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Archive for the ‘Austen’ Category

Dear friends,

In the computer disaster I had two days ago it appears that the course proposals I had made for a summer teaching course at an Oscher Institute of Learning may have been permanently lost; as I want these documents and today (as yet) have no writing program I can put them on — the new computer with Windows 8 is hellishly cutsey, tricksey. I cannot figure out how to write on Word on this Macbook Pro without the whole screen being transformed, so that I appear unable to reach my gmail with hitting F3 which minimalizes everything and let’s me see, and get back to gmail and the row of programs I have at the bottom of Macbook Pro. So I am saving two sets of documents or writing here — I used to use this blog to work out my thoughts on books, films, teaching; well read these as 5 sketches towards a summer course for retired people.

The Gothic

This course will explore the gothic mode in fiction and film. The gothic as a mode is a vast terrain with many differnt subgenres, yet images, plot-, and character types repeat like a formula. Take one huge labyrinthine ancient or partly ruined dwelling, place inside a murderous incestuous father or mother (preferably chained), heroes and heroines (various kinds), get a tempest going at night, be sure to have plenty of blood on hand, owls, and stir in a great deal of supernatural phenomena, have the action occur in the deep past or be connected to a deep past … We’ll use short stories on-line, beginning with ghosts and terror, moving onto vampire, werewolf, and wanderer paradigms and horror, and last socially critical mystery and possession. The course culminates in two recent novellas, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, and the justly famed film, Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963, featuring Julie Harris).

Texts on-line will be chosen from among these: Wharton’s “Afterward” and/or “Kerfol,” M. R. James’s “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral;” Sheridan LeFanu’s “Green Tea” and/or “Carmilla,” Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life,” R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Suzy Charnas’s “Unicorn Tapestry; Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Abbey Grange.” This spares students buying an expensive anthology.

Memory, Desire, and Self-fashioning: Life Writing

This course will enable students to better to understand and recognize the nature of life-writing: diaries, books of letters, journals, memoirs, travel narratives, autobiogaphies, biographies. Our three texts will be Richard Holmes’s Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, Iris Origo’s War in Val d’Orca: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 (or George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia) and Margaret Drabble’s The Figure in the Carpet: A Personal History, with Jigsaws. We will ask what is the nature of the truth autobiography produces and look at the relationship of a biographer to his subject. We’ll look at writing done to the moment when the writer does not know what the future holds (diaries, letters); how far is a biography the product of a biographer’s memories interacting with text by his (or her) subject. We’ll talk about the importance of childhood and play in this form, how aging, imagination and disappointment work are part of the mental materials that make up life-writing. If time permits and the DVD is available, the class will conclude with the 2013 film, The Invisible Woman, based on Claire Tomalin’s biography of a long love-relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan (an actress), where most of the evidence for the events was destroyed, and thus be able to discuss events that happen, and are important in people’s lives and yet have left no discernible clear record.

The Political Novel

The course aims to enable the students to recognize what is political novel and how such novels can function in our society. We’ll read Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, Walter Von Tilburg Clark’s The Ox-Bow Incident, and Valerie Martin’s Property and see William Wellman’s film, The Ox-Bow Incident (1963, featuring Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn). We’ll look at the nature of political allegory: how ideas about society penetrate the consciousness of the characters and can be observed in their behavior. Why some events enter what’s called history and why political novels often lend themselves to historical treatment; why other events are not discussed as serious history, which can limit what we perceive as political behavior. Finally, how films contribute to understanding a novel or its political meanings.

The Historical and Post-Colonial Turn in modern novels

This course will examine historical and post-colonial (or global) turn that English fiction has taken in the last quarter century. We’ll read and discuss three novels: Paul Scott’s Staying On, Graham Swift’s Waterland, and Andrea Levy’s Small Island. The first poignant novel is also about two aging people now retired, who have seen the word they were part of disappear and must cope with new arrangements hostile to them. The second will enable us to discuss how some events enter political history and others don’t, and thus our past is past is something we invent through imposing choice and order based on hierarchies in our present culture. Historical romance can therefore be liberating acts of resistance, a way of redressing injustice, and creating a more humane usable past. The third novel shows the centrality of nationalistic identities in enforcing exclusions or forming imagined communities. The course will conclude by watching an excerpt from a mini-series adaptation of Small Island (2009, BBC, featuring David Oyelowo and Ruth Wilson). I hope the class will see the connection of these novels to young adult fiction, counter-factual fictions, and romantic history as well as TV costume drama.

Jane Austen: the early phase

This course focus on Austen’s first published novels: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Love and Freindship (a short hilarious burlesque which we will read first), Austen’s Steventon years, and letter fiction provide prologue and context for reading S&S and P&P. An alternative perspective provides the last phase of the course: Austen’s Bath years, a brief mid-career epistolary novel written there, Lady Susan (with an utterly amoral heroine), and discussion of how Austen revised the novels when she settled at Chawton. Last, we’ll see Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s S&S (a 1995 Miramax product), and discuss what this film makes visible about the way film-makers think readers read these novels and how these interpretations differ from this course’s historical, autobiographical and aesthetic readings.

Ellen

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AgnesLookingatWindowblog
From Andrew Davies’s mini-series Mr Selfridge (based on Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction, and Mr Selfridge

I do not believe in recovery. The past, with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments, is there for each of us forever, and it should be — Lillian Hellman

It is not true that in time you get used to it — Simone de Beauvoir

“The secondary impulse is to go out of the self, to correct its provincialism and heal its loneliness — C. S. Lewis

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not blogged in over a week because I’ve been busy with various projects, most of which I am not ready to write on as yet, or I have to wait to write on because something else will be due earlier. My good past gone, I move to a new framing.

I finished reading Musiol’s important book on Vittoria Colonna but feel I must work on it carefully and during the day, that it will take much thought to review usefully (or why bother?): the description on line leads one to think it’s mainly on Michelangelo’s drawings possibly of Vittoria Colonna, when it is rather a detailed biography in the context of the religious and military politics and other literary works of her age.

Other projects nearing conclusion (coming out of list-serv life): LeFanu’s short stories and Wyvern Mystery (plot-designs and characters emerging from interior pathways through melancholy); Lillian Hellman’s 4 memoirs (Unfinished Woman, Pentemento, Scoundrel Time, Maybe).

But before doing that I have to make one or two syllabi for a possible position teaching in the Humanities part of a BA program. Since I’ve never taught courses which match the requirements of their core curriculum, this will take some doing. And a not so small obstacle here is I just ordered the books, so even with expedited shipping for a couple of them, have to wait. Paradoxically though I’m closer to being able to teach a course in the Enlightenment (one of the two offered), as 1) the 18th century is my primary area; 2) I used to teach a survey on the first half of British literature, one third of which I devoted to the long 18th century, I actually have more recent anthologies for the Victorian Age (my other choice).

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Pre-Raphaelite image, Millais (on the cover of the Longman Victorian Age)

Right now I’m thinking I should have for each syllabus a single readable (entertaining too) volume of general history (G. H. Young’s Portrait of an Age [Victorian]), an anthology which will give selections from many topics and a variety of texts and authors, and perhaps one or two whole single texts. Some of these anthologies I see have extended texts on-line which may form the equivalent of single texts. I don’t want to make the students pay extravagant amounts of money. For the Victorian Age one, I’m hoping the Broadview anthology comes quickly because it has a lot of Anthony Trollope in it, but I very much like the Longman (rich in traditional texts) and am drawn to the documents in Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain, ed. Antoinette Burden (with pieces by slaves and all sorts of extraordinary exposures of the condition of people at the time all over the globe which would (I hope) set students thinking.

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Reynolds’s portrait of Abingdon as Miss Prue (on the cover of the Longman 18th century anthology)

For the eighteenth century, Enlightenment one, I find I can think of a set of individual books, one of which might be a poetry anthology, but the outline of the course suggested asks that the instructor to have a core corpus of philosophical texts, some of which must debate attitudes towards religion (certainly central to the Enlightenment is the spread of secularism) so I’ve ordered Kramnick’s anthology of continental and English Enlightenment philosophical texts, and am thinking about single volume anthologies called Enlightenment (Roy Porter, or Dorinda Outram), to which I could add a good novel or travel memoir; or the Longman or Norton anthologies.

I hope all the ordered stuff arrives as I’m supposed to have these syllabi by New Year’s Day (January 1st). Meanwhile along with my etext edition of Ethelinde (slowly typing it still) and my return to Emma, Austen’s novel, for calendar study, and the Emma movies, which I suppose I must put aside for now, or go slower, late into the night I’m enjoying myself watching Andrew Davies’s Mr Selfridge and endlessly re-watching the 3 seasons of Downton Abbey, which I never seem to tire of: partly it’s that so much money and care and the intense art that results from that, & the many characters gone into with all their parallels and ironic contrasts inside evolving stories — makes slow re-watching rich in ever new insights. Partly the depth of feeling the characters show towards one another satisfies an endless need in me:

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Mr (Brendan Coyle) and Mrs (Joanne Froggart): on the beach (4th season)

If Jim were still alive, I’d not be returning to teaching; I’d probably stay with Emma, the Austen movies and Ethelinde, and maybe for fun turn to Winston Graham and historical fiction. Be going out to plays, operas, concerts, walking with him, talking. Travel, say to the Lake District, Venice — but I do know he was beginning to not want to do these things — himself aging, weakening (perhaps that horrible disease cancer that ate him up showing itself). I would have done that paper on Anne Finch and retirement. Lillian Hellman says in her memoirs (which I’m almost ready to write about, just have to finish the fourth and a couple of essays on it) that when you are driven to give up an old way of life, when it’s destroyed, you are spared stagnation, staying in one frame or sameness of place, growing even older than your years.

Can I tell myself (like Hellman) that what was then, is there still now, and the years between, and the then and now are one? No it’s not one, now and the long (now feeling all too short) time with Jim. And what happened to make this raw rip was unspeakable. Here we were, innocent in a landmark house, Amos Brown’s, Vermont, what turned out to be our last summer:

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AmosBrownhouseJiminkitchenVermontblog

Before I read with him, now in order not to read all alone, and be utterly desolate in my heart and inner being, I have to turn the reading into socially useful, acceptable patterns and paths.

“Aussi triste qe soit un livre, it n’est jamais aussi triste que la vie” — Chantal Thomas [as sad as a book is, it's never as sad as life], Souffrir

Ellen

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FitzgeraldasLintonblog
In 1939 Wuthering Heights: Geraldine Fitzgerald played Isabella Linton, but the film-makers did not have the interest, insight, or nerve to present the range of abuse we see in the book

Dear Friends and readers,

My third and final blog report from the PCA/ACA conference held here in DC. For the first, on serial storying and soap opera, see The Way We Watch TV Now).

Here are panels and papers on women’s issues (abortion, motherhood, careers), recent feminists (Vera Brittain), Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Ann Wrighten, an 18th century memoir of an actress who moved from London to the US, Angelina Weld Gimke’s radical novel, Mara Lena Dunham’s Girls and Aaron Sorkin’s TV show, West Wing. These discussions include the best and worst papers I heard.

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I begin with the women’s issues sessions.

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The best and worst were seen as the conference began, Wednesday, 1:15 pm, in session called Motherhood/Fatherhood (1127). Vicki Toscano, a working lawyer, gave a superb paper on the current legal particulars of abortion law and controversy today. Popular anti-abortion propaganda are being transformed into (or regarded) as science and accepted as parts of laws. Anti-abortion laws increasingly exploit the post-modern idea that what is scientific fact is nothing more than culturally driven beliefs. At the core is the idea that a woman upon becoming pregnant, conceiving is a mother. Women are told lies that there is a risk of infertility and must be psychological damage is they have an abortion. The claim of a risk of breast cancer is untrue (and though she didn’t say it the same pattern of turning myth into science is seen in attempts to coerce women into breast-feeding). Explicit moral language is increasingly made part of laws.

Toscano began with Roe v Wade, 1973. The court found a fundamental right to privacy was violated when all abortion was illegal, but that in the case of pregnancy that right was not absolute. the 1st trimester there need be no regulations; during the 2nd trimester to protect women’s health you can regulate the procedure. Once the fetus can survive, is a baby in potentia (there is disagreement when precisely this is) then the state’s interest in saving the child can trump the mother’s desires. Increasingly then a woman has the right to an abortion only if her life is jeopardized: it seems the fetus feels pain at 30 weeks but machines can detect a heart-beat after a few weeks and if you multiply the fetus a thousand-fold you can make a woman feel there’s a baby there.

In Planned Parenthood versus Casey (1992), the court turned away from the fundamental right to privacy, and instead said a woman’s right to an abortion is part of he right to liberty; it becomes a 14th amendment issue. The decision did away with the three trimester turning points; now the state has the right to protect the unborn from the moment of conception as long as it’s not am undue burden on the mother. The court has never found any obstacle to be that substantial that it gets in the way. States began to express a preference for childbirth over abortion. The state can insist on teaching women about abortion; the limitation is the information must be truthful, not misleading, and relevant. For no other medical procedure is there this demand for a 24 hour waiting period while the woman is told information about their abortion.

Then in 2007 in Gonzales versus Carhart legislation outlawing partial birth abortion (intact D & E) was upheld. The law now had a constitutional obligation to intervene, with a concern for the fetus or baby’s life and no exception made for the woman’s health. Congress decided that if there is any serious health risk cited by anyone, that must be taken into account. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent said the court deprives women of information and the right to make an autonomous choice. The pro-act reasonings included the idea a woman’s place is in her home.

Most importantly what’s happened lately shows a disregard for the mother’s life and well-being, a preference to save or force a baby on a woman no matter if she risks in the process. Women are increasingly being put into jail as pregnancy is in effect criminalized (especially when a woman is unmarried). We are returning to attitudes that undergirded accusations of maternal infanticide.

Sign

Ellyn Lem and Timothy Dunn discussed Anne Marie Slaughter’s “why Women can’t have it all” as if for most women in the US having it all means high professional success and fulfilling family life (husband, children). They went over the Internet controversies, saw Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as a reply. They really defended both books as serious discussions of women’s lives and conflicts, typical enough lives with admirable values that may be held up as examples.

No one can fault their ultimate general comment that the workplace must have central institutional change to allow women who want to to be part-time at home mothers or wives. But the relevant perspective was that of the tenured college teacher who is dissatisfied because she is not making a huge sum, or on a crucially powerful committee, or is guilty because she leaves her children with a nanny for long hours at a time. Most women make small salaries and must struggle to make ends meet together with their husbands; they have no hired help. Or they are the hired help. They get part-time wages for full-time work. No benefits. The sad value of this session was to see that in these books taken at face value, feminism has become a movement for the few women who can afford to hire other women to take care of their homes and children. Feminism also takes on board neoliberalism, and in Sandberg women urged to imitate the anti-social anti-caring characteristics of men in the workplace.

I offered the idea both texts are irrelevant to most women’s lives; that supposed re-structures of work-days leads to people becoming part-time employees and a plunge in salaries with no benefits. I did not say (as I do here) the whole discussion was in unacknowledged bad taste.

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Vera Brittain later in life — she did in her memoirs also chronicle women’s lives in her fiction-memoirs

Liz Podniecks’ paper on Vera Brittain showed that Brittain challenged an attitude that said women must marry and have children to be fulfilled. Brittain was an outspoken pacificist and feminist who argued that women must be employed for money outside the home to be fully adult fulfilled women. In her Testament of Youth she exposed and denounced the barbarity and uselessness of patristic wars. She herself did marry, but kept her name (unusual for the time); Winifred Holtby lived with Brittain and Brittain’s husband and helped a series of hired nannies to take care of Vera’s children. In her writing Brittain continually attacked the “useless” woman, the woman who has nothing serious to do when her children go to school; they vicariously live through their children, are dependent. Once a woman has a good job and home she can stop over-emphasizing the importance of emotional relationships which are not central to the real business of life. They are (in truth) secondary to the way society is structured.

It may be true that some middle class women live pampered lives once their children grow older; and certainly sentiment is not the driving force behind how we order our lives. But this paper, as put, was also elitist at core. It is not a matter of choice for most women. They do not want to be dependent; many cannot get near a good paying job, and thus do find their highest satisfactions in their family’s shared lives. What worried me about this paper was the next inference would be to get rid of women’s right to live on their husband’s social security if he should predecease her when she spent her life as his wife, working at home for him and his and her children and herself mostly without pay. This would force women to work outside the home, many in menial work which given men’s present reluctance to help with housework and take inward responsibility for children would give many women an endless burden. (Pass ERA and the supreme court with its identification with employers would be only too glad to do this; Republicans would be overjoyed to get rid of social security for a good chunk of the population.) For many women it’s asking too much when they are not born to the kind of people that lead to good colleges, degrees, jobs.

To be fair to Brittain, I’ve read her Testament of Youth and know it’s a deeply humane text.

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Cast of Girls: Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet

Well, after the above, the only other women’s issues session I went to was an early Saturday afternoon “Gender and Media Studies” (4427, 1:15 pm) which I attended to hear a paper on “Girls” as well as “West Wing,” the first of which I’ve seen and the second never watched but was curious about.

I found Nikita Hamilton’s paper touching. An African-American young woman, she loves Girls and was determined to justify its lack of black and working class people, it upper middle class stance (the girls are supported by parents, don’t worry about losing jobs) to downplay what she admitted was its neo-liberal stances (“they do regret materialism”). she basically argued that this was a slice of life sufficiently realistic and reflective of young women’s problems today. Her valiant try reminded me of how I sometimes justify Downton Abbey as being for community, showing compassion for its characters (“intelligent dialogue”); so many of us find that we love programs in the popular media which are arch-conservative and exclude us. It’s hard to admit to enjoying racist texts which are rightly attacked as suc (e.g., Gone With the Wind is) on the grounds that this is what is on offer, where fine talents are allowed play. To say the more liberal, inclusive, socialist story is just not told. Ms Hamilton discussed the third season where Lena has a black boyfriend who is (natch) a Republican and it doesn’t last past two episodes. She said the use of a “float” magically powerful female black character (as is found in Sex and the City in recent formulations) is not much better.

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Martin Sheen as the bully president, Allison Janney as his right-hand Hillary

I would have liked to believe Olivia Kerrigan’s thesis that West Wing is liberal economically and seriously alert to class privileges as well as mildly feminist but from her anaslysis of the three central women characters (all in elite positions, from a Hillary Clinton first lady, to her secretary, to a press agent), it seemed to me this program supported the point of view I heard expressed in session 1127. The program’s male hegemony (comically exposed) irritates & limits the women characters only in small symbolically grating ways. I’ve seen a video which does show the central male (president) as a bully mocking an educated women (naturally with that horrifying thing, the equivalent of a bluestocking sign, the English Ph.D.) but as explained to me we were to admire that man so I came away thinking the program reinforces our elitist hierarchical corporate society with its endorsement of competition as central to social life. Older feminist movies with actively strong career women types like Rosalind Russell (or Jean Arthur) had neither the bullying males nor the anti-intellectualism I’ve glimpsed in this series,and they evinced a genuinely social conscience towards people outside the elite world.

Two other papers briefly: Angelita Faller analyzed a group of commercials for home alarms and showed that they assume women want to be raped, black men are very dangerous, white men good protective heroes, and women living alone are not safe. Jose Feliciano brought out underlying challenges to mainstream conventional heterosexuality in MTV videos, discussing the bisexuality of stars like Lady Gaga. See my super-numinosity.

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If nothing else, the papers on imaginative works from a feminist point of view vindicated literary studies. Asked to study finer imaginative works, the presenters did bring out sustainable critiques of the way society is organized, gives women a raw hard deal, victimizes them, complete with examples of a few women who did manage fulfilled lives despite this.

I’ve three sessions, but only four papers to cover, as (shocking) in one of them only one person out of a planned three or four showed; in another the other two papers were written in an abstract jargon impossible to understand, read at top speed and appeared to be about embarrassingly poor texts; and in the third only two papers were about women issues.

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Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland at the Abbey (yes one of the four includes on Northanger Abbey)

I’ll begin with the best (or maybe only) literary paper in the conference I heard: Andrea Brittany Brannon’s paper on domestic violence in Wuthering Heights (Friday, 3305, 11:30 am).

It was a relief and delight to hear Ms Brannon defend and sympathize with Isabella Linton as the novel’s centrally abused woman. Through this character we see how male power is privileged and unquestioned; how easy it is for the male to disvalue and put his wife in the wrong (how dare she disobey him?): Isabella begins as a woman who enacts her society’s version of impeccable behavior to becoming someone who cannot cope with the smallest difficulty. Bullying has reduced to marginalization; she is Heathcliff’s way of getting back. She wanted him for the same glamorous sexed-up reasons Helen wants the upper class Arthur in Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hal, but unlike Anne’s novel where we live the experience of abuse through Helen, here we see it through Nellie’s conventional eyes: Isabella is therefore become a slattern without self-respect, and if weak, deserving the cruel treatment of the easily irritated. Heathcliff tells Nellie how Isabella comes to him shamefully clinging. We may see her struggling to apply the only social behavior she knows and finding it useless to help her, inappropriate in her situation. We see her physically punished and banished with him playing the rightly scolding parent. She cannot leave for she has nowhere to go — in the case of Helen she turns to her brother. Isabella’s brother, Edgar, her one male relative with power to help, is angry at her for marrying Heathcliff and abandons her to Heathcliff. So the patriarchy fails her.

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Isabella Lindon Heathcliffe (Sophie Ward) from the 1992 Wuthering Heights (glimpse of Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff from the side)

Ms Brannon pointed out we do have Isabella’s letter, the only narrative in the book which comes to us unmediated by Nellie or Lockwood, but most readers don’t pay attention to this counter-move against the romance of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliffe. The 1992 movie with Ralph Fiennes is a rare Wuthering Heights to dramatize the next generation and second part of the book where Isabella appears. Most reviewers if they mention Isabella at all blame her (the victim). Ms Brannon made a good case for regarding Isabella as a relevant portrait of domestic abuse today. Isabella is a woman with no access to legal protection. Ms Brannon conceded the novel is problematic as clearly Emily Bronte does sympathize with Heathcliff as the underdog and violence in this novel seems more than accepted as a source of power.

This was the session which was supposed to have paper on Little Women and the Civil War, one on Daisy Miller as a feminist hero and no one came. So there was plenty of time for a good discussion. There were about 5 audience members. Some, like me, said, they had never liked Wuthering Heights as much as the other Bronte books. I thought that Emily Bronte truncated the Isabella story too much, did not realize she was onto some powerful material here. Those who had liked the book when they were young did fall in love with the wild romance.

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Angelina Weld Grimke (1882-1958) (African-American playwright)

For the papers on an 18th century actress who reinvented herself, Ann Wrighten, a powerful early 20th century black woman writer, Angelina Grimke, and Northanger Abbey and A Christmas Carol as gothics, see comments.

Ellen

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Celie Imrie as Mrs Hardcastle: her story never told, unaccounted for in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Dear friends and readers,

Are Lesbians as a group (as opposed say to gay men, “queer” people) becoming invisible again? the question was asked on one of my listservs.

I don’t know that lesbians were ever much visible in popular art or entertainment but there was an attempt to include such women as a type. The TV show Ellen comes to mind. Buffy’s best friend. Were these sports? anomalies which had no development? I saw a popular mainstreadm movie this past weekend and reviewed it favorably here, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and it had a central male gay figure: notably he dies before the end of the movie so the happy ending cannot include a homosexual couple. It does include a young heterosexual and an aging heterosexual one. Actually it would not include he and the long-lost friend (40 years ago, re-found) because the friend has married and has a wife who stands by and would probably not appreciate being sidelined.

The common type person not included not include is a lesbian. Let’s look about. Of all the 7 or 8 retired white people at the center, there is a person whose past remains unexplored and whose future is not accounted for. Celie Imrie as Mrs Hardcastle. It came to me as I watched that she’s a lesbian who is not out; she has never been married, and unlike the others there is no sign of her seeking a sexual partner. She could just be an asexual spinster, but the feel of the character is not that either. She dresses sexily (all her tops low-cut):

“Mrs Hardcastle is never explained; could be a quiet lesbian but we are not told this …” We are told nothing of her history.

In my experience there is a strong impulse to deny lesbianism unless it is stridently overt. Not coming out often makes sense too from an individual standpoint. Take the military: I’ve read more than once that lesbians are particularly subject to all sorts of social punishments by heterosexual men in the military (including rape, which is said to be commonplace).

I see no one has cited literary or historical studies so I’ll cite one very good one: Emma Donoghue’s Passions between Women where she argues we don’t see lesbians because their particular patterns in a repressive society are not recognized and for the 18th century she goes about to outline what these are. What I’ve noticed is that often in the particular instances she points to if you go to scholars working on these women, they will do all they can to obfuscate, deny, most of the time on the grounds there is no overt evidence. I wrote a few blogs on this book because it was of great interest and so unusual.

Donoghue meant to create a counterpart to Sedgewick’s Passions between Men but (no surprise) her book has not achieved anything like the fame or acceptance of Sedgewick's book. She does not include Austen though she knows that Austen's life and work fit her pre-suppositions as it has been vehemently denied by the leaders of the Austen fan clubs. My larger point is that when such historical books are written they gain little fame and individual women identified in them little recognition as lesbians — another recent one is Lisa Moore's Sister Arts: The erotics of Lesbian Landscape where she outlines lesbian art patterns. Again the book has been reviewed in Women’s Review of Books, but I’ve not seen it reviewed in many 18th century periodicals:

The old argument about women’s friendship (Lilian Fadermann, Surpassing the Love of Men, and Janet Todd’s Women’s Friendship in Literature) which is not physical is resurrected continually..

A thread on a Women’s Studies listserv I’m on, a debate which began to turn into an embittered fight between women who identify as part of different factions intent on recognition, respect (power and influence) today, but stopped short and then became friendly again and fruitful of understanding prompted the above. I’d like to see the argument wrest free of particular factions from the year 2012.

I suggest people face what I would say is the continued refusal for the most part to recognize that there is such a sexual phenomena as lesbianism — even though (as photos often show) when same-sex marriage is permitted, pairs of women are usually as many among the rejoicing couples, and even though there are magazines and groups of lesbian feminists who maintain a strong presence in say this or that academic or political organization.

And there are corollary questions: who pushes for same-sex marriage? is it gay men or lesbian women? I suggest this is an important question. Do they do it equally? who pushes for the right to be in the military openly? and what about uncontested adoption of a child?

Another corollary: the glorification of motherhood (see Badinter’s The Conflict).


Christmas time, Obrien to the side, self-contained (by contrast, Miss Shaw, Lady Rosamund’s lady’s maid is recognized by Anna and Mrs Patmore as Lord Hepworth’s mistress, a plant to push Lady Rosamund into marrying the bankrupt Hepworth)

It was also prompted by the history-less-ness of Miss Sarah Obrien (Siobhan Finneran) in Downton Abbey, who like her partner in ruthlessness, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) keeps her own counsel

See also Lesbian spinsterhood, On being answerable with her body, Slammerkin. So many things to be said, which remain marginalized or unsaid and therefore unseen.


From Gwyneth Hughes’ and Anne Pivcevic’s Miss Austen Regrets: Olivia Williams as Jane Austen comforting Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra late in life

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

Hitherto I’ve put all my conference reports and news about my papers on this blog. Since the beginning of this year when I created a new blog just for Austen and 18th century studies and women writers, I decided that my reports of 18th century conferences, papers and Austen should logically go onto Reveries under the Sign of Austen. However, as I know I have a small audience for such reports here, I thought I’d cross post just the URLs to the reports of the SC/ASECS conference for which I read so much for an Ann Radcliffe paper and at which Jim and I had such a good time.

So, on the good time we had socially and what touring we did, and my paper:

South Central ASECS: The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes

The above photo is me giving the paper.

The first day and one half of sessions and papers:

South Central ASECS: Panoramas (gothic, animals in, the Biltmore), Scottish fidding, Rameau & Jane

The third day and evening, a panoply of papers, eating and drinking, ending in a dance:

South Central ASECS: Women writers, poets & actresses, and myths

Just today Jim confided in me that he took the above photo and this one of the central spa in the center of the hotel (whose three buildings formed a horseshoe surrounding the spa, which could be seen from anywhere in the building when you looked down:

Ellen

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Miss Eleanor Lavish (Sinead Cusack) from Forster’s Room with a View (Davies’s film)

Dear friends,

This is probably my third blog on Donoghue’s Passions between Women, maybe the fourth in which I’ve mentioned the book. I wrote about it to suggest that Jane Austen, her sister, Martha Lloyd, and Anne Sharp all show a pattern of life that in the era was silently identified as lesbian spintershood; then I wrote about it to discuss liberty and women and suggest that women are answerable with their bodies and it’s this ownership of women’s bodies that precludes liberty; I wrote about how Donoghue made me see Sarah Fielding’s The Governess in a wholly new light so that it made more sense, was more interesting, consistent; finally I mentioned it in my blog on Donoghue’s Slammerkin.

Can there be anything else to say? Yes. Why say it? Because I have a whole bunch of texts to tell the reader he or she should read to re-see in a new vital or poignant way. What Donoghue does do is uncover a long history of evidence that lesbian life has been with us wherever we can find some written records of sex life. We cannot treat it the way we can male homosexual history or sex because we don’t have anywhere near the direct evidence, but through the persecution and silencing a poignant human story shows through now and again. She ends on the idea that the history can teach “us” — for she comes out as a lesbian with her use of pronouns at the end — something of how to survive.

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Johannes Vermeer (1632-75), Maid and Mistress

Let us begin with the familiar theme of maids and mistresses, and what do we find? We are made aware of the inadequacy of the typical representation of the maid and mistress where the maid gives up all, even her life to the mistress without any qualm or resentment.

I feel I had not read Defoe’s Roxanne before — though I know I did (in a graduate class where we wrote about it). I have little memory of it, but don’t remember it as a story about a maid, Amy and her mistress, as a pair of partners struggling through life where one must ever be a prostitute to support the other. We see Roxanne use Amy, when things go badly Roxanne accuse Amy of being a devil who seduces her. The class distinctions melt as they turn into an “economic double act” with Amy the manager and Roxanne the goods sold.

What destroys them is Amy’s excessive concern for Roxanne – but also her own safety. Amy had previously pushed Roxanne’s children off on relatives (shades of Moll Flanders) and one day a grown daughter, Susan, shows up; Susan threatens to expose the mother, Roxanne and Amy plots to kill Susan. At first Roxanne is horrified, and Amy retreats from this solution, but as time goes on, Amy does indeed murder Susan. Roxanne throws Amy out, but it’s the loss of Amy Roxanne cannot get over, and Donoghue says the novel peters out in confusion — I do remember it just moving into a kind of shorthand drivel and ending.

Johnson’s Rasselas? A rare telling of a close loving friendship between maid and mistress is Johnson on Pekuah and Nekayah where Nekayah saves Pekuah from a life of concubinage after rape. Nekayah sinks into an intense depression and a big ransom is paid to get Pekuah back for Nekayah. Johnson does punt by saying no rape really took place after all. I had never considered them in a lesbian light either.

Then there’s “Unaccountable Wife” by Jane Barker in Patchwork Screen for Ladies. As read by Donoghue turns out to be a story like that of The Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Elizabeth Foster and the Duke (see blog on Amanda Foreman’s biography): two women having a lesbian relationship while both of them go to bed with the Duke too (separately I suppose). What happens is the wife begins to do all the housework and after a while refuses to go to bed with the husband while her maid gets pregnant by him and does no work. It would seem to be a story of a servant beginning to dominate the mistress, only the servant is eventually thrown out and the wife stays by her side supporting her in the most menial of ways. Janet Todd in her book on women’s friendship in literature read as the exploitation of a barren neurotic wife by her servant. I agree that’s not adequate if you consider all the parts of the story.

If Donoghue is right, I have to go back and reread Betty Rizzo’s Companions without Vows where she shows how power corrupts and given unqualified power over someone else it’s the rare person who does not abuse it — whether mistress, maid or master.

Donoghue finds and praises the few stories where real conflict between maid and mistress is seen – or between upper and lower class woman. I’d say that Austen’s Emma takes advantage of this convention that the lower class women is all gratitude — and only at the end of the story has Harriet irritated and moving away and never does deal with what must have been a residual of deep resentment in Jane Fairfax. We only get her gushing. It might be Emma’s blindness but we are not encouraged to read the last encounter between Emma and Jane that way.

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Emma (Romola Garai), Anna Taylor Weston (Jodhi May), Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan) (Sandy Welch’s Emma)

Let’s backtrack from this to sentimentalized treatments of true friends. Donoghue’s treatment differs here because she considers pairs of women where things did not go smoothly, women who differed a lot. These are mostly famous and not-famous pairs of women friends who left letters.

I’ve mentioned in the previous blogs Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill’s story: the great irony is that Anne and Sarah have come down in memory as the lesbian pair, when it was Abigail Masham who won Anne finally and the story one of betrayal and pressure from impingments of other status, prestige, money circumstances. Also how Charlotte Charke’s long-time partner, Mrs Brown is just ignored even to today so the memoir is misrepresented.

Poignant is the section on Mary Astell: apparently she could not get close friends to reciprocate and would tell herself this was God’s punishment on her for not begin content with him. Finally she meets Lady Catherine Jones and she is so overjoyed to find someone who does not find her unlovable. Jones was wealthy and became a lifelong friend and patroness. In fact in her old age Mary Astell might have ended up horribly but for Jones taking the the sick woman (she got breast cancer) into her house and providing nursing.

Also The Memoir of Sophia Baddeley. Written by her long-suffering, loyal friend, Elizabeth Hughes Steele, the story is one of what happens to women whose passions the society deforms and will not honor or respect, to women who the society also encourages to be masochistic. Baddeley kept latching onto male “keepers’ who would beat her, and savagely; then she’d retreat to Mrs Steele (who also married and had a child). They have terrible rows and are finally parted. With Elizabeth what matters is a resistance to heterosexuality. The unhappy Elizabeth died young of consumption (37). I’d now like to read this one.

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Jane (Samantha Harker) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) turning to one another (1995 P&P, by Davies)

A third grouping: Sincere and Tender Passions . Anne Damer as a lesbian artist and Elizabeth Farren fit in here (since Donoghue’s Life Mask) What distinguishes Donoghue’s treatment is she also quotes letters from contemporary people who recognized the sapphism; that includes Mrs Thrale. We also see how much competition from other women Damer had with respect to Elizabeth Farren. A chasm of mistrust was easy to start up since the society was so against these alliances (pp. 139-42).

Donoghue often quotes Fielding’s The Governess in this part of the book in passing: there is a book about a girls’ school. I was startled to see Lady Pomfret, a familiar (to me in the letters I had access to) dullard, a friend of Lady Hertford. I remembered that Lady Pomfret left three thick volume of these dull missives. That I had xeroxed a bunch and was disappointed when I finally took them home. I wondered if I xeroxed the wrong ones. Maybe. But now I see they are censored and why Lady Pomfret wrote so much to Lady Hertford and so insistently.

Frances Seymour Thynne, Lady Hertford and Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys Fermor (I mention all her names so we won’t get her confused with someone else), Lady Pomfret were faithful correspondents for years and this verse epistle (a favorite with me) is from Lady Hertford to Lady Pomfret:

We sometimes ride, and sometimes walk,
We play at chess, or laugh, or talk;
Sometimes besides the crystal stream,
We meditate some serious theme;
Or in the grot, beside the spring,
We hear the feathered warblers sing.
Shakespeare perhaps an hour diverts,
Or Scott directs to mend our hearts.
With Clarke’s God’s attributes we explore;
And, taught by him, admire them more.
Gay’s Pastorals sometimes delight us,
Or Tasso’s grisly spectres fright us:
Sometimes we trace Armida’s bowers,
And view Rinaldo chained with flowers.
Often from thoughts sublime as these,
I sink at once – and make a cheese;
Or see my various poultry fed,
And treat my swans with scraps of bread.
Sometimes upon the smooth canal
We row the boat or spread the sail;
Till the bright enveing-star is seen,
And dewy spangles deck the green.
          Then tolls the bell, and all unite
In prayer that God would bless the night.
From this (though I confess the change
From prayer to cards is somewhat strange)
To cards we go, till ten has struck:
And then, however bad our luck,
Our stomachs ne’er refuse to eat
Eggs, cream, fresh butter, or calves’-feet;
And cooling fruits, or savoury greens
‘Sparagus, peas, or kidney-beans.
Our supper past, an hour we sit,
And talk of history, Spain or wit.
But Scandal far is banished hence,
Nor dares intrude with false pretence
Of pitying looks, or holy rage
Against the vices of the age:
We know we were all born to sin,
And find enough to blame within.
(written 1740)

Now these women were married so they had “cover” and a rich fulfilled life in other ways too. Lady Hertford was especially close to her son whom she did not send to public school but educated at home herself, and he grew up to be a fine sensitive well-educated man. Bi-sexual women.

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Florence (Jodhi May) and Nan (Rachel Stirling) in Tipping the Velvet (novel by Sarah Walters, movie by Andrew Davies)

The penultimate section of Donoghue’s book is titled: What Joys are these? — Donoghue proposes to pay attention to all those scenes in erotic novels where women are having sex with other women: these are usually ignored. She argues that one quality in most of them which distinguishes them is that the two women do not punish one another where later pornography usually shows the women punished severely and humiliated.

I know I was surprised by the lack of violence and punishment in Cleland’s Fanny Hill. The punishment of Suzanna in The Nun came from her refusing to become a nun, not her getting involved sexually with the mother superior, from her refusing to obey not what she did sexually. There is a scene in Les Liaisons Dangereuses where Madame de Merteuil pleasures Cecile. I too have been guilty of ignoring it.

The first pairs of active lesbian lovers that have been overlooked by readers are gotten by reading against the grain passages mocking and ridiculing women: for example, in Richardson’s Pamela, Mrs Jewkes’s attacks on Pamela — it is true that Pamela evidences a very unladylike knowledge of what Jewkes attempts. Donoghue then moves on to Anthony Hamilton’s Memoirs of Count of Grammont: a more unpleasant book shaped by a set of nasty attitudes I’ve never read — I do have a copy and have tried it more than once. I fully believe and would have noticed had I gotten that far that there are lesbians who are mocked and burlesqued, humiliated as fellow rakes to males. Madame Merteuil’s experience on the sofa with Cecile comes under here.

It seemed to me the book was returning to the ugly material Donoghue had begun with in her opening section: the earliest glimpses of lesbian in texts are the lurid imaginings of lesbians as women with somehow damaged penises.

I want to tell her, Emma, this is desperate stuff. What joys are these is a good title for this material though. But I admit What interested me in the “what joys are these section” most is how Donoghue never seemed to escape in it from the early ugly salacious kind of texts she began with. It seems until very recently (let’s say Sarah Walters) no one presented lesbian sex as fun, pleasurable, tasteful even. Tales of wooden dildoes (because in print it’s so rare for sex to be taken seriously without a phallus, same sex whippings, and unkind orgies close the chapter. Donoghue says we need to remember much of this is male fantasy: women did not get to write erotica at the time.

So one criticism of her book is it is not sufficiently (hardly at all) informed by 20th century texts. She ought to write a volume 2.

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Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800, painted 1762)

And so we come to Lesbian Communities. Here again it’s a matter of countering an insistence X just doesn’t exist, in this case communities of women who are aware of themselves as lesbian in orientation. Were Jane, Cassandra, Martha and Anne Sharpe aware of themselves that way? If so, how did they read The Governess? Again the books to show as incorrect is Janet Todd’s Women’s Friendship in Literature and Lillian Faderman’s Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. We can’t know for sure.

So it’s a case of Margaret Cavendish’s plays (fantasies though), Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall. She does find a long passage in Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” celebrating what seems to have been a group life for women which was lesbain at least in feel, texts on nunneries, convents of pleasure, but it must be admitted again nothing historically real … as yet.

Donoghue’s catalogue and examination of texts which show that women did form lesbian communities, active in sex as well as anything else. And it continues to be the case she has to resort to these lurid texts to find this kind of material, specifically a long section in Delaviere Manley’s New Atalantis and Secret Memoirs. And the attitudes evinced of the women towards one another continue to be sort of adversarial, punitive (threats if you break away; she has a number of types of lesbian too: cross-dressing comes up. And the initials of the characters can be linked to real women at the time – at the court, in the theaters. The characters are mostly anti-heroines.

She also repeatedly shows us a scholar who has written or worked on these who denies active sex. Trumbach for example says the women cross dress in order to pass unmolested; in fact her passages quoted show they are trying to make contact by so dressing.

Sources for some of these depictions of lesbian networks are French: Grimm’s famous Correspondence litteraire and semi-pornographic French novels, Histoire d’une Jeune Fille published by Pidansat de Mairobert.

She ends on a long piece on how what the documents show of Sappho’s life (a genuine lesbian or perhaps bisexual life) and the ways she has been presented. Again it has been a matter for most writers of either erasing her active lesbian feelings altogether or presenting them as secondary and overcome (rightly) by her heterosexual romance (mostly a concoction, especially the suicide) which is seen as the right and proper and comfortable thing. Pronouns changed in the two full poems we have (as was done with Shakespeare)

But again in the forefront of respected writers now and again she finds a truthful witness: Pierre Bayle. And outside the mainstream those who write frankly, but alas often derogatory or sneering kind of texts that have this lurid tone or attack Sappho or mock her.

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Julia Kavanagh (1824-77), bluestocking spent her life studying women of letters (Davies has a Christine Kavanagh in his film, Room with a View)

Donoghue’s larger point that the reason we have no history of lesbianism is not that there was not one and probably very different in feel from these books is made over and over again. I’d say it was really more like what we find in the Bath bluestocking spinster groups and their texts which however are so severely censored (e.g., Sarah Scott, Sarah Fielding …)

So, gentle reader, the next time you hear the word “spinster” or “bluestocking” or phrases “maid and mistress” and “sentimental women’s friendship,” maybe instead of drawing away from something asexual, tedious, dull, you’ll turn to the texts as richly different.

As to Donoghue’s perspective, it’s deeply somber if you think about the stories the books tell of how women suffered from silencing, controlling them severely, erasing what they wrote or misrepresenting it, and ridiculing and treating as sick a whole subset of people.

Ellen

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Helen McNicholl (1879-1915), In the Shade of the Tent (1914)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to tell people who come here that I’ve moved and changed my other blog and invented a third.

First, I moved my Reveries under the Sign of Austen to wordpress. This is a more appropriate space, as many blogs here have themes and are essay-like, and people can subscribe to this blog, but I moved because I became unable to cope with the constant disappearance of livejournal and the freakish working of their software as it was attacked repeatedly this summer.

So here’s an explanation why I moved it and that it is really a continuation of the old blog, with the difference I’ll try to keep on (however widely conceived) topic:

A Continuation

And two first typical blogs:

Women’s friendships and the gothic in Davies’s Northanger Abbey films

Jane Austen’s Letters: Letter 35, Tues-Wed, 5-6 May 1801, from the Paragon

The space in which my older Austen Reveries blog lived (so to speak) is now a blog meant to be personal, autobiographical, seasonal: Under the Sign of Sylvia. My gravator or icon is now Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane. I first explained my pseudonym once again: Why Sylvia. Then I wrote a new blog in the new style intended, it’s about a central breakthrough in conception about myself I had this past year:

Upon realizing I have many Aspergers traits.

I used Nell Blaine’s Cookie Shop once before on this blog in an attempt to talk about myself and my conversion experience into feminism: This long morphing life so have used a different picture to capture a summer’s day (what it is as I type this) in a mode congenial to my own, an woman impressionist unfortunately not well-known, Helen McNicholl, In the Shade of the Tent (see above): one woman is reading, the other painting; I like to think they are friends and wish the image had come out with a little less yellow.

Now this blog will be for Everything Else! and I conclude with Claire Genoux’s Saisons du corps as translated by Ellen Hinsey, New European Poets, Miller & Prufer eds.

If I had loved better
these days with their good smell of bark
these copper twilights
the mountains exposing their toothless jaws
if I had walked more upright
along trails that lead toward dawn
where faith shelters us from doubts and time

if I had known how to savor the full laugh
of the river that rocks in its fleece of leaves
my head held to the trunk’s pillow
my cheek cast amidst thyme
if I hadn’t fled like a coward to the back streets
and believed in the false lights of the city
in its burning waltz of noise

perhaps I wouldn’t–stumbling
rake my wooden head against the walls of night

The French original:

J’accepte Vie d’être votre hôte
de manger votre terre jusqu’à l’indigestion
de boire dans vos gobelets de craie
la lumière cachée des saisons le miel refroidi de vos fleurs
et mille liqueurs grossières

vous voyez j’obéis
les os bougent parfaitement dans le cuir de ma peau
et je colle mon ventre au ventre des hommes
j’obéis même si je me mouche dans votre nappe
que je crache dans vos plats

quand j’aurai bien ri bien usé la corne de mon cœur
j’accepte oui l’effroi
docilement dissoudre ma détresse de cadavre
mais durant cette sieste
enrobée dans votre drap de ravines
mon ventre bombé contre le ventre de la terre
que je jouisse de vos rêves de lait et d’astres
que tous ces repas de fortune pris jadis à votre table
aient la légèreté sur mon crâne et l’ivresse folle
d’une petite neige de printemps

Go gentle reader into the world here, of lakes, of houses and the past hidden in the woods, and what lies all about.


John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93), Evening, Knostop, Old Hall (1870)

Ellen

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The picture gracing the cover of Restless Spirits: Ghost Stories by American Women Writers, 1872-1926, edd. Catherine Lundie

Dear friends and readers,

I continue my tales of my time at this summer’s Sharp conference. I here cover three sessions, two on the first Friday afternoon and the first of four all day Saturday. My topics this time are book covers; the problem of really knowing or reflecting what people were reading during the romantic (or any period) and descriptions of searching among monthly periodicals, compiling lists of books; Mudie’s library, the “foreign division” (the part of Mudie’s which rented books not in English) and travel books: the origins of Murray’s formulaic travel books, and so Baedekers and on travel out of the UK in the 19th century in general. Among the surprising (though if you think about it, this should not be) finding are there are many more men writing gothics and romances than we think because they write anonymously.

In a nutshell: book covers as identity politics; women writers not so superabundant yet blamed, censored; Mudie’s “Foreign” Library mostly in French; and Murray’s and other delightful travel books.


Would you guess the subtitle of this book is “An Orphan Girl’s Struggles and Triumphs”?

Recent covers move even further & further away from book’s anti-machine mood and vulnerable heroine’s story

The first session, “Covering the Book in the Literature classroom” included three papers on experiences the speakers had had as teachers where they assigned books with an eye to making students aware of how the book’s packaging affected their experience, defined the book’s audience, and told something of its themes. Stacy Erickson told of student responses to reading texts and the kind of covers pictured in the Norton Anthology of English literature; Jennifer Nolan-Stinson discussed how the use of popular paperbacks changes the experience of teaching novels; and Heidi I.M. Jacobs suggested that it was possible that if a best-selling American novelist, Maria Susanna Cummins (1827-66) had had twitter, we might not have had her written letters to find today and reprint (as she, Ms Jacobs, has done.

This was the kind of session where the discussion afterward was as stimulating and informative as these informal talks. I remember we talked of how a book’s cover reflects the identity the publisher may think the book’s audience wants to have; how books issued by the government (the military during WW2) look strictly utilitarian; covers with stills from popular films; and the language used in blurbs. I answered Ms Jacobs’s “what if” scenario with the counter that while it may be true that if Cummins had put her letters on net, we’d have nothing to reprint if they had (as they might) disappear, but that she might have had the gratifying satisfaction of a broader audience at the time. The great poignancy of Emily Dickinson’s case is that no one but a very few people read her poems and the evidence we have suggests they were not appreciated or understood; if they had lain in shoeboxes until now we’d still not know of them. Had she had had the Net to put them on she’d have reached people, and why should one care if people after we are dead can read our stuff? The Net is filled with the communication of thousands of people who would have little or no access to conventional publication. So what if they never receive scholarly packaging?


An Illustration in The Ladies Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted To Literature and Religion (1855, Cincinnati, Ohio)

The second session I managed, “Romantic Readers and Writers,” had two presentations from women who work for Chatto & Pickering and are involved in producing thick books of bibliography listing and briefly describing all the reviews they can find in the romantic era (say 1790-1825?). Basically they were describing the enormous effort of producing and obstacles in the way of producing Romantic Women Writers Reviewed. These will be a set of volumes that reprint and/or describe reviews and reception for hundreds of women writers and female-gendered pseudonyms along with references, all from 24 reviewing journals and miscellanies.

Stephanie Eckroth, “A Faithful Picture: Monthly Periodicals and Romantic Readers” told of the obstacles preventing a compiler from producing a selection of listings which genuinely reflect the typical kinds of books, numbers, types, reception in the romantic era. She has gone through monthly periodicals in her attempt to list books to be bought and read, and said we end up with over-, an under-representations; for example, men published romantic novels anonymously so we seem to have more women proportionately than there were.


Modern facsimile reprint of one of Ward’s literary works

Ann Hawkins told of how few studies today cite William Ward’s contemporary huge bibliography (The Index of Contemporary Reviewers) and yet she repeatedly traced citations back to his badly organized inconsistent book. (One must remember the man had no computer, no Internet). Ward included only poetry, fiction, and plays, no life writing, no essays, so Hester Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey doesn’t exist as far as Ward’s book is concerned. Piozzi’s book was enormously popular and influential, for example, she is among the few authors from all she read cited by Austen — and imitated: “I had some thoughts of writing the whole of my letter in her stile” (Tuesday, 11 June 1799). But modern anthologies equally don’t reflect who was important to readers at the time: Donald Reiman’s modern 9 volume edition of romantic writers contains only 1 woman (Mary Shelley) for the whole era; The Critical Heritage series contains only 6 from a couple of hundred writers. So Romantic Women Writers Reviewed aims to use and go well beyond these inadequate volumes (new attributions, new archival work).

Irene Lyistakis gave a close reading of hostile reviews of gothic novels supposed by and for women, “The Neurophysiology of Reading: The Female Brain and the Gothic Novel.” The most common idea is women read as creatures subject to sensibility and men not at all. The reviewers complained gothic novels encouraged women to abandon their social duties. Reviews of sensation novels in the Victorian period were especially anxiety-ridden over the books’ sexual transgressions. Among the comments Ms Lyistakis quoted was this perceptive one: Margaret Oliphant complained that ultimately gothic and romantic novels often projected an ugly portrait of women as amoral and egoistic in the extreme.

I was very tired by then, headachy, and my hands unsteady so I skipped the Ian Gadd’s plenary keynote, “Book History and the Organization of the Early Modern English Book Trade” at the Folger Shakespeare Library and reception (which would have been fun, for it was in the Elizabethan theater) and went home where I rested.

I have, however, since read on the Sharp listserv in a posting by Jonathan Rose that Ian Gadd suggested economic historians are now doing work that book historians ought to read, but usually don’t, and cited two good articles:

Jan Luiten van Zanden and Eltjo Buringh, ‘Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries’, The Journal of Economic History, 69:2 (June 2009)

Jeremiah Dittmar, ‘Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press’, forthcoming at The Quarterly Journal of Economics: download from http://www.jeremiahdittmar.com/research

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Saturday morning traffic coming into DC is light so Jim drove me there, and the trip took less than 15 minutes. I found the domed building quickly and discovered that it goes deep into the ground (two sets of winding stairs and then a long escalator). At the bottom was an art gallery show of fine paintings by the staff. The refreshment room had good coffee and decent cakes & breads, but of course the real treat was the four excellent sessions I participated in over the course of the day. Here’s just the first of that morning.


Victorian illustration of Mudie’s Library patrons

“Transnational Circulation of 19th Century Texts” covered my personal interests: French literature read in England, translation, and travel books too. Marie-Francoise Cachun’s “Books from France at Charles Mudie’s Select Library in Victorian England,” was based on her study of the foreign department catalogues of Mudie’s. She looked to see what foreign books were rented, how Mudie got them, and what readers rented them. Mudie bought 3 volume books which sold for a guinea and a half a volume (prohibitively expensive for most middle class readers). He began with one shop in Bloomsbury, by 1852 he had created his extensive lending library, by 1861 he had 180,000 volumes; he would sell the surplus books off regularly. His books reached as far as India. Only a limited number of catalogues survive, and she covered 1848-1936 of these. The Indexes are inconsistent: in 1857, 4 sections (Select library, 158 pgs; fiction 52 pgs; juvenile 18 pgs; foreign 55 of French, 21 of German and 3 of Italian books. Later catalogues divide the books into fiction and non-fiction, with some books offered as suitable for presents and prizes.


Typical catalogue cover for the era

What French books are present? still famous writers: Balzac, Sand, Hugo (Hunchback of Ntre Dame, 1848; Les Miserables, 1865); popular writers then like Eugene Sue. She mentioned that you could find English and Russian books in French tanslation (LeFanu’s Uncle Silas in French). Popular women writers then: a Countess whose name I couldn’t catch was enormously popular for her French silver fork type romances; another man for his historical fiction. There was much non-fiction; items include George Eliot’s translation of Renart’s Life of Christ. Expurgated versions of Zola. Foreign books in English translation were in the regular select or fiction sections. The firm acquired books from French publishers mostly. French was the primary language for Russian books (Turgenev, Tolstoi).

I asked about the later 18th century French woman because Prof Cachin had not mentioned Felicite de Genlis, and she assured me Genlis was there (5 items in 1868, 7 in 1899) as were some of the later 18th century French writers (Stael, Constant). (See Julia Kavanagh’s reading in my Julia Kavanagh: 19th century disabled woman of letters). She also said there were other language books rented (Swedish) but it was a tiny group; Chinese books appear with French titles in the catalogues. Her published book is Une Nation de Lecteurs: La Lecture en Angleterre (1815-1945).


John Murray (1808-92)

The second paper was just as germane to my favorite reading. Pieter Francois described “The Transnational Origin of British Travel Guides on the Continent (1815-36). His thesis was that the later travel guides (post-1836, the year John Murray published his first guide) were developments out of and imitations of travel guides from the later 18th century. These earlier books have not been studied much, and so we are attributing more originality to John Murray’s successful marketing of travel books. Early on Murray admitted that he derived his formula from these earlier books, but later on began to present himself as the founder of the type that led to the famous German Baedeker series. The books fell into types: the practical guide, the meditation which attempted to recreate the experience; they were strongly nationalistic (celebrating specific cultures).


The practical and economic: Murray’s Egypt

The success of such books was also dependent on the spread of travel to middle class people looking to go to places they knew nothing of but wanted to see what was said to be most enjoyable and worth while. This began in 1815 after the end of the Napoleonic wars. Who read these? Prince Albert represented one high culture type. People writing about such travelers often denigrated them as philistines, with no love of the natural world, no real understanding of the places they were visiting. They write against those who waste money abroad when they can spend it inside their country and help fellow citizens that way. It is very hard to reconstruct the numbers and exact purposes for which people traveled. He also described advertisement for these books where we can see the writers present themselves as relatively humble in origin and as having gone to and described the “important sites.” He told of individual remarkable books too (one in 1800 called Letters from Italy; an 1834 book which told you precisely what to say in given situations, where to stay.

The discussion afterward was lively and wide-ranging and there seemed to be people in the room up on general issues of nationalism, problems in traveling freely, translation studies. I again asked specific questions. In answer to what did he think of Francis Trollope’s travel books (one 2 volumer about France) and other Victorian travelers I knew of, Mr Francois said while travelers could combine purposes the way these people did (business, visiting family, escaping a narrow milieu) most were really unconnected people on brief holidays. I described Wilkie Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways to ask if it wasn’t so that many books would combine several purposes and kinds of texts (historical, imaginative, playful, and practical too), but again he seemed to suggest such texts were more for an elite readership. Baedeker was what became wanted.


The book Lucy Honeycomb avails herself of in A Room with a View

Since then I’ve been reading Robert Southey’s 1807 partly ironic travel book, Letters from England, where he assumes the persona of a Spanish man in order to critique English society. Southey suggests that the market then was inundated by travel books written by English people), and came across this note by the 1951 editor: “The best known of the Road Books (more practical ones) were Daniel Paterson”s New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain (18 editions, 1771-1832) and Cary’s New Itinerary (11 editions, 1798-1828)

As again my report is long enough and my clock on my wall tells me it is getting near 2 a.m. and I want to write an essay on Jane Austen: Women and Food tomorrow, I had better end here. To come is a revealing series of papers on the realities of the prize culture, the transmission of Australian books to the US and UK and how books help form national culture in South Africa; the role of libraries in social life, children’s reading clubs and storyhour in libraries and illustrations to Dickens and Trollope’s novels as well as Charles Kingsley’s popular science books.


A modern “classic travelers’ logo (from Murray)

See Sharp 1, Sharp 3, and Sharp 4.

Ellen

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          Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret-room
Piled high with cases in my father’s name;
Piled high, packed large,­where, creeping in and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,
Like some small nimble mouse between the ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,
An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books!— EBB, Aurora Leigh

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Linda H. Peterson’s Traditions of Victorian Women’s Autobiography, [subtitled] The Poetic and Politics of Life-Writing as a sort of companion-accompaniment to a group reading on WWTTA supposed to be going on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh. I’m a lover of women’s memoirs and letters, travel-books, life-writing. It includes many of my favorite books, deeply cherished ones (see Julia Kavanagh: disabled woman of letters). She shows how such books first came into print in larger numbers from the 17th and 18th century in the 19th century. Arguing (dialoguing) with this book reminded me of some beautiful books I’d read, informed me about others, and showed me the state of feminist and life-writing studies at the time it was written (1999). I recommend the book for its learning, bibliography and thoughtfulness — and the books it calls attention to.

There is (in my view) a serious flaw though: Peterson is concerned to argue against the idea that women’s autobiography constitutes a different separate tradition from men’s. Well. She’s right when she says both men’s and women’s autobiographies share many of the same structures and fall into other types (spiritual or religious is one) but there is a kind of deliberate erasure going on here which doesn’t quite work and is counter to her own book which is just about women’s life-writing int he 19th century. She does show that ideas about women’s nature and what her life should and must be about (private domestic life) generated the production of these earlier texts which also supports the modern feminist structural outlook and her “other” perspective brings out other qualities of the books, but her perpetual use of scare quotes for “feminine” (as if there’s no such thing) does not work.

She is probably worried lest her book be put into a “feminist ghetto” and ignored — by whom I wonder as her audience will be the same women and men who have been working on these life-writings.


Mary Robinson

Chapter 1: “Origins” of Women’s Autobiography; Reconstructing the Traditions

The first chapter concerns the republication in the 19th century of a group of 17th century women’s autobiographies — mostly by clergyman, sometimes antiquarians related to the woman writer, once in a while a scholarly historian. It was these books I first found in the Library of Congress in the 1980s when I returned to scholarly studies here in Virginia after finishing my dissertation in 1979 in NYC. They include the memoirs of Anne Murray Halkett who two years ago I finally wrote two papers on and delivered them at 18th century conferences, and whose text I put up on the Net to make it generally available in the form it appears in the 19th century copy.

There is much of value here. You learn how these books first came into print, which ones, a little about the editing and how this bringing into print of these earlier books facilitated the publication and influenced or mirrored 19th century productions of women’s life writing from Harriet Martineau’s autobiography and travel book to Barrett Browning’s imaginative autobiogaphical (Prelude-like) narrative poem, Aurora Leigh.

The last part of the chapter is of interest to 18th century people too. Here Peterson goes with some depth into Mary Robinson’s Memoir (finished by her Victorian daughter) and Charlotte Charke’s autobiography, apparently framed by the Victorian editor to be a warning lesson and end gloomily when the ms end cheerfully and is not presented as a warning lesson at all. Peterson’s perspective leads her to emphasize of Robinson’s memoir is more than about her life as a mistress, mother, and daugher but also about her as a professional actress and writer. While I know from reading the text there is precious little about these in the book, they are obviously the real background to the publication of such a book. Similarly Peterson’s perspective enables her to make more “sense” of Charke’s non-feminine transvestite behavior, Charke’s love of male roles and her rebellion: an ambiguous experience as unsuccessful if financial and other rewards are the measure, but successful by a deeper measurement, i.e., she lived the life out that was within her, the one she wanted to, choose her identity.

For a good recent study of 17th through 18th century women’s life-writing see Caroline Breashears’s The Female Appeal Memoir: Genre and Female Literary Tradition in Eighteenth-Century England, Modern Philology, 107:4 (2010):607-631. Jane Austen’s letters would be among these kinds of life-writings first brought out in the 19th century and it follows just the same sort of trajectory: censored, re-framed from the original, coming out of genteel milieus. Another Elizabeth Grant Smith’s Highland memoir which had to wait 100 years for the full powerful text to be published, along with several others shorter memoirs she penned.


Harriet Martineau when young (often used as frontispiece to her autobiography)

Chapter 2: Polemics of Piety: Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna’s Personal Recollections, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, and Ideological Uses of Spiritual Autobiography

The unsentimental truthfulness of Barrett Browning must’ve stood as a refreshing shock against the common life-writing of the day if Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna’s Personal Recollections are any measure. I read the first half of the second chapter of Peterson’s book last night and admire the temperateness with which Peterson describes Tonna’s melange of silence, outright lying — for what is it to present one’s wretchedness in life as the result of a spiritual conversation when it’s rather that the writer lives with a physically abusive husband who when she makes any money takes it ruthlessly by law from her, has to live in isolated horrible conditions whose minimal comfort depends on unscrupulous rent-racking of starving peasants. Peterson shows us how pernicious are these sorts of lies in effect — though she doesn’t say so explicitly and uses the surface content of the book to demonstrate her thesis that many women’s autobiographies do not make gender central.

Well, duh, Tonna doesn’t but if you ignore the subtext then what can you possibly read Tonna’s book for? And it’s for the subtext that Peterson does read it — though as with Austen, one can’t get behind the veil to discover what were the real particular truths of what happened to Tonna — only that she was lucky enough to escape, had a brother who took her in, became for 10 years an editor of a widely-selling Christian magazine. What she did in the magazine also goes unmentioned, unwritten up.

All that counts. No wonder Aurora Leigh was so valued, such a stunner.

Peterson does take this way — a valuable nugget? Peterson suggests that books like Hannah More’s (whom Tonna modelled herself upon) and Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna’s prove the worth, value and integrity of chronique scandaleuse. These do tell important truths; these do give us what we need to know for real about women’s lives — the pious books give us the illegimate norms and also the rationales women used to control, berate and (I suppose) solace and flatter themselves with.

I’d add unfortunately as to behavior Tonna’s book was the “ideal” and her novels sold widely. But chronique scandaleuses also sold widely and it may be that women readers of these understood them better than we give them credit for, at least intelligent women readers did.

Peterson is slightly (not very) comical in her perverse “take” on Martineau’s autobiography. She insists on reading it as a not conforming to female autobiography because Martineau rejects the inane domesticities and pious hypocritical cruelties of Tonna’s stupid book and instead presents herself as gifted, shows how she was put down and almost destroyed by her family, escaped them to London and built a career. To be sure the latter part of the autobiography is like male ones, and Martineau’s models are implicitly male (Wordsworth, though she anticipates Trollope).

But the point is she had this terrible trouble doing it, she had the breakdown, she broke the taboo, none of which the men had to do, and the shape of her life at the end shows a female friend published the book and how she carved out a non-family group to be with.

I’m troubled by this attempt at erasure of a female version of the genre. Someone read my treatment of Kathleen Raine as “as a quintessential autobiographer who enacted a myth of a return to a past that is still with her, that has never ceased to be, and for women, this is found in childhood as metaphor and reality before the development of an adult female sexual body with all the imprisonment, repression, and destruction of the self that society inflicts” and immediately countered that this is what men experience and is not at all particularly feminine. Did she not read the last phrase? I answered: Didier’s point is when girl develops into a woman, her sexuality inflicts a terrific blow on her self-hood and psyche because her society all around her does all it can to twist and repress her. A boy may find developing into manhood hard, but he is not pressured and, if he will not succumb to pressure, then driven and ridiculed and ostracized until he gives up his appetites.

She barely acknowledged this and then I got this pious type utterance from another woman: “Thank you, too, Christine, for seeing the un-gendered humanity of Raine’s themes.” This is the early 21st century version of Tonna’s self-congratulatory tones.

My project as I see it is to call attention to women’s poetry and try to suggest what an enormous and worthy body of art it is — though much has been destroyed and what’s left from previous history and is written nowadays continues to be ignored. It is also to put together many texts which show that women’s poetry and art is different from men’s and has to understood and appreciated as by women. If most men won’t respond to that, sobeit.

Post-feminism, indeed.


Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre (1983 BBC mini-series)

Chapter 3: “The Feelings and Claims of Little People:” Heroic Missionary Memoirs, Domesticated Spiritual Autobiography, and Jane Eyre

The problem with Peterson’s chapter on Jane Eyre is signalled in the chapter heading: she is concerned to prove that Jane Eyre like other autobiographies conforms to male norms too, the male norm here being spiritual autobiography. What others have seen as contradictions in the trajectory — for example the daughter’s obedience to the mother, her ambivalent over sex, the disconnect between a providential design and radical doubts — are ironed out. Really the feminism partly erased.

It is true that one third or the novel or maybe a quarter is given over to ST John Rivers and his desire to make Jane into a missionary wife and by paying attention to this as a career option for women, Peterson brings out what Bronte consciously meant us to see: Jane is conflicted over living for love or living for a selfless career (not so selfless as it gives some respect and prestige and activity); the very recent movie takes this last third to turn the book into a conflict between two men over a woman or her conflict which one to take. That’s not the text here.

Still I find what interests Peterson is something that comes out of a desire to accommodate society and its offer of modified compromised goals (to be a missionary’s wife was very repressive, awful really — I read about one half of Catherine Hall’s book on missionaries in Jamaica recently), that itself mirrors the problem with her whole book.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning, posing herself in velvet and satin

Chapter 4: “For my better self: Autobiographies of the Poetess, the Prelude of the Poet Laureate, and EBB’s Aurora Leigh.

Peterson argues successfully that Aurora Leigh may be considered a metaphoric biography of EBB, and that it seeks to counter the image of the woman poet found in the autobiographical poetry and life-writing of Letitia Elizabeth Landon and to imitate and also correct the view of the poet we find in Wordsworth’s Prelude. Along the way Peterson quotes some of the best lines of the poem and shows how Eulalie is as important as Marion in the poem.

There is a real problem in the analysis though: again Peterson wants to show that we should not read women’s life-writing apart from men’s, and it is true that EBB has The Prelude in mind. However, the reason Peterson wants to show this in the case of Aurora Leigh is she wants to argue that EBB wanted a public role for the woman poet and she could only reach for this by making herself the equivalent of a male, seen as doing and feeling analogous things. All well and good but then Peterson has a problem: at the close of the poem Aurora marries Romney, she retreats, the lesson learned is the limits of socialism; apparently the social function of the woman poet is going to inhere in her publication of her poems which will have this influence.

Right.

This is deeply conservative stuff. Ellen Moers’s take on this poem as finally reactionary in a number of fundamental ways is the correct one. That Peterson wants to downplay the class element too is to me part of our present climate where class issues are not presented in the public media.

What is salutary about the poem is its creation and continuation of a woman’s tradition of writing and insofar as we can read against the grain when it comes to the fate of Marion Erle.


Margaret Oliphant when older

Chapter 5: Family Business: Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography as Professional Artist’s Life

This is perhaps the best chapter in the book; it’s the one which is closest in spirit to its book, and where the refusal to put the book into a female tradition works best — with the ironical qualification that the five books Peterson uses to illuminate this one are all women’s autobiographies. She shows that Oliphant meant her book to fall into a sub-genre where the woman shows how her professional activities arise out of her home milieu, her family and that the two are inseparable. She says this sub-genre has been forgotten — or ignored. Maybe. What we are making the mistake of doing is reading this book as tragic and about a failure; no it’s about how she tried hard to bring her two sons into her profession and did succeed. I’d almost believe much of this except for the long ending where the sons fail at the profession she wanted for them and she makes this clear and they die before the end of the book’s time frame and suddenly she gives over to deeply poignant re-framing of all that has gone before. The opening about her trip to Rome where her (partly failed) artist husband died and her struggle to become professional when she returned — she succeeded largely due to one man, Blackwood – and this close are the powerful parts of the book.

The conservative and careerist biases of the Peterson’s stance became explicit here. Peterson celebrates without qualification how wonderful it is that people’s professions emerge from their families. What about people who don’t have the family talent or don’t have a family framework which suits them. She is absolutely in spirit with the family piety of Oliphant’s approach, possibly because it suits Peterson to argue that there is no difference between private and public selves. She shows how Oliphant disapproved of the life writing by a woman where she goes forth on her own to carve out her career — Martineau, Eliot’s life.

I have found the reading of this book very unpleasant. IN this chapter Peterson’s insistence on how Oliphant’s is not a story of failure (it isn’t when it comes to her personally) reminded me of 2 incidents where I was asked would I contribute my life story to online magazines. In both cases I gave an outline of what I would say and was told after all it wouldn’t do because mine was not an upbeat success story. I didn’t end up with a big job or money from publications. Therefore they didn’t want it. I said my story was that of their readerships. They said their readerships would not want such stories; they want inspiration. Since this happened twice, I was struck with this evidence of why women’s magazines are often filled with phony stories which don’t reflect the average realities of women writers or readers. I’m sure Peterson would have been on the side of these editors.


Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter 6: Mary Cholmondeley’s Bifurcated Autobiography Eliotian and Bronte Traditions in Red Pottage and Under One Roof

This was a very interesting chapter and made me want to read a novel or memoir by Cholmondeley. Peterson analyses Cholmondeley’s novel, Red Pottage and her memoir, Under One Roof Peterson again is in the paradoxical position of beginning by saying we must put women in a non-gendered autobiographical context only to find her intertextual models in women, specifically Cross’s Life of Eliot for Red Pottage, and Gaskell’s Life of Bronte for Under one Roof. Peterson argues that Red Pottage shows a young girl whose gifts are destroyed because of the repressive norms and demands of her family; she does not manage to escape (as Eliot did). It’s the bookish account of a development that is the strongest parallel. It is also based on Mary’s sister, Hester, who died young. Her brother brutally intervened to stop her career

I do love one long passage Peterson quotes from another book, Rachel West’s passionate defense of a friend’s novel, Idyll of East London (ridiculed) by talking of how a relationship with a man did not sustain her where it counted, nor any of her family, but her friend helped give “affection” and understanding to “an empty heart” and “lighten[ed] the burdens of this world” for her.

How many of us would tell our life story by an account of what books we read and what they did for us when we were young. I do think I might were I to account for how I came to get a Ph.d. in English literature, but it would be strongly in reaction to my environment (escape from the Bronx into Mary Poppins in the Park) and not an argument that as a gifted person I deserved to escape. Which in part I certainly did. I am not part of that working class family or environment (father’s, Catholic) nor the eventually bourgeois one (mother’s, Jewish, now accountants).

There is a relationship between pain and personal achievement in Red Pottage and in George Eliot’s life — and maybe for some of us too.

Under One Roof is about the importance of female friendships, of sisters, of how much they meant — as is partly Red Pottage (if by its absence). As I recall May Sinclair has a novel Three Sisters where we see these bonds mean so much. In Gaskell’s book we see that Charlotte was the one who made the public achievement of her sisters possible; it was she who took Emily’s poems and some of hers and Anne’s to a publisher and got it published. She who posthumously published Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights. Whatever the flaws of Charlotte’s presentation, she did publish these. Cholmondeley is again vindicating and keeping her own sister alive through this memoir.

To conclude, this historically-rooted study is one which adds much to Victorian studies, (despite itself) studies of l’ecriture-femme, life-writing of men as well as women, and can provide many jumping off points for someone else’s study of life-writing. Peterson does make you think about genre, what is a genre, and see how many permutations there are under any given category. You could end the book thinking to yourself that genre thinking gets in the way of understanding what we write and what we read.

To all Peterson’s Victorian candidates, I add another of my favorites: Mary Smith, schoolmistress and governess, my study of her autobiography and poetry.

Ellen

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Susannah Harker as Mattie Storin (1991 House of Cards)

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote about 10 days ago, I have returned to my project and Austen movies book, and have determined to have a two part chapter on Andrew Davies Austen films. The first will be an interlude in Part Two, itself on the Sense and Sensibility films, “A Place of Refuge,” thus far 5 chapters. The interlude will be on Davies’s Austen films in the context of Davies’s oeuvre and it’ll be followed by the 6th and final chapter of the part: contextualizing Davies, Pivcevic and John Alexander’s 2008 JA’s S&S by the other S&S films and what I can discern of Pivcevic and Alexander’s work.

To do this I’ve been re-looking at all my notes, my blogs, re-watching some of the Davies’s films I had seen and watching a few lesser known new ones, especially those in a different genre, with a larger social vision, not romance films so much as politically and socially critical (or broadly aware) ones. I’m trying to see what really unites all these films. I find Cardwell’s division of Davies’s work into 1) films based on classic famous books and 2) films based on hardly known, semi- or popular classics obscures important qualities which the films share when you re-group them in other ways. My argument will be that Davies’s films are better seen as belonging to a genre, after that against their specific eponymous book, and only after that whether it’s a classic or non-classic book. It does matter if the book has a cult following; then he dare not alter the matter too much, but many classic books are not well remembered by the few readers who have read them anyway.

I also want to disagree with Sarah Cardwell’s book on Davies, or, to put it another way, qualify what she has to say by showing that Davies’s films are far darker and more pessimistic than she concedes, that they delve into the question of human and social evil, are sceptical, show a fascination with cruel sociopaths, and persistently present homoerotic couples and sex, as part of the subversion of the repressive unreal norms he finds so pernicious of enjoyment, happiness, fulfillment.

In my first blog on Davies this summer, I summarized what I had been watching since April and my findings on these, concentrating first on the romance visions (1983 Diana out of R. F. Delderfeld, 2007 Room with a View out of E. M. Forster. Then I had a brief excursis on Davies’s Tailor Panama where he is deliberately marginalized in the credits though it’s clear he wrote the script out of John LeCarre’s novel as it has all his trademarks, including a homoerotic couple at the center:


Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) and Andy Osnard (Pierre Brosnan) (2001 Tailor of Panama)

Finally I discerned a pattern that many of Davies’s films of social vision share with other of these Anglo- film adaptations: a young man of a lower class finds himself invited to become or forced to appear more upper class, is brought to a huge rich house where he is at first uncomfortable and then taken in, though only for a time. To Davies’s three I described there (Diana, Tailor of Panama, Line of Beauty), I want tonigh to add a few notes about on a remarkable chilling dark romance or highly erotic film, the 2009 Sleep with Me (adapted from Joanna Briscoe’s novel) and Davies’s remarkable trilogy of mini-series (4 parts each) Davies adapted from Michael Dobbs’s political thriller novels, House of Cards, To Play the King, The Final Cut.

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

Lelia (Jodhi May) and Sylvie (Anamaria Marinca), the transgressive homoerotic couple in Sleep with Me

Andrew Davies and his film-making team concoct a powerful chilling movie out of Joanna Briscoe’s poor novel. Brisoe equates contemporaneity with crudity in gesture; a deliberately hard demotic style is cultivated. She is in no danger of any accusation of oversensitivity in nuances — though her conception of her characters and her fable feels compelling at first: it seems a young couple are gradually infiltrated by a quietly menacing ghost who sends the husband emails about her abject life with her mother.

Davies’s Sleep with Me is another of this type he did with Elizabeth Janeway Howard’s Falling — and also his re-do of Shakespeare’s Othello.

What all these movies do is concentrate on some character who others would call evil or “sick” and dismiss them, and show them to be very dangerous, someone the healthy and vulnerable must keep away from, but someone who is ill, really emotionally ill. In the case of Sleep with Me Davies has forayed into the area of the gothic — which the book does — to come up with Sylvie (Anamaria Marinca), a scary, creeply kind of character who we are asked to believe murdered her brother when the brother was a baby out of jealousy and now lives a socially isolated life (in part) and preys on others to wreak and destroy their relationships.


Sylvie and Richard (Adrian Lester)

It’s the ghostly and vampiric character of Sylvie that endows the film with its gothic mood and perspective.

One review rightly says that the film (and book too) delves into sexuality. Davies makes clear the most uncomfortable kinds of sexual experience people rarely admit to in front of themselves, much less talk about or enact even on stage.

For my part I found myself wondering (I’ll sound Victorian here) if this movie is not more unhealthy, far more than say The Piano Teacher. I wrote that that one was not pornographic and all that happened was justified as good insight into human character. I think I absolved that film of pornography because by the end I felt I had been given genuine ethical compass and help by the end of the film. At the end of Sleep with Me there was a justification of the cruelty and demand that we sympathize with the cruel person and respect the kind of sex she led others into (the type that can form dependency) that made me feel if this isn’t pornographic (it wasn’t, it was inhibited in the presentation), Sleep with Me did justify the basis of pornography, infliction of violence and cruelty by saying it’s just the result of someone’s emotional illness and so therefore somehow okay plus nothing we can do anything about. That may be true. If so, the world’s a dangerous place — gothic in fact.

Jodhi May had decided for this one (apparently), as Lelia, a young woman living with a black partner, Richard (Adrian Lester), she needed to appear young, and she had lost a lot of weight for this one. I almost didn’t recognize her at moments … well, only almost.

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Roger O’Neill (Miles Anderson) visits Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson)

I was startled at House of Cards: it’s a fantasy, really over the top theatrics; the victim at the end is the reporter, Mattie, played wonderfully well by Susannah Harker. What was superb about this film was Davies’ connection with the Iago/Richard III/Macbeth Francis Urquhart played inimitably, unforgettably by Ian Richardson — and also with the victims: either the pathos of the alcoholic blackmailed weakling O’Neill, the man who can’t cope with the world (every family has one says the prime minister) and Davies’s insight that it’s because the man is a genuinely good and feelingful person he can’t make it, and Mattie Storin the girl who is led by the allurement and glamor of power to her destruction.

For me it’s particularly telling to see Davies insist that Mattie related to FU as her “Daddy”


Mattie offering herself to Urquhart (later as Daddy)

for this queasy incestuous motif is one Davies’s insists on, builds up in his 1996 BBC Emma

In the case of the first book, Dobbs had killed off the villain-hero, Richard III-Macbeth type (in Davies) Francis Urquhart and let Mattie live triumphant (so good wins out). Davies reversed that and so left room for more sequels. Upon the success of the first mini-series, Dobbs wrote two more novels, doubtless with Davies’s in mind (the way Helen Fielding went on to write another Bridget Jones Diary book after the success of the Davies’ film).

All three (To Play the King and The Final Cut too) are right in Trollope’s vein of high politics exposed. They are yet braver because Trollope eschews all particular comment and refuses to present a clear case for liberal or reformist measures; indeed his rhetorical statements by the narrator are often pro-landlord, adamently pro-capitalist. Not Davies. He exposes the hypocrisy and nonsense of berating people for not doing hard work: there are no jobs to do hard work for. The series anticipates his South Riding in this way; the social engagement of South Riding resembles that of his Anglo-Saxon Attitudes. All these movies come together in themes, perspective, character types.

To Play the King is very pessimistic and yet we have an ideal king in the center. We see how easy it is to sneer and decry people who are “lazy” instead of showing that there the way to make useful work is spend money through taxes on social services, communities, and agencies to build an make better lives for those without power.


The king (Michael Kitchen) addressing the nation on TV

A feature in the second DVD for To Play the King shows the ludicrous response at the time by some pro-Royalist people: they were indignant that Davies dared to allude to Charles and Diana, and imbecillically leaped on a single line in the three mini-series to argue indignantly Davies had implied Charles regularly had prostitutes in his quarters. It shows their bad sordid dreams for it’s a real stretch of that line.


Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson)

The third mini-series, Final Cut, is an astonishingly brave film. Like Trollope’s political books in the Pallisers, each one of the three books brings out another level or area of critique of the savagely unjust violent war we live in. Each novel and set of films seems to open another area of misery and corruption inflicted on people — so here in the last series, Final Cut, what’s exposed is the murderous personal ambition that fires all the lies and violence in colonialized areas. The realities behind the Falklands war is exposed absolutely.

We see many things Orwellian: how the rule of law is invoked when what is happening is brutal violence repressing the poor so that the natural resources of the place (Cyprus) may be milked by the rich in the UK and lucky in Cyprus. Among many small exposes, we see that the freedom of information act offers information as long as it does not give away what individuals did the horrors. So it keeps powerful individuals in the army and powerful gov’ts protected.

Davies beats out LeCarre for the clarity with which the political perspective is worked out and made insistent upon us.

Wonderfully witty and funny is Thatcher’s funeral. Davies was attacked for staging her funeral. It seems she was not dead yet. This is a satirist’s drive: Swift would imagine people dead who had not died and it made them nervous. As with To Play the King what was attacked openly showed idiots who didn’t get the point at all, not those who understood what was being exposed. How dare Davies not be respectful in the depiction of the funeral. It’s funny the stupidity of what people seize upon. Apparently the Thatcher funeral was not in the original book by Dobbs and he insisted on having his name taken off the credits if the film-makers went through with this. They did.

The technique of all three mini-series is to startle you. So Francis throws Mattie Storin off the roof, picks her up and hurls and with a loud thud she splatters all over a car. The body guard thug, Cordor (alluding to Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth), probable lover and sidekick of Elizabeth Urquhart (Diane Fletcher), Francis’s wife, blows up those who are going to inform the public that Francis killed Mattie — sudden firebomb cars. The Final Cut opens with Francis shooting his dog dead. It’s chilling. Of course the theme is he’s going to be killed or destroyed from old age. The series ended on a Hamlet note. Elizabeth, now emerging as a cool Lady Macbeth with a hired killer-thug, sees that Urquhart is a liability; has killed too, so instead of murdering those who know he murdered peasants in Cyprus ruthlessly and without cause, are not done away with. Urquhart is. And what happens? Makepeace (Paul Freeman) who had tried to act morally is put in charge, but we feel no longer will. He has the thugs working for him now.

A parallel is an incident the mini-series opens up with: thugs hitting the prime minster’s car. They are simply gunned down. When a cabinet minister asks for clarification in the report, he’s told more details can be had but the interpretation, that criminals in road rage were responsible and understandably kill, will remain the same.

So letting formation out does not help because power structuring remains the same.

Flaws: it’s all so individualized and we are made to believe only a few of these mafia type thugs kill We see British officers not wanting to murder children, wanting to do the right thing. So one could say see it’st he bad eggs that do this, not the nature of the nest and what happens to all the eggs in it.

Also again a woman is put at the center for a semi-sexual interest. It begins to be a cliche by the third time. Sex though is depicted so naturalistically I had to avert my eyes. Especially between older people. On the other hand by continually bringing back Mattie Storner’s story and death Davies makes us fear FU. We also have Nikolas Grace as a variant on the dependent aide — he’s a quiet gay type — the vulnerable male type from Nicholas Farrell as the King’s aide to Charles Collingride, the kind man:


Matty and Collingridge, a sense of their humanity strong here.

For the woman viewer and feminist reader it’s telling that all three films must have a scapegoat at the center who is either a woman the villain seduces & murders (or has murdered) or a gay (vulnerable male as a substitute.

I did find myself getting anxious for some of the characters in each program: Mattie and John (William Chubb), Makepeace, the Greek girl who is seeking to know who killed her brothers and where they are buried, lest FU (what a joke) kill them too. After all he has gotten away with much before. The power of fiction comes from our caring about the characters and I do in Davies’s films.

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To conclude: My days are adventures in following Andrew Davies. I was startled at the trilogy House of Cards/ToPlay the King/Final Cut. Great dark satire relevant to today because inbetween these he did the utopian Middlemarch. I can’t think of more different text-films. Today I’m reading another hard satire on wide ranges of society, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (Wilson) and am about to watch the movie for a second time.


Gerald Middleton (Richard Johnson) remembering: the film makes a social vision an introspective journey of a hurt mind (Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Part 1)

My next Davies’ film blog will be on briefly on a few films again, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Wilson’s novel as well as Davies’s film. And then I’ll move onto Sarah Water’s Tipping the Velvet and Affinity, Victorian lesbian novels – and Davies’s films once again (perhaps with his 2006 The Chatterley Affair).

Ellen

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