Archive for the ‘Samuel Richardson’ Category

leigh anna kareninablog
Vivien Leigh as Anna (1948 film, scripted Jean Anouilh)

Ralph Richardson’s Karenin, reasoning with Leigh as Anna

Oblonsky to Levin: It’s Kitty I’m sorry for — not you! — Stoppard’s Anna

Anna to Vronsky: I would never see my son again. The laws are made by husbands and fathers … Unhappiness? I’m like a starving beggar who has been given food — Stoppard’s Anna

Dear friends and readers,

After seeing Wright and Stoppard’s recent film of Anna Karenina, featuring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfayden, Jude Law, I determined to read the book. I had tried when I was in my teens but been defeated because I found the Levin matter intolerable; this time I thought I’d manage by listening to it read aloud while driving my car. It took time so I lingered over it (sometimes at night reading this or that passage on my own) as Davina Porter’s reading was brilliant.

I found I much prefer the meaning of the story & characterizations in Wright and Stoppard’s from Tolstoy’s; that Tolstoy’s story is meant to be and is harshly punitive on Anna even if he feels for her loneliness married to a repressed easily resentful man much older than she. He presents her adulterous love as an evil impulse in her which moves from impelling her boldly to leave her husband and live an amoral life, and then twists her to destroy her relationship with her lover because she cannot accept her despised position. She cannot find something within herself to give her life meaning because she has moved away from religion. Greater sympathy is allotted Karenin. Tolstoy’s unique greatness seems to me that he conveys a sense of every day life slowly passing for all. He dramatizes people’s working lives, how they pass time in the evening; he reveals the tedium of existence. He is said to be respected for his rounded apparently believable characters, but when I listened to it with my husband in the car with me, they emerged as types, stereotypes from other novels in part. He does not offend against conventional standards of good taste — as forged by male oriented readers.

Tolstoy is not interested in Anna’s lack of happiness or fulfillment as a woman; the system needs to change, and that’s the point of the Levin part of the novel. Levin is said to marry wholly for love (which is basically an animal passion as we see once they marry they do not understand one another’s minds at all); he is not performative. Tolstoy writes against personal ambition, performativeness. Levin is also contrasted to the drone Oblonsky (Anna’s brother) who is unfaithful to his wife, Dolly, does no useful work, conceives of positions in gov’t and elsewhere as sheer plums of money for him to collect to support his habits. Not only does Levin work the fields and keep his house, Levin would change the political complexion of the nation to be more equal, to provide more education and opportunities for the lower orders.

Domnhall Gleeson as Levin (Stoppard and Wright’s version — it’s hard to find images of earlier Levins as non-entities often played the part and were forgotten by the public)

Here he is stopped because what is valued in political gatherings is the ability to network, to flatter others, to be congenial in an amoral kind of way, to look handsome. All these Vronsky does, and if Vronsky had not been destroyed by his relationship with Anna, the way he fits into his regiment and is liked and the way he immediately is a social success the one time he goes to a political gathering, shows he would have risen to power.

Sean Bean as a decent intelligent well-meaning Vronsky in 1997 (BBC)

He has a conscience and some decent ideals (unlike Oblonsky); when in the novel with Anna and she is still behaving, he opens and supervises a hospital, schools, but he would not begin to go further than reforming his own area and property and people within it without giving up one iota of power.

In short, Tolstoy writes a 19th century novel which (like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary) has been over-rated because he does at least deal with adultery directly. The way to value it is the way we value Gaskell’s Ruth where the heroine is similarly punished – this time for having a child out of wedlock where at least an attempt is made to present a woman’s sexual life. We can also liken Anna Karenina to Trollope’s novels (Tolstoy admired Trollope enormously, said Trollope’s books “killed him”): they are debates about the political and economic and to some extent social arrangements of the era where a kind of moderate reform is proposed, and how political life is really carried on exposed.


Structure — I assume the reader knows the story, if not you may find it in the wikipedia article.

Gretta Garbo as Anna (1935 film, director Clarence Brown)

Frederick March as Vronsky to Garbo’s Anna

The novel made be said to be made up of two novellas which could’ve been very short but are here blown up into a large book by modern psychological and realistic techniques. At the opening of Is He Popenjoy? Trollope says he wishes he could write his story in the brief strong way of railway novels, but must make it middle class through subtilizing it, then it becomes acceptable to Mudie’s lending library.

If I were to see the novel as an outgrowth of the 18th century novel (it’s set in the early part of the 18th century), I’d say Anna-Vronksy comes from Lafayette’s Princess de Cleves (same central types in the couple) by way of 18th century depth psychology: the president de Tourvel in Les Liasions Dangereuses, and this is a deep vein of fiction important in functioning for liberty. In Anna Karenina, paradoxically the story that functions for liberty is Dolly’s — how badly Oblonsky treats her shows how a woman needs more liberty and independence.

Anna Karenina
Matthew MacFayden as the conscienceless, self-satisfied bureaucrat, Oblonsky (given star billing in Wright and Stoppard’s play, considerably softened, he grieves for Anna at the movie’s close)

The Levin material is by comparison Sir Charles Grandison matter. I’m sure Kitty breast-fed, no need for Tolstoy to tell us.

A wholesome Alicia Vikander as Kitty (Wright and Stoppard’s version)

It’s exemplary, optimistic, leisurely, leaving time for disquisitions on art (though there are some of these in the Vronksy-Anna story when Vronsky takes up painting for a while), politics, farming, social life. In mood it’s closer to section in Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise when the heroine goes to live in Switzerland with her husband. I do like the debates over politics whose nuances remind me of arguments between Plantagenet and Phineas: Levin wants moderation; he does not wan to exploit so ruthless and yet wants his property and place. The others take the modern position of Republicans like Romney which are recreations of this older indifference to anything but the one narrow classes utter comforts. Where the story becomes fascinating again is realism (not in Grandison as character). Levin’s jealousy of Kitty before worldly men, the hunt and his resentment. No kindness in Tolstoy towards the poor animals slaughtered so effectively by Oblonsky who has the admiration of all, very chic in rags and the best guns. I imagine like Trollope over hunting foxes, Tolstoy hunted grouse, and farmed the way Levin does.

D’Epinday’s Montbrillant (mid-18th century long memoir as novel) has the same two types of fiction squashed together only the Grandison part is about salons, and Vronsky-Anna stories of adultery and sexuality are really seen from the woman’s point of view forced to acquiesce in her husband’s adulteries, and attempts to sell her to pay his debts.


From my reading experience as I went through the book and remembered the movie I had just seen and what I’ve read about the other movies and Tolstoy and other 19th century novelists:

At first: Tolstoy’s book feels so rich. It seems to contain in it other novels: well when Anna first meets Vronsky, he is just about engaged to Kitty, Anna’s brother’s sister-in-law. It’s deep attraction at first sight for Anna and Vronsky — which we are warned is bad news for Anna by Anna’s brother’s father-in-law’s attitude towards Vronsky.

It reminds me very much of Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga. Anna is regarded as this icon of mysterious beauty in just the way Irene Heron is. The possessive successful male sweeps her up, but he cannot understand or satisfy her. The dark continent.

Eric Porter played both Soames in 1967 and Karenin in 1977 for the BBC

Unlike Irene, Anna resists this attraction at first, but then she’s nowhere as unhappy as Irene with her husband. She has had a child, she is satisfied with her friendship with Dolly, her sister-in-law. In Tolstoy’s novel by this point we see that Levin is actually the central hero or presence of the novel, however ironized, for by beginning with Anna’s brother Oblonsky, Levin his friend is brought on novel’s stage and (unlike the 2012 play and movie) becomes central for chapters and chapters.

Tom Stoppard and Joe Wright’s movie is literally true to the book as it opens (they deviate later) — but then cut off at all the Levin material.


Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Wright and Stoppard’s debauched, half-crazed Vronsky

I’m into part 2 of 5 and remarkably very early on Tolstoy makes it clear that Vronsky lives the life of a shallow drone, someone Anna should have walked away from. In the play he is neurotic, over-emotional in the extreme whatever he does; in the novel is he an average aristocrat, perhaps a little better than many, capable of shame and good feeling. Others see this — Dolly’s father, for example. We see the low-life demi-monde Vronsky favors. The text feels for Anna very much, but Tolstoy sees love and coupling as sheerly drivingly sexual and has no inward understanding for real.

Myself I find Tolstoy’s a male view — it’s found in Trollope. Tolstoy does sufficient justice to Anna’s tight bond to her son and how much she is as yet comfortable with, respects Karenin at first, but she has tired of the way he is cold, stays away from her, is controlling from the outside. The words Anna used to express her love for Vronsky to Vronsky upon trying to explain why she is not degraded by their affair (all the while made to feel terribly shamed) could be a translation of the words Laura Kennedy uses in Trollope’s Phineas Redux when they walk in Konisberg at the castle over the parapets. The words in Trollope to describe her passion are close to those in Garnett’s translation. It’s uncanny.



Comparison of an incident: Bronte’s Villette and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

I can’t resist making a note of this. I had earlier been listening to Bronte’s Villette where there is a striking parallel and contrast to Tolstoy’s book.

In Bronte’s a powerful sequence shows Lucy all alone coming to Brussels and with her tiny amount of money seeking a hotel to stay. She is given an address by a kind stranger. Lucy Snow sets out. It’s nighttime. She finds herself followed by two young men who are laughing at her, to her they seem semi-thugs, they call out. In euphemisms it’s suggested they are after her sexually. Terrified she gets confused where she is and goes the wrong way altogether. This results in her landing into the school which takes her in. It determines the course of her life. It’s a harrowing sequence. Izzy was in the car with me and both of us gripped. Told of course from the woman’s point of view.

In Tolstoy’s AK, Vronsky tells this “amusing” story to the demi-monde woman he finds in his flat which he is sharing with a drone low-life officer, she this man’s mistress. It seems that two young men in his regiment saw a young woman coming home and they thought her living alone. What fun. For a lark they follow her upstairs. The next day an irate husband challenges them. Vronsky (good man they all think) has been negotiating to avoid a duel. The woman was his pregnant wife returning home early from the theater. Vronsky is much amused at how often the husband so easily become irate: his honor is involved. To do Tolstoy justice he gives us a glimpse of this young woman coming home and in distress.

But the accent is not there quite. The sequence is not harrowing. The incident reveals Vronsky whose concern is with his regiment. Yet it is told. It is part of Vronsky’s view of women: he tells it to the demi-monde as a joke. I have not got up to her response.

Only in the novel I’m typing slowly, Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde (English Jacobin & sentimental novel), do we have an harassment incident where the point is at least made that an attitude of mind by men towards women causes this at least by implication. Emily is staying with a cousin who does not care to protect her from the men in the house; they know she’s a poor, a nobody, no father and they chase after her through the landscape. The result is not a plot-hinge but it is significant in Ethelinde’s determination to quit this house. We are made to feel this sort of thing is what Ethelinde would have to contend with in this house when she arrives.

As a woman who has had such experiences I know they can drive a girl who has partly succumbed to the pestering and aggression (which is presented as just fine) to avoid going out. The Steubenville rape is a crude ugly bullying version of what I’m pointing to here. How far it can go.

Tolstoy as a young man, 1848 — he could be Levin

Tolstoy skips over the long year of deepening involvement — unlike another neglected novel which explores adultery seriously as an alternative to a miserable marriage where one can find companonship (Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde).
What Tolstoy is interested in, “does justice” to Anna’s horrific guilt once she and Vronsky have sex. There’s more of this self-horror than anything else. This is utterly different from Stoppard and Wright’s movie too -there we have the woman who wants to escape imprisonment and exploitation. I prefer the movie though I grant the depth of writing and intensity in Tolstoy is powerful

Levin is a sort of surrogate for Tolstoy, and again in the movie this is not so. He is more than half-caricatured by Wright and Stoppard. Oblonsky is sensible in comparison. It’s interesting to see this 21st century amoral modern take as opposed to Tolstoy’s Victorianism which makes Oblonsky into a semi-Skimpole type.

I find myself remembering what I read about Tolstoy about the time Jay Parini’s book, The Last Station, focusing on Tolstoy’s wife was made into an interesting film. The film made Sophia self-centered, materialistic, seeking sex for herself and not for procreation, but it was my understanding Parini’s book in fact was a real critique of Tolstoy as self-deluded, a powerful aristocrat who took advantage of his status all the time, with real sympathy for Sophie — which Helen Mirren picked up on.

Mirren counters the distrustful anti-sexuality thrust of Tolstoy’s conception of his wife and women

Tolstoy’s last text was one where he presented sexuality as such as loathsome even when inside marriage, Kreutzer’s Sonata.

Frances Trollope’s novel of an unwed mother, Jessie Phillips: A Tale of the Present Day is another 19th century novel which shows far more understanding of women’s vulernability and inner life. But she too (like Gaskell) makes her heroine suffer without showing what was the pleasure. Yet I had to drive 90 minutes in my car once again yesterday and found myself listening to a very long loving description of every detail Levin and Kitty’s wedding ceremony. The equivalent of a bridal magazine today. It so irritated me. Why so much time on this? Tolstoy is clever and he makes ironic jokes about how a couple of years from now for just about everyone this long ceremony seems idiotic, false, but that’s not what the lengthy text does. It insists that each detail the wedding counts; that’s why Levin is late in dressing, why Kitty spends months and months in planning with her mother. Bridezilla.

It could be a woman’s magazine today. It explains why fools complained that in Downton Abbey Fellowes had the brains to present Lady Mary and Matthew’s wedding only in terms of the fuss and trouble leading up to it.

Just before the ceremony Levin is not the ideal exemplary man having won the love of the sweet chaste Kitty, almost alienates her by letting her see his diaries with his disgusting affairs. This great novel of adultery is deeply against sex. When in Downton Abbey Dan Stevens had to play some of this kind of nonsense, he looked excruciated.

Not Wright at all and not Stoppard; they skip the wedding.

Meanwhile in the book Vronsky rushes to Anna in bed who has given birth to their little girl, confessed to Karenin and been forgiven. But Anna cannot stand her husband’s presence or embraces; she is beyond reason or humanity towards Karenin who (in the novel) turns emotionally noble and is willing to be shamed and take her back. Vronsky throws himself onto Anna, she cannot resist and three sentences later they disappear from the narrative only to turn up chapters later several months later so we can see them despised. We only saw their affair a year later.

I hadn’t realize how much Wright departed from Tolstoy until I’d gotten well past the mid-point of the book. In Wright and Stoppard’s version Anna leaves Karenin half-way through the narrative, and takes up life with Vronsky; has her baby daughter by Vronsky while living with him. In Tolstoy’s book she has not left Karenin as yet; Karenin has begun proceedings for a divorce and custody of his (now apparently detested) son. But Anna nearly dies in puperal fever, she hysterically calls for her husband, declares him great, noble-souled, and herself so much crap; she and Karenin manage to humiliate Vronsky and in the throes of this scene Karenin forgives Anna. Vronsky goes home, shamed, and realizing suicide can be brought on by humiliation and the world’s scorn tries to shoot himself through the chest and nearly dies. Both though do not die — Tolstoy implies perhaps Anna would have been better off if she had and so too Vronsky. She lives to regret, and in Tolstoy Vronksy lives on to want to get her back, only much later to be destroyed by her suicide.

It’s theatrically effective in the book and films which use it, and the discourse about forgiveness and how Karenin wants to keep to that, how it brings out the good soul in him is probably (I do believe) the conscious message. But I find the scenes at the bedside absurd and improbable — but perhaps a 19th century reader would not have.

Much of Tolstoy’s text is taken up with how badly Kareinin feels. He naturally becomes the prey of religious fanatics like the old countess, Lydia. It’s the only way he can hold up his head; she is responsible for Karenin’s keeping Anna’s son from her too. So the man is absolved and sympathized with again and again.

Not so in Wright and Stoppard’s film where the narrow, sexless and vindictive seething of the man is emphasized — here Jude Law has a tight mind and body


Horse race as done in the theater of Wright and Stoppard’s conception

This is not to say there are not many remarkable and interesting passages in Tolstoy’s book — sort of interwoven in as part of the story but reflecting both Tolstoy’s high sense of himself and his fiction and its purpose.

From the penultimate sections of the book, before the final crash of Anna and departure of Vronsky to a useless war where he and his regiment of desperate men will be killed for nothing — and the qualified contentment ending of Levin’s choice to marry Kitty and live the life of an aristocratic landlord-farmer.

The depiction of Vronsky’s attempt at a career as an artist and patron of the arts in Italy in the earliest phase of his time with Anna, when she is still in control of herself and enjoying life well away from Russian society. This sequence allows Tolstoy to present thoughts on art and the 19th century scene.

The death of Levin’s brother is another sequence — we see the poverty of most hotels in this rigid ancien regime world. We see how badly the supposedly idealistic leftist brother treats the prostitute he has taken in as his wife. On this level, Tolstoy feels for a woman; she ought to have stayed with a peasant husband somewhere. I’m sure Levin would have found her one had she come to him first.

I’m also “enjoyed” the realism of the relationship of Vronsky and Anna as it slowly hurts so badly from being outside the rest of the world, the ostracizing, and even Levin and Kitty with their lack of real understanding of one another and explosive fights in early marriage.

Keira Knightley as the grieving mother

Extraordinarily strong because so believable Anna’s stolen visit to her son and the responses of the servants, her meeting Karenina and his half-mad behavior. You can prove anything if you get to make up the evidence, but far more than Trollope successfully I think Tolstoy does persuade us a woman of this milieu, religion, would feel the intense guilt of Anna, digs deep into it, how it functions to twist her and give her little chance to finally live a life that is fulfilling for both with Vronsky. The scene at the theater where she goes out of some kind of inner-directed spite at herself and Vronsky equally strong. Vronsky needs to be accepted in the world and live in it; she needs just the respect.

Anna supported by the corrupt Princess Betsy (Ruth Wilson)

She is mortified and humiliated. I wish I could believe Tolstoy critiquing this double standard but he’s not.

The linchpin connection between the Vronksy-Anna matter and the Kitty-Levin is Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly with whom the book and Stoppard and Wright’s movie opens. Dolly feels for Anna; her husand, Oblonsky a careless rake and roue who is ruining them by his continual spending of money (leaving nothing for the household, saving nothing for the children’s education).

So, Oblonsky’s harried put-upon wife, Dolly, goes to visit Anna. Anna had persuaded Dolly to stay with Oblonsky after one of Oblonsky’s many affairs (the man has casual encounters and sex like some people have meals) was exposed — because it was with the governess. He spends all their money, he impregnates her carelessly; she is worn, her children will have no decent schools unless her father pays for it — reminds me of Montague Dartie in Forsyte Saga. She knows he does not love her. She is miserable. She thinks Anna is no different from her, just braver. When she arrives, Anna is ecstatic to see her and Vronsky so glad. She notices the people around them are third-rate hangers on as the world judges these things. We are made to notice how rich Anna is through her eyes — the riding out, the hat, the horse, the house they stay in.

So, were this an English novel, this moneyed state of Anna would be accounted for — it’s not in AR. It is probably not from her husband. Would she have her own estate? I don’t know. It seems to come from Vronsky who we are told in an early part of the book has to borrow to keep up his lavish life style.

The moral nature of what’s happening is central. Probably because I’m reading Galsworthy at the same time I am so aware of how Tolstoy too makes of Anna this beautiful mysterious icon. In her case being torn apart. Slowly after Vronsky and Anna return to Russia, whether St Petersburg or Moscow, their relationship sours badly. No one respectable will be friends with them; they get only hangers-on. People they once would have passed over, come to them and Vronksy and Anna cling to these fringe types.

Yet he can live with it, he can suffer the loss of his army regiment (very much a Rawdon type — from Vanity Fair); it’s more her fault than his because she cannot live the unconventional part of a mistress and woman of the world. Why she should want the friends we saw at the opening were all so hollow I can’t say. She has Dolly and her brother who seemed to be the only people she enjoyed herself with before. And men do visit. She is pathetically grateful to have Dolly’s loyalty, but we see Dolly becomes sickened at what she sees as their false friends, false lives and stays only one day on a visit meant to go on for a long time.

Mary Kerridge as Dolly (1948 version, sentimentalized Oblonsky, glimpsed weeping with remorse)

We then get the encounter of Anna with Levin who is drawn to her as mysterious alluring icon but then reverses himself when he sees his wife. Anna here has become evil as she is presented as consciously trying to seduce Levin sexually.

I also very much enjoy some of the political drama and discussions about art in the Levin sections; I don’t have space to detail this sort of thing. The political meeting with Vronksy emerging as successful had the sceptical understanding of Trollope and the principles and parties were of interest similarly. Tolstoy defends realism in pictures.

At the same time I was so grated upon by the long drawn out childbirth, especially the turning from ravaged screaming on Kitty’s part to bliss. No thanks Mr Tolstoy for your moral lesson here. I writhe to have to listen to this nonsense — Trollope wouldn’t have minded and might thought it was just the pap (like the wedding) women might want.

Very interesting are the less cliched stories: Oblonsky, Stiva, near bankrupt trying to get a lucrative post where he does nothing and thinking he deserves it! Some amusement there – this is how Felix Carbury behaves in Trollope and Davies’s TWWLN and Matthew MacFayden played both parts.

The story of Anna’s son being slowly turned against her and made to be cold from his life’s experiences with the angry embittered father and morally stupid tutor.

Why is Anna not afraid she will be broke and end in the streets? she is so sure of her aristoratic words & norms to reach for.

A 19th century illustration of the end of the novel
The novel concludes:

Again I am deeply engaged by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in the final phase of Vronsky and Anna’s story. It is more than grippingly believable. Tolstoy lays bare how someone (Anna) can act destructively against herself and her interests, because there is not enough on offer for an erasure of those parts of herself necessary to play the part in her world Vronsky as her open lover allows her. She is in too much pain over her own loss of self-esteem. I can see myself acting like that and have in life acted that way.

I continue mostly bored and irritated by the Levin matter.

At the close of book 7 is the powerful sequence where Anna finally loses all perspective, and throws herself under a train. I’ve just ambivalent responses to the depiction. I think the way to get round the worst is to lower expectations – that’s why when I first started reading I suggested Tolstoy is over-rated. If we think of him as just another Victorian-19th century writer, we don’t expect as much, give him more slack, and as with reading say Gaskell’s Ruth, we look at what is gained by an attempt at a frank depiction of a transgressive woman (Anna) or a woman who has transgressed (Ruth) sexually. Trollope will depict no such figure; Dickens would not touch this with a 50 foot pole.Most women didn’t dare lest they be accused of sexual transgression.

I know were I to have read the book in my 20s even I would just have utterly bonded with Anna and felt for her and not noticed as I felt continually Tolstoy’s continual corrective: Anna says everyone is hateful to her, and immediately Tolstoy brings home to us how most people are not hateful; everything she feels or says is quickly shown to be an exaggeration and coming out of her. The worst is how he talks of an “evil’ spirit inheriting her soul — surely this is God punishing her.

He also does not spare us. We are shown that Anna did not die immediately but felt pain and knew what was happening. When we are told that Vronsky saw the body he never got over seeing what was in her eyes. Or her mangled body.

One can read the sequence sympathetically from her point of view too. It is true Vronsky is tired of her. We can see she is trying to reach him as best she can. It’s his choice to stay in Moscow, visit his mother. What he wants is for her to make the best of it or go herself into the country where he would visit her or stay with her and come back to his social life from time to time. She seems unable to manage with this. Myself I know how she feels from the exquisite details about egoisms conflicting that Tolstoy does manage. I’ve experienced this in family life, feeling oneself disdained some, really not respected, and how painful this is, especially when something is done which points to it and the person denies it. Trollope knew our egos mattered: many of his scenes show characters reacting internally emotionally violently over this.

Months have passed when the last book (8) begins again. When we next see Vronsky, now worn, having again nearly gone mad with his remorse and leaving for the war front with a group of less than admirable types because he can’t get anything better together and listen to his mother’s vicious tongue about Anna this is a reinforcement of empathy for her — and him.

1899 Twilight Moon by Isaak Ilyich Levitan

One then has to wade through at least a hundred pages of Levin material where we learn God is good, well-meaning, dwell in the Russian landscape, and if Levin is also dissatisfied, this are the terms on which we have life. At the close of the book Levin has a vision which shows him the value of his existence and makes him think he will act more loving to everyone no matter how much they irritate, but soon discovers he cannot change himself. I thought of the long shooting bird (grouse) sequences and how vividly (very like Trollope) Tolstoy entered into these and told them in detail; unlike Galsworthy though he did not at all feel for the animals endlessly murdered (by Oblonsky and finally done in by Levin too) — to show his manhood, nor even so much as register them as presences (which Trollope at least concedes).


Ideally I would after listening to this reading, watch the recent Wright movie and read carefully Stoppard’s screenplay to see how the Anna character has been altered — and it has much — to make it speak to us today. I know Vronsky is blackened in the movie: in the book he was willing to give up much if only she would be at peace with the freedoms he sought and he was not seeking to have any other women (as he is in the movie).

The movie marginalizes Levin into sheer Lawrentian material (how often Wright turns a book into Lawrentian material, even Austen) and plays up the ironies of the Oblonsky story as relevant to us today. Wright also emphasizes the role Vronsky’s mother plays as Anna’s fundamental rival and enemy.

He also makes Oblonsky our everyone; at the close of the movie Macfayden is the only one in the room as the family gathers (including Levin and his wife) for some ritual who remembers Anna

He is though as corrupt and useless to anyone but in his kind moments like these as he is in the novel

The Levin group must be put into the movie, but in the movie they function as the vast majority of human beings who buy into conventions and are made safe enough by by them.

The first sentence of AK now strikes me as potentially if unintentionally ironic about happy families, happy people. Tolstoy may be read against the grain.


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Elizabeth Carter (idealized) by Katherine Read (1762)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m several days late for this week’s foremother poet. First I couldn’t make up my mind which poet to write about, and then I lost heart. But tonight inspirited by Elizabeth Carter’s “A Dialogue,” in love with her picture from Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz’s Brilliant Women: 18th-Century Bluestocking, and imbued with the probability that, like Elizabeth Hands (ft 1789) and Anne Grant (1755-1823) that Jane Austen (see Reveries under the Sign of Austen) probably read her poetry and letters, I’ve decided to celebrate Elizabeth Carter once again. (I’ve written about her before, on blogs, on listservs, in reviews.)

Here is a fine poem by her:

“A Dialogue” (1741)

Says Body to Mind, ‘Tis amazing to see,
We’re so nearly related yet never agree,
But lead a most wrangling strange Sort of a Life,
As great Plagues to each other as Husband and Wife.
The Fault’s all your own, who with flagrant Oppression,
Encroach ev’ry Day on my lawful Possession.
The best Room in my House you have seiz’d for your own,
And turn’d the whole Tenement quite upside down,
While you hourly call in a disorderly Crew
Of vagabond Rogues, who have nothing to do
But to run in and out, hurry scurry, and keep
Such a horrible Uproar, I can’t get to sleep.
There’s my Kitchen sometimes is as empty as Sound,
I call for my Servants, not one’s to be found:
They all are sent out on your Ladyship’s Errand,
To fetch some more riotous Guests in, I warrant!
And since Things are growing, I see, worse and worse,
I’m determin’d to force you to alter your Course.

Poor Mind, who heard all with extreme Moderation,
Thought it now Time to speak, and make her Allegation.
‘Tis I, that, methinks, have most Cause to complain,
Who am crampt and confin’d like a Slave in a Chain.
I did but step out, on some weighty Affairs,
To visit, last Night, my good Friends in the Stars,
When, before I was got half as high as the Moon,
You dispatch’d Pain and Langour to hurry me down;
Vi & Armis they seiz’d me, in Midst of my Flight,
And shut me in Caverns as dark as the Night.

‘Twas no more, reply’d Body, than what you deserv’d,
While you rambled Abroad, I at Home was half starv’d:
And, unless I had closely confin’d you in Hold,
You had left me to perish with Hunger and Cold.

I’ve a Friend, answers Mind, who, tho’ slow, is yet sure,
And will rid me, at last, of your insolent Pow’r:
Will knock down your mud Walls, the whole Fabric demolish,
And at once your strong Holds and my Slav’ry abolish:
And while in the Dust your dull Ruins decay,
I shall snap off my Chains and fly freely away.

As I read this poem, the thrust of the dialogue is the body’s complaint. Body is complaining that although Carter does full justice to Mind (which Carter did), Mind does not at all give any fulfillment to Body. Body threatens revenge (she will take over the house), but Mind remains in power. We cannot say alas or even celebrate as Mind counters that Mind is just as chained by Body as Body is by Mind. Encased in flesh, cramped and confined. Mind has to endure all these pains and panics too. But Mind has a friend who will rid Mind of this insolent power, and Mind shall snap my chains and fly away. Alas, that
friend is death.

The bright tone which carries this acute content and the realism of the description of Carter’s daily life and her evening releases (walking by the moon) might lead readers to ignore the content. It is at odds with it. Note too the Rousseauistic imagery.

I’ve wondered if Carter had some lesbian leanings. Some of the woman in her Bath group did. We’ll never know. There’s this to one of her women friends:

While soft thro’ water, earth, and air
The vernal spirits rove,
From noisy joys, and giddy crowds,
To rural scenes remove.

The mountain snows are all dissolv’d,
And hush’d the blust’ring gale:
While fragrant zephyrs gently breathe,
Along the flow’ry vale.

The circling planets constant rounds
The wintry wastes repair:
And still, from temporary death,
Renew the verdant year.

But ah! when once our transient bloom,
The spring of life, is o’er,
That rosy season takes its flight,
And must return no more.

Yet judge by reason’s sober rules,
From false opinion free,
And mark how little, pilf’ring years
Can steal from you, or me.

This expatiation upon a line of Theocritus (in Greek) calms me too:

How sweet the calm of this sequestered shore,
where ebbing waters musically roll!
and solitude, and silent eve restore
the philosophic temper of the soul.

The sighing gale, whose murmurs lull to rest
the busy tumult of declining day,
to sympathetic quiet soothes the breast,
and ev’ry wild emotion dies away.

Farewel the objects of diurnal care,
your task be ended with the setting sun:
let all be undisturb’d vacation here,
while o’er yon wave ascends the peaceful moon.

What beauteous visions o’er the softened heart,
in this still moment all their charms diffuse!
serener joys, and brighter hopes impart,
and chear the soul with more than mortal views.

Here, faithful mem’ry wakens all her pow’rs,
she bids her fair ideal forms ascend,
and quick to ev’ry gladden’d thought restores
the social virtue, and the absent friend.

Come, Musidora , come, and with me share
the sober pleasures of this solemn scene,
while no rude tempest clouds the ruffled air,
but all, like thee, is smiling and serene.

Come, while the cool, the solitary hours
each foolish care, and giddy wish controul,
with all thy soft persuasion’s wonted pow’rs,
beyond the stars transport my listening soul.

Oft, when on earth detain’d by empty show,
thy voice has taught the trifler how to rise;
taught her to look with scorn on things below,
and seek her better portion in the skies.

Come: and the sacred eloquence repeat:
the world shall vanish at it’s gentle sound,
angelic forms shall visit this retreat,
and op’ning Heav’n diffuse it’s glories round


From Richard Samuel, The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain (1778), Elizabeth Carter’s face

The poems and some of the information in my sketch of Carter’s life (just below) come from Lonsdale’s Eighteenth Century Women Writers and Joyce Fullard’s British Women Poets, 1660-1800. The rest comes from my memories of chapters in books, essays on her I’ve read and heard, and reading in her poetry and letters:

Elizabeth Carter who a poet, translator, essayist, scholar, and letter writer.

In the idiom of Muriel Spark’s Miss Jane Brodie, Elizabeth Carter was famous for being so learned and knowing Greek. If you’ve heard of her at all, it’s through a quip Samuel Johnson is said to have made about her both being about to read Greek and make puddings. There’s another about how she got up so early to do Greek. Recently she features as one of a group of women in a popular scholarly kind of book by Norma Clarke, Dr Johnson’s
. She was “highly gifted linguistically” (Janet Todd, British Women Writers), and is said to have been able to read French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew,
Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Arabic. Perhaps she was better at some of these languages than others. She is also said to have composed from a very young age plays, novels, sermons, and poems.

From her letters we discover she suffered headaches, which she alleviated by playing the flute, gardening, and taking long walks deep into the countryside.

I heard an interesting paper on her in a meeting of the Eastern Region 18th Century society a couple of years ago. The woman scholar who had studied Carter’s letters suggested that she came to London in her early 20s determined to make a career as a writer for herself, and we find her noticed and printed by Edward Cave, Johnson (Carter’s famous for this too Miss Brodie would tell us); among her important works (read and influential) was her translation of Baretti’s dialogues on Newton’s philosophy, ostensibly “for the ladies” (as they’re made “simple”), but actually read by both sexes. The scholar
who read the paper says there is something unexplained about Carter’s sudden retreat from London; she returned home to Deal. Since she returned to Deal, her career fizzled out. The scholar suggested some traumatic event occurred in London. It was hinted it may have been sexual, but we cannot know.

Carter lived the rest of her fairly long life in Deal where she was born. She was the oldest daughter of Revd Nicholas Carter, Perpetual Curate and his wife, Margaret Swayne. Her father gave her the same education as her brothers (classical as well as modern languages). Her mother died when she was about 10. It was her father who first published her poems by virtue of his friendship with Edward Cave, proprietor of The Gentleman’s Magazine where Samuel Richardson found her “Ode to Wisdom” and put it into his Clarissa, attributing it to his heroine.

She was hampered by the people she was dependent upon for a long while, but she began to write letters, wonderful letters, filled with sparkling observations, love, bitterness, life, mostly to women: Frances Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford, Elizabeth Montagu, and most famously, her beloved Catherine Talbot. This letter writing became her lifeline and then her network and she began to travel through visitings. She became part of the circle of women in Bath whose linchpin was Montagu: she knew the highly intelligent and kind Sarah Fielding (novelist in her own right, sister of Henry), Sarah Scott, and Jane Collier (The Cry).

Samuel Richardson stepped in to help Carter produce a subscribed to edition of Epictetus; that made her enough money to be independent. Richardson was a good man in many ways and helped many women authors; he was always generous with money and time and space in his house. In 1762 with William Pulteney, Earl of Bath, Lord Lyttleton’s help and Montagu’s encouragement, Carter published her Poems on Several Occasions. She travelled to the continent in the next year, and the year after that Montagu and Pulteney settled an annuity on her. (Fanny Dashwood of Austen’s S&S fame may not have liked annuities, but those on the fringe, and who wasn’t, much appreciated such crumbs from rich men’s tables.)

Later in life she was a familiar figure in literary circles. However, she disliked intensely the new radical movement and gothic and revolutionary and feminist writers like Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft. She is said to have detested the latter — Freud would suggest reverse jealousy. She didn’t take kindly to William Hayley’s dedication to her of his Old Maids, though she usually took teasing and pretty well. Of course she liked Hannah More. On the other hand, women who stayed “respectable” and didn’t produce revolutionary or feminist ideals of “the rights of woman” (a “wild theory” said Carter) were countenanced: she liked Joanne Baillie who wrote some marvelous gothic plays and hard sharp verse. Her father’s death in 1774 had been a “great blow” (Janet Todd). Although from afar she got kudos from people as high as Catherine of Russia and Queen Charlotte, her mainstays were female friends, which included Fanny Burney and Hester Chapone.

It’s said that she helped make women writers respectable. I don’t know. It seems to me that outside 18th century circles I only hear quoted the line from Johnson that she could bake cakes as well as study Greek at 6 in the morning. I take it I’m supposed to be glad she baked cakes and think that as important as studying Greek at 6 in the morning — which has the effect of mocking her as well as telling us how she wisely kept her studies in the margins of her daily life. Her picture by Thomas Lawrence is the usual flattery he produced, the usual conventionalization: we see this cosy old lady all in lace. You can see her face clearly though. There is an intensity in the eyes, and her mouth is closed, tight, small. There is more than a bright old lady here.

We do have her poems and what of her correspondence has survived as well as the translations which were useful in their time – and still read today by scholars. One reason we don’t know why she retired so suddenly from London is in the usual way her heir, a nephew this time, censored and destroyed her “confidential communications” out of said letters.

She probably did enjoy her existence as much as the mores of her era and her character could allow her to. I take it she decided the game outside safety wasn’t worth it or she couldn’t pull it off. Her “Ode to Wisdom” used to be well-known because Samuel Richardson imaginatively (well it was a plagiarism but Carter forgave him) attributed it to Clarissa in his novel.

Norma Clarke has a valuable chapter on Elizabeth Carter in her Dr Johnson’s Women. She does not tell us Carter’s birthday, and she does not quite keep at the heart of Carter’s personality and style of life (stay-at-home, write letters, uncommercial, dependent) except in phrases now and again which lack of evidence prevents her from developing further, e.g., “She was, however, a troubled woman.” I’ve thought Carter was someone who should be looked at as psychologically badly wounded and frightened by some experiences she had in her early 20s which led to her retreat from London. (Yes I’ve read Stella Gibbons’s mockery of this kind of thinking in her Cold Comfort Farm about Aunt Aida and the woodshed; all I can say is maybe Gibbons had a thick-skin, was psychologically and sociologically and temporally lucky.) Clarke does tell of Carter’s later good friendship with Catherine Talbot and does justice to some of their letters. Clarke also shows how clever Carter was in keeping sufficiently away from Elizabeth Montague’s “patronage” and how Carter alone seems to have found in Montague someone who had a “language of the heart.” Carter’s was a life built out of female friendships.

Elizabeth Carter is rightly in the center of a famous painting in the period: Richard Samuel’s Nine Living Muses. According to Sylvia Myers (who wrote a fine book on the “bluestockings” — she was coerced into using the still derogatory term by the publisher), this famous picture originated with an idea that came out of conversations between the painter and some of the “bluestocking” circle. The women pictured (but not at all individualistically or realistically drawn) are: Elizabeth Carter, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Elizabeth Anne Sheridan (in the middle with the lyre), Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox, Angelica Kaufmann (at the easel), Catherine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, and Elizabeth Griffith. Poets, translators, learned classicists, musicians, polemicists, novelists, editors, painters, historians, memoir and letter writers and literary critics and playwrights. Frances Burney is not among them as Evelina was first published 3 years later. This is a mid- to late century bunch of women not a late to early 19th century one.

Good sources of and on Carter’s poetry: A critical edition of Elizabeth Carter’s life and work by Robinson, Clarissa Simek, Ph.D., Arizona State University, 2009; “Elizabeth Carter’s Legacy: Friendship and Ethics,” by Afag fazlollahi, Georgia State Univeristy, Ph.D. Dissertation, 2011; Paula Backscheider, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre; Susan Staves, A Literary History of Women’s Writing in Britain, 1660-1780 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2006) pp. 309-315.

Two useful informative articles: how Catherine Talbot as a presence in Carter’s letters allows Carter to tell her own story: Celia Barnes Rasmussen, “Speaking on the Edge of My Tomb”: The Epistolary Life and Death of Catherine Talbot,” Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, 8:2 (June 2010).

And on Elizabeth Carter as a letter-writer and member of the conversational & social circle in Bath made up largely of women: Alison E. Hurley, “A Conversation of Their Own: Watering Place Correspondence Among the Bluestockings,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 40.1 (2006) 1-21

Ellen Moody

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Anthony Trollope, a photo from the 1870s

Dear friends, readers and lovers of Trollope,

Here am I back again for the second time to provide summaries and evaluations of the 14 essays printed by Deborah Morse, Margaret Markwick, and Reginia Gagnier (eds): The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope’s Novels., a selection from a Trollope conference held in Exeter in 2006. In the first blog I covered the introduction by Morse and first seven essays in the volume; now I’ll cover the second seven essays and Reginia Gagnier’s concluding coda essay on the conference stance towards Trollope. My paper, Trollope’s Comfort Romances for Men” was published on the Victorian Web shortly after the conference.

I am doing these postings (notes really) to try to make sense of this book. So I’ve discovered most of the essays are shaped to suggest (or at some point state the idea at the heart of this volume), to wit, in Trollope people act out de-stablizing (that’s a favorite word) gender characteristics, and Trollope undermines conceptions of gender such that men are femininized. I’ve tried to suggest why this would appeal to upper class ambitious female academics (editors in charge of volume). I’ve been noticing it as central to another book I’ve been reading too: Unbecoming Conjunctions: Austen’s P&P we are told undermines traditional gender.

In addition, there are two conservatives sub-ideas: a defense of materialism, ambition, money-making with the implication that there is something very hypocritical, unreal in the Marxist approach (so say Andrew Miller’s book, Novels Behind Glass won’t do — I’ve sent a copy on for our files which you should have gotten notice of), and curiously, a tendency to avoid discussing sex but when they do it’s a very traditional idea of sex (as Markwick says repeatedly appetite is so healthy).

Trollope does defend materialism, ambition and money-making. No doubt about that.

One essay is important: Armanick’s on the as yet unpublished Duke’s Children), another has an an important insight, though a little broken backed (Skilton’s “Depth of Portraiture” — his argument zigzags as he tries to appease the editors by taking his example of psychological portraiture in women in Trollope when he was headed for all portraiture in general). One is very strange: Vlasopolous reads Trollope so wrongly it’s puzzling except her biography shows she has never before published anything on Trollope or 19th century novels, is a writer of popular mysteries and environmentalism so is a good example of how no text is understood unless you really know the context at least a little. Gagnier in her final summation at long last defines what is meant in this volume by liberalism).


From the 20th century illustrations of John Caldigate, set partly in Australia: Mrs Smith on her way to the colony

Helen Lucy Blythe’s “Rough and the Beautiful in Catherine Carmichael: Class and Gender in Trollope’s Colonial Aesthetic.” She argues that Catherine Carmichael loathes her husband, Peter, because he lacks upper class manners, and she sees the story as showing us that what counts far more than money is “cultivated cultural competence to distinguish between the ugly and beautiful.” Catherine’s loathing of having sex with the old man is not brought out; nor Trollope’s suggestions the old man is violent; the oddity in the story that the young man, John, never so much as asks Catherine to marry him (as she had hoped) is explained as the young man simply subdued by his older relative’s money. John’s passivity, how he leaves and goes on command is said nothing about. Nor are the terrible real hardships of Catherine’s life (in danger of starvation, brutalization) and how she’s forced into this marriage (central to the tale) paid attention to except as telling the background.

Instead the idea is Trollope’s story exemplifies a Bourdieu thesis about how a person in a given class niche is intensely put off if someone brings together tastes that usually are separated. Another idea is the basis of masculine identity for working people is their independent labor and that the old husband has, but he is defeated when Catherine says she will probably end up having an affair with John unless he kicks John out. Until then he was a brutal bully to her; it seems that he is crushed afterward when her powerful sexuality (!) is put before him — but in Trollope he doesn’t live long enough for us to see if he’s crushed permanently.

Along the way she goes into the New Zealander where this elegant couple come from New Zealand to exclaim over the now failed and ruined society of England. Also that in John Caldigate Trollope saw gentlemanliness as somehow make visible on, practically carving the bodies of the upper class males (his hero), and only after a while and many defeats destroyed altogether.

Perhaps the point is seen in the end suggestion that Trollope thinks the “ideal English civilization will evolve from merging middle class feminine taste with working class male beauty, industry and receptiveness to moral improvement, qualities common enough in moral writing.” The story becomes banal but then maybe the motive is this idea of “feminine taste” needed at the same time as there is this conventional acceptance of male sexuality (working class male beauty) brought out.


David Suchet at Melmotte, the 2001 film, our first full view of the man as he contemplates what he can “do” — make out of — this

Nathan K. Hensley’s essay, “Mister Trollope, Lady Credit, and The Way We Live Now” is an essay that insists on Trollope’s “deep blithely misogynistic criticism” of “foreign investment,” women, exchange (trade) and Jews. He sees Trollope as deeply conservative when he comes out on the behalf of landed wealth; Trollope dislikes “the rise of speculative commerce as a disruption of proper gender roles.” So Trollope sticks to old-fashioned gender roles it seems: “proper manliness” is someone who works the land. He says (“Lady Credit” is though not a Trollopian phrase, it’s from Defoe) that the metaphors of the book connect fake women, cosmetics, and bad feminine characteristics of all sorts to the new world of finance and new ways work is organized and done (say in publishing). Lady Carbury is a liar, false, thin lurid storyteller (as opposed to the “giant work of male realism” we have in our hand). He points out Trollope’s anti-semitism. The logic of the book’s misery leads one to conclude the best thing is to “stay home.” Speculation replaces work and paper making real things.

Hensley asked how we can “rescue” this book. What can we possibly read it for? He does show Trollope reveals the regime of modern exchange through bankers (whom we see are not to be trusted) such as we see is in place in the 1870s. But this is not enough for he is anxious to bring (ah ha) modern women in as readers. His solution is it helps us to “scramble our assumptions”and see a different version of “good” and “bad” feminist politics. We can extrapolate and see how these neoliberal (or liberal) behaviors are bad for women since contracts in lieu of traditional relationships are preferred. Contracts are then bad not good for women partly because (yet this is NOT in Trollope) when we make universal laws we find that traditional customs (sutti) are left in place for all women. The book teaches us to distrust liberalism (which as I showed is part of a central distrusting animus of Goodlad’s essay in Eustace Diamonds towards, rather muddled but she gets there, Lucy Morris).

In a way this ought to have been a breathe of fresh air as it does not follow what is thought (what Nick thought) to be the thrust of recent scholarship. We are not told that Trollope is modern, liberal, feminist.. But it’s written in this abstract jargon ridden style, and in the notes he continually genuflects before the women editors of the volume. He thanks Psomiades three times profusely in the bottom notes on one page. (She must be scary or powerful.) But Nick was wrong; this was a conference whose underlying assumptions are deeply pro-establishment whatever that is at any time. And when you get to the end you are disappointed. Hensley says TWWLN points to us we need a new way of seeing what is “good” and “bad” feminisms. What is good and bad for women is the idea (only women are not a monolithic group, but let that pass). However, when he gets to the end, he punts. He doesn’t say; instead we are told we are challenged.

Further, in fact Trollope’s book is useful, relevant, great! Davies’s film adaptation shows just how relevant it is, and filled with loathing for falseness and oligarchies of money and the false inhumane values underlying these. Trollope disdains Lady Carbury and fears Mrs Hurtle but he allows Henrietta and Paul to escape home. They flee (as do Lady Anna and Daniel Thwaite in Lady Anna) the vicious world around them to the US.


“The Country Surgeon,” J. Pettie (Good Words, 1862)

Elsie Michie’s essay is written in decent English (as is another she wrote in 1993, now in our files on Trollope Last Chronicle and Oliphant’s Phoebe Junior — sent along yesterday I think). As with Polhemus’s essay, Michie’s earlier one is better than this partly because it values Trollope’s critique of commerce while (in line with this essay) also praising Oliphant for being more “realistic” and showing how important strong materialism is in life. In Oliphant’s Phoebe Junior (gentle reader) the heroine actually marries for money.

Here Michie more simply celebrates money-making using Miss Dunstable in Trollope’s third Barsetshire novel, Dr Thorne.

This one is easy to summarize since it’s written clearly and is straightforward: she claims that Miss Dunstable stands in for (is a kind of substitute for) a man who made oodles of money selling pills; Thomas Holloway. Ointment is also medicinal. She then goes over this man’s career in admiration (how he did it through advertising — spend a lot on advertising and you can sell anything). Trollope is Janus-faced. She reminds us that Trollope did create a Melmotte (TWWLN) and Lopez (Prime Minster). I’ll add he also I’ll add wrote the harsh satire which no one reads The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson: By One of the Firm) but on the whole how wonderful all this commerce is is what Miss Dunstable is made to stand for.

Not quite. Miss Dunstable is very ironical about her money and never goes into what she does for her investments herself — it seems she did not make the money, and though she does have to keep her investments in good order, she would like to sell to get rid of the headache, and she does not like the phony adulation she gets everywhere, though she is willing to take advantage of it and accept invitations so as an unmarried woman she will not live her life alone.

In short, we like Miss Dunstable for her common honesty in social life, for her lack of snobbery; she’s a festival figure celebrating kindness too and “healthy sex” (as doubtless Markwick would say).

It’s here Miller’s book (and books like it) are dismissed. So much for socialistic criticism and especially Marxism.


Barbara Murray as Mrs Finn (aka Madame Max) from the last scene of the last episode of the 1974 Pallisers

Christopher S. Noble’s “Otherwise Occupied: Masculine Widows in Trollope’s Novels.” Like Michie’s this was straightforward. It’s a kind of reverse of the main conference theme; here we see women masculinized. He begins with Meredith’s delight in the Widow Bold; there were some obscure overlong sentences as he tried tactfully to deal with this (discretion needed he intuited — but then there was none of this profuse flattery to his female editors in the footnotes) but the idea seems to be that a widow made Victorian men salivate — because she’s no virgin. Then he goes about to show how widowhood is used by three women to empower themselves – the outfit kept men away; it lent dignity; it could be manipulated. The three under glass (to take Miller’s metaphor) are Mrs Greenow (Can You Forgive Her?), Emily (The Prime Minister), and Madame Max (across the Palliser cycle of books). The comedy of Mrs Greenow is done justice to; Emily is of course criticized, and Madame Max celebrated.

I was bothered by this essay even if it was blessedly readable and honest: in a conference or academic world said to be questioning sexuality as now practiced in society, Noble seems to enjoy the status quo. He uses phrases like “the merry widow” and we are supposed to understand, accept and honor all the attitudes towards a woman that such a phrase comes from. At the same time he fit himself into the conference by insisting on androgyny at one point; we are told that “crucially” (great word) Trollope rewrites “manliness as largely an androgynous ideal, theoretically available to men and women.” How does Trollope do this? He dissociates “manliness” from “the cavalier values of physical strength and stoic reserve” and “realigns” manliness with “self-improvement and self-expression.” I’d say that it’s not necessary to be physically strong but it helps, and rather than self-improvement so much Trollope connects maniliness with protecting women, children and sees being kind and sensitive as breaking the masculine norms (which he is for).

There was an interesting footnote: He did notice that Lady Glen insulted Madame Max as a “Moabitish woman,” and said that term ultimately comes from the Ruth story: Ruth was a widow who pursued a foreign husband (land of Moab) and he comments that the term is used for one of Lot’s daughters who has incest with her father to get pregnant. The conjunction would suggest that people at the time saw the Lot’s daughter’s incest story as having parallels with Ruth’s so Aschkenasy’s idea is found in the Bible.

Armanick on the complete Duke’s Children.

The original first page of Chapter 53 of The Duke’s Children, crossed out

As I wrote in 2004 on our list and now last week in my blog, he has changed his mind about the full text. No longer is it the same novel basically cut down, with losses over links with the past, Lady Glen’s corrosive presence in the Duke’s mind, and the ambivalence of Frank Tregear’s motives for marrying obscured.

now we have missed a novel meant to be centered on Silverbridge which traces how Silverbridge learns to enact a masculinity which includes feminine traits (!). Sound familiar? It seems “biological maleness is all that matters for Silverbridge at the beginning of the series; at the end, it is the kind of man he becomes that is given full-scale exploration.” It is apparently true that one of the novel’s tentative titles was Lord Silverbridge.

He does worry over the assertions and language he puts these in: “No doubt, what I have described above sounds like a puzzling account …” not only to those who know the novel well but (as he concedes in the footnotes) those who have read the unpublished manuscript (McMasters among them). He does admit to the variegated nature of what’s cut: subtleties gone, de-politicized (this Armanick goes into very well), the deep resonant vast feeling of the past which was originally intended to make this book (like Last Chronicle) the crowning end of a series also about the passing of time (he’s very moving on the duke who cannot get himself to change), the last of these ambivalent ambitious young men, Frank, the corrosive state of the Duke’s repressed bitter memories of the Duchess’s continued lack of erotic love for him.

But then he moves into this entirely new account of the book which I would not be so inclined to be sceptical about were it not for his first paper, the accounts by others, and the rest of this volume plus the unusual language (mawkish for Armanick who is no feminist) like “the genuine man is womanly too.”

In fact I was surprised in his first paper he spent so little time on Silverbridge. We are now told that we are missing Silverbridge and Frank’s relationship, a much slower and wittier account of Silverbridge’s attraction to Isabel Boncassen, and his great “sensitivity” to Lady Mabel. I don’t doubt all that is there in the uncut book.

Armanick also was not inclined to deal sentimentally with Lady Mabel in his first paper: in fact he said he was an old-fashioned reader who loved Mary and was glad to see her get a good husband at last (well effective and now I think of it not all that womanly). Here he refers to Lady Mabel as “the woman left behind with bleak prospects ahead” and gives us a note to Morse’s book where we shall have it dealt so eloquently, there’s no need for him to say anymore.

One can see he, Armanick, as so many male readers identified when young with Silverbridge. He said again as he did in his first paper that DC was the novel that clinched his love for Trollope and puzzled him because he thought it should be the crowning kind of book the Last Chronicle was and it wasn’t. Why then this thin understated text?

At the close of his essay, he repeated a theory I’ve heard him say before too: that Trollope did this cutting not so much because his price had gone down, and he had lost popularity (though he admits all the evidence for it) as that Trollope was a man ever trying something fresh and new. This idea seems as unpersuasive as ever since the “something new” is to work very hard at making an inferior text — and Trollope understood this way back when he was asked to cut Barchester Towers in the same way and felt himself able to refuse.

Armanick also does tell more about the printing history of the novel, and previous scholarship on it (which he skipped on the first paper). The value of this paper is to tell us the real book is there. I for one hope he is typing it even now (or has hired someone) and we will have it in a good edition soon.


Donal McCann as Phineas Finn and Anna Massey as Lady Laura Kennedy greeting one another once again after he returns from his unhappy marriage; they are in Dresden, she having left her husband (1974 Pallisers, 8:15)

Skilton’s “Depth of Portraiture” fits into his interests over the course of a lifetime (40 years he tells us), and is a development out of his original interests in getting close to, reading Trollope aright by going to see how his contemporaries read him. His book on Trollope, still very useful, is Anthony Trollope and His Contemporaries. He has two others, general studies of the 18th through mid-19th century novel, and has edited many books (often from John Letts’s projects), and is inerested in Victorian illustrated literature.

He began by saying reviewers and readers of novels in Trollope’s time looked for “truth to life” which meant they wanted a deeply and thoroughly imagined inside to characters. He suggests they wanted to see religious questions probed. Trollope’s disparagement then comes from the way he does not give us characters seen profoundly within for their own psyches, but as impinged on and interacting with social pressures. Thus he was accused of “copying” life merely, and accused (like Scott) of “manufacturing” his books; the accusation that Trollope was not creative, was this mirror of his age comes from seeing him keeping the social world so insistently to the fore even when a character goes into a long meditation.

A bifurcation occurs when he comes to showing the inwardness Trollope does provide. Skilton then says we all know that Trollope did indeed have an awareness of what we call the unconscious and presents it and then suddenly moves into talking just of Trollope’s depiction of women for his example. This particular example took him away from his real thesis about Trollope’s secularism.

First, he veers back to his argument that Trollope showed an awareness of the unconscious in his texts which he hoped reading contemporary reviewers would help him see; but now a new problem may be solved by looking at these reviews: how is it so many modern women and feminists too like Trollope when his texts argue the most anti-feminist arguments: all women must marry, have children, &c I’ll add be obedient too to husbands, fathers, all authority figures over them. He suggests this paradox comes out of Trollope supporting women who work temporarily (The Telegraph Girl), presents women who are praised for conducting business (Madame Max), sees some heroines as gentlemen, sensitive to aspirations of women (he cites Morse), and even may end up dominating a relationship.

He then turned to critics of other novels who claimed Trollope depicted women poorly because he did not have access into special sensibility of women’s minds (including Hutton). Well Skilton says what is appealing to modern women is Trollope presents the workings of their minds as just like men’s: dealing with problems in the way with the same thoughts honestly.

This then, according to Skilton, is why women like reading Trollope’s women. However restricted in career opportunities, Trollope’s women are not characterised as passive nor having a special essence; rather like Lady Mason, Mrs Carbuy and others we see women as men coping with experience from the position and needs of their particular existence. In decent language he too has come up with a paper that can be aligned with the idea so popular in this group of essays that Trollope undermined gender. What I’ve discovered now is that in Juliet McMaster’s book (Pallisers: Theme and Patterns), she has a chapter on women and men where she shows that women’s inward thinking closely resembles that of men; on the same topics (careers), about the difficulty of important conflicting decisions. I wonder if Skilton found this argument in McMasters and imported it.

Interestingly, The Belton Estate is the text he examines, and it’s one which is strongly realistic (G. H. Lewes style, the Fortnightly Review) and in we see a sceptical mind also manifesting religious doubt. Then he was able to return to his real interest and add that critics at the time objected to the lack of inward portraiture of all the characters, “the absence of religious thoughts” and “to the secularization of the conscience.” It is my belief these last two are what Skilton thinks important.

To return to how he skewed his paper to fit this volume, it may be his hearers and the other women of this volume and other American woman academics read Trollope because he gives us women who think like men. First, I’m not sure women do as one could pluck lots of passages by women brooding over their sexual position and frustrations where the content is quite different from the male characters and the tone of their minds.

Second it may be that like Rousseau, Trollope pleases because he takes women characters so seriously. In Mary Trouille’s Women Reading Rousseau and other 18th century historical and literary scholarly texts, people ask why did women like Rousseau, want to imitate him, when his advice was so repressive, when he suggested educating women to be sexual objects and baby-machines. The answer comes back repeatedly it was that Rousseau took women seriously; he put them at the center of his fictions; if he advocated a repressed life, he cared about them. In most men’s behavior and fictions, women are marginalized, what they do not very important except as an irritant or support for men.


Whistler, “Reading by Lamplight” (1858, the poverty of Mary Gresley might imagine her writing looking like this)

Anca Valsopolos’s “The Weight of Religion and History: Women Dying of Virtue in Trollope’s Later Short Fiction” focuses on “Mary Gresley” and Sir Harry Hotspur. She opens by saying she will show that in “Mary Gresley” Trollope attacks religion full force and shows how its tenets (when unexamined, so there’s that qualification) lead women to slavish sterile sacrifice, a kind of death. In Sir Harry she says Trollope savages the pernicious influence of class and gender stereotypical thinking, also primogeniture in mate selection. She admits Trollope does appear to condemn his heroines for resisting the uses made of them, but since he presents them dying of the rebellion, we can see he’s indicting his society. She quotes as agreeing with her viewpoint Nardin, Morse, and Polhemus; Polhemus wrote about Small House that Trollope deliberately creates “a perverted atmosphere of infertilty” Valsopolos says to indict his society’s treatment of women.

She says she will eschew “tortuous prose” as that signals “unease” in the writer about what he or she is saying (I’ll say) yet she is forced into it when she writes that Trollope sympathizes with women because of his “disturbed viewpoint about his culture’s demands regarding gentleman’s daughters virtues.” What could she mean by Trollope’s “disturbed viewpoint”? It appears to be Trollope’s dramatization of “female sacrifice” to the point the women are troubled, painful, and thus the reader sees wasted potential and becomes melancholy.

She then sums up the two stories: She says “Mary Gresley” does not give us the inward thoughts of the heroine; it does, yes in dialogue with the editor, but we see them. She has read Turner’s book and says the reader is complicit with the editor’s “soft-porn seduction of the child/daughter.” Valsopolos appears really to believe that Trollope meant us to see as Mary’s flaw that she believes in her editor, her fiancee and religion which has “left her destitute and send her to an untimely death.” In Sir Harry we see how the law of inheritance “grinds” Emily down and “kills her.” Unfortunately, Robert Tracey in his book did not go this far; “surely” (is her idea) it’s we see in the story an Emily who “embraces to a fervent and perverse degree her role as commodity” so Emily “devalues herself” and takes herself out of the market and into death.

Then comes a reasonable retelling of the story of “Mary Gresley” (an editor’s tale); I agree with her that we see a horrible distressing life come to a wasted end but that Trollope meant us to read the story this way I doubt because he tells stories like this all over his oeuvre and when the girl luckily (we are to assume) comes to marry an eligible suitor we are to rejoice. Lucy Morris’s is this kind of case.
I wish I could agree with Vlasopolos that Trollope sees that Gresley’s fiancee is to be despised and not at all in touch with any God, but “a self-centered prig” and that the editor himself is selfish. Surely she doesn’t think Trollope thinks his editor selfish; the editor tried to help Mary even if we are to imagine sexual experiences like petting may have gone on (what else is meant by soft-core porn? they do leave this oblique and hidden).

It is certainly a reverse Jane Eyre story — Polhemus says this in his key-note lecture too. Jane avoids St John Rivers and lives; Mary goes with her tormenter and dies as a missionary.

I have read enough to know that Trollope was ambivalent over missionary behavior: in Australia and New Zealand he saw them as “civilizing” the natives, and perhaps making them more prosperous, but he also saw them as destroying this traditional way of life and perhaps helping lead to the destruction of the peoples as a group (though he does approve of this explicitly in his Australia and New Zealand) and has hopelessly misunderstood by the natives. Trollope makes jokes of the natives’ misunderstandnig of the whites in way that remind me of that crude parody novel, The Education of Hyman Kaplan.

In Sir Harry Valsopolos says that Trollope “undisguisedly attacks Sir Harry’s nation, class, and genetic allegiances.” This is so wrong I don’t know where to begin. Trollope grieves with this father as well-meaning and adheres to Englishness, upper class people, and rank allegiances. He does not want us to read the story as one where a daughter is sold off to support primogeniture. She really takes it that Lily Dale is a prig (Trollope was exasperated at his readership’s sentimentality when he wrote that) and so think Emily one too. It’s about a young girl who falls in love with an awful man; she would not have met him but for primogeniture, but she could have met him simply as her relative. Trollope buys into Freudian ideas about women’s sexual masochism (avant la lettre) and sees Emily as seduced by a rake (rather as Richardson sees Clarissa being seduced in part). The story is warning about women’s sexuality having to be controlled, especially when they are innocent. It’s true that Emily is utterly obedient to her father, but again this is not reprobated, rather her father’s having let her be courted by George in the first place. Emily’s vulnerable nature is the story’s tragic core *and her father’s love for her*. Henry James took the story and made the father hate the daughter, possibly out of an instinct that such an ending would really necessitate hatred. James did say Trollope could be very stupid at times.

Valsopolos compares Emily to Lily Dale and Rachel Ray in order to argue that Emily’s strong virtue (here refusal of sexual transgression) destroys her the way it isolates Lily; the sensible person is Rachel Ray. There is no sense here of the particular details of Lily’s story; Johnny Eames is never mentioned, nor his sexual behavior; Lily’s inner life is just ignored as unimportant.
Trollope did respect women’s inner lives — one reason women readers today like him.

She ends on the idea that Trollope later on progressed past these Victorian heroines to give us the admirable Marie Melmotte who survives such cads — and we are expected to remember married for money and to travel and went to the US with an unscrupulous scamp and admire her for this. Does Trollope? Trollope regarded Marie Melmotte with strong irony and saw her decision as desperate, a sign her family had failed her. What would her future be? Something like Mrs Hurtle — who Vlasopolous is also very fond of.

Much of this essay seems to me an unconscious parody of deconstruction and the new historicism and feminism pervasive in the volume. It has the outward semblances at each step but draws ludicrously overwrought (wrong) conclusions as such would have been a fitting conclusion of the volume.

I wonder why she was invited to come and this paper included. I assume she is close friends with one or more of the editors (see Erotics of Instruction for further justifications).


Stuart Wilson as Lopez nagging his wife, Sheila Ruskin as his wife, Emily, now pregnant to wrest money from her father, money due him (1974 Pallisers, 11:23)

Conclusion: Regenia Gagnier’s “Gender, Liberalism and Resentment.”

What interested me here in this sum-up of all that was learned and said at the conference is the addition of the term, “resentment.” At no point in any of the essays was this feeling brought up as central to readings, yet I know that conservatives when they attack those who want to change society so as to make all more equal, often accuse reformers of being actuated by envy and resentment, with the implication if the reformers were the rich ones, they’d not want any change. Their motive is therefore not altruistic idealism, nothing noble about it: it’s a sordid spit, and the implication is the so-called socially-minded person would do the same as the reactionary if he or she had the change.

And I know that resentment is certainly part of what an unprivileged disconnected person certainly does feel — and passionately (says she smiling).

Until the close, this is a candid, honest perceptive essay.

She began with acknowledging how for the common reader Trollope is an arch-conservative peddling nostalgia while scholars go about to find subtle evidence for his “liberalism and gender flexibility.” She then disagrees with the ex-Prime Minister (that might have made her feel good) and says Trollope is not the best and greatest, but in a sort of second place because “his characters do not have the individual richness characteristic of the great authors of realism.” (So she repeats arguments Skilton suggested were wrong-headed.) Trollope’s are texts about people as social animals so we see them “under pressure” and she then quotes Richard Holt Hutton. Trollope also only depicts “the unleisured, modern managerial class” so it’s only one level of human beings we see. The turn to Trollope during the two 20th century wars is put down to his adherence to ordinariness, again nostalgia or that people were drawn to his (in effect) anthropological depiction of an admired governing class. The average English person wanted to identify with this supposed secure class in a supposed secure past.

It’s then she brings up what is meant by liberalism in this volume: they are apparently assuming Trilling’s distinctions between sincerity and authenticity with authenticity being a key to finding a particular character in rebellion against the social norms. I had assumed the word was connected to John Mill and his radical agenda for liberty for the individual and those who voted with him on various issues; these are liberals but only in a narrower sense. In the sense Trilling uses these terms a person who is politically conservative (Tory Republican) can be liberal in his or her imagination. She adduces the conservative scholar Amanda Anderson’s essay (see below) on liberalism in Trollope and another by Armanick (put online) where he argues Trollope is not anti-semitic and is cosmopolitan. She brings up Armanick because he’s one of the contributors and because he brings up Trollope’s anti-semitism to say it’s there as a means of expressing convictions (in other words he uses anti-semitism as a trait that makes it easy for him to categorize a character as evil; it’s a convenient knee-jerk reaction he counts on from his readers).

She then returns to liberalism and Anderson. She refers to Trollope’s radical New Zealander (it is, very Carlylyean in its analysis) where Trollope shows “the fundamental dishonesty of social life.” That’s true he does — from a sincerity or 19th century standpoint or authenticity standpoint.

Perhaps I should stop to define sincerity and authenticity as liberalism (or Trilling) understands this. Sincerity refers to telling the truth about your feelings or ideas to someone else; you are not literally dishonest; you do not present a false face or stance about yourself. (Trollope saw much of this dishonesty in society and he dislikes it; he calls it lying.) According to Richard Handler, Trilling says this kind of honesty is no longer valued because individual social relationships are not truly valued as central to people’s lives; what people care about is their selfhood. (I am not sure this is true now more than 50 years after Trilling wrote; in sophisticed literary criticism people seem to doubt they have a selfhood that is coherent.)

Authenticity is adhering to what our selfhood is, apart from others, with the implication we will depart from the values and norms of the general society. Whether you tell the truth about this or not is another matter. We are now anxious about our identity or individual existence’s meaning. In Anderson’s essay she shows that Trollope’s characters fight off values and norms of others so they want to be authentic and (for Anderson) that’s their modernity.

Having instanced Anderson’s essay on Trollope’s liberalism, Gagnier goes on to say that while a drive for sincerity is found in Trollope (Gagnier pays no attention to the argument for a drive for authenticity). Trollope also is a worldly realist and that most of his characters are not ardently for “communicative interaction” which seems to mean socializing honestly.

She then retells the story of Ferdinand Lopez who is rejected without argument by the Whartons as utterly beneath them but also more tactfully (until pressed) by the liberal prime minister of the book. Both conservative Tories and liberal whigs in the book do not help Lopez at all; he has to be dishonest about his business and has no way of getting money or position unless they give him this. What happens is instead of behaving as if he didn’t care (being urbane let’s say) and mannerly, he gets angry; he acts resentfully, he demands money because he hasn’t got any. He needs money to keep up the pretense. It’s expected he’ll dress up; it’s expected his wife and he live in a fancy apartment. It’s expected they go out and look right. Keep a carriage. (In our time this kind of behavior leads to credit card debt.) When he does get into debt and grows more desperate, lies more and gets angry, and complains (whiner!), he has broken the class code and is utterly rejected, held in contempt. So the emotional reaction to his exclusion is used to reinforce the justification for excluding him — with hardly any admission anyone is at all obligated to help Lopez or was at fault for not helping him.

There is a little guilt. Wharton pays Mrs Parker 2 pounds a week for the rest of her life (her husband was Lopez’s one source of cash). The Duchess concedes to having “a sort of feeling, you know. that among us we made the train run over him.”

These anti-whining values are a ruse to keep outsiders down. If you are downcast, you are at fault, you suffer because aesthetically you are distasteful. It’s your fault you are no good and don’t belong; your resentment shows this.

Damned whatever you do you see. If you go off in silence to your wretched fate, then you are despised as the lower person but don’t hear about it. To talk of dignity is absurd, because creditors or employers will not adhere to this dignity business.

The face of liberalism in Trollope is ripped through by the story of Lopez. Lopez’s story shows them all up for what they are. In a way this essay too then attacks liberal-leftism, this time as phony or limited.

Women are to take whatever treatment is handed out uncomplainingly too. Lopez was marked in the first place; it didn’t matter he was a jew; he was an outsider; now he got his hands on Emily and expected to get money with her and didn’t. He was supposed to be silent. The only good relationships between partners in Trollope is where husbands and wives are equal and women freed from economic constraint. We see resentful wives (Lady glen and Emily); whether vulgar or gentleman the men dominate their wives.

But then she suddenly collapses — does not bring all her excellent if anti-leftist points together by simply saying that she loves Trollope because he gives his women “mental lives analogous to those of the men.” Right.

She does not comment on how we are to understand where Trollope stands in all this. Like Hensley and quite a number of them writing here, she punts. We are back to Trollope as a conduit who has mirrored social reality exquisitely well.


Donald Pleasaunce as Mr Harding plays his cello (Barchester Chronicles, 1984 mini-series by Alan Pater, adapted from The Warden and Barchester Towers)

An odd conference which seemed to be gathered together for Trollope and yet wasn’t: its problem as shown in the essays chosen seemed to be indifference to Trollope himself. Many people there were often Victorianists pushing their career. As opposed to 15 years ago when it was predominantly men, now it was heavily women and many feminists for an author who wanted to control women’s sexuality and keep them in a subject position to men and family.

While I was reading the essays in this volume I read many more for context and came across five I thought made a strong contrast to those in the volume by their interest in Trollope, concern for clarity and candour.

One by Christine Wiesenthal, “The Body Melancholy” in He Knew He Was Right: far from using contemporary theory of mental disorder which was basically an attempt to turn depression and deep disturbances into a science and thus eliminated real mysterious aspects of depression, Trollope turned back to archetypal older views, and we have a long sequence of physical deterioration and metaphysical probing. The greatness of the article is to show the deep empathy of Trollope for his hero and Trollope’s connections to this melancholy: for who is it but Mr Trollope who understand this.

Although Wisenthal didn’t say this I thought of how Trollope became sick it’s said near to death before he was given that job in the post office by this mother’s ability to nag such niches out of others.

Suzanne Dally on the Eustace Diamonds centers on Lucy and the Sawab but with what a difference from Goodlad. Clear English, the parallels seen, justice done to the whole plot-design of vulnerable and complicit women. This one does not try to find Trollope in the mix it’s true.

Two on the autobiography and Trollope’s biographies: by Richard Colby and Ira Bruce Nadel showing just what a cover-up the autobiography is. The fatuity of Markwick’s book (its real source as fan stuff) can be seen in her insistence Trollope never lost supreme popularity, never had a hard moment really. In fact in the 1870s Trollope had left his job, was let go from these two periodicals he had tried to masculinize and failed, and his books were flopping with the public. Colby shows how Trollope’s social behavior of thwarting examination of him is central to the autobiography plus the falsifying male-type triumph story; Nadel shows reading the four biographies Trollope wrote (Caesar, Cicero, Thackeray, Palmerston) yields a candid life-writing of Trollope about himself.

The autobiography shows how he made a public mask in in social life; the use of characters literally different from him in sex and circumstances is how he created one for his fiction. Not in his quasi-legitimate and illegitimate males (Ralph Newton, Lady Mason’s son, all three males in Castle Richmond, Thady too).

I’m glad also to see here and there in some of the articles referenced I’ve now read a refutation of the idea that ambition and materialism is Trollope’s default position, and how some of the books so famous (Letwin’s for example) read with some brains are Tory propaganda.

One by Andrew Wright on abridgements of Trollope (of The Warden) shows how such books are not just texts that are cut, but the very inner life and much of the hard information and any ironic narrators are cut out. How people learn to make a text imbecilic, mindless, how they intuitively know how to dumb-down ought to be worrying to anyone who would like to see some improvement in our social arrangements and political and economic lives.


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To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to
what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept
your soul alive. — R. L. Stevenson

Our house, 1984 (Jim’s mother, me, two daughters): it has not changed all that much

Our backyard: you see Izzy’s windows last summer

Dear Friends and Readers,

Over on facebook, someone told of a long day’s struggle to order, throw away, pack, and generally empty out his parents’ home (possible so as to sell it). What exhausting work emotionally and physically. Well his words reminded me of a moving diary entry in the LRB by August Kleinzhaler where he told of his experience of selling his childhood home. Rooting up your memories, and throwing them away.

How much our houses can mean to us. I will never comprehend the lack of feeling so many people display towards their environment, their house. They fix it in accordance with “market values!” Yes, when we did renovate the above, for we did, a little (new windows, installed new appliances in the kitchen, put in airconditioning, a new heater, painted), the man doing the kitchen wanted me to have certain kinds of woodwork along the kitchen cabinets because without that it won’t resell at a higher price. I’ve repeatedly come across people who make their houses into magazine-imitative places, with rooms set up for show (thus the need for a so-called family room). They are careful to make the show rooms impersonal: keep out signs of their real loves and occupations. Rooms are carefully distinguished as to purpose. We do all things in all rooms each of us likes; the rooms are partly distinguished by which of the three of us basically dwells there.

On his last visit to our house (1987 or so) my father remarked:

“It’s getting to look like Seaman Avenue” to which Jim replied, “These things take time, Willie.”

How important memories we have and how they are made concrete and perpetual for us by their local habitation. Do others not value their memories? To understand how a house can mean explicates why the gothic uses houses to signify terror, horror, deep perversion for in these spaces the memories are anguish, sorrow, corrosive. I actually don’t have such memories here, or they are minor, didn’t dominate even when we had a bad spirit here at times, and have now been contained and I can live in these spaces at peace.

How women are taught to hate themselves: it is so common for little girls to have dollhouses. Like dolls, this kind of toy is sometimes despised, and even by mothers of daughters. I’ve known women to take away a daughter’s doll at 11. To me this is scorning one’s gender. It is partly circumstance, partly the construction of women’s lives, but also temperamentally female, to value the intangible, the inward, memory, why women are good at ghost stories. I built three dollhouses with my two daughters; we still have one large Edwardian one in Izzy’s room, shoved in a corner, gathering dust now.

I put pictures on the walls which have symbolic value for me. Scotch-tape them up. Here is my library table seen at an angle:

I’ve changed those pictures again. Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood still has pride of place though.

Much as I long to move to NYC, to sell where we live now would be erasing a 30 yr existence, and probably we’d have to sell our house as a tear-down. No one but us would value it. The thought of what I’m told I would have to do to “prepare” it for a buyer, make it attractive to a typical one is what I can’t bear to do. I hesitate to picture what would replace it even so (for this would just be the veneer) given the soulless McMansions and magaziny-looking houses that have gone up or are wrapped around other houses in my neighborhood. (One good effect of the depression is this kind of obscenity has stopped for a time.)

“Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” (Carol Shields, Swann).

A corner of the room I mostly live in, where I work and read and write.

On wompo someone asked where we literally read and write messages from and where we read them in cyberspace: I sit in my “workroom” or study in my house; it’s filled with my desk, two library tables, my husband’s desk (he sits in the living room), favorite pictures on the walls, lamps, bookcases, a closet with clothes and some of my stuff for writing or teaching. All the rooms in our house but the bathrooms and halls have two outer walls with a large window in each. So too here and I look out on a pretty old fashioned suburban scene (neighborhood built in 1949-51). The bookcases are my Austen and Trollope collections. I change the pictures on my wall as I feel like it. Pictures of friends and cats are on another wall. Poscards. On my computer Canaletto, [In front of] Northumberland House, London, a fresh fair morning, mid-century, peaceful, orderly.

Close to hand, near to heart.


By Eavan Boland (from Object Lessons in Outside History, pages 20-21, Norton, 1990)

I wonder about you: whether the blue abrasions
of daylight, falling as dusk across your page,

make you reach for the lamp. I sometimes think
I see that gesture in the way you use language.

And whether you think, as I do, that wild flowers
dried and fired on the ironstone rim of

the saucer underneath your cup are a sign of
a savage, old calligraphy: you will not have it.

The chair you use, for instance, may be cane
soaked and curled in spirals, painted white

and eloquent, or iron mesh and the table
a horizon of its own on plain, deal trestles,

bearing up unmarked, steel-cut foolscap
a whole quire of it; when you leave I know

you look at them and you love their air of
unaggressive silence as you close the door.

The early summer, its covenant, its grace,
is everywhere: even shadows have leaves.

Somewhere you are writing or have written in
a room you came to as I come to this

room with honeyed corners, the interior sunless,
the windows shut but clear so I can see

the bay windbreak, the laburnum hang fire, feel
the ache of things ending in the jasmine darkening early

I read messages mostly as emails using the gmail board, as emails on Yahoo sites, and nowadays on blogs, and facebook; once in a long while I check archives of lists online. I let the messages come in separately for four lists (my three at Yahoo ’cause I’m listowner, and Austen-l & wom-po since those listservs wreak havoc on messages). And because of all this my life is rich with friends. What matters in life is soul activity.

Hitherto, I have made it a policy to write autobiographically only on Reveries under the Sign of Austen; today I yield to temptation and begin to make my life apart from reading, movies, the arts part of this blog too, and link the two together. So last week at Reveries I wrote of The Return to Queens College: Autumn Entry and for two other examples, Christmas, 2009 into 2010 and Halloween 2009.

Our pussycat, Clarissa, aged 4 months (she is now over 2 years) sitting on Richardson’s Clarissa in our library house


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Nell Blaine (1922-96), The Cookie Shop (1986) — a favorite woman artist for me

Dear friends and readers,

On C18-l, a listserv I’ve been on since 1994 Jim Chevalier asked the question, “What were our research interests?” for the ostensible reason that then we could all know what areas we shared and what was the expertise or real terrains of the community. The motive was more to get people to write and thus keep the community alive with writing presences.

At first few answered, and there was an immediate tendency not just to cite pubilshed articles or books, but refer to a recent academic site where academic-style papers are published. One growing (it was asserted) by leaps and bounds: it’s a form of self-advertisement, face-book academic version. But, rightly, Jim said that he was looking for something different from the sort of thing allowable to articulate in papers. People did begin to offer a description, short usually of research interests conventionally understood (what X is publishing or working on right now or has done). But happily finally the listowner, suggested this was a hard question to answer and told of his research areas and interests as his life’s work over years of living, teaching, being alive.

So I wrote in too, and thought I’d put my posting here as a blog since this blog is turning into an academic-style one where I write in a familiar letter manner about my serious scholarly interests (as it might be put in describing a resume).

I agree with Kevin Berland that this is — or was — a hard question to answer as posed. Areas of research interest for people who do it as central to their lives over a long period of time morph as our lives morph so it’s not just a question of new areas of interest coming out of projects but the way we go about it changing. For me too some of the areas I’ve gotten involved in have been the result of relationships and events (meeting people and joining groups) so I was commissioned to write a book on Anthony Trollope for the Trollope Society and having spent five years on it altogether found myself a Trollopian and have stayed with it — going to two conferences with papers, and recently (last month) publishing a review of a book that emerged from one of these conferences. I do love the man’s books and have grown to like him too, but it was an external event or meeting someone that diverted or expanded my interests. And now I’ve published on George Eliot too (and love her novels and letters and criticism about her, and biographies) and moved out further to Margaret Oliphant.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, one of my favorite Victorian painters, this is Leeds, autumn 1893, Golden Light – a copy hangs on one of the walls of my room

While the career trajectory often demands that one stay within a given period or interest, it’s not been that way for me. Early on I changed areas too: I began as an Early Modern specialist with an interest in poetry, dropped that to move to the 18th century and wrote my dissertation on Richardson’s Clarissa and Grandison. There I can formulate it a usual way: I was gripped by the book (Clarissa), still am (!), but also interested to answer the question, how the modern novel with its deep subjectivity developed out of the earlier romance forms. I wanted to know how this creative mood whereby when a reader reads a novel she will think she is literally “in” the book somehow, lose a sense of the world around her, and imagine herself in this world to the point you have to be proded to half-wake up to reality. I thought it was located in the reveries of epistolary narrative. I’m still fascinated by epistolary narratives, but have moved on to gothic, female gothic, French novels (as important to this process of creating the modern novel). I love French literature, and especially texts by women from the later 17th into our own time. Never tire of them :)

Again Nell Blaine, this time Cosmos, Night Interior, 1976

No small joy for me has been 18th century picturesque and rococo art:

Canaletto, Northumberland House, 1752 (the wallpaper for this main computer I write on and look at all the time),

landscape poetry, but it also helped that Robert Adams Day advised me a paper I wrote on Clarissa had a dissertation topic in it and said he would be my advisor. It was that offer that drew me to the 18th century as the problem of finding an advisor and a topic to write about that would be acceptable by some authority was solved.

But I didn’t give up my poetry and in the end instead of writing a scholarly researched book translated the complete oeuvres of two Italian Renaissance poets; Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, and kept up that one too — I wrote a review of a recent translation of part of Colonna’s oeuvre. I’m interested in women’s poetry and wrote a series of essays on “foremother poets” for a poetry festival online organized by a group of women poets, an offshoot of a listserv; we (a larger group) then published an anthology of poems by us (one a person in the book) called Letters to the World. Anna Barbauld belongs here for me as a central woman poet only now beginning to be adequately read.

Giovanni Volpato and Louis Ducrois, The Temple to the Sybil at Tivoli, 1750s (the wallpaper for my laptop on my library table)

And one develops new interests — one which is partly the result of teaching is film studies, film adaptations of novels. Students and lots of people “get their stories” from movies nowadays, and movies influence how books are read or make visible how they are read at a given time, and I’m now engaged in a book project, the Austen movies — as well as an article project on Trollope, the Palliser films. And now I’ve grown fascinated with the work of Andrew Davies. My respect for him increases daily — or nightly. The other night I watched a masterwork by him (and Tristram Powell, the director, son of Anthony who wrote Dance to the Music of Time), Falling, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Jane Howard (and I love and read all the time women’s memoirs and novels, an interest which began to be scholarly back with Clarissa).

I keep up with publications on the science of medicine (its history too) because I teach continually a course called Advanced Composition on the Natural Sciences and Technology. Often as much as a third of my class is made up of young and older adults who work in the worlds of medicine.

I see I forgot Austen. I first read her when I was 12 or 13 and have never stopped. She never fails me, and I keep my bookcase full of books by and about her, and essays and all sorts of things near my desk in my workroom. Close at hand, near to heart. In fact reading women’s memoirs and novels that come out of the Austen tradition or are like her books in their woman-centered point of view and interest in subjectivity and the private life impinged on by public are a need for me. I find comfort and strength in such books.

My favorite of all the heroines, Elinor Dashwood as enacted by Hattie Morahan in the 2008 S&S (by Davies and Pivcevic), in a moment where she sounds and has a facial and bodily expression like that of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

And also feminism. In the middle 1990s I had a conversion experience. I realized I had misunderstood the feminist movement, had (wrongly) seen it as a movement of elite women seeking to improve their career prospects and create power and prestige for themselves. This was the result of being here in cyberspace online and reading many woman’s postings and being on all sorts of lists. I realized feminism could and would help me, free me, enable me to understand what had happened to my in my life better and also read literature in a new way that made it meaningful for me, so that I could and did find myself in books in ways I could not see before — and for the first time. This has not changed what I read, but the way I read it and how I write about it. I could never have written the paper, “Rape in Clarissa” in the 1980s nor delivered it in public the way I did. Nowadays I discern four phases, here outlined, and these influence the way I see books and writing today too:

The first phase: officially visible started in 1848, in the US, by a conference in upper New York State, familiar to us in the suffragette movement where women asked for what in the western world is mostly at least in lipservice granted:

the vote, for career and education equality, for prohibition, critiquing the family structure strongly as such for hurting women physically and financially; this phase includes a demand for prohibition because when men, husbands and fathers are drunk, they don’t work and make money for the family, and they are frequently violent;

The second phase I’d sum up as the most radical and what makes feminism an object for attack, and is still hotly contested (this area includes discussions of say rape). Voices here are Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Simone de Beauvoir, Lilian Robinson, lots of famous names:

they moved to a demand for freedom for their bodies, they analyzed the role of sexuality and wanted to change the terms of sexuality and indeed the experience and said society was structured to give men power over women in each particular (the analogy would be with Marxists showing the economic basis of oppression), so a strong socialism model underlies this. It is this group of women who are called man-haters and prigs and accused of not liking sex. Well, they don’t like to be raped.

Third-phase sometimes seen as a reaction against feminism, and a qualification by women in order to deflect the backlash; here you paradoxically also find people like Linda Hirshman so insistent on getting power, be in corridors of power and angry too:

Motherhood is power once again (at least to some), if women find power in sexuality the way it’s done, that’s power (the argument against is this is no power the way it’s experienced, or only fleetingly); strong individualism (a US value), seek power for yourself and use it as you please; pro-families (best or to me most valued argued on the basis of how lower class and working women only get their self-esteem through their function in a family or as a mother); here you find women trying to reach out too beyond their class and race and ethncities.

And now post-feminism:

Refuge seeking, eclectic, sometimes seen as no feminism and a retreat, if so a sophisticated one. Examples found in Karen Joy Fowler’s Sister Noon, also Austen.

I say least about the last since the last has been least written about — as far as I know. I’d be grateful for any discussions of “post-feminism” others know of.

One more aspect of this morphing. Funny that I thought of Austen only at the end — so fundamental is she to me. I should also have brought out how we read and write differently about books and art over the years, so that not just areas of interest but how we go about them changes. Again there’s a conventional way of putting this: one takes up with say deconstruction or book history as this emerges in the scholarly world. But for me at least my engagement in such things does not come because they are there or fashionably spreading and bring up new ideas to use as perspectives. So if I nowadays bring in film studies perspectives, it’s not something external, or just that.

Emma Thompson, still my favorite actress, in a recent movie with Dustin Hoffman, Last Chance Harvey

So (I concluded on C18-l), I know lots about different things that are intertwined but also sometimes seem divagations … but are anything but. They are my life.


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Lovelace’s (Sean Bean) first attempt to rape Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) (1991 BBC Clarissa)

Dear friends and readers,

The Admiral and I will be gone for a few days, to Albuquerque, New Mexico (we’ll see Santa Fe!), where there is an 18th century conference at which I’ll give my paper-talk, “What right have you to detain me here?”: Rape in Clarissa.

A powerful picture by Edgar Degas:

Egar Degas (1834-1917), “Interior (The Rape)” (1868-69)

Here we see a typical common rape, most of the time still not registered or recorded. It often happens when a woman is in a relationship with a man, the kind of circumstances which can preclude a woman from going to court. The image is powerful because it is intimate, because of the posture of the man up again the wall, waiting, quietly predatory, reminding me of the depiction of Peter Quint in the recent 2009 Turn of the Screw film adaptation by Sandy Welch. The woman too turned away, vulnerable. That we know nothing of their story, who they are is part of the power and meaning.

The impressionists are too often liked as simply landscape artists. They were rebels; they broke with hierarchy, with painting to flatter patrons. Here’s a companion piece to “The Rape” by Manet, famous, the barmaid.


Journalizing, 3/26/2010: I’ve now put “‘What right have you to detain me here?': Rape in Clarissa up on my site.


My next posting will be on Boris Pasternak’s great and utterly contemporary novel, Dr Zhivago (see my blog on the two film adaptations thus far).

A toute a l’heure,

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Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), The Cup of Tea (1879)

Again Cassatt, again her sister, Lydia, this time At the Tapestry Loom (1881) (we went to a wonderful show and lecture on her art at the National Women’s Museum of Art in DC this year)

Dear Readers and friends,

Over on Reveries under the Sign of Austen, meant to be a more personal and musing blog, I’ve written a personal account of how I and my family have experienced Christmas over the last few years, one intended to have some general application too. Here where I intend to write more impersonally and provide essay-like columns, I thought I’d list the books I’ve read this year that meant a lot to me — each set under the listserv community where I was led to read the book or posted about it. So it’s a celebration of listserv community life as well as an indication of what the different online communities do.

On Trollope19thCStudies at Yahoo, there were four:

I had read Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey before, but a long while back and it didn’t mean that much to me somehow. It just struck as more like Austen in tone and outlook than the other Bronte novels I’d read thus far.

This time Agnes Grey just stirred me deeply: AG is far more feminist than
either of her sisters’ books: it’s about a young woman’s attempt to become independent and fulfilled through the only respectable job offered to someone of her class: that of governess. That she fails is the result of her nobility of soul. I loved the acrid angry tone and the candour of the descriptions of social life as seen and experienced by the marginalized governess. She marries at the end: a gentle, aimable man as kind and egalitarian at heart as she; as much a reading person. It’s a quiet joy which she reverts to as a refuge.

Then I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for the first time. It’s a masterpiece about so much: the alcoholism so emphasized in the early and recent criticism is but a symptom of what makes Arthur Huntingdon a horror: the point is (like Richardson’s Lovelace) he was educated to become a tyrannical amoral horror, all his worst characteristics developed and his better ones ridiculed or ignored. And so he would make his son another like himself. It’s a novel of female sexual awakening too — and renunciation. The use of journals in the form of letters makes it about the deep past and since these are read by the man Helene Graham grows to love while still married, Gilbert Markham, it becomes his novel too. He is similar to the kind of man who appears at the close of Agnes Grey, only his male ego and pragmaticism and poetry of soul developed much more. I loved the movie adaptation by Nokes and Barron, and then I listened to it read aloud alternatively by David Case (oh a new voice for him I’d not heard before, softly lifting Northern burr) and Donada Peters as Helen.

Tara Fitzgerald and Helen Graham and Toby Stephens as Gilbert Markham

I now think Anne Bronte’s two novels superior to Wuthering Heights and all Charlotte’s novels with the exception of Jane Eyre and Villette.

The third was George Meredith’s Beauchamp’s Career, one of the great political novels of 19th century England — philosophically, realistically, psychologically, autobiographically.

Finally, John Sutherland’s Life of Scott. I won’t read the novels in the somewhat naive way I did before. He put together the man who wrote the journals with the man in the novels.

On Eighteenth Century Worlds at Yahoo, largely due to the enthusiasm of my good friend, Clare, I reread Richardson’s Clarissa not once but twice — I am just finishing it once again. How can this possibly have been a revelation? A transformation. Well, it was. I feel for the first time I’ve begun to read it aright. It’s meant as a portrait of a rapist: Lovelace fits all the characteristics of rapists as gathered by sociologists and others: hatred, desire for revenge, huge egoism (cannot see outside himself), strong turn to violence. The very approval of Lovelace makes visible the substructure of approval for predatory male behavior as attractive that makes the common large percentage of rapes in our society possible — with impunity for the most part. For it is still hard to get a rape case to court where there is no aggravated assault with clear injuries to the woman, she is still on trial. An added-on letter for the 3rd edition shows Lovelace imagining himself with a gang of men raping and humiliating Anna, her mother and servant: Richardson makes the point even here a court case might go in favor of Lovelace.

Clary rushing out to meet the amiable Hickman: all unreserve and generosity — I imagine Davies could do justice to this character in a rewrite of the film

Along with the book I’ve read many film studies and studied a number of films adapted from novels heavily influenced by Richardson’s (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, La Religieuse, Valmont, La Vieille Maistresse) and films adapted from 18th century history to look at how sexuality is presented today, how history presented in these films. Modern films too: Lynn Ramsey’s Morvern Callar with Samantha Morton. Also feminist and sociological studies of rape and sexuality, most recently Michelle Fine, “Sexuality, Schooling, and Adolescent Females: The Missing Discourse of Desire,” Harvard Educational Review, 58:1 (1988):29-53. One book by Nancy Paxton (on colonialist books and rape and female sexuality) led me to reading and gathering colonialist novels and listening to novels (e.g., all of Raj Quartet) where female sexuality and rape are among the many significant central topics.

Paradise Road, adapted from Betty Jeffreys’ diaries of captured women in Japan

It’s been fun and deeply educational and I’m not finished yet.

And I must not forget reading Katherine Jones’s A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle; a complete decent edition of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun’s invigorating intelligent travel memoir of her life as an artist; Francoise Changernagor’s L’Allee du Roi, a deeply felt memoir-novel of the life of Francoise Maintenon (with the meditative 12th chapter); and Caroline Moorehead’s life of Lucie Dillon de la Tour du Pin, Dancing to the Precipice.. L’Allee du Roi I had read years ago, but it was like new to me; Moorehead on Mrs Delatour (a joke name) added a rich new set of memoirs and letters for me to delve eventually. I fell in love with Southey reading Jones’s book! And the poet, Sara Coleridge. Had it not been for people on the list, I would not have discovered the English translation of Vigee-Lebrun’s book on the Net is abridged, bowlderized, a shallow wholly inadequate version of this 2 volume set of meditations, character sketches, ruminations on a career and woman’s professional life.

Vigee-LeBrun’s watercolor pastel of Mont Blanc (found by Judy)

These experiences were also due largely to two new members, Penny and Catherine whose blog Versailles and more is on my blog roll.

For Women Writer through the Ages at Yahoo, the year began with Iris Origo’s The Last Attachment: The Story of Byron and Teresa Guiccioli, which I found so enlightening and irresistible I went on to her immortal (I think) diary of her experience of World War 2 in Northern Italy, War in Val d’Orcia, and Caroline Moorehead’s biography of her, Images and Shadows. I learned about a whole new Byron I had not met before — and I’ve read a good deal of his poetry, letters and biography, the Byron of his last years in Italy, the revolutionary, the man who was good husband material after all. Teresa has not been done justice to until now.

This was the year we stopped having formal elections on WWTTA, and it’s hard to remember all the books therefor. This was the year I read Ingeborg Bachmann’s poetry and her novel, Marina, but much as I was moved, I think last year’s summer reading of Christina Wolf’s startlingly original and deeply humane meditation on war as well as travel, Cassandra meant more to me. (Both choices and finds, thanks to Fran, for my knowledge of German letters is woefully inadequate.) Having said that, there are few texts that come near this (a translation of) Bachmann:

Every Day

War is no longer declared,
only continued. The monstrous
has become everyday. The hero
stays away from battle. The weak
have gone to the front.
The uniform of the day is patience,
its medal the pitiful star of hope above the heart.

The medal is awarded
when nothing more happens,
when the artillery falls silent,
when the enemy has grown invisible
and the shadow of eternal armament
covers the sky.
It is awarded
for desertion of the flag,
for bravery in the face of friends,
for the betrayal of unworthy secrets
and the disregard
of every command.

For the rest over the course of the year books by women I posted on to the list comforted and strengthened me. The one that most leaps to mind was Margaret Drabble’s Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws. But also (and this personally) important to me were Suzy McKee Charnas’s My Father’s Ghost, and opening up another set of books, Nicola Beauman’s The Other Elizabeth Taylor

Our spring was spent watching women’s films (films by women and about them) and while no one stood out (and I disliked some of the plays) I learned a lot about the subgenre of women’s films: often have women in groups, emphasize women’s friendship, will usually have a lesbian (only recently presented sympathetically), and this fed into my love of Austen films. Yes I discovered Andrew Davies and was won over by him too. Indeed it’s been such a rich year watching films I can’t recall even the half of them but know how much solace and companionship and insight I’ve had — going nearly weekly with Izzy to the movies was part of this.

And I should not omit how much the weekly poetry day and putting pictures up by women frequently have told and uplifted me — for I loved the subgenres women have invented and fulfilled and what’s typical of their art, e.g., they are coloristic.

Nell Blaine (1922-96), Rooftops (1967)

An author who now means a lot to me I began to read this year on the train going to the Washington Area Print Group sessions on Fridays at the Library of Congress: Colm Toibin. I was gripped by his The South, about an Irish woman that flees Ireland for an unconventional existence in Spain, taught his Blackwater Lightship, and am now so moved by his Brooklyn (which I’m reading right now) I’m having trouble finishing it.

I finished it early this morning. It’s force is grimly powerful, and I’ve been trying to think why. I have read his The South (about a woman who escapes her family to go live in Spain and finds herself embedded eventually in another family group), Blackwater Lightship (about deep alienation within a family), and The Master, Henry James as a gay man, an outsider. After a while the books all do spin around the same concerns, and for me at least are gripping. I find I can’t put them down easily each time I start one up again. I get intensely emotionally involved.

For Booklyn I found I had to peek ahead to the last pages to make sure our heroine does what will eventually lead to some happiness for her, I was so anxious for her. I found I had to have enormous strength to get through so much did I worry for her because she seemed to be this good person, self-sacrificing and could be bullied into giving up what could make her life joyful. But then when I came to the end of the book I saw I had been mistaken. In fact she might have liked to stay in Ireland and not return to Brooklyn, that is, stay with her birth family group instead of the new one she had become a part of it. So right now I’m thinking the force of the book comes from this grim insight: what we think keeps people together is not their intangible feelings, but order itself, and their value for one another comes out of how chance has put someone near someone that fits his or her needs. And either you belong to the order or you don’t.

Now that’s the thing: sometimes you don’t and the reasons for this have little to do with your merit.

It casts a new curious light on life. Come to think of it, I really began to read him as a result of a reading and discussion of two fictional biographies of Henry James: most the 19thCentury Literature at Yahoo read David Lodges’s, which I thought poor and coarse; but Toibin is again stunning as James by virtue of his homosexuality is someone who is not wanted in the order unless he erases who he is, and so he spends his life in exile, unable to become part of any permanent order; the title, The Master, is ironic. Just about every essay I’ve come across by Toibin engages me (I read them in the NYRB and LRB). He loves to write as a woman in drag. Alas, that Sedgwick did not live to write about his books.

A. L. Coburn, Frontispiece for Henry James’s Ambassadors, vol 22 of the New York Edition of Novels and Tales (1922)

The above is a photograph touched up to suggest something of the nature of the novel’s perspective: displaced, quiet, alienated yet there and part of it, ambivalent to cultural prestige (a similar angle is seen in Andrew Davies’s He Knew He Was Right; Davies’s adaptation of Hollinghurst’s gay novel, The Line of Beauty, lays bare the truth in The Master, Brooklyn). Coburn did a number of these frontispieces which were something new and, as photographs, give us insight into period

I have tried to join in on Janeites, Austen-l, and French Literature at Yahoo, but haven’t had the energy. We had a beautiful Austen summer on Women Writers and are enjoying cross-postings on James Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir of Jane and James Austen, her brother’s poems from Austen-l. For French Literature at Yahoo I really wanted to read with them A Very Long Engagement by Sebastian Japrisot (because I loved the film adaptation, Un long dimanche de fiancailles), but I haven’t been able to make the time.

And finally from teaching: my students led me to reread carefully and appreciate Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake for the first time; I just fell in love with Mira Nair’s film of the same name (a still from this film is now my picture across wordpress) and Mississippi Marsala.

How about you, gentle readers? any book or movie or picture or music you want to list as having meant a great deal to you this year. A new favorite? What say you?


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Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845), Painter in Her Studio (1796): beautiful, luminous and witty, it’s a family portrait

Dear Friends,

Yet another conference report of the Eastern Region 18th century panels. There were four papers in the panel on Marriage and the Family (Friday, 2:45-4:15), but since I was not able to understand all four (one on Mary Davies’s Reformed Coquet was in too abstract language for me to follow the argument), I will report on three only; further as I find my notes are briefer on all of them, I will include a second panel where again I didn’t take long notes, Another Look at the Rise of the Novel (Saturday, 10:15-11:45). Both sessions were really all about what the speakers found in 18th century novels.

Lori Halvorsen Zerne went first on the panel about marriage and the family in the 18th century and she spoke on “That Amiable Family: The Redefinition of Female Duty in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall. Scott’s 1762 novel, the stories of 5 women, show that patriarchal society has been detrimental to women’s deepest interests, and yet does leave space for them to experience some personal fulfillment on the margins of the culture. Mary Raymond is the heroine’s name and she goes to live with wealthy people on and off. Lovely pictures of Isobel in apron. Earlier in the story (but still towards the end of the book), a reporter from a local newspaper expressed interest in the illustrations to Trollope’s novels as well as the novels themselves. Jim was ambivalent and didn’t get the job at the interview.

Each story shows abuses of marriage as an institution, pains and troubles you cannot avoid. A subtheme reminded me of Burney’s Evelina; Ms Halvorsen showed how Burney’s guardians in effect abandon their innocent female relative to unscrupulous people. The women in Millenium Hall use their excess income as if they were guardians and protectors of orphants, disabled children, poor spinsters. Revealingly they fullfill Fordyce’s descriptions of virtuous wives to a T. They promote diligence, cheerfulness, a sense of community and distribute money with their own hands. So the women do not overthrow or present a radical restructuring of patriarchal norms which they inherit.


Emily Shreve spoke about how Mary Robinson, Hays and Wollstonecraft (all three Marys) critiqued the institution of marriage: “Three (Mary)ges: Critiques of the Institution.” Mary Hay’s Victim of Prejudice tells a remarkably frank version of Jane Eyre; Hays embeds her story in a sociological analysis and protest against the povety and powerlessness of the disconnected.

Ms Shreve wanted us to see what a heavy price women and pressure to be sexually chaste women in the US pay for a precarious security. The Victim of Prejudice is a resisting novel: she felt one way the heroine resists ironically is her death is continually deferred.

Her title was playful: it calls attention to Hays’s marriage, and the ubiquity and dominance of rituals legitimatizing marriage. One of the ways women could try to resist was to refuse paying bridal shops all that much. But the women of Millenisum Hall end up partly supporting what they mean to attack, and not finding any purchase in the most of the chosen texts. Women who are older and not married, and younger ones who like to go clubbing are resisting but not overtly. Given such pragmatic and continual reinforcements, it becomes very hard to criticize this institutions that foster education as it is now. They express a belief in policing and marriage as meaning well by the woman, and in Hays’s novel we see she too assumes that marriage can support a woman for her lifetime securely.

Mary Robinson’s Natural Daughter. We have a virtuous heroine who refuses to allow her life be conducted in freedom, whose virtue is never in any doubt. Marriage itself is not attacked; the movie based on this text was a failure. Mary chooses to arrive safely, and shoos away most male comers. There is a Martha in this text: she is another heroine of this period; and we see how Martha has an identity secured up by the rest of the society, even with the closest and best of friends. Hays’s heroine has to get beyond seeing what whitey is doing.

Mary, by contrast, has no legitimate father; her mother has become a prostitute and her father a felon. She is the illegitimate child of mother who was sent to prison. Bourdieu offers the idea that certain transgressions are used by societies to define and show benefits to those who behave or are lucky with their parentage. And we see that Mary’s ills are fixed; she can’t get over the lack of status and outcast state of her mother.

Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Women is a yet more devastating critique of women. She shows marriage places women in a threatened vulnerable and powerless (against her husband) status. She closed with the assertion that what matters today is the self-discovery we see young woman can experience in and through such texts — even when they are abused, ridiculed, castigated.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97), A Gotto in the Gulf of Salernum (sometimes called a Sybil), 1780-81)

Jan Stahl (from the Graduate Center, NYC, where I went) spoke on “Psychosexual Drama in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.. MS Stahl explored how Ambrosio, Lewis’s hero, comes to commit incest and matricide, and suggested Mathilde should be seen primarily as a young woman in disguise. She found 3 phrases in Ambrosio’s relationships with women which correspond to Freud’s analysis of sexual lust. What she shows was a young male character lusting after women pathologically. What was interesting was the violence shown towards the women characters, especially the virtuous Elvira and Ambrosio’s sister, Antonia; how much and how gleeful it is. At times this male character masturbates, at times he approaches Matilde as a mother figure, but he is ever turning to frantic revulsion, as when he plunges a dagger into Antonia’s chest.

She found the pathology strikingly modern, and brought out the nightmarish feel of this fiction.

There was only a brief discussion afterwards as there had been four papers and although all had kept within the time, there was not much time left. One thing did bother me which I brought up: in the paper on Mary Hays’s Victim of Prejudice it was implied that Mary Raymond had done wrong to refuse to marry a farmer early on in the novel: her guardian had found this man of lower status willing to marry her. The passage was read aloud in a way that elided over Mary’s complete lack of knowledge of this man’s character. Together, with the argument that it’s so difficult to get outside the norms of a society, the implication became that the heroine should indeed have followed those norms. Then she would not have suffered what we see her suffer: threatened rape, seduction, abandonment by a young man she loves because his father convinces him she is not suitable by class, and then grinding poverty and debt. True, but I think Hays did not mean us to take this stance: she admires Mary Raymond for refusing to marry the rake who rapes her; she does not want us to buy into the mores of society even if they might offer compensation. In justification of this point of view, in my comment I offer a summary and analysis of this novel (see below).

Another look at the rise of the novel had papers centering on the figures Ian Watt chose to make the important shaping canon of the 18th century. The first paper was by Joanna Myers and was on Henry Fielding. She called it “Fielding and the Strangeness of Character.” She began with Fielding’s statement, “To be placed above the reach of deceit is to be placed beyond the realm of a human being.” She wanted to show that Fielding’s writing took a pragmatic turn in later life by tracing the cynicism of his characters. In his fiction throughout he continually sees the hypocrisy and deceit of people, how a completely artful man can impose himself on so many others. She quoted Fielding a lot, to great effect, on how we misinterpret what we see in faces and elsewhere so easily. Early on he produces detailed perceptive portraits; but in a later tract, a proposal (which she quoted extensively from) Fielding has turned to giving the reader clues on his characters’ faces to help the reader tell harmful from good people. He also lacks interest in individuals and is looking for rules to control the worst impulses of people.

Stanley Kubrich’s 1975 Barry Lyndon (Thackeray’s novel is influenced by Fielding)

Leah Orr and on “Defoe as an experimenter in Fiction.” In this paper she argued that Watt’s famous descriptions of Defoe’s accurate realism describes only one facet of this many-faced politican-writer. Defoe’s career spanned 4 decades and during this time we find spiritual autobiography, travel writing, histories where he tries to rewrite the past, stories of pirates; in his moral fictions we find him wanting to influence the reader’s soul, not encourage individual freedom. She too quoted effectively from Defoe’s lesser-known works. Her idea was that Defoe was not trying to write novels in any modern sense.

Etienne Aubrey (1745-81), Paternal Love

The third paper was on Richardson’s Clarissa, and, as other papers by younger people (say in their 20s), especially women have done in the recent past, this one made me uncomfortable. The title gives something of the speaker’s attitude away: “Collecting Clarissa: The culture of curiosity in Richardson’s Clarissa. Basically she argued that Clarissa is so singular and strange in her behavior that she can be likened to curiosities people liked to collect in the 18th century. Ms Schuetze gave a history of curiosity-collecting. Then she turned to the novel and said she saw Clarissa as “a visual spectacle” (how her eyes “flash beams”) and an object, an abnormal anomaly. She talked of Clarissa’s behavior over her charities, her giving away her property, and likened Clarissa’s behavior at times to the crazy story of the 17 1/2 rabbits born to someone in the era: she’s just impossible to classify (!). At one point she said, “Don’t you just love this book; it is so strange.” She had just described Clary’s coffin.

Clarissa fleeing Anna’s teasing (1991 BBC Clarissa)

I look upon Clarissa as a common ordinary girl behaving uncommonly under terrible distress; she is a role model to the average girl dealing with the terrors of threatened sexual and marital abused, someone being abused badly by her family. I admire her for her anti-materialism (hurray!), and desire to have nothing to do with the cunning and ruthless of the world; for her virtues and knowing what goodness and kindness are. If the reader does not recognize the shared reality of human feeling here, the book might come out as camp. I asked after the panel had finished, if others in the room were bothered in the way young women today couldn’t see themselves in this figure, and the return to an anti-feminist hostility and taking on of Lovelace’s point of view. It’s Lovelace who writes Clarissa as a sweet anomaly. I was really thinking is this the perversion of socialistic feminism into a respect for power, accompanied by a distaste for associating oneself with the victim which I see today in many woman writing as feminists.

One Richardson scholar in the room thought this way of favoring Lovelace and finding Clarissa to be inhumane somehow is an old common stance and we find it today in William Warner. This is removing the argument away from modern feminisms, but it true that I take a stance like that of Terry Eagleton, Terry Castle, Margaret Anne Doody. However, this time I was really coming at the novel from a stance like Anna Barbauld: she reads the novel as about a woman like herself speaking home to her about the horrors a lack of power can inflict on a woman and offering up someone who fought hard, kept her bodily and mental integrity, and if she went down in the struggle, shows a point of view on human relationships admirable, even followable, not strange or laughable or simply unbelievable.

More generally, my ferreting out the content just about the woman at the center shows something about assumptions today that is disturbing: I’ve students who inveigh against sympathy as if this is a poor ground to take to liking someone and helping them. Victims are made into losers or people who didn’t grab the main chance. The talk afterwards also included a young male graduate student in the audience who suggested Defoe’s moralisms are all hypocrisy; he doesn’t mean them. The implication is that no one could intend morality. This is very much of our era (alas).

An older scholar countered that one and adduced numbers of Defoe’s lesser known texts which did sell, but which are undeniably meant as ethical in the pragmatic and religious sense. I cited Defoe’s Religious Courtship.

Someone in the audience then challenged Ms Orr by saying most scholars today have gone well beyond Watt’s way of reducing Defoe for Watt’s book; it didn’t invalidate her thesis, but rather insisted on a wider perspective since Watt. He said Defoe was propelled by external events and saw others as this way.

On Fielding we talked of his use of the face and how it connected to treatises on acting at the time about the actor’s face as his instrument. Also of his style and social conscience.

It was a good session. But what didn’t get discussed was Watt’s book. I argued on C18-l a few years ago that the book has been so influential and liked because it has a neat pattern and its conclusions exportable to other canonized novels, mostly by male. Tonight I’ll add that he takes novels he in the mid-20th century saw as important; at the time, these novels would not have stuck out at all. Watt need supplement: Kellogg and Steele, The Nature of Narrative, and all the many feminist critics who bring aboard our Noah’s arc so many novels by women. Really Anna Barbauld’s outlook on the rise of the novel (beginning with the Greek romances and again the 17th century with Le Princesse de Cleves) is more accurate.

Francois Boucher (1703-70), Le Petit Dejeuner (Breakfast): what novels did these women read?

My next blog on the conference will be on Jon Sensbach’s keynote speech, a moving eloquent one on women slaves and religion with one focus on what happened to women, how they were made to be cut off from women’s expectations about keeping their children and how they were deeply abjected: he concentrated on “the middle passage” of slavery; the horrors of the ships.


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“We have calmly voted slaughter and merchandized destruction . . . things should be called by their proper names . . . : When we pay our army and our navy estimates, let us set down — so much for killing, so much for maiming, so much for making widows and orphans, so much for bringing famine upon a district, so much for corrupting citizens and subjects into spies and traitors, so much for ruining industrious tradesmen and making bankrupts (of that species of distress at least, we can form some idea) . . .” — Anna Barbauld (see her Evenings at Home)

Rosalba Carriera (Venetian painter), a young girl (mid-18th century)

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I finished the eighth revision of my review of William McCarthy’s splendid — moving and original — biography of Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825), subtitled “voice of the Enlightenment.” I sent it off to the editor of the Intelligencer who hopes to get it into the coming issue. When it is published, I’ll put it online in my Reviewer’s Corner.

(Update: it is now published! See a review of William McCarthy’s Anna Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment).

I had originally also intended just to put my summaries of the chapters as I went along into a coherent blog, but now as I look at them, they seem inadequate to express the power (and a couple of flaws) in this book, to say nothing of not getting across the depth and generosity of this woman’s character, her strong intelligence and enormous learning, and the courage and compassion with which she lived her life. Even in the inadequate drawing from the side, you can see the sensitivity of her face, the anxious sweetness and calm of her eyes.

As she was not an “in” person and had little money for portraits, like Austen’s, her portrait leaves something to be desired

So instead I rewrote some of what I had wrote about McCarthy’s book as a short life. I preface it with two poems and put two commentaries on her literary criticism and biographies into two comments on the blog.

Of this first (late) poem by Barbauld, my friend, Nick, wrote:

I really like this poem. I think a lot of its strength comes from the contrast provided by the final stanza with the prisoner and the poverty-stricken inhabitant of the ‘dreary fen’ (which made me think of Crabbe yet again – I’m becoming obsessive! – although they are not always dreary in his verse).

But the opening celebratory stanzas are a joy too. A real fire is lovely – we don’t have one and there is no question that radiators in no way provide any substitute – except for heat I suppose – and what’s more the boiler is always breaking down and in need of repair which one can’t carry out oneself. The poem made me wish we did have a fire – even though it doesn’t deal with the business of getting hold of the coal/wood, clearing it out very day etc..:)!

The First Fire, October 1st, 1815

Ha, old acquaintance! many a month has past
Since last I viewed thy ruddy face; and I,
Shame on me! had mean time well nigh forgot
That such a friend existed. Welcome now!
­When summer suns ride high, and tepid airs
Dissolve in pleasing languor; then indeed
We think thee needless, and in wanton pride
Mock at thy grim attire and sooty jaws,
And breath sulphureous, generating spleen,­
As Frenchmen say; Frenchmen, who never knew
The sober comforts of a good coal fire.
— Let me imbibe thy warmth, and spread myself
Before thy shrine adoring: — magnet thou
Of strong attraction, daily gathering in
Friends, brethren, kinsmen, variously dispersed,
All the dear charities of social life,
To thy close circle. Here a man might stand,
And say, This is my world! Who would not bleed
Rather than see thy violated hearth
Prest by a hostile foot? The winds sing shrill;
Heap on the fuel! Not the costly board,
Nor sparkling glass, nor wit, nor music, cheer
Without thy aid. If thrifty thou dispense
Thy gladdening influence, in the chill saloon
The silent shrug declares the’ unpleased guest.
–How grateful to belated traveller
Homeward returning, to behold the blaze
From cottage window, rendering visible
The cheerful scene within! There sits the sire,
Whose wicker chair, in sunniest nook enshrined,
His age’s privilege, — a privilege for which
Age gladly yields up all precedence else
In gay and bustling scenes, — supports his limbs.
Cherished by thee, he feels the grateful warmth
Creep through his feeble frame and thaw the ice
Of fourscore years, and thoughts of youth arise.
–Nor less the young ones press within, to see
Thy face delighted, and with husk of nuts,
Or crackling holly, or the gummy pine,
Feed thy immortal hunger: cheaply pleased
They gaze delighted, while the leaping flames
Dart like an adder’s tongue upon their prey;
Or touch with lighted reed thy wreaths of smoke;
Or listen, while the matron sage remarks
Thy bright blue scorching flame and aspect clear,
Denoting frosty skies. Thus pass the hours,
While Winter spends without his idle rage.
— Companion of the solitary man,
From gayer scenes withheld! With thee he sits,
Converses, moralizes; musing asks
How many eras of uncounted time
Have rolled away since thy black unctuous food
Was green with vegetative life, and what
This planet then: or marks, in sprightlier mood,
Thy flickering smiles play round the’ illumined room,
And fancies gay discourse, life, motion, mirth,
And half forgets he is a lonely creature.
— Nor less the bashful poet loves to sit
Snug, at the midnight hour, with only thee
Of his lone musings conscious. Oft he writes,
And blots, and writes again; and oft, by fits,
Gazes intent with eyes of vacancy
On thy bright face; and still at intervals,
Dreading the critic’s scorn, to thee commits,
Sole confidant and safe, his fancies crude.
— 0 wretched he, with bolts and massy bars
In narrow cell immured, whose green damp walls,
That weep unwholesome dews, have never felt
Thy purifying influence! Sad he sits
Day after day, till in his yourhful limbs
Life stagnates, and the hue of hope is fled
From his wan cheek. –And scarce less wretched he
­When wintry winds blow loud and frosts bite keen,
­The dweller of the clay-built tenement,
Poverty-struck, who, heartless, strives to raise
From sullen turf, or stick plucked from the hedge,
The short-lived blaze; while chill around him spreads
The dreary fen, and Ague, sallow-faced,
Stares through the broken pane; –Assist him, ye
On whose warm roofs the sun of plenty shines,
And feel a glow beyond material fire!

By this year Barbauld was a widow living alone on a small income; her husband had been a manic depressive, and killed himself in 1808; she had been much attacked in 1811 for her radical pro-French revolution (she remained true to its principles) and anti-war stances and didn’t publish after that; the mainstay of her existence was her beloved brother, John Aiken (whose business as a surgeon had gone to pot because of his liberal opinions and writing) who lived close by.

The second is Robert Burns-like. She feels for a tiny insect, because (like Alice from Wonderland and her dinner) she has really entered into its life and physical presence, identified, and now cannot bear to kill it though if left there to multiply it would ruin her garden.

The Caterpillar

No, helpless thing, I cannot harm thee now;
Depart in peace, thy little life is safe,
For I have scanned thy form with curious eye,
Noted the silver line that streaks thy back,
The azure and the orange that divide
Thy velvet sides; thee, houseless wanderer,
My garment has enfolded, and my arm
Felt the light pressure of thy hairy feet;
Thou hast curled round my finger; from its tip,
Precipitous descent! with stretched out neck,
Bending thy head in airy vacancy,
This way and that, inquiring, thou hast seemed
To ask protection; now, I cannot kill thee.
Yet I have sworn perdition to thy race,
And recent from the slaughter am I come
Of tribes and embryo nations: I have sought
With sharpened eye and persecuting zeal,
Where, folded in their silken webs they lay
Thriving and happy; swept them from the tree
And crushed whole families beneath my foot;
Or, sudden, poured on their devoted heads
The vials of destruction. – This I’ve done,
Nor felt the touch of pity: but when thou,
A single wretch, escaped the general doom,
Making me feel and clearly recognise
Thine individual existence, life,
And fellowship of sense with all that breathes,
Present’st thyself before me, I relent,
And cannot hurt thy weakness.– So the storm
Of horrid war, o’erwhelming cities, fields,
And peaceful villages, rolls dreadful on:
The victor shouts triumphant; he enjoys
The roar of cannon and the clang of arms,
And urges, by no soft relentings stopped,
The work of death and carnage. Yet should one,
A single sufferer from the field escaped,
Panting and pale, and bleeding at his feet,
Lift his imploring eyes,-the hero weeps;
He is grown human, and capricious Pity,
Which would not stir for thousands, melts for one
With sympathy spontaneous:-Tis not Virtue,
Yet ’tis the weakness of a virtuous mind.


To begin her life as told by McCarthy : Those interested in Austen could learn a lot from reading the opening section about her girlhood and reading because although Barbauld is from a dissenting background, she is otherwise close to Austen: her father originally a clergyman (not establishment and gave it up) became someone who ran a school out of his large house. The children were given the run of his library. Barbauld’s reading and tastes sound just like Austen’s, especially some of the adverse comments she makes on the earlier literature of the century.

Austen’s music books

I was also delighted to discover that the longer comments on books MacCarthy quotes includes comments on Burney and especially Richardson’s Clarissa — which meant a lot to her. About Burney’s books and Cecilia Barbauld thought that many gentlewomen growing up in England at the time would not be able to learn about society or its inner workings anywhere so well as by reading Burney’s Cecilia. I think she would have said that one-hundred fold could she have read Burney’s journals. She died before they were published.

Clarissa for her embodied a woman’s “heroism” and shows a struggle for real authentic integrity. Barbauld quoted Clarissa’s great lines after she has been raped and refuses to yield to Lovelace again or the women in any way as she did at Harlowe place before her family and says “Compulsion shall do nothing wit me. though a slave, a prisoner in circumstance, I am no slave in my will! — Nothing wil I promise thee.” I’ve always loved that passage particularly; it makes me think of Malcolm X who refused a slave morality. “The real moral of the story,” says Barbauld, is that Clarissa holds out against all wrong, “in circumstances the most painful and degrading, in a prison, in a brothel, in grief, in distraction, in despair . . .”

When she was 15 she went with her parents to live in Lancashire as her father had gotten a job as a schoolmaster at a fine dissenting academy, Warrington. There she became close with Joseph Priestley’s wife, Mary. Mary was a highly intelligent, well-read, educated woman. When Priestley changed jobs, and Mary moved away, the loss of this woman’s company to Anna was even more than the loss of say the older Mrs Lefroy to Jane Austen (when Mrs Lefroy died suddenly from a fall from a horse), and perhaps Burney to Thrale or vice versa, as the young girl (like Anna Seward) lived in the provinces, and (unlike Austen) had no bad feelings about the older woman to cope with (Mrs Lefroy separated Jane from Tom). I’ve come across these sorts of women’s friendships in the 18th century repeatedly: they cross age cohorts because stranded people can’t be chosers. No trains, no phone, no internet, no going to public schools or jobs which are desirable, and for this genteel milieu where money is somewhat scarce, the family kept the girl away from outsiders lest she fall in love with the “wrong” sort or lose her reputation for chastity. Mary Priestley helped Anna pick books, went with her to the circulating library and encouraged her.

Here is the opening of her poem to Mary when Mary moved away:

On Mrs Priestley’s Leaving Warrington

How oft the well-worn path to her abode
At early dawn with eager steps I’ve trod,
And with unwilling feet retired at eve,
Loath its approach unheeded to believe.
Oft have I there the social circle joined
Whose brightening influence raised my pensive mind,
For none within that circle’s magic bound,
But sprightly spirits moved their chearful round;
No cold reserve, suspicion, sullen care,
Or dark unfriendly passions enter there,
But pleasing fires of lively fancy play . . .

Like so many women in the era even though she was 31 by the time she married, Barbauld leaves little record of herself. She had no public role or function. She didn’t transgress, she was not impoverished or beaten (though her later life with her husband was hard as he was a manic depressive), so it’s a kind of filling in, blowing up small details since he has so little to go on. He goes on about her reading and it’s like reading a Prose Prelude, but she herself would not write down her troubles sexually as a girl growing up, why she retreated to the marriage, why for example she was actually terrified and made anxious when it was said she should start a female academy, and also how she backed off from having to (what she thought the aim of such education) control a pubescent girls’ sexuality, direct and shape it. Abrasive women (young and old) were what she had learned to avoid.

By the ninth chapter of the book, a sensitive, intelligent, hard-working woman emerges. She is another teacher. She is making her living teaching. She married Rochemont Barbauld, a man who was not capable of making his way in the world socially and so through connections she with him beside her opened a school and ran it. Palgrave Academy was a big success and became a respected place. She ran it according to different ideas than say Eton. No cruelty as the basis of relationship; no fagging, no whipping. Her curriculum stressed modern languages and subjects like geography as well as history. She had the boys put on a play at the end of the year and recite poetry. She also really was a mother to them. She kept the accounts, ran the school. Mr Barbauld did teach there too and worked with her, but she was clearly the center of the place and made its policy, its life.

Part of her legacy was decent books for young children for the first time. McCarthy prints these dreadful primers to read, made up of the stupidest kinds of brief precepts. Instead she’ll have a story of a cat which is realistic (I’ve cats on my brain and am noticing them everywhere).

Chapter 9 from her time as the headmistress of a school is called “Mother Tongue” and it’s a long analysis of a book by Barbauld which became a wide seller, stayed in print for over a century, and influenced countless children: her Lessons for Children, volumes for years 2-3, 3-4, 5-6. It’s the first volume ever to situate what is to be learned in little dramatic scenes understandable to a child, to write sentences with thoughts the child can understand out of his or her own life (she understands words function as speech acts and how utterances are nested in social situations), and beyond that its style is deeply appealing, sort of pastoral, with remarkably humane but not pointed lessons and realism about childhood along the way. One can find echoes of it in the poetry of T.S.Eliot, Blake and others. Deeper associations of its tone and mood and ambience connect it to Virginia Woolf.

She did use Genlis’s methods in inventing small plays. She probably read Locke, Rousseau, and so on, but for practical suggestions, one finds her turning to other women’s publications where the women were governesses.

Chapter 10 gets her to London with her husband in the summers of these ten years, “How they lived.” She socializes with bluestockings. She was welcomed by Elizabeth Montagu and her circle (Elizabeth Carter, Sarah Fielding), Hannah More, Hester Chapone.

Elizabeth Montagu by Allan Ramsay

But she was not one of them, a dissenter, a working woman (more than full time job running a school, teaching, mothering), shy of other women particularly, and in company could be rigid or backward. Unkind comments about her may be found in Burney’s diary. She did get on well with Hannah More who visited her. We don’t know much about her relationships with these women it must be admitted for 19th century relatives regularly destroyed their dead female relatives’ correspondence (kill them after they are dead if you couldn’t repress them when alive), and Barbauld’s papers not having gotten into the British museum were a huge portion of them destroyed in a building set on fire during the Blitz.

To understand her here and what she and Rochemont did next (gave up their school), we should remember her essay under the influence of Elizabeth Carter’s translation of Epictetus. She writes about hope and ambition in the Johnsonian strain — Johnson writes we should not desire what is out of our power to have because it endangers our virtue, tranquillity, and sanity. (He doesn’t use the word sanity but another that means that.) One of her most famous essays is about how we must only hope for what we can have. Hope aroused and then frustrated or thwarted is a painful thing. Her emphasis not quite Johnson’s; instead she is telling the reader accept yourself. If you’ve spent your life studying, you are not going to have a big position or lots of money. She inveighs against the self-berating people indulge in and envy of others too. It is a different emphasis, more pragmatic.

Lots of people survive by lying to themselves: they hope on for impossible things and whenever something in their life changes, you hear them produce another rationale telling you how good this is, a rationale entirely different from another they had been saying for years. Or they delude themselves they have a higher position than they do, are more respected, loved &c Maybe I tend to err in the other direction. She is a bit too simplistic. She writes as if we had the choice to be this or that freely, when our natures are inherited and our circumstances and people keep up fronts.

Chapter 11 is called “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Anna and Rochemont give up giving over their lives to a boys’ school, and take what they’ve got and go travelling around Europe. They have some 500 pounds and spend a year travelling about France and into the edges of Italy and Germany. He has connections with powerful wealthy Catholic establishment types in the provinces, she with Protestant Huguenots, and they bring introductory letters which let them into better and interesting society. Among those visited is Thomas Jefferson.

The startling matter is that she seems nearly to have had an affair with Alexandre-Cesar-Annibal Fremin, baron de Stonne (to give him all his names). One would not expect this from the way she’s usually (completely inadequately I see) discussed. He flirted with her to the point that it’s evident if she had consented they would have had a liaison. She destroyed all his letters, but he saved his own and some of hers and that’s why we know about this. We see in Stonne the culture of the ancien regime where affairs were tolerated as long as everyone was discreet. Barbauld comes from a more puritanical environment: what happened was she in effect used her husband as a barrier by having him around a lot. Stonne acceded to this and became friends with both. What’s left are these exquisitely courteous and friendly letters and poems which show the three enjoyed one another’s company while they went to high culture things (visit Versailles, go to plays, see pictures in museums, go to dinner party and so on)

Her marriage was a strained one we can see from all sorts of angles: Rochemont’s depressions, inadequacy in comparison with her in dealing with social life and the need to make a living; her not having children and then growing old and tired and (as she records in Love and Time) perhaps not attractive any more to him. There is evidence of close sympathy and understanding between them and at the same time much strain and McCarthy presents this with subtlety and compassion.

Just as moving if less unexpected is that after she closed the school, she and Rochemont had a hard time making ends meet. It seems they did have a very small annuity or income (inherited and it’s not explained as probably McCarthy might not know), but not enough to live on. Her deep and loving relationship with her brother, John Aiken carries on. He had moved near to her school, Palgrave, in Norfolk to be close to her and to try to start a practice as a doctor. It seems the idea was he would provide for all, his wife and children and help his sister. It didn’t happen. Medical practices are hard to start and make work (see Middlemarch, Deerbrook, Wives and Daughters for some fictional versions) and Aiken apparently expected some position to be given him also and it wasn’t. The brother and sister correspond and it’s clear this is the real love relationship that sustained Anna’s life. Their letters and poems to one another are very moving.

Chapter 12 is titled “Revolutions.” Rochemont and Anna come back to London and attempt to build a freer life where she can write and both have friends.

Duncan Grant, an early 20th century depiction of a coffee pot

She was at this time driven to begin to take individual pupils quietly — all young women it seems and it was done by mail too as some letters are extant. After some fumblings, and failures (he tried to become a librarian!), he gets a pulpit in a congregation in Hampstead. McCarthy follows them by researching where they lived and it’s apparent they are not doing well. They go from a much more expensive house to a small cheaper one where they live for 15 years. The house is still standing.

At this time too she begins to involve herself in politics. We are in the 1790s a time of great ferment: represssion and riots and rebellion and radical thought in England, the revolution and then counterrevolution and terror in France. Barbauld was deeply engaged by political events and began to write about them. She was very much an anti-establishment voice, a radical one and (alas) her letters for the most important years of this time 1790-93 are gone, probably destroyed by the niece who wrote the memoir.

I kept noticing parallels between Barbauld’s and Austen’s thought: for example, Barbauld is much touched by a poem by a woman which “imagines the effects on a young woman of feeling her first emotions of love, then of having to conceal her love, and then of finding her love betrayed” (McCarthy, p 265) This is exactly the pattern I find repeated in Austen’s novels.

Chapters 12, 13, and into 14 (“Revolutions, Sins of the Nation,” and “Political Duties”), establish Barbauld as a radical voice. We don’t know that much about this as 1) just about all her prose pieces were published anonymously, at first because she was a woman, and then later on because it was dangerous to publish such things; 2) all her verse is couched in an idiom no longer popular or easily readable; and 3) she answers what happens in a more narrow sense most of the time, making her argument apply to some specific instance of injustice, reactionary tyranny, often involving it with her allegiance as a dissenter, and not putting it into popular rhetoric in the way of Paine or Wollstonecraft. Burke’s book became so well known because he was Burke, it was well circulated and distributed (Wm St Clair shows this) and told melodramatic stories. Hers are arguments and meditations in Johnson’s way. Nonetheless, in her day they were read, among those in the know known to be by her, and they made her enemies who took their revenge and berated and derided her in later years (e.g. Coleridge, an arch conservative, as much for being a woman as anything else).

Her first important pamphlet was written out of when the repeal of the test and corporation acts was defeated. McCarthy makes a case for seeing it as a work similar in reach to Woolf’s Three Guineas. Here it seemed to me curious that he didn’t emphasize what at least seemed to me it’s most radical idea: that the dissenters are being kept out of institutions, offices, and all sorts of jobs because of systems of property and privilege which always exclude groups to some extent must ever favors the others. She sees the utter amorality and ruthlessness of the exclusion and puts her finger on it. He likes how she demands equal rights as a right. I also liked how she showed what victimization does to someone’s self-esteem. As McCarthy says anyone who has suffered this way can be moved by Barbauld. As an adjunct I read it with bitter memories assenting to much of what she wrote.

An essay with a long cumbrous title (“Address to the Opposers … “) which came to be called “Does France Exist” was her answer to Burke. Yes, she said these new groups representing France are France too. They count, they matter. Her husband was part of the overt male groups of dissenters meeting at this time and he got to know Jacques-Pierre Brissot. McCarthy doesn’t mention this but in this way Barbauld connects to Roland who loved Brissot.

Alas, at this point the Barbaulds really ran out of money; her brother was not able to help himself much, less them (later his practice as a doctor was destroyed by his radical publications and reputation — people were unwilling to go to him) and it seems they might have been homeless for a while. I can’t think they were literally in the street, but there is no record of where they stayed.

After the failure of Wilberforce’s campaign and speech (with others) to abolish the slave trade on the high seas, Barbauld wrote a poem out of the shock she felt when she saw how shameless those voting against the bill were. They didn’t care in the least they were supporting such horrors and cruelty. Her conservative friend Hannah More wrote a poem More did not see was actually encouraging the establishment to extirpate non-establishment types and keep up violence and oppression, so Barbauld did write a biting reply. It’s not known if More saw that.

At this time the Manchester authorities apparently stirred up, partly organized and colluded in the mob destruction scene which destroyed Priestley’s house and all he owned and other liberal thinking types. The court cases afterwards which allowed all the people involved to get off basically scot free showed it was a deliberate CIA type venture. This of course worked to terrify and silent dissent of any kind. Then legislation was passed to declare “sedition” (not defined) as treasonable and prosecutable.

The value of this book is not only as a portrait of Barbauld but of the real 1790s as experienced by the average middling and lower middle class person in England: it recalls the 1950s in the US, real effective repression by all sorts of measures by the government, with lots of people suffering a little, and a few made examples of (transportation, hanging too). He recreates the atmosphere of the time.

Among all the ins and outs of controversy, one man, Gilbert Wakefield wrote in defense of secret and individual or private worship (defending himself and also attacking the sensual rituals of churches). Here she wrote a pamphlet in defense of public worship. She thought public worship’s function was to bind a community, bring people togther, a social value. Individuals in solitude are “unanchored fragments” and need fellow human beings to keep them sane.

She began a sort of series of papers to be called “civic sermons” but only wrote 2, one on behalf of secular education (its importance), and the other on behalf of seeing government as there to serve the people, and necessary for that. (Obama would like Civic Sermon 2). But her style was too erudite and learned to reach working people which was who she meant to reach.

On a couple of her essays in the Addison or Johnson vein. They are very good, caustic and sharply critical of the hypocrisy of pleasures that is so common. One called “Letters on Watering Places” could be about living in a fancy hotel for vacation today — as many people may do, going to tourist sites, and generally being far more uncomfortable than one would have been at home or in some real small place of pleasure (if you have the money for it). She is not so mild as Addison, and not so tragic as Johnson.

She worked as Johnson did in the literary world of her day. She made a 3 volume selection from the Spectator, Tatler and another periodical and introduced it and this was the book sold in the 19th century and which made its way into better schoolrooms and libraries.

And she didn’t forget her writing for children. Among her writing is 14 of out of the 99 pieces her brother, John Aiken published as Evenings at Home. This was in imitation of Genlis’s very popular Les Veilles du Chateau (read by Austen aloud with her family from her letters). These were later attacked by a repressive influential Victorian woman educator, Sarah Trimmer. They are delightful: one is on calling things by their right names (anti-war); several are printed in the Broadview collection. I liked best the young mouse who almost gets into a trap mistaking it for a house the kind family has provided him; just in time an older mouse stops him from losing his life. We get a little sermon to the effect: “Though man has not so fierce a look as a cat, he is as much our enemy and has still more cunning.” These went into 14 editions.

There were bright spots. We all know what such moments can mean. She travelled to Scotland as a governess with girls (like men did as tutors with boys on the continent). She declaimed some of Goethe’s poetry in translation aloud. This was a rare bright spot in her life at this time. She visited Buchan probably around 22 September, the date of an annual festival honoring the birthday of James Thomson that Buchan led at his estate at Dryburgh Abbey, a Gothic ruin on a bend of the river Tweed. Buchan promoted nationalism, and Scots poetry and was “an ardent advocate of women’s education and a passionate believer in progress and reform; he deplored British “political insanity” and credited the new United States with every imaginable virtue.

Early Wm Turner, Tintern Abbey done in Gilpin’s style (Fanny Price has a transparency of such a picture on her wall)

This whole scene of this Scottish ramble is cheering. As Buchan ushered her and her companions, Miss and Mr. Wynch, along a scenic path he had laid beside the riverbank, a gust of wind blew her hat into the Tweed. Buchan waded in, retrieved the hat, and presented it to her.

She is an example of a woman actually spitefully attacked — so unjust it’s startling and I think in her case it’s not just she was a woman, identified as a bluestocking (wrongly as she was not of their class), and her class (middling, dissenter — once she and her husband ended up homeless), but that she was presented as so unsexy, as boring to men. Then her relatives or well-meaning niece didn’t help: Lucy destroyed what she could of her aunt’s political reputation and ignored it. She is turned into a conservative pious type or apolitical and her life with her husband kept from view too. Everything human and appealing is erased.

In her sixties (“Middle age”) Barbauld became involved in publishing essays for periodicals, one of which was started by her brother. For the booksellers Cadell and Davies she wrote introductory essays on poets, much in the manner of Samuel Johnson. No where near as many, but a few, and these respond to Johnson. She placed Mark Akenside historically, and defended his doctrine of liberty; she also used Akenside’s traumas to delve her own. She is one of those who wrote blank verse, Milton variants and mandarin kinds of stanzas for meditation — and wrote some herself, with Akenside as well as Collins in mind (“Summer Evening’s Meditation,” and “Odes” to spring, content, wisdom). But late in life she turns from these kinds to prefer rhyme as a way of controlling and shaping poetry in a more disciplined way.

What I was really impressed by were her essays on Education and Prejudice. These were written for the Monthly. For the essay on Education she is responding to Rousseau’s Emile and Genlis’s Theodore and Adele: her idea is the notion that education can be controlled by a teacher and successful if the child is removed from society and then manipulated (for that’s what it is) is absurd: you cannot remove the child from society; what you can offer in a classroom is instructive; the education of a child is a holistic experience that is going on since his or her birth, and central to what the child becomes is his or her social and economic circumstances, what the parent do and how they behave. It’s an existentialist approach which shows the messy ambiguous particular worlds the child lives in (including with peers) makes him or her into the person he or she becomes, as much as innate nature. She is calling into question the Enlightenment notion you can change a person through reform movements in school or particular methods. I do love how she disapproves of teaching children falsehoods to get them to believe and do what you want, and saying to oneself that later they’ll be glad you did so. Later they’ll have imbibed inculcated hypocrisies and acceptance of cruelties this way and do likewise to their children themselves.

Of “prejudice,” she shows we cannot live without it, that knowledge is grounded in someone’s direct conscious experience and there must be faith in authorities as the child grows up, for he or she builds on what he or she is given instructionally and reacts to experience. All learning is situated (once again). You can try to teach principles of ethics, but they will only “take” if they direct your actual behavior. When the child grows older, he or she will insensibly begin to think or react or feel on his or her own.

My feeling or problem with the latter is only that she is too general or avoids the hard realities as she did in her “Against Inconsistency in Expectations.” It’s fine to say accept what you are and your choices, but it’s not easy to do, and choices have been limited from the start. To me she avoids the pain of educating a child for I have seen how a child’s nature can be cruel, dense, difficult, a bully, and determined to imitate the generality of what she (or he) saw around him, using lies when I didn’t try to elicit information, just because, more than defensively, and I made every attempt in Barbauld’s way to at least counter these impulses somehow and failed utterly. Why? Because this was part of the child’s nature and encouraged by the society I find myself in. I guess I’m saying Barbauld isn’t pessmistic enough and prefer Austen’s brief succinct words given Elizabeth that that which counts most can’t be taught. And what bothers me about say Rousseau’s and Genlis’s methods is they enact deceit themselves, manipulation.

So much of enlightenment literature is about education, from Austen’s novels to Mary Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Women.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie

In one talk I heard at the ASECS, I was reminded of what seemed to me a paradox at the time: Paine’s Rights of Man are directed to the common man and he outlines rights based on humanity; Wollstonecraft’s essay is for more than one-half an analysis of educational treatises to show how women are miseducated; she is appealing to those who get to set the terms and understanding underlining women’s existence; you cannot present to them their rights for they are not in a position to want these even having been so miseducated, so misshapen by their general culture. Wollstonecraft sees what Barbauld sees here too.


McCarthy’s depth is gained through his paying attention to and finding out of course little particulars. For example, ferreting out where she writes from opens up a vista that she was homeless for a while with her husband (probably living in lodgings or with friends) and that she would go apart from him for rest and to write. He notes that Cadell and Davies collects her work from an address in Bloomsbury not Hampstead where she is living with the husband (p. 366). She did have trouble fulfilling her contracts and there are apologies for not having done this or that essay: she was prevented from doing these by home circumstances for it’s clear in nature she was a hard worker, a lover of reading and study. And because of her not turning in smaller copy she would not be given the bigger assignments.

McCarthy gets us to this level of her life.

As I came to the end of this beautiful moving book, I felt sad. I wished it would go on but then her life came to an end. In the penultimate chapter of the book he goes over a book she and her beloved niece, Lucy Aikin put together for Barbauld called Legacy to Ladies. It consists of letters she wrote to young women who were seeking to make her their tutor, some of which Aikin has changed to appear as general statements. She was what is today called a proto-feminist, and her attitudes remind me of Austen’s insofar as we can discern them from her novels; a strong desire to see decent education for all (regardless of class), which is not tightly tied to a coming job, a genuine openness to sexual experience within the constraints of the idea of chastity (the attitude is seen in Richardson’s Grandison and the grandmother’s speeches to Harriet Byron), seeing wifedom (?), motherhood as the footholds in society through which people give women importance and power (ironic that since Barbauld never was a biological mother), these are some of the attitudes towards women’s education found in these materials. She is playful and enjoys her young friends’ company so poignantly — when they are congenial and mostly she took only congenial young women on. She discovered she could make more money as a tutor (net) than running a school. Her proto-feminism is seen through Lucy Aikin’s which I’d define as defensive. Aikin seeks to defend women and particularly their right to possess and develop their minds. She too never had any children; she never married.

One of the reading groups to which Anna belonged; artist, Joanna Maria Smith, year 1817, place Parndon Library

They also ran a book club just for women — like Azar Nafisi, they chose the girls they were most congenial with.

Late in life, like many women left alone, Barbauld read a lot. She liked Crabbe (how often her tastes are like Austen’s). Of Crabbe she wrote: “For strength & truth & variety of character no one exceeds him …” but she felt his depictions of distress so harrowing and criticized him for presenting them without “relief.” Lord Byron “charms & offends, revolts & delights, & def[ies] the critics gain[ing] the applause of all.” She lived long enough to discern that Scott was writing his novels out of a driving need for money: he “certainly writes hmself out, but if you were to ask him — Pray, Sir, how long do you mean to write? he would say, Pray, Madam, how long do you mean to pay?” She loved women’s memoirs and letters too: of Elizabeth Montagu’s she said: “With all her advantages she seems not to have been happy.”

I do think this one on how a tree means to us extraordinary. She understood Cowper’s Yardley Oak the way I do, and what one feels watching a tree (or kitten into cat) grow up:

And we stopped to look at Fairlop oak, one of the largest in England; a complete ruin, but a noble ruin, which it is impossible to see without thinking of Cowper’s beautiful lines, “Who lived when thou wast such.” The immoveable rocks and mountains pre­sent us rather with an idea of eternity than of long life. There they are, and there they have been before the birth of nations …. But a tree, that has life and growth like our­selves, that, like ourselves, was once small and feeble, that certainly some time began to be, — to see it attain a size so enormous, and in its bulk and its slow decay bear record of the generations it has outlived, — this brings our comparative feebleness strongly in view. “Man passeth away, and where is he?” while “the oak of our fathers” will be the oak of their children, and their children.

And so I’ll end where I began: her poetry. She wrote “Dirge” after the death of her husband: Rochemont suffered from depression, and the hardships of their lives drove him into violence at times, and in 1808 she had to put him in a kind of asylum for a time, and he escaped from it and drowned himself (committed suicide). She had when young written lines about growing older, losing her beauty, with the implication that he no longer was attracted to her; here she grieves deeply:


Written 1808

Pure spirit! 0 where art thou now!
o whisper to my soul!
o let some soothing thought of thee,
This bitter grief controul!

‘Tis not for thee the tears I shed,
Thy sufferings now are o’er . . .
No more the storms that wrecked thy peace
Shall tear that gentle breast;
Nor Summer’s rage, nor Winter’s cold,
Thy poor, poor frame molest.

Thy peace is sealed, thy rest is sure,
My sorrows are to come …

0, in some dream of visioned bliss,
Some trance of rapture, show
Where, on the bosom of thy God,
Thou rest’st from human woe . . .

Let these my lonely path illume,
And teach my weakened mind
To welcome all that’s left of good,
To all that’s lost resigned.

But it was not an unmitigated season of final unhappiness (as may be seen above); she often works herself into stoic comforting cheer too:

Lines placed over a Chimney-Piece

Surly Winter, come not here;
Bluster in thy proper sphere:
Howl along the naked plain,
There exert thy joyless reign;
Triumph o’er the withered flower,
The leafless shrub, the ruined bower;
But our cottage come not near;
Other springs inhabit here,
Other sunshine decks our board,
Than the niggard skies afford.
Gloomy Winter, hence! away!
Love and Fancy scorn thy sway;
Love and Joy, and friendly Mirth,
Shall bless this roof, these walls, this hearth;
The rigour of the year controul,
And thaw the winter in the soul . . .

A great 20th century woman writer: Elsa Morante, probably 1930s


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