopold, all the while wrapping him in cotton so that he did (remarkable) live to 31, marry and have two children himself. She makes a good case for understanding why a couple would lie to others and partly to themselves. It’s not just that women were blamed and the power of the throne threatened; a whole system was based on this cousin intermarriage and exclusionary practices.

At the same time she shows the emotional damage this did to all who were involved — especially the children siblings, including those who married in and themselves had hemophiliac sons. A couple encouraged to marry and this real probability hidden from them. This includes the Tsar whose heir was a hemophiliac.

We see many of the strains in the Coburg marriage, Again Victoria loved Albert devotedly and erotically far more than he did her.


Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie

Chapter 24 is how unexpectedly Albert and Victoria got along very well with Napoleon III and his wife, Eugenia. Everything Albert and Victoria were said to believe themselves against was embodied in this couple and it didn’t matter. The new relationship was catalyst for changing some of the worst aspects of Victoria and Albert’s marriage. It freed her from the puritanism Albert had subjected her to to some extent. Albert had someone to talk to who would understand. And Bertie, the son and heir found Paris a revelation. He was no moralist, no intellectual, and loved social life and sensation, pleasure and found it there. Alas, for Victoria’s oldest daughter, though, Vicki, the visit to Paris did not change things: the door was clanged shut on her quickly, she was disciplined and soon married off.

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

Edward VII as a boy


Edward VII when king (relatively late in life)

The last years; father and son; Albert’s death

Chapter 25 is called Father and Son, and does justice to Bertie as a person in his own right with valuable qualities, albeit deplored by “mom” and “dad.” How refreshing Gill’s description of Bertie’s temporary Irish mistress (the parents would not let him carry this one at all): “the amiable Miss Clifden, after giving the Prince of Wales some pleasure and comfort he was in great need of, went back to her music hall and her other gentleman, one hopes a little richer” (p. 356).

But it also explicates and lays before us Albert’s close relationship with Vicki (oldest girl), how both he and Victorian nonetheless made some bad decisions about her when young and how her life was spent amid stupid, paranoid, utterly aggrandizing Prussians who would have preferred her to have died in her first childbirth. She was saved by her mother sending a decent doctor for the breech-birth — something she could not admit to; she remained angry the doctor put his hand up her vagina! Vicki had her limitations, a child of Albert in intellect, she nonetheless was close to her mother and they developed a better friendship through incessant letters which Albert, jealous, tried to put a stop too. Alice is not neglected as another girl who loved her father dearly and so an important witness of his loving tender master of the revels role.

Painful the realities of the marriage as it developed. We can see Victoria’s great gift (not acknowledged sufficiently) for writing — for getting her self down on paper. It’s often not appreciated I’ve learnt. How much she and her daughter meant to one another. Albert and Victoria stopped having sex after the last child; he didn’t mind after all and he didn’t want her to die. No one did. It’s after that that the first cracks in the letter open up to show Victoria’s strain and discontent and occasional strong irritation and frustration.

Family politics is subtly and persuasively shown. Albert fraught between Vicki and his wife. And epistolary relationships. The chapter on Albert’s death is used to show us a good deal about Victorian medicine, living conditions, the state of knowledge about germs and diseases.

Albert died of overwork and depression as well as typhoid. It was the middle term that escaped everyone. I appreciated the description of the long dying and also the lack of sentimentality in Gill where she implicitly pointed out how Albert was not so missed as everyone wanted to pretend (and most ungrateful they were in a real sense), not even after a few years by the queen. How as the marriage was a power struggle too (as many are) it was Victoria who proved the stronger. She did not die of the situation. He did not cling to life as she did.

42 is young to die.

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

Morning in the Highlands, another idealization from the marriage by Carl Haag

The book has flaws. The early part is turgid; Gill is telling too much too quickly. In the latter part she begins to lose perspective and identify too strongly with the royal family as so powerful. She really suggests that has Albert lived one more year, he would have urged his son-in-law to take the throne of Prussia, and of course been listened to (Gill assumes) and liberal democracy might have flourished in the Germanies and no WW1 at all :) and Vicki somehow be responsible for this. Beyond the danger of counter factuals and believing in them, she has lost all sense of how one or two people do not a country make – which she didn’t lose in her chapters on the Exhibition and ironic backlash against Albert directly afterwards or why he lost against Palmerston. She does seem to think an oligarchy really rules a country and perhaps she’s right (alas, we see that in the US right now) — and Trollope agreed in his New Zealander as did Carlyle and many Victorians. But the oligarchy in Prussia made WW1.

It’s natural to begin to identify strongly with your characters. I also found her acknowledgments page grating with upbeat happiness. How she is surrounded by all these loving friends. They give her tours, devotedly help, selflessly. What world does this belong to? Not the one shown in her book, but then acknowledgments have become a genre of ludicrous sycophancy, showing off who you know and cloying sentimentality.

On other hand, her notes are filled with good things, are little essays in themselves. For example on p. 410 under “faced with the mass of evidence,” Gill notes that Strachey did in fact offer a sympathetic portrait of Albert as “a gay man … a brilliant, sensitive intellectual tragically immolated on the altar of his family’s dynastic ambitions and his wife’s predatory sexuality.” Whew. That take Gill corrects: Albert was himself intensely ambitious, did all he could to enact public and social manliness, and Victoria’s sexuality was deeply loving, amorous. Among the ending portraits is of her later life close to John Browne. Here again we find that usual chorus of people determined to deny sex if there’s no explicit evidence. I’m puzzled at why people find others lessened in their eyes if they have sexual intercourse with a beloved or congenial person. But there it is again (We Two, p 381).

This footnote also shows Benson seeing into Albert’s feminine side, and more biographers analyzing what was the truth of Albert’s boy and young manhood. This book should help rehabilitate Victoria as a complicated honest, shrewd and most un-puritan woman, important for power politics of her time.

Gill’s article with her son, Christopher, on Nightingale in the Crimea is uniformly superb: Christopher and Gillian Gill, “Nightingale in Scutari: Her Legacy Examined,” CID [Center for International Health], 205:40 (15 June).

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) teaching (Agora)

Suggested by Pindar:

Deeds are the pulse of Time, his beating life;
And righteous or unrighteous, being done,
They throb in after-throbs till Time himself
Be laid in stillness, and the universe
Quivers and breathes upon no mirror more.

—– George Eliot

Dear friends and readers,

Once more I have a remarkable film centering on a woman to urge you to rush out and see. If Winter’s Bone is an Antigone transposed to 21st century Appalachia, this one is without such disguise or variation: Alejandro Amenábar has told the story of Hypatia, daughter of the Greek mathematician and astronomer, Theron, last known member of the Alexandria Museum, today referred to as the great library. It’s thought she extrapolated from her father’s work and came up with an early explanation for the rotation of the sun that anticipated Copernicus’s picture. The historical Hypatia was flayed (her skin peeled off) and then was stoned to death by Christian fanatics. None of her writings have survived.

The film is as moving and fully meaningful as another of these rich pictorial costume drama concoctions Izzy and I saw earlier this summer, the sublime Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s The City of Your Final Destination.

Izzy wrote a fine concise blog which makes my task easier here, for I really want to recommend it speedily, for as you will see the local audiences for the film in our area have not been sustaining it:

. . . And then off we go [Izzy and yours truly on also another superhot afternoon in Alexandria, Va], where too few people were in the audience for a 4th/5th-century biopic that dared to be about a woman, especially one who could do without romance (they did have a couple of guys in love with her


Orestes (Oscar Isaac) with Hypatia in a halycon moment aboard a ship talking of (though they don’t know it) the law of gravity


Hypatia in astronomical thought, the slave Davus (Max Minghella) to her side, admiring and desiring her,

but it’s not the same thing), and one that reminded us the world was once even grimmer-except not that much has changed; women are still scorned, especially if they dare step into the public sphere, and religious crazies are still taking over and killing people all over the world.


Christian crazies taking Hypatia away to be murdered as a diabolic witch and whore; this after listening to a bishop read aloud from a Bible a passage which declares it anathema for any woman to have any position in public or offer any teaching to anyone whatsoever

As an epic movie, Agora made an interesting challenge for itself, trying to alternate scenes of bloodshed and political upheaval with scenes of the heroine trying to form her own theory about the setup of the sun and Earth, though they link together well enough at the end, all too grimly, for a woman figuring out things contrary to how men have figured them out is something men still kind of can’t stand, and certainly couldn’t in the 4th/5th century. (Also the nature of the remark from her friend that causes the heroine to have her epiphany, but I won’t give that away; it was easily my favorite moment in the movie).


Agora looking out at the city

The visuals are breathtaking, of course, but they don’t take over in this one, except when they’re grim enough to make a point-though looking at it later, they toned down the worst of the violence — and it was still brutal.


People gathering to listen — before they become an excited mob


Orestes turning to fight — the film manages to concentrate on individually felt deaths

So everyone, go see this movie . . . “

To expatiate:


Hypatia reasoning with what is left of a senate towards the end of the film

The plot-arrangement centered on the heroic life and tragic death of an early astronomer and female pagan martyr, none of whose writings have survived, Hypatia. The story line is the story of her life beginning with her early womanhood under her father, Theon’s guidance as a teacher in the great library of Alexandra:


Theon (Michael Lonsdale) talking with Hypatia

Her father was chief librarian which enabled her to participate. That she may have taught openly becomes an important part of the story, for one of the young men in her class, Synesius (Rupert Evans) later turns on her, and another, Orestes (above), falls in love with her, asks her to marry him, is refused and spends the rest of the movie in close loving companionship and until near the end protecting her.

It’s not her terrible end that makes it the one genuinely feminist film I’ve seen in a long time. Her epiphany is not violent at all, and is about her work. She refuses to be publicly humiliated; refuses to cave in several times, on religion, on what experience is, on toleration, and other important points (as Richardson’s Clarissa would doubtless put it).
I see her clearly as in the long tradition of heroic teachers, beginning with Scheherazade, carrying on through Felicite de Genlis, and found today in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran and Isak Dinesen’s tales. According to Ellen Moers (Literary Women), this is a long standing female heroic trope, something women have been allowed to do (first as mothers).

It has other important themes, as several reviews have pointed out. A. O. Scott called it “chilling”: “It is entirely — not dogmatically but stubbornly — on the side of reason, science and liberalism, values opposed by superstition, fundamentalism and political expediency.” Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian: “In reviving this tale from the ancient world, Amenábar subtly invites his audience to remember the Taliban, the war on terror and the looting of Iraq’s national museum. Unlike most toga movies, it doesn’t rely on CGI spectacle, but real drama and ideas.

The destruction of the library begins it: what did this was the fanaticisms of warring religions, the fear of the pagans of the Christians which induced them to try to repress the Christians, and the Christians’ ferocious counter-attack (urged on by the newly Christian emperor’s edict). The point is not just their irrationality (as when one man performs a “miracle” by running through fire swiftly), but how these groups want to murder one another. It’s part of how people dominate one another, and (as the Marquis or Donatien de Sade says in his La Marquise de Gange, ironically):

“si consolant pour la vertu, que ceux qui l’ont persecutee doivent infailliblement l’etre a leur tour.”

“so consoling for Virtue that its persecutors ( those who have persecuted it) must unfailingly be persecuted in their turn.”

The film traces a history of one group destroying the others; we see the individual men vie for power, and two of them were pupils in Hypatia’s class as envisaged early on. As Izzy says, there is a love interest: Orestes (Oscar Isaac) who she refuses to marry and rises to be a prefect (and himself turns Christian to keep power); and there is a strong conflict between her and a male slave, Davus (Max Minghella) who attempts rape at one point. One theme he enacted is how Christianity did appeal to slaves, and for all Hypatia meant to educate him and show him respect, she’d forget herself and also show carelessly how she regarded him as her instrument, scolding him as the library falls apart as he is trying to get her to come away and she is trying to save “the important” scrolls.


Weisz inspired, a kind of St Teresa of Avila mourning the loss of learning

Later stills of the library show it a ruin, filled with farm animals, used for frivolous entertainments or another stage for religious ordeals which often in this film end in violence.

It will not be popular among the evangelical tea-baggers crowd in the US or anywhere other intolerant group, for it indicts religions on the basis of their encouraging intolerance and wild violence (and not just the powerful corrupt people who begin to run the institutions) sharply. It’s very much a Spanish film: numbers of the semi-major figures are dressed up to look like saints and martyrs in El Greco’s movies. The viewer is assumed to be aware and remember the Inquisition in Spain, how the church supported the worst 19th century rulers in the Carlist wars and again Franco — who kept Spain in the middle ages for much of this century (with a little bit of help from Imperialist capitalist states).

It’s a parable which is intended to comment on theocracries in the middle east which (just yesterday it was reported) stone women to death for pregnancy outside marriage.

It does makes a strong use of ritual scenes and large crowd ones (part of the point) but these are made more interesting by also moving out to shoot the earth from a distance. We have a metaphysical take or perspective (dazzling visuals as Izzy says), and as in George Eliot’s films, intertitles (yes intertitles are used and skilfully) persist in framing these events as universal and felt somehow further off or in history (writing) as in Eliot’s poem (above).

But at its heart is something quiet: there are so many intimate quiet scenes of learning, of reading, and of teaching, thinking, trying to understand how the earth relates to the sun, and both to the cosmos. The script is intelligent and the acting subtle and vivid, the stage business filled with intensities, including Hypatia’s large sandbox where she traces out with her faithful servant different visions of the planet’s movements. There’s a sequence of Hypatia aboard a ship with Orestes on the water with Orestes in a classical kind of boat. I don’t know if historically accurate but it was visually stunning and I liked to see herenjoy herself out in the open too.

Rachel Weisz was marvelous in the role of strong idealist; she played the same (and was also brutally murdered) in Fernando Mereilles’s film adaptation of Le Carre’s powerful socially-concerned The Constant Gardener (an expose of drug trials, the drug industry in Africa). For Austenites, a small treat is Rupert Evans (he was Frank Churchill in the 2009 Emma) as one of Weisz’s pupils who grows up to betray her, using her teaching to make sophistical arguments on behalf of non-thinking religious belief and the destruction of any role for any woman ever. He’s not immediately recognizable:

It’s not a bit too long. As we drove to the theater, I felt some trepidation. Most of the time I can’t stand these Biblical-epics: the trailer made me remember Victor Mature and Jean Simpson in wooden dramas in togas and I did fear 2 hours and 20 minutes. But I never felt any tedium. I remember being moved at how Hypatia forgives Davus for his attempted rape, at the many dialogues of Orestes, and reasonings with texts or sits and thinks:

She was treated with dignity even at the close: we hear the stones hitting her, do not see the mess this world turns her into when all her friends desert her.

The Dinner Party, the 18th century woman astonomer, Caroline Herschel, who made the “cut” of 39.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Nick (Annette Benning) has just discovered Jules (Julianne Moore) has been having sex regularly with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), one of many meal scenes from The Kids are All Right

Dear friends and readers,

This is warmly (natch) to recommend Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right as a film intelligent, moving, funny, exploring central issues of family life — albeit with reservations. It has had favorable reviews in the mainstream press, but also harshly criticized by GLBT, women critics (blogs, postings to listservs, the non-official comments), and snobs and homophobes. A lot of attention has been paid to it; when I recommended it to my hairdresser (a woman), she simply said she’d never go see it on the grounds it was lesbian, no matter what the film was like.

I understand the irritation GBLT people must feel watching it: we are introduced to two progressive minded, liberal and healthy food and wine drinking (the meals are all of the upper class organic gourmet food variety) older lesbian women, Nick (Annette Benning) and Jules (Julianne Moore),


A relaxed moment

married for at least 18 years, with two children, each having given birth to one. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) resembles Benning, and Laser (Josh Hutcherson),


They are meeting Dad for the first time

who resembles Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor whom Laser has pressured Joni into contacting before she goes off to college. She is now 18 and it seems has a right.

Paul is a super-successful restaurateur, semi-bohemian kind of guy, and grows his own organic food on a farm.

He accedes to meeting them, and the situation is set up.

I didn’t understand that. Can anyone explain how two women can have two children three years apart (Laser is three years younger than Joni) using the same sperm donor’s sperm? At dinner afterward Izzy said she has read of lesbian couples choosing one to have one baby and the other a second. But the sperm donor for both in such a distance of time puzzles me.

Why the irritation: Paul with ease seems to be not just accepted but preferred at first, and he offers relaxed easy wisdom, intensely anti-intellectual, not phony. It’s important that he has a penis as somehow that is part of what gives him his gravitas. It’s not thoughtless decision that gave him a beard too. What the two women can’t have. And a liaison ensues between Jules and Paul. As the movie moves on we see many years of resentful irritation, the kind many married couples have when one is successful and makes the money (that’s Nick, a doctor) and the other isn’t and doesn’t (that’s Jules, who has a degree as an architect but stayed home with the kids), but emphasis is on his tool and its irresistibility.


with his black girlfriend, Tanya (Yaya DaCosta).

In the scenes between him and Jules, she is hungry for straight fucks.

I have also read excoriating accounts by women on the assumption in the film that one must have, wants children and that we all want and live in this family life setting that resembles nothing so much as the setting of Father Knows Best with Nick as the irritating well-meaning naturally father. No one here has any money problems; the house is a beautiful spic-and-span respectable version of the 1950s house the famous situation comedy focused on; Nick’s salary as a physician (remember Robert Young also played the exemplary Marcus Welby, MD) will bring Joni a upscale college education (the place we leave her at resembled Sweet Briar, an expensive private college in middle Virginia), includes a big station-wagon kind of car. And Nick is a father-type who in a way does know best and means very well, even if she is tactless, uncomfortable, frets over everyone’s safety, and loses her temper. I loved Benning (this is one of the best roles I’ve ever seen her in), recognized aspects of myself in her. People complained she was photographed to look old. People get old. She is old. Her arms are not sticks like young actresses (only Tanya verges on the anorexic in this film).

It’s not a screwball comedy which the trailer tries to suggest; it’s a sentimental near-weeping kind of romantic comedy. Rather like The Object of My Affection, it exemplifies central normative values of American life. Here are our Moms reaching out to the kids for hugs:

The kids are made the center of the women’s existence; what matter is the kids are all right (a Who song), not whether the adults are — though of course this being a normative movie, our heroines, while a little flakey (Jules) and prone to use male sex videos while having sex under the blankets (Nick is clearly the dominant one), are thriving, all is fundamentally “right” in this world. Someone on face book commented how many people don’t realize child-rearing is an experiment and the kids survive, to which I replied the adults need to survive too, they too have corrosive memories (see comments).

What the film did was explore and within the limits of popular entertainment enact hard issues. During the course of the film, Jules begins to go to bed regularly with Paul. Jules has never made a career for herself, got a degree in architecture and has run a couple of (apparently) failed businesses, and now is into Landscape Design (funded by Nick who points out Jules bought a truck before having any client basis); in one of their quarrels Nick says she is the support of the family, to which Jules says she wants it this way, she wanted Jules to stay home with the kids. Paul (who also has plenty of money — he didn’t need a college degree to do well in life) hires her to fix the garden outside his house and business. So they meet in the afternoons (and Chloe in the Afternoon farce-style begins). At the close of the movie when Jules apologizes to Nick and the children she stresses how hard it is to be married for many years, the emotional pain and ennui, how she has felt inferior, but also how she can’t explain why she did what she did (had sex with Paul which in the film is regarded as a terrible thing by all but the poor hired gardener, Luis (Joaquin Garrado) who is fired for being there, and seeing what’s going on.

Luis is in fact one of the minor people in the film who are not forgiven at the end, not brought back into the fold. He did not deserve to be fired. He increased Jules’s guilt by being in the garden hard at work and needing direction just when she and Paul were having it off in bed. He knows they are and smiles at them. She accuses him of smiling — for which he is fired.

For me painful was the happy ending, it made me come near tears — but then the film (as I say) was partly rooted in real life. Everyone you see stays together. The (unworthy or undeserving or badly behaved or just plain lonely and ill advised) interloper, Paul, is (and we are relieved) put off (so to speak). Paul thought that Jules would leave Nick for him; he began to believe the kids would come and live with him. Jules is startled to see this, and when he comes to apologize, he receives a summary rejection by Nick and the door is shut on his face. Our all-American son and daughter are shocked and turned off by him at last.

The concluding scene gives us all four cooperating to set Joni’s room up at her college. Joni kicks them out to assert her independence, but they don’t go off until they get the say-so (don’t you trust us, asks Jules). A final moving hug of the crying two Moms and Joni and Paul and Moms get back in the car to drive home. On the way back, Laser tells his Moms he thinks they should stay together because they are too old and gradually Jules sticks out her hand over the gear box and Nick squeezes it tight.

The truth is family life is not supported for real by loyalty by everyone: people abandon one another, they desert, and they are not sorry they did this. Not in the least. To make it clear I can be included in this after all I left my first husband and at 18 the only explanation I had was “the spell is over.” It’s not just all I could think to say, it was the explanation. But people also leave not after a short time, but after 18 years and more. I loved the apology scenes (especially by Julianne Moore when she turns the TV off at last) but apologies are often rituals (as I wrote about counterrevolutionaries) and just paper over things. And many people do not apologize since they are not sorry.

Everyone in this film but Clay (Eddie Hassell) is a good person, susceptible to training in sociological decency. Clay is Laser’s friend who Nick disapproves of but uses the pseudo-language of upper liberal middle class life to criticize (Clay is not helping Laser to develop), whom Paul immediately (natch) recognizes as no-good, to be excluded. When Clay grabs a dog, and starts to pull down his pants to piss on the poor creature, Laser finally sees he’s shit. I wish though the movie had conceded how there are not only bad people in the world, but bad kids, without resorting to the exaggeration of a film like The Bad Seed (which makes itself unreal by making the child-girl a monster of evil).

Jim denied it was really a pro-lesbian or gay film and said as yet films do not show gay or lesbian or bisexual people are simply there because people are. They always are there to make a point. Tanya is there to show Paul is unconventional. This is a film asserting Lesbians are just like everyone else, indeed use male videos, have a father, bring up heterosexual children. Family trumps all here — tellingly all the friends of Joni and Laser are a little suspicious. Joni’s girlfriend is shallowly pushing her to have sex before she’s ready; this reminded me of Madame de Genlis (a conservative 18th century educator) asserting her daughter must cling to, confide in mom first. I remember when I was in sleep-away camp at age 7, I made a girlfriend who I was congenial with and for 2 days we were happy together; then she told me her parents said she must stay with her cousin, make her cousin her best friend, as family (biology, tribes) matter far more than personal relationships. So she had nothing to do with me for the rest of the summer.

It’s rather a woman’s film (a woman wrote the script — with Stuart Blumberg), directed it, was on the producing team. The major stars are two women. It has so many of the motifs and structures of women’s art: so many scenes of the women and children and sometimes sperm donor sitting around the table.

Scenes of friendship and doing daily things. An emphasis on the cyclical nature of life.


Morning again, time to go to work

Though again we are confronted by the ritual humiliation of the woman character. After all, it is Jules who plays the woman in this marriage who almost destroys it by having sex with Paul; Jules who must apologize and beg for forgiveness. At the same time to be fair (and explain why I so enjoyed the film), as Jules Julianne Moore holds the family together for real. Her loving interventions, her continual kindnesses and urging of everyone to get along; the way she goes over to Joni and Laser after Nick makes it clear she has gone to bed with Paul — the film values someone intensely who has no career, makes no money. It’s she who has to sleep downstairs when Nick throws her out of their bed, and she holds no grudges. I’ve usually liked the characters Julianne Moore plays and this film showed the best sides of her typology. Not abject, giving and then appreciated.

What saves this film are the nuances of the individual scenes and dialogue — script, acting, the perfect timing, and discordant moments. Especially the ongoing little jarring comments by Jules and Nick at and to one another. Jules reminds Nick that she has drunk too much. Nick cuts across Jules’s super-kindness to the kids (Jules is the woman reconciling everyone) to insist on making choices based on remembering harder dangers: riding on motorcycles the way Paul loves to is dangerous, statistically you are courting death or crippling, so she works hard to prevent Joni and Paul from doing it.

This seems to be a summer for well-done (for this film is excellently done) women’s films which at least point to (this film points) or deeply confront (Please Give, Winter’s Bone, Joan Rivers: A piece of Work) the inexorableness of hard and unpleasant realities in their perception of life.

Ellen

P.S. 3/5/13:

The latest issue of WRof B is out and makes me ashamed of myself. I see I missed totally the undergirding falsifying nature, the danger of the patriarchal pattern of _The Kids are All Right_. I did see it the patriarchy in the presentation of Annette Bening, but I breezed over it to expose the class biases of the film. A book reviewed in the WRofB questions the lurch to marriage in present heterosexual terms that is attributed as a desire by all too generally for the LGBT community: Nicola Barker’s Not the Marrying Kind.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 170 other followers