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Dear friends and readers,

Ten days ago Maria Musiol contacted me to tell me she has now published her study of Vittoria Colonna through the lens of Colonna’s loving friendship with Michelangelo: she says it’s a “series of essays dealing with the recorded aspects of Vittoria’s external and internal life.” She has mailed me a copy, asking me to review it and I am planning on picking up said book tomorrow. I will start reading some time tomorrow.

She has published a German version of her text in Germany — which is historically consonant with the traditions of Colonna scholarship. The only other complete translation of the poems is in German. (Besides mine — Maria Roscoe missed out some, and attributed at least one poem by Veronica Gambara to Colonna.) The standard biography by Alfred Reumont is in German; those who read it in Italian (as I do, since I cannot read German) are reading a translation. I can see Ms Musiol has a new theory about Michelangelo’s drawings as pictures of Colonna and will deal at length with their relationship (as others have done before her).

She also tells me (I hope I am not trespassing to tell this here as it is significant) that she began her project twenty years ago: “After the premature death of my husband I came to Ischia and, looking for role models as a young widow, came across Vittoria Colonna and began my research about her, because there was no adequate biography.” She’s right: Reumont is outdated and without an inner life; Jerrold omits the complicated politics central to Colonna’s life. I have been rereading Colonna’s poems with new insight and feeling over these past two weeks — since the death of my beloved husband.

Coincidentally in middle September I had a query from another woman scholar now working on Francesco Ferrante D’Avalos, the Marquis of Pescara. Rita Lamb is working on his family background, researching specifically into legends and genetic history, which connect Pescara biologically (as a natural son) to the royal Aragonese family in Naples. I went up to my attic, and took down one of my boxes of 3X5 index cards and was able to tell her the names of his mother, father, their parents, and their parents’s parents as reported at the time. None of these members of the royal family, but all close as allies, fellow aristocrats, strongly Spanish in culture, and some even friends. See my brief sketch. If she publishes, beyond offering more about Pescara, she will probably shed light on the history and culture of Ischia.

In the meantime I updated my review of Brundin’s partial edition of some of Colonna’s religious poetry, and I linked Maria’s book into two places on my site: the table of contents page and the bibliography.

11/2/13: see Widow-parlando.

Ellen

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In the long winter of 1784, which I passed in Normandy, this little Novel fell into my hands … for their amusement, I translated [into English] as I read [the French], the most striking passages of the story; which appeared to me so interesting that I was induced to translate the whole; or rather to write it anew in English — Charlotte Smith, from her preface to her Manon

The idea of making a name for myself in the Republic of Letters animated all my faculties — Victorine de Chastenay, on first beginning to translate Radcliffe’s Udolpho


Pierre Arnaud’s recent translation of The Romance of the Forest

Dear friends and readers,

You will instantly recall that last month under a similar heading, I wrote about how I was working on a proposal to give a paper at this coming summer’s Chawton conference on women and translation: I didn’t fall asleep over my book after all (!). Well I did a good deal of reading and sent along two different options.

I discovered that Charlotte Smith really changed Prévost’s Histoire de Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731) and Gayot de Pitaval’s Causes Célèbres et Interessants (1734-44) to bring into the English imaginary explosively transgressive reality-based material from sexual and familial life. In Smith’s Manon L’Escaut, or the Fatal Attachment, Prévost’s enigmatic text intended to justify amoral decisions for aristocratic male readers becomes a story genuinely focused from the point of view of a pro-active heroine with a realistic pragmatic consciousness. I also found that her Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1790) her first fully poetic landscape novel was translated into French by M. De Montagne, who made of it a romantic “paysage.” Montagne’s romantic translation is really melodious, I loved the sounds of the French, it was like verse in prose. Smith turned gothic and sentimental romance into vehicles for critiquing the ancien regime as it was experienced in the UK at the time. Montagne helped make these sort of landscapes an accepted mode in France.


Lidia Conetti’s recent Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Udolpho: sometimes it’s better than Radcliffe or Chastenay

When I went back to Chastenay’s 1798 translation of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) I discovered Chastenay resembles Radcliffe in her reformist radical agenda, in her case much modified by her family’s devastating experience of the revolution (including imprisonment, lose of property, and her father having nearly been guillotined). She also identifies with Emily St. Aubert, Radcliffe’s heroine. What Chastenay loses in subtlety, she replaces in much more social understanding of real life experiences of unjust imprisonment, familial abuse, murders, and harrowing hostage experiences. She carries over Radcliffe’s sheer sensibility of into a focused forceful romantic paysage which adds to Radcliffe’s nightmare scenarios of dreams of nervous distraught pursuit and chase, and perhaps remembered experiences of near rapes (incest?).


A later 19th century cover to Chastenay’s translation shows an awareness of the depth of inward strangeness in Radcliffe-Chastenay

Nonetheless, I wanted to suggest that reading these texts (as people still do) as sheer female gothic obscures their critiques of the social, economic and political order which are valuable in themselves, which influenced other important books (e.g., George Sand’s Consuelo/La Comtesse de Ruddolstadt, influenced by Radcliffe through Chasteney).

Alas, I think I wrote about this more clearly here than I did in the official mandarin-type proposal. I am just so much better at writing casually in letter style. I thought by having two sets of texts I could make my argument about the value of these translated texts more strong. I would not present an analysis of each text as that would take far too long but just my findings. It interested me too that Smith’s Manon was suppressed — perhaps people thought her strong amoral heroine dangerous — and people are still today unaware of how she alters that text to make Manon the center and an active heroine (at least in Manon’s mind). Montagne’s Ethelinde is also a nearly anonymous and thus disrespected text. So they make a neat comparison with Chastenay’s whose text is still read in France and countries where French is read. There are on the Net still the frontispieces for the volumes of her 1798 text. I saw a popular copy in a good bookstore when I was in Paris for 2 weeks once. Hers also has prestige and is well-known and yet I think there is but the one article by Dorothy Medlin on 4 (!) different translations of Udolpho into French and only one small part is on Chastenay text.


A frontispiece to a French text of one of the memoirs, life-writing, travel books to emerge from the French revolution & Napoleonic wars

On the other hand, it would be fun to to expand more on Udolpho and on Mémoires de madame de Chastenay, 1771-1815 (written between 1810 and 1817, published 1896). Chastenay lived to the mid-19th century; she knew and spoke with Napoleon (who treated her with respect); she translated Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village as Le village abandonne as a genuinely protest text. I’d really like to tell more people, expand on what I’ve already written about Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (published 1795) (see my Nightmare of History in Radcliffe’s non-fiction Landscape). Radcliffe is so beautifully well-read in art books, architecture, cultures, and she is a sort of Girondist (rather like Madame de Roland), a serious reformer who means her novels to be taken in the way other novels of her era were which critiqued society. In her case the ancien regime.

Using Smith’s Prevost, Montagne’s Smith and Chastenay’s Radcliffe, a configuration of the three texts, I’d write and talk about translation. If I study Radcliffe & Chastenay’s lives, life-writing, travel, I’d write and about the two women writers, though the centerpiece would be a comparative translation study.

My larger goal is to call attention to a large body of work still ignored, to which these translations belong. When these books are studied the arguments often resemble those film adaptations once had to contend with: evaluation and judgement based solely on a one-to-one literal comparison with the assumption the first text is necessarily the most important and better. I want to show micro-analysis is still at the core of translation study but when we change our assumptions how much we have to learn and how many new and fascinating texts to read.


Hubert Robert’s Hermit in a Garden

I really enjoy reading and doing translation. It’s a real urge as such. One sits with books and books, dictionaries, thesauruses, different previous translations. Sheer language endeavour. Poetry as such. Books I’m interested in from this terrain include Isabelle de Montolieu’s influential translations of Austen into French (both of which I just bought from Amazon, complete with prefaces): Raison et Sensibilite (someone retyped the whole text, four columns a page), and La Famille Elliot, ou L’Ancienne Inclination (a facsimile, the volume labelled I contains the whole text). When Montolieu writes her prefaces to her translations of Austen, she assumes in the first no one will ever hear of Austen a decade from now nor S&S, and in the second her respect has grown enormously (she’s read Emma and MP) and feels she must translate more strictly but her sense of Austen’s place does not come near how she regards Smith (she translated one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer‘s tales and provides a preface again).

I have written on and just delighted in Felix Fénéon’s gem, Catherine Morland (1898/99, reprinted by Gallimard 1946), and recently bought Pierre Goubert’s serious literary biography of Austen, a rare treatment in French (biographies of Austen do not abound outside English, not in French either); he translated her earlier novels and wrote about them in the Pleiade. I’ve read one of two 1807 translations Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie into English (one read and much admired by Austen), and it’s a cross between Radcliffe and Austen! have wanted to try Isabel Hill’s 1884 Victorian and did read thoroughly the brilliant Corinne or Italy by Sylvia Raphael (often unmentioned, she died young, her book printed as an Oxford Classic, 1998).

And I do want to read more translation studies. On my TBR pile is Belllos’s Is that a Fish in Your Ear? and Suzanne Levine’s The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American fiction. I need some outside goal, deadline, to help me do all this for if it’s so pleasurable, it’s hard work.

My proposal was turned down. I think probably most unfairly. To do myself justice and also keep my thoughts where I can find them again and share them with others, I’ve put my proposal on my website. “To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do: Translation as Matching Creative Act”. I’ve at least done myself that much justice. (Freedom the press and speech belongs to the woman who has a website.) As you know if you ever read my Sylvia blog I’m just an honorary Duchess aka ex-adjunct lecturer.

Ellen

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It is plausible that no translation, however good it may be, can have any significance as regards the original — Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations

One must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is the same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates and all patchwork — Primo Levi, “Potassium,” The Periodic Table


Eugene Atget (1857-1927), The Petit Trianon

Dear friends and readers,

My theme: I’ve returned to an old love to do a new project: French-to-English and back again translations in the 18th century. I begin with Walter Benjamin and my own experiences, then cover Beebee’s book, Clary on the continent, Prevost’s different Clevelands, and various different telling individual cases (different Tom Joneses, Radcliffe’s translators); I end on Renato Poggioli’s “The Added Artificer” which deserves to be much better known.

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

I have a hard time remembering when I was not fascinated by translations. I think it began back in high school when at age 16 I read a probably poor translation into English of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I loved the book and wanted to know more about it, and especially I wanted to read it in French. Later on somehow reading a book in one language and then reading the same book in another gave me an experience of two weirdly interdependent books and thus worlds. When I was in college, I took French for all the years I could, extending my non-major following of it with one-credit courses: such courses met twice a week, but for one and one-half hours of sheer talk in French allowed using our books. We’d take turns using its conversations. Then in graduate school, I took a course in Italian over one summer to fulfill the language requirement (one had to pass two tests in two languages), and just loved the language, again enjoyed so much lining up a text in Italian aligned with its source or target text in English.


Anne Finch when young

During the 1980s I re-taught myself to read French and read French novels, and then for over 20 years starting the middle 1980s I taught myself to read and to translate Italian and translated Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara’s poetry and then wrote an essay on Anne Finch’s translations out of the Italian though the French. Just what I had done at first for Colonna (and what I’ve done since for a poem by Elsa Morante I found in the original Italian with French text facing it).

So when over the past week I dropped one of my projects for this fall term, the paper on Paranoia and Infamy, I naturally turned to the proposal I wanted to send to Chawton, and was happy, even eager to reread some of my books on translation (Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility, The Scandals of Translation, Sherry Simon’s Gender in Translation). Did you know that over 90% of translations into the world are transations into English? how little translators are paid? How women’s writing begins in translation, how they express themselves through its covering medium?

I discovered my old folders filled with essays on translation, some read, some not read, and books and essays just on translation in the 18th century, the 19th and more recently.


Charlotte Smith by George Romney (1792)

My idea was Charlotte Smith’s translation of Prevost’s Manon Lescaut, or some study of intermediary texts between her later novels and Prevost and Rousseau, but to tell the truth I was not sure I could find something to extrapolate out of a tight narrow comparison. I do have Isabelle de Montolieu’s translation of one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer’s Tale (Corisande de Beauvilliers, and all of M. Montagne’s (whoever he is) French translation of Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, which I also own in English. And of course Montolieu’s translation of Sense and Sensibility (with her preface) and soon will have her translation of Persuasion.

So I went about to look for previous work on individual books I’d done. I’ve now remembered my careful comparative reading of the opening of Radcliffe’s Udolpho with Victorine de Chastenay’s translation of the same text into French, something of Chastenay’s life (she was imprisoned during the terror and lost family members and emerged somewhat shattered and depressed, and various essays on 18th century translations of classics (Riccoboni and Davaux’s Tom Jones, a French and a Dutch translation of Prevost’s Cleveland contrasted to the French texts) and of course Prevost’s Clarisse.


Victorine de Chastenay (translator into French of Radcliffe’s Udolpho)

And I’ve read away and reminded myself of what I once knew. So, I spent Tuesday I spent yesterday reading translation studies and then how women in particular use translation: how the earliest women writers began (felt they had license) by translating, how it works to free, a way to express what is otherwise forbidden (that’s how I see Smith’s translation of Manon Lescaut), a way of declaring love and wanting to share (Chastenay’s Udolpho).


Jean-Antoine Watteau, unnamed shepherdess

I read Mirella Agorni’s poignant, The Voice of the ‘Translatress': From Aphra Behn to Elizabeth Carter Author, The Yearbook of English Studies, 28 (1998 Eighteenth-Century Lexis and Lexicography): 181-95, and I compared a literal translation of Ovid’s Oenone to Paris with Aphra Behn’s translation/adaptation. In her case (as is not uncommon among men as well as women) she did not have any Latin, so someone gave her an intermediary crib. Behn turned the poem into erotica — on behalf of Oenone, a nobody. Since reading Germaine Greer’s persuasive debunking of all the myths growing up around Aphra Behn, including that she was an aristocrat (born on wrong side of blanket), supported herself sheerly by her playwriting (when it seems rather she combined being men’s mistresses with playwriting and verse, including translations, and pop novellas), I can see why she’d identify with Oenone.

Behn is worth remembering and this unashamed revelling in idyllic
pastoral too. Some of her most moving verses defend her as a translatress:

I by a double right thy Bounties claim,
Both from my Sex, and in Apollo’Ns ame:
Let me with Sappha and Orinda
Oh ever sacred Nymph, adorn’d by thee;
And give my Verses Immortality.

Jane Austen died declaring her immortality in defiance against everyone spending their afternoon so trivially.

‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal!

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

The Abbe Prevost (1697-1763) translated all Richardson and Frances Sheridan’s Sidney Biddulph

Speaking very generally, as the century progressed and the novel achieved more respect, translations became more ostensibly faithful. Paradoxically at the same time (especially if you are working on the literal old model that a good translation is a sort of excellent crib — rather like those who go to movies and critique a film adaptation by how “literally” like it seemed to them to the book), translations became more creative. You can see how the author expressed her or himself through the medium.

Some of the best general essays written thus far on translation are general philosophical ones. A particularly rich one is by Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”. He opens with what may seem a strange idea: “It is plausible that no translation, however good it may be, can have any significance as regards the original.” The analysis in defense of this is brilliant and rich with ideas. One train of argument suggests that any translation is about the encounter of the two languages and two cultures. I find this to be so in my experience of translation. I don’t own the words I use and must use the words of my time and culture and watch them interact with the words and cultural assumptions and whole world view of the other language — French or Italian. He says the desire to translate comes partly from a love of a certain language. Again I know this is so.


Lovelace just before the rape: Simon Brett’s late 20th century illustrations for the Folio Society edition

I reread some of Beebee’s Clarissa on the Continent, about 18th century to modern translations of Clarissa — and abridgements. I know now the Broadveiw edition provides a new edition of the 3rd edition of Clarissa, thus replacing the now out-of-print 4 volume Everyman.

Beebee’s book includes a close reading of two contemporary translations of Clarissa: Prevost and Michaelis’s. He compares these two texts to Richardson’s 1st and 3rd editions of Clarissa (which are themselves different, though both think they must Frenchify the text from the point of view of French taste and ethics). Beebee teaches us how to read translations. He has a chapter where he surveys later translations and abridgements. Particularly of interest to me was Dallas’s abridgement as Trollope wrote a critique of that; it was the book 19th century readers knew Clarissa. After Dallas when some 19th century person says she’s read Clary it’s probably Dallas’s Clary.

In last chapter of Beebee’s book he compares Sherburn’s 1970s and Burrell’s 1950s abridgements. Most of the time today Clarissa is read in an abridgement in the US. In France they read Prevost’s translation (quite different in a number of ways from Richardson); in the US when I was in college (1960s) we read Burrell’s abridgement for Modern Library; the last decade or so students read Sherburn’s abridgement for Rinehart. Margaret Doody has a long article lambasting Sherburn (by the way).

I had been really delighted to come across for the first time ever a close reading and discussion of Burrell. I was not sure of his full name. His edition had never been acknowledged or described in print as far as I knew. I had read Doody and Stuber’s exposure of Sherburn’s abridgement as a far too personal, rigid, a narrow take with interjections by Sherburn (!), but never came across any commentary on Burrell.


Lovelace attacking Clarisssa (Simon Brett again)

It was Burrell’s abridgement of Clarissa that I first read at age 18-19 and was riveted by. I had the not uncommon experience of not being able to put the book down, of being gripped to read on and on into the wee hours of the dawn. The most vivid memory I had though was of disappointment; somehow or other I had missed the rape. I still remember hunting around the text the following morning (after a little sleep) and not finding it. Later false memories began to tell me I had found it later, but now I realize that in fact I must’ve read the rape for the first time in the Everyman reprint of Richardson’s 3rd edition.

Well, guess what? Burrell omitted it! He censored out the scene. It was in the Everyman I realized that Lovelace raped Clarissa in front of the other women; there I first read the famous passage where Clary says she will be his, just give her a bit of time right here, right now.

Nonetheless, I believe that Burrell’s edition influenced me & strongly; Burrell produces a romantic (vexed word I know, but I’m trying to use it in the common sense way of overwrought individualistic emotionalism and rebellion) text. Burrell will omit much surrounding matter here and there which qualifies Clarissa’s subjective interpretations and outcries. I’ve never read Sherburn so didn’t realize he actually interjects his own interpretation and sometimes himself imitates Lovelace — falls into Lovelace’s vein. Beebee shows how both men cut the book in ways which erase some of the worst aspects of Lovelace’s character. Reading them, though, against Richardson’s books teaches us what was most deeply meant to be expressed in the original — especially after you have studied a variety of translation and adaptations.


Final duel (Brett)

I probably loved Clarissa, was more grabbed by it in Burrell’s edition than I would have been in Richardson’s whole text. Burrell omitted much of the long fourth volume, especially all the Job passages and the gruesome and to me egregiously spiteful nasty dramatizations of the deaths of wicked people. He kept Lovelace’s agon, time at the assembly ball, the lead-up to the duel. (See how vicious the Deity can get; watch out is my gut response to these Burrell thought them in bad taste.) Burrell also turned Clary into a pre-Byronic heroine and softened the presentation of Lovelace.

So I was at long last vindicated. 40 years later I learned I didn’t miss the rape after all. I had not fallen asleep over my book.

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

Samuel Palmer (1805-81), A Dream in the Appenines (1864)

Some of the best studies I read yesterday were about the clash between cultures, languages, created worlds through languages though having the same literal stories and denotative word content, and even syntax (at times). You do have to read more than one language to do translation studies and as the central hegemonic languages in the 18th century for new literary movements were French and English, these are the languages most studies are in. I went into Annie Cointre, Alain Lautel and Annie Rivera’s La Traduction
romanesque au XVIII siecle
, especially a long essay on Prevost’s
Cleveland — in French and English and Dutch versions. It brings home so many issues, including the way history was more valued than fiction and historians paid more, how this book applied to a naive desire to read history made easy and salacious (as in our time). This was by Ellen Ruth Moerman.


Abbe Prevost reading Manon Lescaut aloud to group of admirer (1856 painting by Joseph Caraud)

To do a translation study you must do book history. Prevost had several translators; his book came out in more than one edition and it was censored differently in different countries. The Dutch translator was quite content to translate anti-Catholic church commentary, but the Catholic French one was not. All of them stigmatize the Quakers (everyone dislikes quakers because people resent general non-conformity with the larger group). Then Prevost wanted partly to delude his British audience into thinking his book was really a history, really written first in English and had the English copy published before the French. There are two different prefaces: one published in English opens with a solemn discourse on the uses of history; the other in French is more tongue-in-cheek and he defends himself for writing a preface (what is this hypocrisy that prefaces are to be apologized for; they are needed) and insinuates if you enjoyed the Man of Quality, you’ll find him in this book again.


The 1997 BBC Tom Jones understood how important Fielding’s presence can be in the novel for the reader who wants over self-conscious wit, self-reflexive mockery

Two essays on the translations of Tom Jones, one by Kristina Taivalkoski-Shilove and another by Annie Rivara (on Riccoboni’s Amelie)
very worth while. It was fascinating to discover that the freer early translation by La Place was the Tom Jones most French readers knew and preferred; that it was a labor of love Davaux did when he translated faithfully and carefully and included all the opening narrator chapters. In the 20th century Tom Jones is reprinted in popular editions without these opening chapters. For me the book is ruined; much of the deep pleasure comes from the presence of the narrator. But apparently not for a mass readership who are said to lose “interest.” Amelia was not popular, and Riccoboni’s choice to do it came out of her deep engagement with its story of unhappiness in years of marriage.

From Christopher Cave I was delighted to learn that Andre Morellet, humane philosophe who translated Beccario’s treatise demonstrating that torture turns up no valid information translated Radcliffe’s Italian. He found in her a congenial reformist spirit, but he continually rationalized her prose. She produces a super-abundance of description which cannot depict reality so many experiences are piled into one. He choses a line of description that’s clear and readily pictured. What makes for her original depth psychologically and pictorially vanishes. It’s true you can’t make fun of her text and it’s no longer what some find tedious. I just love myself getting lost in labyrinths with endless doors and locks.


Piranesi, I Carceri (opaque)


Piranesci, I Carceri (clarified)

And I spent time with my old love, Renato Poggioli’s “The Added Artificer” (in a marvelous anthology put together by Reuben Brower, On Translation). Like Venuti, he shows that a translation is another text, and one that is creative in a different way. The translator (like an illustrator) can transcend the first text by transposing another personality into the key of his or her own. You strive after self-expression by looking into a pool of art. Instead of a translation being pouring new wine into an old or previously extant bottle, the translator is taking older wine and making a new bottle with it. The translator is herself a living vessel saturated with a sparkling spirit and recreates the container someone with whom he or she has an affinity has given a previous embodiment to. A good translation may be read for itself, without comparing it to the original work.


Eugene Atget, Grand Trianon, Pavillion de Musique (1923-24)

Ellen

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NODDING

Tizdal my beautiful cat
Lies on the old rag mat
In front of the kitchen fire.
Outside the night is black.

The great fat cat
Lies with his paws under him
His whiskers twitch in a dream,
He is slumbering.

The clock on the mantlepiece
Ticks unevenly, tic toe, tic-toe,
Good heavens what is the matter
With the kitchen clock?

Outside an owl hunts,
Hee hee hee hee,
Hunting in the Old Park
From his snowy tree.
What on earth can he find in the park tonight,
It is so wintry?

Now the fire burns suddenly too hot
Tizdal gels up to move,
Why should such an animal
Provoke our love?

The twigs from the elder bush
Are tapping on the window pane
As the wind sets them tapping,
Now the tapping begins again.

One laughs on a night like this
In a room half firelight half dark
With a great lump of a cat
Moving on the hearth,
And the twigs tapping quick,
And the owl in an absolute fit
One laughs supposing creation
Pays for its long plodding
Simply by coming to)his-
Cat, night, fire-and a girl nodding.


Drawing by Stevie Smith for her poem, Nodding

Dear friends and readers,

This is at least my fifth blog on a text about or with cats. Marge Piercy’s memoir, Sleeping with Cats, Doris Lessing’s On Cats, Boswell and Piozzi on Dr Johnson and Hodge, not to omit Temple Grandin who reminded me how much animals love to eat, how happy it makes them (Animals in Translation) and various poems (Elsa Morante’s “Minna the Siamese” comes to mind).

They’ve been multiplying since I adopted two cats, Clary (green-eyed tortoiseshell) and Ian (yellow-eyed male ginger tabby). I’ve learned that one knows nothing about why people like cats until one owns one. Cats are private creatures, showing their selves only to their “persons” or special friend and family. You can’t get to know a cat unless you live with him or her, and then it takes time. They do not perform for strangers. Stevie says we have made them nervous. I know they do not like changes in routine; we should do precisely the same things each day at the same time. If we deviate, they marginalize themselves, watching suspiciously until we all return to our routs again.

I told a friend about the 1978 movie, Stevie, with Glenda Jackson, how quiet and truthful it is about a writing life. My friend had noticed my Lessing and Hodge blogs and told me about a review Stevie Smith had written about a book intended to make as permanent as photos and books can a beauty contest among cats, Cats in Colour. It’s in her Uncollected Writings, Me Again, made up of poems, short prose, pictures by herself. Smith’s several-page review’s delightful, intriguing, melancholy, like her writing, has so many moods all at once, and (most unusual for a review) includes drawings and poems. It’s very hard to do justice to this prose, it’s genius-level, the points of view so much at variance and yet the perspectives all coming together to focus again and again on how there are two worlds here: “the Human Creatuere and the Animal” and how we do not respect “the Animal World.”

This descriptive section will have to do:

It is not only the cats of antiquity that seem so peculiar (3,000 years may allow some difference in form) but … scaled to the size of a thin mouse, as we observe an Egyptian puss, couched beneath his master’s chair? The Grecian cats, though better scaled, seem dull and the cats of our Christian era not much better. There is a horrible cat drawing in Topsell’s The Historie of Four-Footed Beastes, dated 1607; there he sits, this cat, with a buboe on his hip, frozen and elaborate. In every line of this drawing, except for the cold sad eyes, the artist wrongs cathood. Quick sketchers do better, by luck perhaps. We all know Lear’s drawings of his fat cat Foss. There is true cathood here, though much, too, of course, of Mr Lear, so ‘pleasant to know’. Quick sketchers too can catch the cat in movement, and, though much addicted to, and fitted for, reclining, the cat moves-gallops, leaps, climbs and plays-with such elegance, one must have it so. Yet only this morning, I saw a cat quite motionless that looked so fine I could not have disturbed it. Hindways on, on top of a gray stone wall, its great haunches spred out beyond the wall’s narrow ledge,this animal was a ball of animate ginger fur; no shape but a ball’s, no head, no tail that was visible, had this old cat, but he caught all there was of winter sunshine and held it.

She leaves the book of glossy photographs, the excuse for her reverie, way behind. It does seem as if this review was actually intended to be printed as the introduction to said book.

She opens by saying cats reflect the egoism and ambition of their owners, even those not engineered into breeds and made expensive because rarer. She just wished this book had had photos of ashcan and ordinary poor and feral and wild cats “alongside” the beauties. Not that misery reveals cat-nature any more than beauty. Its cat-nature, cat-facts, cat-intransigence she’s on about in her review — as these impinge on and affect us. She concentrates and repeatedly returns to cat’s eyes: “blank and shining,” enigmatic, in themselves the eyeball expressionless. Finally or ultimately we can’t reach them nor they us, no matter how hard either side tries. She finds embarrassing and distressing how the cat does try so hard to reach us — it’s yearning gestures, its needs, and she’s more comfortable with its savage ruthless behaviors, predatory, play-bites.

As she launches into her descriptions of cat-lives, she inhabits the same territories as Lessing. She thinks we do cats a disservice by “fixing” them. We are depriving them of a real experience of cat-life — maternal duties, sexual prowess. She does know many live tragic lives, die helplessly. Nervous creatures they are, “like all tamed animals” given reason to be by us, our love as well as easy cruelty, power over them.

The last portion of the review provides what we know of cats in history, from the earliest figures to today, and writes with real plangency when she talks of how cats were burnt with women as witches — their helpers you see (an aspect of misogyny though she does not use such terms since cats are associated with women living alone). Our cruelties to cats:

witchcraft is too grim a story for here and its rites too cruel for our pampered pets. Yet I remembered the witch legends of history, as when the Scottish witches were accused of attempting the death of the King and Queen on their sea-passage home to Scotland. The witches swam a cat off the coast of North Berwick, having first christened it ‘Margaret’, they cast it into the sea to drown and thus-they said-raise a storm-wind to sink the King’s ship. For this they were convicted and burnt, for the Scots law was crueller than ours and sent witches to the stake, while we only hanged them. But in both countries the poor cat that belonged to the witch, if he was ‘apprehended’, might also suffer death by burning or hanging.

She also tells stories of individual cats she has known — like Lessing again. She describes one costuming of a cat as an angel which is really a debased bridal picture and rightly calls it “depraved.” She liked to see galloping cats (and has a poem in her the Collected Poems on “Galloping Cats”). To watch them in movement, streaking, hunting. Apparently she enjoyed teasing her cat. I can’t do that. At the very end there are stories of “good cats” and a poem reminding me of Dr Johnson and Hodge, about “Major” “a very fine cat.”

The Story of a Good Cat. This was the cat who came to the cruel cold prison in which Richard III had cast Sir Henry Wyatt when young. Because of his Lancastrian sympathies Henry had already beenimprisoned several times, and even put to the torture. The cat saved his life by drawing pigeons into the cell which the gaoler agreed to cook and dress for the poor prisoner, though for fear of his own life he dared not by other means increase his diet. There is a picture of Sir Henry as an old man sitting in a portrait with the prison cell for background and the cat, a peculiar sad-looking little cat, drawing a pigeon through the prison bars. Underneath is
written, but so faintly it is difficult to read, ‘This Knight with
hunger, cold and care neere starved, pyncht, pynde away, The sillie
Beast did fee de, heat, cheere with dyett, warmth and playe.

Remember how Christopher Smart’s cat, Geoffrey comforted him?

We have cat fables and fairy stories where all the characters are cats. And she skilfully recreates the atmosphere of an Algernon Blackwood gothic story whose center is a feel for the presence of cats:

there is a young man of French descent who is travelling in France on holiday. Suddenly the train he is on pulls up at a little station and he feels he must get down at this station. The inn he goes to is sleepy and comfortable,the proprietress is also sleepy and comfortable, a large fat lady who moves silently on little fat feet. Everybody in this inn treads silently, and all the people in the town are like this too, sleepy, heavy and treading softly. After a few days the young man begins to wonder; and at night, waking to look out over the ancient roof-tops, he wonders still more. For there is a sense of soft movement in the air, of doors opening softly, of soft thuds as soft bodies drop to the ground from wall or window; and he sees the shadows moving too. It was the shadow of a human being that dropped from the wall, but the shadow moved on the ground as a cat runs, and now it was not a human being but a cat. So in the end of course the young man is invited by the cat-girl, who is the plump inn owner’s daughter and serves by day in the inn, to join ‘the dance’ that is the witch’s sabbath. For this old French town is a mediaeval witch-town and bears the past alive within it. Being highminded, as most ghost-writers are, Blackwood makes the young man refuse the invitation and so come safe off with his soul, which had been for a moment much imperilled.

Me I like to watch them looking happy and also when they play with one another games which show them capable of semi-planning and tricking one another. I enjoy how they have favorite toys they carry about in their mouths. Ian has a string, Clary a furry looking object once meant for a mouse. Poor pussycats when they get themselves in trouble. I enjoy when they vocalize at me. I say “miaow” back and “I know” and “just so” and “I agree.” They are talking. Smith in Collected Poems has this love lyric to cats, the “eth” verbs turning it into a hymn:

The Singing Cat

It was a little captive cat
    Upon a crowded train
His mistress takes him from his box
    To ease his fretful pain.

She holds him tight upon her knee
    The graceful animal
And all the people look at him
    He is so beautiful.

But oh he pricks and oh he prods
    And turns upon her knee
Then lifteth up his innocent voice
    In plaintive melody.

He lifteth up his innocent voice
    He lifteth up, he singeth
And to each human countenance
    A smile of grace he bringeth.

He lifteth up his innocent paw
    Upon her breast he clingeth
And everybody cries, Behold
    The cat, the cat that singeth.

He lifteth up his innocent voice
    He lifteth up, he singeth
And all the people warm themselves
    In the love his beauty bringeth.

Someone said to me when I praised Lessing’s book as non-sentimental, nonsense, it’s all sentiment. Quite right. So too Smith’s essay. We try not to be but do not succeed.

Here’s my free translation of Morante’s poem, applying it to Clary. I told myself I liked the non-sentimental ending but probably I found appealing Morante’s attempt to capture cat-behavior.

Clary the tortie

I’ve a tiny beast, a cat named Clary.

Whatever I place on her plate, she eats
Whatever I pour into her bowl, she drinks.

Onto my knees she comes, gazes at me,
turns, sleeping tranquilly, so I forget
she’s there. If, remembering, I name her,
sleeping, her ear quivers, trembles, this name
then casts a dark shadow athwart her rest.

Blitheful, she has by her a muffled
tinkling stringed instrument, crinkling thanks
so sweet in play, I pet and I scratch her
turning neck & small upheld head, nudge, nudge.

If I consider history, time, things
separating us, disquiet comes. Alone:
of this she knows nothing. If then I watch
her play with string, her eye color tinted
by the sky, I yield. Laughter re-takes me.

When days off, for people, for us, make time
festive, pity comes to me for her who can’t
distinguish. That she too may celebrate,
for her meal I give her canned tuna fish.
She doesn’t understand why, but blissful
with her sharp teeth snips, gnaws, swallows away.

The Gods, to offer her some weapon, have
given her nails and teeth, but she, such her
gentleness, has adopted them for games.
Pity comes again for her whom I could
kill with impunity, no trial, no hell
thought of, no remorse, prisons. Just not there

She kisses me so much, licks and licks, I’ve
the illusion that she cherishes me.
I know another mistress or me to her
is all the same. She follows me about
as if to fool me that I am all to her
but I know my death would graze her but lightly …

(from Elsa Morante, Alibi, Poèmes, Édition bilingue, French translations by Jean-Noel Schifano)

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

A New Yorker cartoon from a couple of weeks ago

I will though end on some unsentimental poetry and warn my reader these demand a strong stomach. They are not by any of the above writers. First up, an post-WW1 & 2 German poet, Marie Luise Kaschnitz (1901-74). This Rufus (I allude to Lessing’s Rufus), like some of us when so badly hurt, enraged, could not be brought back:

Die Katze

The Cat

The cat that someone found sat in a construction site and screamed.
The first night and the second and the third night.
The first time, passing by, not thinking of anything,
He carried the scream in his ears, heard it waking from a deep sleep.
The second time he bent down over the snow-covered ditch,
Trying in vain to coax out the shadow prowling around there.
The third time he jumped down, fetched the animal,
Called it cat, because no other name occurred to him.
And the cat stayed with him seven days.
Her fur stood on end, refused to be smoothed.
When he came home at night, she leapt on his chest, boxed his ears.
The nerve in her left eye twitched constantly.
She leapt up onto the curtains in the hall, dug in with her claws,
Swung back and forth, so the iron rings rattled.
She ate up all the flowers he brought home.
She knocked vases off the table, tore up the petals.
She didn’t sleep at night, sat at the foot of his bed
Looking up at him with burning eyes.
After a week the curtains were torn to shreds,
His kitchen was strewn with garbage. He did nothing anymore,
Didn’t read, didn’t play the piano,
The nerve of his left eye twitched constantly.
He had made her a ball out of silver paper,
Which she had scorned for a long time. On the seventh day
She lay in wait, shot out,
Chased the silver ball. On the seventh day
She leapt up onto his lap, let herself by petted, and purred.
Then he felt like a person with great power.
He rocked her, brushed her, tied a ribbon around her neck.
But in the night she escaped, three floors down,
And ran, not far, just to the place where he
Had found her. Where the willows’ shadows
Moved in the moonlight. Back in the same place
She flew from rock to rock in her rough coat
And screamed.

(from The Defiant Muse: German Feminist Poems from the Middle Ages to Now, ed. trans. Susan Cocalis)

Smith says it’s better to love your cat to the point of folly than not to love them at all. And she has a passage that takes into account the same insight as Kaschnitz:

We were now swimming above a sandbank some half mile or so out from the shore. Presently the sandbank broke surface and we
climbed out and stood up on it. All around us was nothing but the sea and the sand and the hot still air. Look, I said, what is this coming? (It was a piece of wreckage that was turning round in the current by the sandbank and coming towards us.) Why, I said, it is a cat. And there sure enough, standing spitting upon the wooden spar was a young cat. We must get it in, said Caz, and stretched out to get it. But I saw that the cat was not spitting for the thought of its plight — so far from land, so likely to be drowned-but for a large sea-beetle that was marooned upon the spar with the cat, and that the cat was stalking and spitting at. First it backed from the beetle with its body arched and its tail stiff, then, lowering its belly to the spar, it crawled slowly towards the beetle, placing its paws carefully and with the claws well out. Why look, said Caz, its jaws are chattering. The chatter of the teeth of the hunting cat could now be heard as the spar came swinging in to the sandbank. Caz made a grab for the spar, but the young cat, its eyes dark with anger, pounced upon his hand and tore it right across. Caz let go with a start and the piece of wreckage swung off at right angles and was already far away upon the current. We could not have taken it with us, I said, that cat is fighting mad, he does not wish to be rescued, with his baleful eye and his angry teeth chattering at
the hunt, he does not wish for security.

And second, Hilary Mantel, her final devastating critique of life in Saudi Arabia is in her last paragraph of Eight Months on Ghazza Street: how relieved she is not to have to see the state of their cats, like ours, an emblem of us:

The street cats swarmed over the wall, looking for shelter, and dragged themselves before the glass. She watched them: scared cats, starving, alive with vermin, their faces battered, their broken limbs, set crooked, their fur eaten away. She felt she could no longer live with doing nothing for these cats. Slow tears leaked out of her eyes.

Ellen

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Mathilde Blind (1872) by Lucy Madox Brown (1843-94), chalks on grey paper

Dear friends and readers,

Frances Wilson’s summary of Mathilde Blind’s life in her review of Angela Thirkell’s book which tells the story of the four women-as-partners in Ford Madox Brown’s life, the last of which was Mathilde Blind, is unbeatable for vivacity and concision:

Mathilde was raised in Germany by an overbearing revolutionary stepfather who knew Karl Marx; her brother shot himself after failing to assassinate Bismark. In her own first attempt at revolt, Mathilde was expelled from school for atheism. A feminist, journalist, critic, poet, translator, novelist and biographer, she was a fabulously beautiful wild card (and most likely a lesbian) who shared with Madox Brown an interest in radical politics. She lived as a friend with the artist and his wife on and off for 20 years, until Emma’s death in 1890. Because none of their letters survives we cannot know the true nature of the relationship between Mathilde and Madox Brown; Thirlwell concludes that it “was probably not physical in the full sense”, but contained “a special erotic charge”. But had Mathilde felt any physical passion for Madox Brown, she seems the type to have expressed it. Mathilde is not only the most interesting of Madox Brown’s loves, she was also probably the most interesting woman in London at that time.

I’ve chosen her also because I found her poems in a book which choses unusual poets, provides a strong biography, and gives a lengthier selection than usual, Virginia Blain’s Victorian Women Poets: An Annotated Anthology. Blind’s are strong, passionate, electrifyingly descriptive and intelligently feminist, socialist. To begin with,

Manchester by Night

O’ER this huge town, rife with intestine wars,
Whence as from monstrous sacrificial shrines
Pillars of smoke climb heavenward, Night inclines
Black brows majestical with glimmering stars.
Her dewy silence soothes life’s angry jars:
And like a mother’s wan white face, who pines
Above her children’s turbulent ways, so shines
The moon athwart the narrow cloudy bars.
Now toiling multitudes that hustling crush
Each other in the fateful strife for breath,
And, hounded on by diverse hungers, rush
Across the prostrate ones that groan beneath,
Are swathed within the universal hush,
As life exchanges semblances with death.
[1881]

A Winter Landscape

ALL night, all day, in dizzy, downward flight,
     Fell the wild-whirling, vague, chaotic snow,
     Till every landmark of the earth below,
Trees, moorlands, roads, and each familiar sight
Were blotted out by the bewildering white.
     And winds, now shrieking loud, now whimpering low,
     Seemed lamentations for the world-old woe
That death must swallow life, and darkness light.
But all at once the rack was blown away,
     The snowstorm hushing ended in a sigh;
     Then like a flame the crescent moon on high
Leaped forth among the planets; pure as they,
Earth vied in whiteness with the Milky Way:
     Herself a star beneath the starry sky.
[1889]

She felt herself an internal exile; someone exiled from the rest of her society by virtue of her inner self. Towards the end of her life she wrote in her Commonplace book “I have been an exile in this world. Without a God, without a country, without a family.” Her series of love lyrics, published in The Ascent of Man (a Darwinian perspective made optimistic) is called Love in Exile. It begins:

1

THou walkest with me as the spirit-light
     Of the hushed moon, high o’er a snowy hill,
Walks with the houseless traveller all the night,
     When trees are tongueless and when mute the rill.
Moon of my soul, 0 phantasm of delight,
     Thou walkest with me still.

The vestal flame of quenchless memory burns
     In my soul’s sanctuary. Yea, still for thee
My bitter heart hath yearned, as moonward yearns
     Each separate wave-pulse of the clamorous sea:
My Moon of love, to whom for ever turns
     The life that aches through me.

She was deeply active on behalf of impoverished women and prostitutes, and her purview included non-western women. Blind’s poem “Mourning Women” describes, then addresses, the Muslim women of Egypt (from the volume Birds of Passage: Songs of the Orient
and Occident
[1895]
,

Mourning Women.

ALL veiled in black, with faces hid from sight,
     Crouching together in the jolting cart,
     What forms are these that pass alone, apart,
In abject apathy to life’s delight?
The motley crowd, fantastically bright,
     Shifts gorgeous through each dazzling street and mart;
     Only these sisters of the suffering heart
Strike discords in this symphony of light.

Most wretched women! whom your prophet dooms
     To take love’s penalties without its prize!
Yes; you shall bear the unborn in your wombs,
     And water dusty death with streaming eyes,
And, wailing, beat your breasts among the tombs;
     &But souls ye have none fit for Paradise.


Samuel Fildes (1843-1927), Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874)

Many many more poems at Matilde Blind (1841-96)

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

As to a more extended view of her life, I don’t mean to suggest she lived a solitary or at all reclusive existence. She’s much better known for her political and social activities. Her father had been a Jewish banker and she was born in Mannheim, Germany, but when he died and her mother remarried, the revolutionary leader, Karl Blind, the family moved to Paris, and from there to England where Matilde was educated at a London girls’ school. She tried to again admission to university lectures and her failure fired her first enthusiasm for women’s education. When she died, she bequeathed her estate to Newham College, Cambridge, to found a scholarship for women.

Her first poems were dedicated to Giuseppe Mazzini, and she supported the Italian revolutionaries; she was influenced by and admired Elizaabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot, about whom she wrote yet another life (1883). Shelley, Byron inspired her. Two poems show her time in Scotland, one set in the Hebrides deals with religious questions from an atheist angle (The Prophecy of St Oran, 1881). The Heather on Fire (1886) is about the shameful Highland clearances, razed villages, people driven cruelly into further absymal poverty and emigration. There is no false romance here: we see the “agonizing plight of a crippled old woman whom no-one removed from her home before” it was set on fire; we see the people herded onto beaches to set sail for Canada. The scope, sincerity, intensity and authentic concern made her poems admired. She was no favorite with critics; her poems were not designed for male readers. Her fallen woman poem of a prostitute dying in a hospital was seen as distasteful. The pains of childbirth were not their concern. But Arthur Symons did published a full Poetical Works in 1900.


John Everett Millais (1829-96), Blow blow though winter wind (a Scotland scene)

As to her prose writing, she admired Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote an article on her (1878) and herself spent her life as an independent woman. She traveled widely in Europe and Egypt and through Scotland, published translations from Goethe, and wrote a life of the French revolutionary, Madame Roland (1886), and (her most famous work today) translated the extraordinary Journal of Marie Bashkirseff (1890), herself a fine artist. Her one experimental novel, Tarantella: A Romance is online (18805). To sum up her social existence as seen by others, confident, generous, she had circles of friends in the arts (especially the Pre-Raphaelites), knew the radical novelists, Mona Caird, was friends with Eleanor Marx. Blain says that Blind loved to give “‘literary dinners’ in rooms in well-chosen hotels.”


Lucy Madox Brown, The Duet (1870), watercolor on paper

See wikipedia and recent articles:

S. Brown, “‘A Still and Mute-Born Vision': Locating Mathilde Blind’s
Reproductive Poetics,” Essays and Studies 56( 2003): 123-144.

James Diedrick, “‘My Love is a Force That Will Force you to Care':
Subversive Sexuality in Mathilde Blind’s Dramatic Monologues.”
Victorian Poetry 40.4 (2002) 359-386.

James Diedrick, “A Pioneering Female Aesthete: Mathilde Blind in the
Dark Blue.” The Victorian Periodicals Review 36.6 (2003): 210-241.

Christine Sutphin, “Human Tigresses, Fractious Angels, and Nursery Saints:
Augusta Webster’s A Castaway and Victorian Discourses on Prostitution and
Women’s Sexuality.” Victorian Poetry 38.4 (2000) 511-532

As to Lucy, as will have been seen she succumbed to romantic pictures of actors playing Shakespeare. But then these sold. But she also wrote a book, on Mary Shelley and it’s online.

I thank my good friend, Fran, for helping me find some of the above material and filling me in on her knowledge of Blind from Fran’s childhood in Lancaster and now life in southern Germany.

I had begun to place my foremother poet blogs over on Austen Reveries where they have mounted up to 18, as under the sign of a central women writer (who also wrote verse); but this one I felt really was not a life which can be placed with Austen as a gravatar, example. For the other (25) foremother poets on this blog, see the archive here.

Ellen

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


Mary Cassat, Modern Women (mural) for Women’s Building


Mary Cassatt, detail of mural as a painting

Dear friends and readers,

Some may remember that I reported on a lecture and book I learned about on the Women’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892-93 where the stupendous aim was to gather a copy of every book published by a woman since 1492, and while they came short of that goal, they came as close as anyone could in 1892-93. I wrote a blog that got many hits about the lecture and book, Right Here I see My Own Books: “I did not think there were so many books in the world written by women … ”

In this year’s issue (it comes out once a year) of the Woman’s Art journal, there is an essay on the pathetically little art that has survived from this heroic endeavor, complete with a few photos of the building before it was torn down.


Women’s Building, Northern Pavilion


Women’s Building, Reading Room (Hall of Honor)

The crime — or tragedy – is how all was destroyed and dispersed again — by plan! The article is by an independent scholar, Charlote Garfinkle, “Progress Illuminated: Two Stained Glass Windows from the 1893 Woman’s Building, Woman’s Art Journal, Spring summer 2012. The survivors are two murals and a church-like stained glass window. I’ve put these and the photos of this exhibit to which thousands came in an album for us. You see above the Hall of Honor where you could read some of the women’s books as well as one of the murals: Mary Cassatt’s Modern Women.

As the two presenters of the lecture and writers of the book, Right Here I see My Own Books“, Sarah Wadsworth and Wayen Wiegland, did say the art of this place was limited by the mainstream range of the types of women who ran the clubs which engineered this feat and it may seem a bit stodgy to look at Massachusetts as Mother hovering over the (as yet) coming woman of liberty, but the ideals were all we would want today (and rarely have). Mary Cassett’s mural has women working in a garden like another mural I’ve seen by her, and Mary MacMonnie’s Primitive Women remind me of Puvis de Chavannes (everyone dressed in pseudo-Greek like dresses):

The title of Elizabeth Parsons, Edith Blake Brown and Ethel Isadore Brown’s stained glass contribution, Massachusetts Mothering the Coming Woman of Liberty, Progress and Light is embarrassing, and the imagery highly traditional:

Garfinkle thinks Mary Crease Sears’s Seal of Boston has much private imagery:

Here is a final surviving photo:


The East Facade

The Woman’s Art Journal is itself a marvelous periodical: printed on art paper, it’s just filled with images. It has several long essays, and 23 pages of reviews of a couple of columns each. Expect more from me taken from this periodical from time to time.

For example (one more article): A long essay on the once popular caricatures by Minna Citrone, Jennifer Strebe’s “Minna Citron’s Feminanities: her commentary on the culture of vanity.”


Citron, Hope Springs Eternal/Bargain Basement (1930s)

Citron’s art was social realism intended to critique the present political and social order, especially the workings of unameliorated capitalism. Here’s a cornucopia of her art; and here some of her fellow women print-makers.

She also worked in traditional tropes. Her self-image of the artist makes herself out to be a powerful woman, but not quite no vanities (look at the pretty shoes and improbably fancy dress with the scarf), living in an apartment in the city, where she is not at all cut off from its realities …

Ellen

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Amy Clampitt

A Thrush singing in Dorsetshire

Dear friends and readers,

This foremother poet blog on Amy Clampitt, is done differently from most. I was so taken by her “The Hermit Thrush” after reading a review in Women’s Review of Books of a newly published book of her poems, that I wrote a brief foremother poet posting and then put this poem on Wompo — at whch there was an outpouring of Thrush poems in reponse. So this is Amy Clampitt amid the thrushes. I found 2 UTube videos where one can hear the thrush’s song and watch a couple: the one above and one at the end of the blog.

Jim and I don’t share that many favorite poems but one is Basil Bunting (Yorkshire poet)’s (part of which forms the epigraph to my Reveries under the Sign of Austen, Two):

A thrush in the syringa sings.

‘Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things.

Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.

Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things,
fear, hunger, lust.’

O gay thrush.

(1964)

Syringa is sweet-smelling lilacs and Austen planted one in her first garden in Southampton for the sake of a line by Cowper that includes the syringa.

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

The latest issue of Women’s Review of Books (Jan/Feb 2012) is particularly rich and fine, and among its essays are no less than three on women’s poetry. One of these Amy Clampitt whose name I’ve heard before was written about in such a way I longed to read her poetry. In no time I found this masterpiece:

The Hermit Thrush

Nothing’s certain. Crossing, on this longest day,
the low-tide-uncovered isthmus, scrambling up
the scree-slope of what at high tide
will be again an island,

to where, a decade since well-being staked
the slender, unpremeditated claim that brings us
back, year after year, lugging the
makings of another picnic—

the cucumber sandwiches, the sea-air-sanctified
fig newtons—there’s no knowing what the slamming
seas, the gales of yet another winter
may have done. Still there,

the gust-beleaguered single spruce tree,
the ant-thronged, root-snelled moss, grass
and clover tuffet underneath it,
edges frazzled raw

but, like our own prolonged attachment, holding.
Whatever moral lesson might commend itself,
there’s no use drawing one,
there’s nothing here

to seize on as exemplifying any so-called virtue
(holding on despite adversity, perhaps) or
any no-more-than-human tendency—
stubborn adherence, say,

to a wholly wrongheaded tenet. Though to
hold on in any case means taking less and less
for granted, some few things seem nearly
certain, as that the longest day

will come again, will seem to hold its breath,
the months-long exhalation of diminishment
again begin. Last night you woke me
for a look at Jupiter,

that vast cinder wheeled unblinking
in a bath of galaxies. Watching, we traveled
toward an apprehension all but impossible
to be held onto—

that no point is fixed, that there’s no foothold
but roams untethered save by such snells,
such sailor’s knots, such stays
and guy wires as are

mainly of our own devising. From such an
empyrean, aloof seraphic mentors urge us
to look down on all attachment,
on any bonding, as

in the end untenable. Base as it is, from
year to year the earth’s sore surface
mends and rebinds itself, however
and as best it can, with

thread of cinquefoil, tendril of the magenta
beach pea, trammel of bramble; with easings,
mulchings, fragrances, the gray-green
bayberry’s cool poultice—

and what can’t finally be mended, the salt air
proceeds to buff and rarefy: the lopped carnage
of the seaward spruce clump weathers
lustrous, to wood-silver.

Little is certain, other than the tide that
circumscribes us that still sets its term
to every picnic—today we stayed too long
again, and got our feet wet—

and all attachment may prove at best, perhaps,
a broken, a much-mended thing. Watching
the longest day take cover under
a monk’s-cowl overcast,

with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,
we drop everything to listen as a
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end

unbroken music. From what source (beyond us, or
the wells within?) such links perceived arrive—
diminished sequences so uninsistingly
not even human—there’s

hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain
as we are of so much in this existence, this
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing

Amy Clampitt


Said to be a hermit thrush

A biography with reviews and poetry linked in.

I can contribute this brief life too:

Amy Clampitt was born on June 15, 1920, and brought up in New Providence, Iowa. She wrote poetry in high school, but then ceased and focused her energies on writing fiction instead. She graduated from Grinnell College, and from that time on lived mainly in New York City. To support herself, she worked as a secretary at the Oxford University Press, a reference librarian at the Audubon Society, and a freelance editor.

Not until the mid-1960s, when she was in her forties, did she return to writing poetry. Her first poem was published by The New Yorker in 1978. In 1983, at the age of sixty-three, she published her first full-length collection, The Kingfisher.

In the decade that followed, Clampitt published five books of poetry, including What the Light Was Like (1985), Archaic Figure (1987), and Westward (1990). Her last book, A Silence Opens, appeared in 1994. The recipient in 1982 of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1984 of an Academy Fellowship, she was made a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1992. She was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and taught at the College of William and Mary, Amherst College, and Smith College. She died of cancer in September 1994.

I have read that she is accused of being bookish! if so, all the better (see poems in comments). If this woman be not a foremother, where are foremothers to be found?

And here is the outpouring of thrush poetry from the women poets and lovers of poetry from Wompo (Women’s Poetry list) whence we had an outpouring of thrush, with photos and another UTube performance of a bird. These were placed on Wompo over three days. Friends, were Congress to enact this draconian censorship bill on behalf of the movie and music industry and other powerful corporations who the Internet takes business from (narrow public media owned by a few) and other powerful institutions threatened by the Net this is the sort of thing they’d silence, black out.

By Margo Berdeshevsky (which she shared with us):

Of the Song Bird

Legend tells of the community of birds who had wings but no song as yet : of a contest offered them by the god : of the prize of song—offered to that bird who could fly the highest : of the tiny dun white-spotted-thrush who knew it had no powers to fly high enough to win and wanted to—

Who crept, instead, who hid her small self in a white eagle’s feathered crown to fly far higher than all others : who dozed there, dreamed there, concealed in her carrier’s flight, and longing—and when her eagle tired, she who knew, and bounded out and upward farther still—

Legend tells of the coveted prize of song she heard and learned there, in the heights : of the thrush who returned with the song of spheres in her thirsty small throat, who knew she had won by cheating : who saw the gathering of birds below—a community, receiving, each, their entitled songs—

Legend of the thrush who went away then, hid in the deepest of forests out of shame—but who could not help her song from rising, even in those stands of webbing vine and shadow—of a quest for beauty, of goodness as we barely know it but beg to receive it—that it brings us to longing, only—

Frailty, that rarely, like the thrush, the gorgeous song in us climbs, a bird ashamed of its arriving at a possession of beauty by unsanctioned means, a slouching off to such a dim-lit place where the song erupts in spite, its open-winged remembering, seining from the quiet—

We decided that these thrush poems project world views and tell us much about their poets:

The Laughing Thrush

O nameless joy of the morning

tumbling upward note by note out of the night
and the hush of the dark valley
and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded
yes this is the place and the one time
in the whole of before and after
with all of memory waking into it

and the lost visages that hover
around the edge of sleep
constant and clear
and the words that lately have fallen silent
to surface among the phrases of some future
if there is a future

here is where they all sing the first daylight
whether or not there is anyone listening


White-crested laughing thrush

W. W. Merwin

Thrushes

Terrifying are the attent sleek thrushes on the lawn,
More coiled steel than living – a poised
Dark deadly eye, those delicate legs
Triggered to stirrings beyond sense – with a start, a bounce,
a stab
Overtake the instant and drag out some writhing thing.
No indolent procrastinations and no yawning states,
No sighs or head-scratchings. Nothing but bounce and stab
And a ravening second.

Is it their single-mind-sized skulls, or a trained
Body, or genius, or a nestful of brats
Gives their days this bullet and automatic
Purpose? Mozart’s brain had it, and the shark’s mouth
That hungers down the blood-smell even to a leak of its own
Side and devouring of itself: efficiency which
Strikes too streamlined for any doubt to pluck at it
Or obstruction deflect.

With a man it is otherwise. Heroisms on horseback,
Outstripping his desk-diary at a broad desk,
Carving at a tiny ivory ornament
For years: his act worships itself – while for him,
Though he bends to be blent in the prayer, how loud and
above what
Furious spaces of fire do the distracting devils
Orgy and hosannah, under what wilderness
Of black silent waters weep.

Ted Hughes

A cruel poem, embodying the cruelty of the natural and human worlds.


A darkling thrush

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy

*******************
Turning back to women’s poetry and thrushes, it’s been suggested that in women’s poetry one finds women poets who identify physically and intimately with small animals. (See Women’s faery poetry). For a near contemporary we have Mary Oliver


Am alert watchful thrush

And to go back in time, two from my favorite era, the 18th century. This is in the spirit of Robert Burns’s To a Mousie, or a similar vein. It really belongs to an early part of the animal rights movement; other poems (often by women) against experiment and really empathizing with (for example) cats are part of this earlier context.

Elegy: On finding a young THRUSH in the Street, who escaped from the Writer’s Hand, as she was bringing him home, and, falling down the Area of a House, could not be found

Mistaken Bird, ah, whither hast thou stray’d?
My friendly grasp, why eager to elude?
This hand was on thy pinion lightly laid,
And fear’d to hurt thee by a touch too rude.

Is there no foresight in a Thrush’s breast,
That thou down yonder gulph from me would’st go?
That gloomy area lurking cats infest,
And there the dog may rove, alike thy foe.

I would with lavish crumbs my Bird have fed,
And bought a crystal cup to wet thy bill;
I would have made of down and moss thy bed,
Soft, though not fashion’d with a Thrush’s skill.

Soon as thy strengthen’d wing could mount the sky,
My willing hand had set my captive free:
Ah, not for her, who loves the muse, to buy
A selfish pleasure, bought with pain to thee!

The vital air, and liberty, and light,
Had all been thine: and love, and rapt’rous song,
And sweet parental joys, in rapid flight,
Had led the circle of thy life along.

Securely to my window hadst thou flown,
And ever thy accustom’d morsel found;
Nor should thy trusting breast the wants have known,
Which other Thrushes knew, when winter frown’d.

Fram’d with the wisdom Nature lent to thee,
Thy house of straw had brav’d the tempest’s rage;
And thou, thro’ many a spring, hadst liv’d to see
The utmost limit of a Thrush’s age.

Ill-fated Bird! and does the Thrush’s race,
Like Man’s, mistake the path that leads to bliss;
Or, when his eye that tranquil path can trace,
The good he well discerns, thro’ folly miss?”

——Helen Maria Williams

(1790)

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

Ode to the Missed Thrush

Charlotte Smith

The Winter Soistice scarce is past,
Loud is the wind, and hoarsely sound
The mill-streams in the swelling blast,
And cold and humid is the ground[;]
When, to the ivy, that embowers
Some pollard tree, or sheltering rock,
The troop of timid warblers flock,
And shuddering wait for milder hours.

While thou! the leader of their band,
Fearless salut’st the opening year;
Nor stay’st, till blow the breeze bland
That bid the tender leaves appear:
But, on some towering elm or pine,
Waving elate thy dauntless wing,
Thou joy’st thy love notes wild to sing,
Impatient of St. Valentine!

Oh, herald of the Spring! while yet
No harebe1l scents the woodland lane,
Nor starwort fair, nor violet,
Braves the bleak gust and driving rain,
‘Tis thine, as thro’ the copses rude
Some pensive wanderer sighs along,
To soothe him with thy cheerful song,
And tell of Hope and Fortitude!

For thee then, may the hawthorn bush,
The elder, and the spindle tree,
With all their various berries blush,
And the blue sloe abound for thee!
For thee, the coral holly glow
Its arm’d and glossy leaves among,
And many a branched oak be hung
With thy pellucid missletoe.
Still may thy nest, with lichen lin’d,
Be hidden from the invading jay,
Nor truant boy its covert find,
To bear thy callow young away;
So thou, precursor still of good,
0, herald of approaching Spring,
Shalt to the pensive wanderer sing
Thy song of Hope and Fortitude.

The above too has a larger specific context from the time: poems about nature in a time of war (Napoleonic). It fits in with some eighteenth century poetry by poets like Thomson and Cowper, discussed by Favret (her last name) in a recent brilliant moving article in PMLA (“Still Winter Comes”, PMLA 124:5 (2009):1548-61

Just listen to that gay song and watch at the Metro Toronto Zoo with people commenting.

Ellen

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A serene day to all


Camille Pissaro, Louvenciennes in Snow (1770s)

Dear year-long friends and readers,

From the 19th century: Tennyson’s In Memoriam:

Again at Christmas did we weave
          The holly round the Christmas hearth;
          The silent snow possessed the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas-eve:

The yule-clog sparkled keen with frost,
          No wing of wind the region swept,
          But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.

As in the winters left behind,
          Again our ancient games had place,
          The mimic picture’s breathing grace,
And dance and song and hoodman-blind.

Who showed a token of distress?
          No single tear, no mark of pain:
          O sorrow, then can sorrow wane?
Of grief, can grief be changed to less?

O last regret, regret can die!
          No—mixed with all this mystic frame,
          Her deep relations are the same,
But with long years the tears are dry.


Stonehenge, a drawing by John Constable

**************************************
Last night:


Izzy, at her computer, 2011

R. Joyce Heon’s The Dream Again

The dream again. Near Christmas. It is time
To lower and unfold the attic stair
That will not hold a grown-up’s weight, to climb
Into the chill and naptha-scented air.
Here moth will not corrupt, and time must spare
The box of lights and mismatched ornaments
Packed in a carton filled with Angel Hair
And met, as if by sheer coincidence,
With lawn chairs, summer clothes, and two old Army tents.

Mother, an item here belongs to me.
It is a piece of plastic tubing, red
And cane-shaped, which I’ll hang upon our tree
In memory of an old man who is dead,
A neighbor on the block I visited
Daily when I was only three or four.
For months I took that thing with me to bed,
Then stopped and did not take it anymore
After he died. I’ve never known what it was for.

The dream again. We trim the slender tree
With strings of lights so antiquated they’ve
No colors left, hang icicles and see
These acts reflected, wave on frozen wave.
More rituals: the ribbon that we save
To bind leftover boughs to make a spray
Of cedar. Every year, on Christmas day,
These were the fragrant, handmade gifts you gave
Your mother and your father — one upon each grave.

To make room for the presents we arrange
The furniture and, for amusement, play
Old records that, in retrospect, seem strange:
Gene Autry, Guy Lombardo, Sammy Kaye.
I watch you setting out a metal tray –
Santa Drinks Coke — and sing along like one
Who knows what words each character will say,
A sort of deja vu, a knowledge won
From having played the part before, the role of son.

The dream again, the one that always ends
In a light which, while neither cruel nor hard,
Indifferent to my waking thoughts, ascends
In moments made to empty and discard
Like leaves the wind now scatters in the yard.
Yet it is such that I would not confine
It to the space inside a Christmas card
Or the stamped parcels bound with tape and twine,
Sent with regrets for invitations I decline.
So let the light grow dim, allow this dream
Its one still moment, where none may intrude
To hang the stockings which can only seem
Empty reminders of the magnitude
Of love we neither compass nor conclude.
Let the deep twilight gather to the chime
Of three brass angels circling in the nude,
Tinkling above their candles as they climb
The wall in shadows, marking nothing more than time.


Poor yet alert puzzled pussycat: Clary

Ellen

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Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840), Man and Woman [?] Gazing at the Moon (1819)

My friendly (and kind) readers,

Will I hope remember last week I told of how I had come to decide to fulfill a long-held desire, to write a paper where I would have to gaze at, study, write about the landscapes of Ann Radcliffe, visual sources and her verbal fantasias. Well I did so and am chuffed to be able to report that proposal has been accepted for presentation at the South Central Society for Eighteenth Century Studies coming conference at in the Grove Park Inn (Asheville, South Carolina) whose topic is (to me) the delightful Panoramas and Prospects (vistas and visions if you prefer).

I’ve put the proposal on my site. I used Elizabeth Bennet’s enthusiastic outburst upon conemplating her coming journey with her uncle and aunt Gardiner (at that point) to the Lake District: “‘What are men to rocks and mountains?': The Content of Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes”.

I know the title there is “contentlessness,” but that is yukky made-up word and I’m not sure I wouldn’t do better simply saying content — if you read my brief two paragraphs, you will see I mean to show they are not contentless.


Alfonso Simonetti, Ancor Non Torna, illustration for 19th century Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

Radcliffe’s texts have been long close to my heart. I’ve been writing on line about her for years, not just blogs, and foremother poet essays, but meditating at length her Sicilian Romance, and Romance of the Forest. I’ve taught her books, and now will try to write professionally about her.

My idea will come from my studies of Oliphant’s gothic, Beatrice Battaglia and Italian studies of romanticism and Austen, and my sense of how Radcliffe coped with her distress by projecting it onto visions and then gradually worked out stories which delved a liberal Whig, a Foxite (yes) or Girondist point of view.

Ellen

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Letters to the World: poems from the Wom-po listserv

Dear friends and readers,

ON the Wompo listserv, a member, Lesley Wheeler, has posted a URL to an essay she wrote on the Wom-po community:

A Salon with a Revolving Door: Virtual Community and the Space of Wom-po, Contemporary Women’s Writing, an Oxford online Journal.

It is a defense of listserv life from the point of view of this listserv set up to discuss women’s poetry, and be haven for women poets and those interested in women’s poetry; goals included meeting other women poets and creating a healthy women’s community. I’ve been a member of a member of for some years now and remember when we first bruited the idea of publishing an anthology of poems by the members (interspersed with prose comments on the listserv community), Letters to the World. Lesley’s article is valuable for putting into some permanent (traditionally respected form) a history of this community, for treating it with respect, and pointing out some of the significant functions such listservs can play in real people’s lives.

Lesley’s essay also shows real respect for the members of the wompo listserv, and its peculiar formations. Perhaps though she does somewhat over emphasize the function or centrality of the famous respected people over and over again. They are attractions to other people and can help keep people posting (if mostly through backchanneling). Her choice of topic too — international versus national conversations, how location actually does figure in what is said and to whom and about what — needs to be thought about more. It’s not that overwhelming a thread at all, though the outsider-insider nexus is a central part of the experience (so we all do know who are the dogs on the Net and who cannot be kicked). I wish she had developed the importance of conversation as community more. It seems to me that’s the central insight of her essay. When conversation dies, the community vanishes.

A wee correction: it was not I who started Wompo Wednesday. It was a part of the listserv conventions when I came: on Wednesday all are invited to put poems by contemporary living women onto the listserv. Joelle Biele has been keeping that up still, with a occasional people joining on to comment or contribute a poem or two. I did pick up on it and kept it up for a while with them. The same goes for Foremother Friday. There I made more of it than had been intended: I not only posted poems by women who were poet foremothers (at first they had to have died sixty years since), but also contributed little lives and a short piece of criticism and I did it regularly for a number of years and 30 of my pieces became part of their Wompo festival site and listserv Foremothers Corner. But it was there as a option for posting something for Friday when I came on, others have kept it up since I gave over doing it so regularly and began to put the postings here on this (Foremother poets) and my other blog too (Austen Reveries group).

I regret there’s never been one on Kevin Berland’s C18-l nor Patrick Leary’s Victoria (so far as I know) and also none on Austen-l: too much prejudice surrounds these unexclusive virtual community groups (especially from those inside exclusive coterie groups in academia or publishing), and Austen-l has suffered bouts of flame wars and (to be honest) trolls and a ruthless use of it for self-advertisement (so that anything can be said about Austen, no matter how improbable) and insufficient moderation (it has no owner in this sense). But Austen-l has been a real wide-ranging known community fostering all sorts of people as beginning writers as well as scholars and Janeites. A number of people have told me this (Cindy James who wrote My Jane Austen Summer comes to mind and is one of many many).

These listserv communities have meant so much to me and I know to others. For me they have given me a life I did not have before, could never have had any other way (like others in this I know), one I value and cherish and try to sustain. I see the same happening for other people who have stayed on listservs and opened blogs and websites; for individual friends, my daughters, their friends. I’ve published four times on listserv communities I’ve been part ofP: my Trollope on the Net is 50% about the people reading Trollope’s novels, how we went about it and what we said; my “On reading divergent Fanny Burney d’Arblays” and “Johnson and Boswell Forever” describe and commemorate two reading and discussions we had on Eighteenth-Century Worlds @ Yahoo, and my “Women in Cyberspace” is about cyberspace is a strongly gendered experience, differing in significant ways for women and men. This one Joan Korenman, listowner of the long-time WMST-l was genderous enough to place on the Net as one of the permanent papers of the community of women scholars. I am aware the word “community” with all its unexamined positive resonances is one some people refuse to see as real in cyberspace (sometimes I feel in meanness, sometimes ignorance, sometime fear because they’ve had or heard of bad experiences) and Leslie addresses this question too. The greatest red herring in debates over cyberspace life is that it takes you away from all your others social worlds: lots of people have few or small and uncongenial social worlds and should shout that out as central to the outsider/insider nexus.

Ellen

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