Posts Tagged ‘Regency Romantic literature’

There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall … Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising … I was a stage rebel, Orwell a true one — Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise

Isaac Cruickshank, Royal Extinguisher or Gulliver Putting out Patriots


Dear Friends and Readers,

This is the second half of my summary and commentary on Johnston’s Unusual Suspects (see Parts 1-4). This part of Johnston’s book will probably be more familiar territory to those who have read novels of the romantic and regency period, as well as their milieu and development (say in Gary Kelly’s survey). As women who wrote on behalf of radical ideas, 18th century versions of feminism, or reform were given a much rawer response than men, and there were automatically suspect nations (Chapters 7 & 8 of Part 4), so the novel was a suspect genre (Chapter 9). Johnston treats the novel from a political angle to suggest that the novel was not allowed to develop in ways that contextualize what is happening with a real understanding of social forces: publishers were prosecuted; what you wrote affected your career. In Scott’s attack on Bage we see female liberation allowed no play whatsoever. Johnston then moves into the silencing at the end of the 1790s: the destruction of Gilbert Wakefield was at the time understood as an example of what happens when a writer practices liberty of speech, freedom of the press. He uses Mackintosh to show what a man did who wanted to carry on; to see Mackintosh crudely as an apostate is not to see what happened.

We then follow a trail beginning with a man spying on Coleridge and Wordsworth and see how suspicion, the manufacturing of alarm, class and ethnic disdain operated on known individuals. I found these short biographies contained surprises: these were lives reseen by looking at the evidence used in previous studies from a new angle; that of how justified paranoia (they did have enemies) and ostracism shaped these peoples’ lives and a genuine humane sympathy with their politics. Johnston makes these people’s lives and choices make sense: the people are Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey (he is especially insightful on Southey’s earlier radicalism), Lamb (on his brands of irony), Burns and Blake (how class disdain operates in both cases). The individual chapters are much longer and I include and link to some readings of the works (e.g., Wordsworth’s Borderers, Southey’s Letters from England, Lamb’s “Praise of Chimney Sweeps”) that Johnston just mentioned without going into.



Chapter 9: Suspect Genres, the Novelist who was not: Robert Bage (1728-1801)

Johnston looks at the traditional genres, poetry, plays and the new one, novels for general effects from the political conflicts of the era. Story-lines were not allowed development, attitudes were castigated and ridiculed. Among the periodical set up to monitor the literature of the age the most important was the Anti-Jacobin (1798-99) which was very successful in achieving its aims of stopping people from writing clear protest poetry, and when they did, framing what they wrote as absurd, unacceptable, unpatriotic. Keats was hurt, Southey changed course; Coleridge and Wordsworth moderated themselves; others fled to Italy. Thomas Holcroft was a major victim. Plays were shouted off stage, censored in publications (the author not named); publishers arrested and made wary. Johnston sees this process as a destruction of what genres could have been like, one which marginalized potentially great practitioners. In the area of the novel the anti-jacobin novels won, Austen & Scott produce the respected paradigms; Bronte kind of rebellion romantic in feeling is not political or economic in ideology; Byron was silenced.

Robert Bage was a man rare for providing any ideological content, and one of those attacked by the Anti-Jacobin.

Godwin visits in June 1797; Bage was self-educated, admires Holbach, has friendships with Priestley and dissenting people; author of Man As He Is (a jaded aristocrat), and Hermsprong, Man As He Is Not (an American republican). Bage was a businessman running paper and flour mills who found war got in his way, he did have a long term contract but raw materials hard to get; long term contract supplying Hutton, in Birminghan, a friend and dissenter with paper. Long time association with Birmingham, Priestley crowd.

Johnston makes it clear Bage a reformer not a revolutionary in his first four novels. But what he did present was harangued against by Scott. Bage had departed from middle class novel norms by in one novel allowing a young woman who has made a romantic/sexual mistake to be rehabilitated into society. Scott explicitly wrote that ruined women must be stigmatized; in another a heroine prefers the harem to death; one heroine defends herself with a pair of scissors. Man as He Is expands out particular criticisms to suggest wider changes by gov’t policy. Johnston quotes Bage’s books to great effect and we get the dry witty quality of Bage’s strong critiques of corruption, war. Bage published anonymously; he was not interested in a writing career. Johnson argues that Bage’s revealing his last hero a aristocrat shows reader that such a title and money allows tiny minority of people to escape punishment, grow rich.

The gov’t of the day harassed him by excise taxes (directed to war); overcharged he gets his materials back only to have them seized again; he feels the effects of this constant harassment and interruption of his business; at one point he wrote he would like hanging himself. In reprints of his works Barbauld takes him to task for going against received notions and norms; Scott reprints worst Bage’s novels. We know that Austen had a copy of Hermsprong in 1796, in time for some influence. Johnston remarks how critics, and film makers today try to bring to bear in her novels positions only mentioned minimally by her and centrally by Bage. Conservative paradigms, Austen’s and Scott’s predominate by the end of the era; the effect of Barbauld’s collection.


A University of Victoria theater production of Endgame

Part 5: End-games. Endgame as a title is an allusion to Beckett’s play; its literal meaning refers to when the game is called to a half, the last of the chess pieces so this is exemplified by the prosecution of Wakefield for daring to argue with the Bishop of Llandaff; his incarceration utterly unjust. Mackintosh stands in as the representative of radical disillusionment.

Chapter 10: The End of Controversy: Gilbert Wakefield (1756-1801). Wakefield exemplifies the book’s thesis: he died as a result of absolutely unjust incarceration after acareer as a controversialist who made the mistake of rising to broad principles in his attack on complacent bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson, a bland, condescending sycophant (the David Brook of his day?). Before this, Wakefield had done battle with several people and used religious language. Wakefield did things like attack the war, Pitt and Grenville, and show how false is the idea that sedition in the UK is everywhere.

Wakefield had had a career among the dissenters, as a controversialist; would attack notion it was sinful not to go to church (thus exposing worship is social worship); he went further than his 6 central theses (includes idea that alliance of church and state is a fraud). He argued that the prosecution of the reform movement was meant to silence opposition to foreign and domestic policies. His defense was his peaceable scholarly character, his friends in high places, that the trial itself is wrong – irony he was visited by known and famous people and yet they could do nothing for him.

He was forced to be in jail for a long time before trial; put in Dorchester way outside where he came from and notorious for bad conditions; then put into solitary confinement for 16 hours day. All sorts of famous friends visited him. His great Juvenilian poem in appendix; most imitations are conservative in thrust, not his.

Wordsworth has him partly in mind in his planned Recluse, the “Solitary” figure: that outline of Wordsworth’s early career resembles that of Wakefield only Wordsworth didn’t publish (only is too weak a word).

Chapter 11: The Great Apostate: Judas, Brutus, or Thomas? James Mackintosh (1765-1832). I did not find this chapter as convincing: Mackintosh did not hurt as much and was following his own character and tendencies throughout. He did not change all that much. Mackintosh was always currying favor, trying to to build a career; e.g., when he left Scotland as a doctor; first he tries to make connections with all the main liberal editors, reformers, he failed. His original fame came from a polemic against Burke defending French revolution, Vindiciae Gallicae, strong but not as available linguistically as Paine’s. Hazlitt is quoted, but Hazlitt’s sketch shows Mackintosh to have been an academic intellectual at heart (eg. Discourse on Study of Law and Nations). He had attacked Pitt for abandoning reform in A letter to R.Hon. Wm Pitt, on his Apostacy. Pitt turned this around to be against reform itself. Pitt’s target and legislation a “free form vigilantism against anyone who wrote, or sol, liberal material of any stripe.” Mackintosh wrote that Pitt’s aim was to subsidize European monarcihes to overthrow the French, evoking from French our country is in danger (a levee en masse).

But after the execution of Louis XVI, Mackintosh found his name was used as a bad associate to have. Johnston himself resorts to a kind of coy arch talk about careerism as explanation for why Mackintosh’s Discourses offended; Hazlitt said Mackintosh was too much an academic at heart. He retired to study. Discourses was a moderate book, gov’ts are there to protect us with “security against wrong.” His prose appealing because of its personal and religious quality. He was attacked by his friends as a trimmer, but he had been that way all along. It was hard for people to see he was consistent. When he was awarded a judgeship in India, his record in India unimpeachably progressive: reform penal law, the police, against death penalty. He came home and has an honorable liberal record in his voting habit (p 222) plans an unwritten History of England from the time of the Glorious revolution (one was written in the 1790s and had been suppressed).

In Letters to England, Southey has two long sections exposing and inveighing against the treatment of horses, especially the new techniques in breeding and training racing horses

Mackintosh was at the last active in founding The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.



Part VI: The Romantic Poets, the Police and the State of Alarm: Johnston uses a cartoon by Gillray, “New morality,” or “The promised Installment of the High Priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the Homage of Leviathan and his suite” (August 1798) and calls it “The Last Line-up,” to identify the individuals he’s now proceeds to draw portraits of.

Chapter 12: “A Gang of disaffected Englishmen: Spy Nozy and the Somerset Gang.” Johnston retells Coleridge’s famous half-mocking account of a spy sent to listen in on his, the Wordsworths’, and various dissenting and potential and real unusual suspects. The spies report is retold by Coleridge in a way that makes him sound like an innocent and the whole thing hilarious, but the spying was serious. What saved them was they were recognized (according to Johnston) as “disaffected Englishmen.” I admit this does not make much sense to me – the other people the gov’t went after were disaffected Englishmen. If they were discussing some serious issues, the man could have reported it by word of mouth. My guess is the gov’t saw they were poets and not organizers and would not attract followers or organize themselves. Spy nozy was the man’s interpretation of Spinoza: the incident shows class disdain – Johnston does not mention this. It does show the group were spied upon, monitored.

Chapter 13: “Whispering Tongues can poison truth: Coleridge and Thelwall, 1796-1798. This chapter is about a thwarted friendship and stunted growth of a group of people. Coleridge corresponds with and seems to be eager to have Thelwall and his family come and live there – it’s so cheap and they will spend their lives in this retreat. Thelwall so harassed and destroyed seemed eager to reciprocate but when he left Coleridge wrote letters discouraging him to come after all. What happened? Was Coleridge somehow pressured lest he involve the Wordsworths, himself chickened out?

We see that he thought the better of it – rightly feared the results for all concerned, that in fact that spy system was operating to disseminate any grouping, silence them all – but he comes out very badly in these letters as he writhes and turns. Thelwall and Wordsworth truer to themselves than Coleridge. Johnston produces a letter by Coleridge to a magistrate Chubb where instead of really persuading Chubb to help Thelwall live there, Coleridge insinuates Thelwall will be a risk. Johnston seems to me to misread a bit of Coleridge’s letter to Chubb: Johnston says Coleridge is promising to tame Thelwall by having Thelwall live near them; Coleridge’s words suggestthey will teach Thelwall to submit. There is a difference even if the outcome is the same.

This chapter has new material: Johnston directs the reader to Wordsworth’s dramatic poem or play (done in the 1950s), The Borderers, which Johnston characterizes as “one of the most searching examinations of post-revolutionary disillusionment and despair ever written, with insights worthy of Stendhal, and Tolstoy, many of them distilled from Wordsworth’s main source, Schiller’s Robbers.” It was read aloud by the group. Johnston goes over Coleridge’s ode “Fire, Famine, Slaughter” and shows it to be a startlingly brave revolutionary poem.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, by Thomas Girtin, circa 1797-9 “I think I see a second range of towers”: The Borderers (1797-99) (Mortimer to Rivers as they approach the ruined castle, Act II, scene iii)

My reading of this play: I first read some articles on The Borderers because it is more than a little incoherent and unreadable and exists in two slightly different versions with the characters renamed. To be played (at an American university) it had to be revised once again. I see in the play (which is called gothic by some) a number of the motifs that powerfully resonate today. The play’s villain wants to fool or drive this hero into killing someone — so as to make him share in some blood guilt and join this band of revolutionaries. The villain does believe the old man guilty of being part of the ancien regime and holding it up. In Wordsworth’s play the old man starves and freezes to death because the hero lives him on a heath to die since the hero hasn’t got the stomach or whatever it takes to kill him outright. So the play shows us an example of someone being murdered for his ideology. The 18th century parallels might be guillotined people, but the way Wordsworth writes has no specific reference. The characters do feel there is evidence against the old man, but there is no trial so the modern parallel is killing people using drones with nothing more than the evidence of surveillance, or captured people tortured or driven to “confess” The archetype is the blind Oedipus led by his daughter, Antigone. In Schiller’s play a villain drives the hero to stab his beloved (the heroine) through the heart.

In one of the Northanger novels, Horrid Mysteries, there’s a Rosicrucian scene of ritual introduction of a member to the sect, and one of the things the new member must promise is to kill whomever the group requires — whether the person is a relative or friend doesn’t matter. Unlike Wordsworth’s play, Horrid Mysteries does not bother to justify the demand at all — it’s not a serious book. Wordsworth’s play is. The use of the pathetic daughter makes the murder more abhorrent, but its justifications are spelled out too. Wordsworth has some characteristic gothic motifs, and understands why the outlaw might operate or feel this way, but he stands outside and condemns the outlaw who demands such an act and the act too. One problem with The Borderers than as political discourse is by using the fantasy elements of gothic, Wordsworth does not bring in the real French case — the allied armies massing in Europe to attack the new revolutionary group, the fomenting of counter-revolution in the countryside, some of the causes of the terror – which killed less people than the French 2nd republic did in 1870-71.

Johnson does persuade us of Thelwall’s tragic loss, how hurt he must have been, and how this sort of thing is done to people unanswerably. Excellent chapter hard to summarize to do it justice

Chapter 14: Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Prelude and Posterity. This chapter brings out the problem with the book: it depends upon assuming a counter-factual “what if:” Johnstone assumes Wordsworth’s Prelude would have made a big positive impact if it had been published at the time; he says at one point that all masterpieces do, and works exist in this ideal realm modifying one another – we are back in Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot’s probably dream world of a tiny intellectual elite which even they would disagree on.

He does show that the incident of the spy leading to the non-renewal of Wordsworths’s lease, despite all uncomfortable denials, made a great change in the Wordsworths lives: some good, they went to Germany, some probably bad, they lost a companion. He insists that Byron and Shelley would have been changed, their poetry different – for the better. And he brings out three different versions of a long passage in The Prelude showing Wordsworth was bitter and recognized justice and liberty killed insofar as powers could. The chapter also has excellent definition of hegemonic versus legal: the dangers to all these romantics come from the losses hegemonic pervasive control inflicts on them in all sorts of incalculable ways.


PacoRibeira, 18th century Portugal

Chapter 15: More Radical than Thou, Robert Southey (1774-1843). This was an eye-opener for me. For the first time I felt I understood why Southey changed his outlook. It made sense of his satiric Letters from England: it fits into the trajectory. The chapter begins with how how originally Southey came to be radical beyond that it was in him to be “psychologically rebellious.” Johnston brings out how Southey was subject to adults and authority figures around him (more than such a person would be today); orphaned, lived with aunt and then uncle; buffeted by suspicion and discouragement. He was gotten into by his uncle, Herbert Hill, and then expelled from Westminster Schools for a a column in The Flagellant, a student periodical, where he exposed the viciousness of flogging. Headmaster sabotaged his admission to Christ Church, Oxford; uncle gets him into Balliol. Not keen on career choices. 1795 aunt kicks him out, uncle sends him to Lisbon. How from an American perspective the scheme for a Pantisocracy in eastern Penn is not outrageous unreal wild idea. Southey works hard to make it happen and in the process forges career as money-making writer; early work is readable and radical, Fall of Robespierre, Wat Tyler. Anti-Jacobin attacks him, but he did not organize and his poems also simply express unhappy emotional states. Others: “After Blenheim,” “Devil’s Thoughts,” and “History:”Southey wants to escape; Clio says the worse history gets, the more we should write about it; but Southey tired, Gilbert Wakefield case spells end of freedom of press (with Flower, on trial for sedition). Visits Wakefield & Flower, also attacked income tax. Now great relief when sent to Lisbon; departure for Lake District in 1803 a surrender.


Chapter 16: Radical in Lamb’s Cloak: Charles Lamb (1775-1834). This chapter is enormously enjoyable because of the quotations and works referred to. Johnston opens with young Charles Lamb’s enthusiasm over Thelwall (accused of treason, acquitted and thereafter harassed and his career and livelihood and reputation destroyed) to Coleridge; identified viscerally, admired Thelwall’s bravery. Lamb’s reputation has suffered because of the spread of the adjective “gentle” and “gentle-hearted” beginning with Coleriage; Lamb asked him to blot the expression out of his “Lime Tree Bower my Prison;” sentimental obfuscation is a good disguise. Lamb was one of those attacked by Anti-Jacobin. His sonnets express emotion, are on friendship, which he needed. Johnston retells story of Mary’s murder of the mother and how Lamb taking on life-long responsibility for her limited his possibilities; 33 years as clerk for long hours in East India Company, endless moving. His early writing is virulently pro-French revolution found in extended runs of Albion, edited by John Fenwick (1801-2) – all anonymous. His signed self-presentation was highly self-protective; he shows how Jacobinism is used as a bad-mouthing word for people with humane decent agendas; Lamb in effect describes political profiling.

Lamb’s finest work though found in his later years in his essays. Thomas McFarland described these as in a style that manifests the politics of survival (p. 282), others called his ways “acquiescent protest” and “serious levity.”

I read “The Praise of Chimney Sweeps” and found it to be quietly savagely ironic; he seems to be celebrating what is horrific cruelty to these boys; a nightmare world which produces such creatures; “Modern Gallantry” explicit about how courtesy from males is only to limited group of upper class females; the rest are prey. You have to read the texts to get this.

Johnston argues that the idiosyncracy of Lamb’s style and perspective is another result of these decades of repression of all dissent, active republican politics. Lamb expresses outrage at social injustice rather than a considered political opinion. Thomas de Quincey writes of the tabooing of Holcroft, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt, there to offer up to hated and scorn, so Lamb’s way was to appear to care nothing for politics.


Death of Robert Burns, engraving, Dumfries July 1796

Chapter 17: ‘A man for a’ that': Robert Burns (1759-96)

A moving chapter which presents Burns as having been far more politically and preciselyi radical and pro-French revolution than his works let on: Johnstone argues that the muddled feel of the texts is the result of a deliberate obfuscation Burns had to practice lest he lose his place or job, and a remarkable line by Burns: “for who can write and speak as thou and I – /My periods that deciphering defy (p. 303). Johnston says his views accord with Crawford’s but Crawford’s ODNB Life of Burns presents a far more complicated picture of a nationalistic poet as devoted to poetry as art and gathering texts and a human man with lots of failings. Here one can see that Johnston is skewing evidence by concentrating on a few years in the 1790s, and ignores Burns’s behavior towards women which was highly irresponsible (and surely callous and/or indifferent): Burns had sex sufficiently so often with so many women that he impregnated so many that it’s hard to keep count.

Burns is presented as someone writing sedition which he kept up even after authorities set upon him; he was far more vulnerable than English counterparts (more upper class): he would just have been fired, no need to stage a trial. The period covered is 1791-196: he quotes a contemporary explaining why Burns was isolated to some extent in his last years – after Edinburgh trip; “exiled from polite society on account of his radical opinions, he became sourer in temper & plunged more deeply into dissipations of the lower ranks…. “but this reads like bad-mouthing: Burn always drank & was promiscuous; he suffered depressions, he was ill; much of the argument depends on an analysis of select poems and how his enemies did what they could to ruin him: they could have been after him for his sexual misconduct, hatred of religious hypocrisy; that he gave some spoils due him as exciseman to the revolution is too much pressed; he followed what was happening abroad. Johnston tells of an incident where Burns tricked into exposure when he thinks all the men are going to aggressively assail a favorite woman – a dirty trick which reminds me of other accounts of upper class people humiliating lower class or vulnerable and sensitive people among them: Tom Branson tricked (Downton Abbey) or an incident in Dance to the Music of Time (where a bucket of urine is timed to spill over a door as the victim emerges), in Burney’s diaries at Streatham. Burns openly praised a theatrical epilogue praising Wollstonecraft and then worried because he knew he was monitored and at risk of losing job. The struggles “not quite ancient” which correspond to earlier are not French but local, Thomas Muir, later indicted, convicted, transported. A glued over piece of paper. The most effective parts of the argument come from the poems analysed, not well known – he identifying with someone imprisoned for debt, Esopus to Maria

Frontispiece to America, A Prophecy (Blake was indeed prophetic — think of what is happening around the world today as a result of the present US’s oligarchy and military’s uses of power

Chapter 18: Blake’s America, the Prophecy that failed, William Blake (1757-1827). In this chapter again Johnston dwells on important personal kinds of experience others often overlook or don’t tell clearly.

Blake’s Jerusalem reminds me of Austen’s Plan of a Novel – actually the same use of private references, same pathetic lack of range, and same absolute rejection of mainstream cliches, tropes, values.

An incident in 1803 where Blake hustled a private out of his garden at Felpham for having insulted him (as Blake thought); for this Blake was arraigned and tried, with quotations that make him sound as ripe for hanging or transportation. Luckily, Hayley, Blake’s patron, was powerful in this area and got character witnesses, himself was a character witness, helped see Blake was arraigned as a “public nuisance” (though this reminds me of police moving into private people’s apartments and shooting them). Johnston says Blake was shocked into silence. Chicester assizes at time of Despard’s execution. Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond hostile to Blake, thought to make an example of Blake as a seditionist would be to shore himself up as unimpeachably patriotic after being part of groups advocating parliamentary reform. In later years Blake claimed someone had been sent to entrap him.

In London Blake completed 1st version of masterwork, Jerusalem: the people who were involved in this incident are immortalized in the poem – along with great names from European history, cultural history; reviewers didn’t like (or understand) poem or visionary art. Contrast to America, written 10 years earlier (1793), revolution anticipates French, weeping illustrations suggest Blake pessimistic about his prophecies; preface to Milton has clear version of poems prefacing chapters of Jerusalem. Johnston shows how America is a very odd sort of poem – not understood by most, combining revenge, private feelings, vast public allegory.


An 18th century engraving of a debtor in the Marshalsea

Coda: Johnson answers the people who say, so what? and there is nothing unusual here, what did they expect, they deserved it. He begins with how Pitt was responsible for bad policy (Barrell in his review of Johnston’s book asks why Pitt is so respected and argues he was an awful prime minister; his early speeches on behalf of reform were political grandstanding). Johnston goes on to show how Pitt poked mean fun at writers he persecuted and stigmatized. He then reprints Liu’s heart-felt preface to a book on this period that these people matter: again he is discussing writing we could have had, are struggling to recover. Liu’s and other books include the writing we have that bears witness to the struggle and how it happened and so does Johnston’s. He urges us, let us recover what we can. It will show us how the people and their movements fail. Johnston calls this discouraging, but he is himself still a believer with Wordsworth and has faith in social man. We are to feel humanely for these people – multiply it out – recognize that such things do matter. He records and honor the ruined lives – we can see more deeply into what is half-there and into our own lives. He makes us see their works freshly in terms that connect to us.

The US Occupy Movement in its early stages — still plus ça change, moins ça change; see my “No pretense of regard for life or humanity.”


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It was a misfortune to any man to have been born in the latter end of the last century … The flame of liberty, the light of intellect, was to be extinguished with the sword — or with slander, whose edge is sharper than the sword — Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age (1825), quoted by Johnston


Dear friends and readers,

Today I finished writing a review I’ve been reading and working towards for several weeks. I didn’t mean to take such time with it, but Kenneth Johnson’s Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm & the Lost Generation of the 1970s is so good and important that I wanted to be able to place it in its scholarly as well as contemporary context — and so read other texts and reread some primary materials. This blog is not that review; rather like other blog-reviews I’ve done it’s rather a summary and commentary on details of the book intended to let readers know something of its content and to tempt them into reading it themselves. I tell the arguments and describe the lives and works covered. There’s a lot of worthwhile material here; as with other books I’ve shared on my blogs I’ll divide the blog into two parts to keep the reading from becoming too long.

Johnston tells stories of the ruined lives – ruined careers, thwarted writers, artists, politicians innumerable of the 1790s in the UK. His argument is that There was a widespread and viable reform movement shared by countless people across Great Britain, which was ruthlessly repressed, decimated — by Pitt the Younger’s establishment through violence, by manufacturing adverse opinion, by punishing people legally and socially, by trials for treason & sedition (or being a public nuisance or whatever would do) in the 1790s. He discussed people not tried for treason but penalized in common ways we are used to do (from the McCarthy era on), people in artistic and academic walks of life. Why did Charles James Fox never become Prime Minister? Was was Paine’s style not influential? Pitt’s Reign of Alarm did the job. An oligarchic and militarist foreign political world was shaped by Waterloo and treaties signed by Allies, put in place, in the UK a domestic better world put off for more than 70 years.

What Johnston’s makes book especially worthwhile are nuanced words in which he conveys the humanity, decency, genuine need for reform, the gross ruthlessness of those doing the destroying – in small things not susceptible of documentation – a new historicism indeed.


James Gillray; Caricature of John Thelwall supposed speaking at a Correspondence Society Meeting

Part I: The Red Decade

Chapter 1 is called “Before and After Lives”. Johnston opens with Hazlitt’s Spirit of the Age as about how England missed its inspiration, was prevented by official reactionary ruthless determination to stamp out reform of any kind, individual prejudice, and cowardice (hard term). Johnston suggests coupling the terms romantic period and age of revolution (1776-1832) as twin terms is odd. He singles out as a double defeat two sets of acts: Pitt’s Gagging Acts (1795) and Sidmouth and Castlereagh’s Six Acts (1819). In the 1790s people were asking for extension of franchise, equitable districts, frequent elections, rights of men; in 1732 Tories vote with Whigs to increase electorate by 200,000 property owning males. Foot’s joke was rarely has reform given so little to so few. Even with the suppression it remained more important what happened in Norwich, Bristol, Sheffield, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh (periodical publications, correspondence societies, meetings, even conventions) than in Paris; nonetheless, it was not inevitable that ideas, acts of poets & others would fail while France was having its revolution; why should lurching of France’s monarchy towards a republic be a bad time?

He divides the decade of 1790s divided into four parts.

Nov 4, 1789-May 1792, Price praising French Rev to Pitt proclamation against seditious writings: Burke’s answer to Price, Paine’s to Burke, destruction of Priestley’s home

Dec 1792-Oct/Dec 1794 – active legal repression: trial conviction of Paine in abstentia; of London 12; conviction and transportation to Botany Bay of Scottish martyrs

1795: gov’t lost treason trials of 12 so re-groups, secret services modernized; protests against Pitt’s war (ruinous domestic economic effects). Gagging acts after attack on king’s coach – no public meetings of more than 50 persons (despite mass protest), no publishing criticism. Two acts, 1795 – no one can speak in public without gov’t approval if there are more than 50 present (Grenville); no publications that bring King’s gov’t into disrepute or censure.

1796-1800: mopping up operation, of radicals left standing: Wm Stone, John Thelwall … includes 1798 trial and imprisonment of Gilbert Wakefield (died of it) for libeling Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff …; 1800 a bill of indemnity protecting Pitt and his cabinet from claims

Thus was a reform movement grindingly shut down: Johnston reviews the arguments among a group of older scholars (Veitch, Thompson, Dickinson): was it large, organized or serious enough to be considered the beginning of British socialism, a failed form of proto-revolutionary activity; new voices (Barrell, Philip, McKee, McCalman, Radical Underworld) argue they they were socialist precursors.

What happened to these people? Johnston lists names of people: Death by execution or from imprisonment, itself and transportation; abscond, flight, immigration, exile; arrest and long periods of detention; financial damage and career ruination; gov’t harassment; psychological damage, physical harm; effective silencing, stopping publishing; orchestrated ridicule and libel; anonymous publication; disappearance from publication; change in topic and style; revision and erasure as juvenilia; move to conservative positions; public recantation, informing on others; direct monetary reward for informing, changing views. All his subjects have entries in the old DNB & ODNB – repressive hegemony of state ideological apparatus plays upon thoughts, ideas, actions

He wants us to appreciating the non-development of English literature – what didn’t happen – and the small mean private ways by which hegemonic control work; the endless ripple effects. If they went on to do other things, biographers, historians ignore or apologize for “youthful errors.” The materials are ambiguous and Gillray’s cartoons a good example of the difficulty of “reading” them.

He takes Amelia Alderson Opie as opening example: she moved from radical reform politics, to careful revision, to pious Quakerism – we can see the effects of repression registering on her — a full reprint of her memory of treason trials shows how fearful she was, how she identified with those accused, the unfair accusations… dangerous punishments, and her lone and lonely life at 80.

Chapter 2 is about John Thelwall (1764-1834) and Wm Goodwin (1756-1836). Thelwall is a usual suspect – against Thelwall the state acted directly by arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, trial, conviction, punishment and later also unusual suspect; he found how difficult it was to get out of political catchment, how the distinction between personal and political is non-existent. Godwin had to turn to anonymity, become a non-person to survive in his later years. Thelwall arrested as one of the 12 and Godwin’s Cursory Strictures laid out argument defense counsel used. While Godwin supported Thelwall in treason trial, later he wrote arguments gaved ammunition to gov’t bills of gagging and no assembly.

Johnston reviews lightly the central points of some of Thelwall’s speeches – they are intended as speech in action. His occasional best. The absurdity of presenting superstitious practices, to send peasantry to be annihilated in a crusade to restore the fallen despotism of France. Treason now means telling the truth to the shame and confusion of ministers. Thelwall presented himself as a target – let him be prosecuted; but after the acquittal, the way he was kept from any success was through means like a petty illegal smashing of a hall, frightening others who welcomed him, beating him up – all he could get was laughter at his plight.

Godwin Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft for which modern scholars have castigated him was a form of “grief-work” based on the principle that you could understand her best by knowing how she came to have her views in Rights of Woman; what happened was the rest of the world wouldn’t listen; abuse then never let up – I wondered if the mockery of Radcliffe was part of this way of coping with anything unconventional and in her case at moments Girondist radical. As with Lilian Hellman, friends (Mackintosh) rehabilitated themselves by attacking Godwin; he experienced the pusillanimity and opportunism of his friends: Mackintosh refused to name Godwin and only when Parr did did Godwin have opportunity to refute – and he comes off well – why are you attacking me and why now? – he sees how they are attacking him because of pressure of events around them but he refuses to meet them on the low road of personal abuse and his sarcasms too subtle to reach readership – he still had the remarkable nerve to talk about the value of Napoleon’s life.

Mathus’s famous thesis meant as a refutation of Godwin type argument that would provide for more people – the only result could be more would end up starving. Mathus a man of the left, went to dissenting academies, his father friend of Rousseau, enthusiast for Condorcet and Godwin. Godwin realizes the advocates could not find a doctrine more pleasing to them. In preface to Caleb Williams Godwin writes about “the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism by which man becomes the destroyer of man” – hegemonic disciplining Johnston calls it. Are we condemned to despair things will never improve? – 4 pieces of controversial prose.

Thelwall had found it impossible to speak anywhere so now Godwin to publish. Now for Godwin publishing was his means of making a living. He marries Sarah Jane Clairmont, a widow with children of her own. Godwin publishes as William Scolfield Bible Stories, these sell well, but watchdog Sarah Trimmer seeing its liberal lessons of humane behavior says it has “very pernicious tendencies.” Fleetwood and Chaucer under his name don’t sell so he brings out juvenile library under pseudonyms – some sniff out – they are “creditable,” do not “pander to prejudice,” but educational and liberal presentations of stories and subject.He was destroyed as a writer; irony that he was denied a passport to join Holcroft in Germany; forced to remain in a country that couldn’t abide him.


A painting of the riots aimed at Priestley

Part II: Forces of Public Opinion

Chapter 3 is titled Dr Phlogiston and is the story of Joseph Priestley (1733-1844). Everyone shocked, tut-tuts at destruction of home and lab of Priestley in Birmingham 1791 July; 5 day riot of king and country mob, more than 30 houses destroyed. Planned event from the start -– in effect an assassination attempt. He was at the time a famous scientist, discovered oxygen, nitrous oxide & 5 other elemental gases; a friend of Franklin, competitor to Lavoisier; also public intellectual – wrote 30 volumes. He was a dissenter; not popular because he’d speak his mind (so too Thomas Beddoes and Gilbert Wakefield). Spoke & wrote on behalf of American revolution. Identified Phlogiston, gaseous element produced by fire.

Johnston tells the history of the slowly evolving riot and its aftermath, showing it was gov’t encouraged, led, endorsed until it changed to proto-revolutionary and then only a few scapegoats punished. Attacked were 1) people at dinner 2) dissenters; 3) intellectuals and rich men. Riot against supposed revolutionaries, then Papist dissenters (!) and then on town’s economic and punitive elite. Priestly did preach a sermon of forgiveness, condescending and ironic, and much disliked by literature classes.

Riots enabled officials to bring Birmingham by customs and actions back into conservative fold. Birmingham independents and unitarians no longer found in positions of authority or publicly acting – how an alarmed reaction can be carefully orchestrated to end in Tory and Anglican party becoming strong. 1794 Priestley sees it is over for him in the UK and emigrates to the US where he refuses public position and carries on as private citizen; his sons join him; Cobbett ridiculed Priestley’s loss, later on he too found refuge in the US. Priestley rightly did not feel safe until Jefferson was elected.

Chapter 4, The Radical Moravian: James Montgomery (1771-1854). Born of Irish parents, in Scotland, his parents went to West Indies as missionaries when he was 8; precocious, wrote poetry, hired as counting house clerk by Joseph Gales in Sheffield; on staff of reform newspaper Register.

Sheffield was a radical place, base for societies and periodicals. There were riots in 1792, Montgomery writes essays on behalf of reform, religious poetry against war. When his employer was hounded out of England to Philadelphia where he founded a press; as the new editor in chief, Montgomery twice arrested: once for reprinting poem re-interpreted as offending. Sheffield Register now called Iris; he is arrested for reporting a troop behavior during a “riot”; 6 months, fined; had a bad time in prison, wrote poetry which shows his outlook and ill health; when he was released, his health was impaired. He goes on to write a series of periodical essays; 1795 The Whisperer or Hints and Speculations: these manifest the twisted kind of prose one writes when trying to say something and hide it at the same time; The Art of Shortening Life, and a 4 volume novel he destroyed. In his later years he devoted himself to good works, religious poetry, against slavery, on behalf of chimney sweeps. He writes a poem against Napoleon’s invasion of Switzerland; Byron preferred Montgomery’s Wanderer of Switzerland to Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads; the public agreed and bought it; he is respected and liked by Southey. Montgomery’s radicalism was not accidental but cut off.



Part III: Keeping the University and Church Safe from Reform

Chapter 5: Friend of Jesus, friend of the devil: William Frend (1757-1841). Frend was drafted into army in American revolution; in 1775 he went to Cambridge, and began to agitate against Test Acts and exam system (these were sacrosant, they were the way egalitarianism was prevented, they kept these positions in the hands of an interlocking few coteries. Topics he debated debated included the rights of subjects to resist tyranny. Surprisingly perhaps Frend was successful in this milieu at first; he moves to teach poor children of the parish and mathematics for real. When he intensified his Hebrew studies, he no longer believed in the Trinity, and as an idealist began towork for a unitarian church to emerge.

Johnston claims thus Frend was surprised when the response to his arguments was to take away his teaching; he himself gave up two of his parishes as matter of conscience. He also wrote 3 works, each time widening his audience: Thoughts on .. Religious tests, to Rev. HHCoulthurst; then to Inhabitants of Cambridge and finally to Members of church of England. He was expelled; he could not understand why a constitutional critique and his goal of improving Christian knowledge no good.

At this point, Frend went to Germany and spends time with like-minded men, including Priestley’s son, Wm; in Belgium he is closer to events in France. Meanwhile at Cambridge Isaac Milner, Tory politican type takes over; they go after 5 faculty including Frend & 2 friends. The work prosecuted was his Peace and Union – a pamphlet arguing for compromise between republicans and anti-republicans and reform is pretending these things are acceptable. It’s the short appendices that matter: one where he imagines himself the women whose ¼ of salary suspended to pay for war that does them no good; the other remarkable argument that execution of Louis XVI none of UK’s business: they had cut a king’s head off for treason legally too. Startling. Some of the accusations were vague; he protested, his protests werer overridden; the existence of unproven alarm was grounds for prosecution; he is declared guilty and thrown out of university.

Frend then went to live in London and became member of LCS, wrote pamphlet on scarcity of bread and how to provide instead of gathering money for French aristocratic emigres. This is time of Thelwall’s speeches, exposure of exorbitant prices from war, monopoly. Frend would not disobey 1795 acts, though, and spent the rest of life teaching. His new career for money was a job working for actuarial assurance. He was befriended by Lord Byron’s wife, and continued to support good causes, against flogging, in support of reform bill 1832 and published Plan of Universal Education – tax income of Church of England to pay for it (forget that).

Chapter 6: No Laughing Matter: Thomas Beddoes, Sr (1760-1808). Beddoes was mentor to Humphry Davy, professor of chemistry, a forward-looking doctor of medicine who understood how it occurs and is shaped by its social context; he came from a politically liberal commercial family in Shropshire, was admitted to Pembroke, Oxford; studied on his own German, French, Italian; 1790s he wrote translations and reviews in the Monthly Review. 1792 A Letter to a Lady the way to reach the poor is to give them text to read that concerns them for real– private circulation. Prolonged geological researches in Wales; handbill against funding clergy escaping from French revolution – a kind spy system afoot ferrets it out – why he is not offered a salaried post. He was forced out of chemistry lectureship at Oxford; in Bristol later in decade his Pneumatic Institute suffered from conservative attacks. ODBN is misleading and sarcastic.By 1794 Beddoes needed help for this Pneumatic Institute for experiments with nitrous oxide, a therapy for TB; and did receive money from Wedgewood, help from Watt & Georgiana Spencer, Duchess. He was sufficiently well known to consider emigration of the sort envisaged by Coleridge and Southey (active with Coleridge in public meetings). Beddoes is an easy target by 1797-98; changes name of his institute, Preventative Medicine for Sick and Drooping Poor; then Hygiea addressing middle class in their style. He became a standard butt; died at 48 and his work lost to society for another 40 years

His 5 pamphlets exposed interwined issues of war, peace, political policies, economic scarcities and health of poor: A word in defense of the bills of rights; What would be the harm of a speedy peace?. He could not understand how people do nothing and wrote On means of relieving presence scarcity: this would be a system of soup kitchens. His Essay on Public merits of Mr Pitt was published by Joseph Johnson – how badly handled was the war; how much “human misery passes under medical inspection;” lastly, Alternatives Compared; or what shall the rich do to be safe?. These contained a remarkable series of questions that are utterly relevant to day: how far am I secure against false alarms, frauds, violence; do circumstances which I can control threaten deprivation of accommodation and necessities of life; unjust laws encroach on freedom. He makes it plain that real politics are quite mad if you were considering most people’s welfare; Pitt’s design to attack French revolution has made the crisis.


Broadview edition

Part 4: Other Voices, Other Places: The suspect gender.

A prologue where he suggests women who worked for reform or revolution as writers had it much worse: Wollstonecraft chief target and then whip as a name; and he goes over the destruction of careers of Anna Barbauld (her 1811 poem), Mary Robinson (he emphasizes her later writing and crippled state), Charlotte Smith (her originality marginalized) and Mary Hays (mocked by men and friends).

Chapter 7: Our Paris Correspondent: Helen Maria Williams (1761-1827). Williams led a remarkable life: he praises her in career terms: see her contacts, see how her “consort” Stone was a successful businessman. How many people survive being imprisoned by Robespierre and Napoleon? She is the best example yet of an interrupted misunderstood career partly because she carried on (with Stone by her side which Johnston does not sufficiently acknowledge). Johnston shows how Williams was an “up and coming star” of the 1780s, how her Letters Written in France record the changes, first hope and principles of the French revolution, then dismay at turns it took, then horror at reaction and reactions to reactions, nevering loses sight of the root causes of the terror. This is intertwined with history of her life and her strengths as a writer.

Most effective is learning about those who first distanced and then attacked her (from Piozzi to Seward to Boswell). We see the meanness of Laetitia Hawkins; how others used Williams to forward themselves, “Twill then be infamy to seem your friend” is the motto here (Pope, Rape of Lock, 132) What is valuable here is how he quotes Williams to great effect making the reader want to read her. Her texts include an unflinching horrifying scene of massacres by mass drowning. He goes over her poetry too.

Chapter 8 takes us to Suspect Nations: Let Irish men remain sulky, grave, prudent and watchful, William Drennan (1754-1820).

Again a prologue: how the Continental congress terrified authorities: it showed people organizing and finding a voice without having official state-sanctioned offices! Without any law allowing or controlling them – this was enough to call it treason – they looked and acted like legislative body, would gain respect,so the five leaders were arrested, convicted and transported to Australia 1792-94 (these were called the Scottish Martyrs). Mass demonstrations were quelled. The gov’s went after effective writers too: Joseph Gerrard, son of Irish planter in West Indies, educated under Samuel Parr, worked in Philadelphia with Tom Paine; Welsh people intimidated (David William; Edward Williams aka Iolo Morganwg); William Orr hung in 1797 – administered oaths to members of United Irishmen, wrote in Northern Star – charges totally trumped up and shown to be by satire showing emptiness by rev James Porter also hung, June 1798

William Drennan follow the trajectory of politician-into-poet. The Drennan Letters (culled from 1400 and published Belfast 1931, ed. D.A Chart) survived and contain detailed information about daily events in Ireland, 1776-1807. As a talented literary person he took brunt of attack, wrote to sister, brother-in-law, mother. After he was tried for sedition, June 26, 1794, he withdrew from active politics, where his metier public or open letter, ended an obstetrician. He had written a series of letters on behalf of reform: Of Orellana, an Irish Helot, likening helots to native Irish population, as a fellow Helot haranguing, rolling climaxes with Paine like language. Drennan argued for volunteer rather than constitutional convention (object is constitutional), quietly sought to establish a secret society (favored at the time – think of the Masons) – goal was independence for Ireland, republicanism, united Irishmen his idea. His writing was too; the United Irishmen was declared illegal as an organization and he arrested for sedition. Johnston quotes Drennan in published papers and letters. Informer was Wm Carey but he testified on his behalf and judge told jury to return a guilty verdict for the good of the tranquillity of Ireland, they said Not Guilty. When Wolfe Tone indicted for treason, that ended much overt political activity and writing.

He lost friends when he did not come forward,plus his inheritance, his family & friends suffered humiliations. He married a rich wife, met William Roscoe of Liverpool, and founded a non-denominational academy in effort to free education, edited Belfast Monthly. His poems project a lyricism of loss. His later poetry shows him an “aristocratical Democrat:” he is for republic, not a particular religious group; looked on in 1798 horrified at Irish masses cut down by English and Protestant allies.


Hubert Robert, Madame Geoffrin drawing (or perhaps writing) when she should be eating her lunch

To sum up this first half of the book, his opening section embodies the idea of book through Opie in old age, and two eloquent victims showing how one does not realize one can be destroyed by others means: Thelwall’s eloquence gives us central argumetns; Godwin exposes motivations for what was done to him by others. Thelwall destroyed in ways he could not foresee, Godwin betrayed and silenced; Johnston presents their thoughts to show their value and their works. Part 2 explains what is hegemonic control with Priestley and Montgomery as examples of what this means. We see this today through what is allowable on TV and how reporters do not tell the full story of an event, distort evidence to please the government and powerful who hire them. Part 3 is about keeping patronage in close-knit network; both Beddoes and Frend are destroyed university types: it’s a kind of ambiguous indirect destruction – and Beddoes still misrepresented, Frend not done justice to.

Part 4 allows us to see through the career Helen Maria Williams carried on with an achievement can be ignored as well as a picture of English views of revolution over its phases. Suspect nations include Scots, Welsh, Ireland – Johnston exposes real questions, real reasons these people were destroyed, imprisoned, silenced, intimidated (Porter’s anonymous articles on Orr who was executed) – in Johnston’s article he is showing how these people were not nationalists – that is somewhat lost sight of here – finding all sorts of individuals shows how wide spread these ideas – underlying is belief it’s continual repression that keeps better world from coming forth – that with power and arms and money you need only destroy leaders, frighten people, and then hegemonic control for mass – belief that change comes from individuals is central to this book.

I suddenly remembered Ann Radcliffe’s silence: was it more than her nervous nature? the liberal reform ideas underlying her book, especially open in her travel book. At any rate she becomes one of the women others.


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Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

The above photo is me giving the paper.

The first day and one half of sessions and papers:

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

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

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

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


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern facsimile reprint of one of Ward’s literary works

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Victorian illustration of Mudie’s Library patrons

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

Typical catalogue cover for the era

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

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

John Murray (1808-92)

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

The practical and economic: Murray’s Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

A modern “classic travelers’ logo (from Murray)

See Sharp 1, Sharp 3, and Sharp 4.


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Lizzard Light, Cornwall

Robin Ellis as Poldark

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been several weeks now since I fell in love with a new (to me) season-long mini-series (previously it was the 1974 BBC Pallisers): I found just irresistible the first season (1975) of Poldark adapted from 4 novels by Winston Graham. I began it because I was exploring the differences between films based on 18th century and 19th century matter (novels, history, legends). I finished it, have begun to read Graham’s novels and will go on to watch the second season (1977) of the series because even with its older cinematography, occasionally too restrained or decorous acting style, and uninventive cinematography filmstyle, it’s story, characters, themes are riveting, and its on location shooting, individual performances, dramatic scripts and scenes brilliant and effective and its whole mise-en-scene poetic.

Yesterday I read Robin Ellis’s slender unpretentious volume, Making Poldark. in which Ellis offers insight into the filming of these series, the troubles and pressures and tensions they had (over script — the series changed the books somewhat and there were debates over what kinds of changes to make), Cornwall in the 18th century and 1970s, the characters and his own career (which the series made). He remarks of the Ross character that he’s a cross between Stewart Grainger (an actor who did a swash-buckler role repeatedly in the Gainsborough studio costume dramas of the 1940s) and an 18th century Cornish Che Guevara.

Ross and Demelza Carne Poldark (Angharad Rees)

Ellis sees Poldark as starting life “as an impoverished member of the gentry class with an instinctive contempt for their values, the way they conducted their lives, and their dealings with working people. To his social peers he was a rebel, an uncomfortably disruptive force agains the status qo that they would do their damndest to be rid of.”

This goes a long way to explaining to me why the character charms me, and how the story manages to present a critically intelligent perspective on Cornish history.

It is romantic: Ross is in love with two women: Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), who he returns home from the American wars to marry and who jilts him for his richer apparently more secure, safer-to-wed, cousin, Francis (played just marvelously by Clive Francis)

Elizabeth with the baby she has by

Francis who the actor of the same name endows with vulnerability, self-dismay, high self-awareness and articulateness and candour

and Demelza who he first meets as a waif he kindly rescues from a brutal father, impoverishment and ignorance and grows in his generous household to become an attractive, self-possessed, intelligent and effective woman

When first seen at a local fair

Grown up, and shortly after she and Ross marry

Morning, noon and night, drama is taken from the books. The Warleggen family, the relatives trying to ruin him, the head of which is George, an arch-enemy:

Ralph Bates did the part with great intensity

Demelza and he fighting as frequenty as loving, rivalry with his cousin, Francis and others — Ross is no compromiser. Great houses burnt down — and they really did burn a house down — or part of it; riots, smuggling, great dashes across the wild bleak landscapes of Cornwall against the wild waters:

Making a landing after a night’s attempt to evade the tax collectors

What more can one want?

I wrote a few postings to Eighteenth Century Worlds, each after watching a few more hours of the first 16, and share a few here.


Cover of a 1980s edition: based on and enhancing a real cliff with mines in Cornwall

The 1970s dramaturgy includes the use of location symbolically — as waves crashing on rocks (anticipating the 2008 S&S?, not really, both are archetypal), and lovers embracing, fleeing, and struggling with one another against a sublimely it (and musically accompanied) seascape.

Bottallack Mine

A hero more different from Tom Jones cannot be imagined — somber, serious, a man whose troubles are those that might appeal to people today: home from the war after having been declared dead, he finds his relatives and friends may welcome him, but the woman he was engaged to marries his cousin (for her family wants his family’s money), his uncle calls in a debt from money he has worked hard to loan, he is driven by a man (monopolizer in the making) who wants his mine. He is presented as a strong courageous type but with depth of feeling and intelligence. His central feature is not his gay sexuality or innate integrity (though he has both); its rather a seriousness of stance towards life, generosity of spirit, and decent ethics.

The series has several groups of intertwining stories where you care about central characters, and then as the stories move on, they create anxiety for the character’s fate. You are made to feel that by no means will all end in a conventional happy ending because already you’ve seen a few fates where this was not so. For the women this is mostly about marriage and who she will end up with: she gets pregnant outside marriage; she is bored with a husband whose job is awful and keeps him away for long hours plus he’s dull; her family has made it impossible for her to marry someone she loves and now she is defying them (about to run off). For me this is about the public world: one man almost dies in a terrible prison where a wound is uncared for; our hero, Poldark defies the law in taking him out (but he is a landowing gentleman so may get away with it); another is getting deep into debt.

A third set of anxieties shows the second strength: it really engages with serious issues in Cornwall, later 17th century. It may be said superficially but no more so (perhaps less so) than say, The duchess. Who will control the mines? Will it be a monopoly? The money to work them comes from English investors and will it be put back into the community. Concluding a barbain in which our revenant (for that’s what he is) puts himself into debt:

Our hero, Poldark is trying to use laws to hide his manipulation to try to keep and work his own mine and make money by the new process of smelting. Colonialism, the conditions of prisons, the class system — each takes a turn within a story line.

I notice less anxiety about masculinity because the woman really do implicitly obey the males when it comes to public decisions. Sex is kept offstage and that made marginal makes this partriarchy easier to take for women (especially as the males do the right thing and are — the good ones — non-violent). At the same time there is no harridan female, though there are alluring ones. he types are older: the protective strong good male (good husband material in at least three heroes). A masculinistic (swash buckling ultimately) point of view shapes its soap opera and feminine aesthetic structure.

Finally the acting. The dramaturgy and cinematography is of the older stage scene kind; no montages, little voice-over, no mesmerizing computers and music. But the acting is often superb. I recognize a number of actors from other mini-series at the time, and find myself hard put not to love Robin Ellis.

It doesn’t hurt to have a real fondness for costume drama and it be piqued by interest in the long 18th century — from the 17th century wars to the Napoleonic ones to enjoy this or the O’Brian novels (the same sort of thing as I’ve said). And a love of rural unspoiled scenery, suc as St Ives Harbour (in 1970s an artists colony – cheap to live), Prussia cove and shots of Angharad Rees dressed in the feminized masculine style Vigee-Lebrun put Marie Antoinette, and more.

St Ives, 1970s photo

Among other things that compel me on are the moviing images. A good deal is shot on location — on cliff, near the edge of waters, on meadows. One noticeable difference from modern scenes of this type is the activity of women. They run free on these meadows; often they are running away from someone.

In one sequence when Demelza decides that after all she will have an abortion or else simply do away with herself, and flees the house of one of Ross Poldark’s servants, we see her crossing a wasteland; naturally around this moment he discovers he has caused this pregnancy and being the good man he is (and also having affection for her), he chases after her by horse. He easily catches up, and stops her, brings her down to the ground and insists on bringing her back and marrying her. Their conversation is both touching and realistic. He is going the right thing and after all she doesn’t want to die.

I cannot recall a similar sequence in more recent film adaptations. Either the woman is made unreal in her over-the-top challenges or aggression, or the man is made much less decent and to some extent feminized and sentimentalized.

In another Sue Karen Thomas (Sheila White), having an affair with the local Dr Ennys (Richard Morant)

Ennys and Sue

She leaves his home at dawn and wanders through the meadows. She comes to a bad end; also met by a man, this time her husband, Mark Daniels; he, Othello like, knowing of a real affair murders her. I’m afraid the series is too sympathetic over this murder and in a later sequence we see Poldark helping this man to escape by boat to France (chased by militia) but again this sequence is well done, not overdone is the key.

When Francis Poldark, the “bad” cousin goes wild with drink and rage and resentment at his failures in life the acting by Clive Francis is perfect, again just right, with persuasive words (in this hour Jack Pullman who wrote the 1972 Golden Bowl)

I have bought an old battered copy of Volume I of Winston Graham’s
series to see how much of the admirable characters come from the book.
In the 1970s too we have real sympathy with the poor and vulnerable. The way monopolies and the privileged are treated is from a mildly left-of-center standpoint. I know I’m liking the series for what is made admirable and so sympathetic in the chief character I like and feel sympathy for. There is for example nothing hypocritical about either Ross or Demelza. They are really decent people; one sees such characters still, but they are presented as total aliens having to refuge themselves from the larger environment. Here they fight and occasionally have wins, though at this point in the series Ross does contemplate suicide at one point. He has lost his investment, is hounded by creditors, has helped criminals against the police (see above), one man he tried to help went to prison for longer becuase of his efforts, his baby by Demelza has died (sickened). But we know in the end all will be well enough …


Ross and Demelza, from an early moment in their relationship, she anxious, he determined

I’ve reached mid-point in the first season, the first episode of the Fourth of my sxi VHS Cassettes. In this one Poldark is acquitted of the crime he was accused of; we see him stubbornly refuse to manipulate and kowtow and almost ruin his own case. We also see that the loyalty he did engender in the servant the bribers depended upon won out — as well as the servant’s dislike and distrust of so much bullying. He speaks out in favor of helping the poor even if it means deprecating or taking off rich man’s property. Of customs that are communitarian. Where would we hear this today?

A fair

The courtroom scene is powerful in itself — they usually are.

Stubborn, uncompromising

The other story lines continue with Poldark and his cousin, Francis, now brought together — through Demelza who also by her quiet politicking helped her husband’s case along. She had met the judge (an honest man we are told) at the ball she went to and did all she could to make friends for Poldark and remind others of him.

At the close of the episode things are not going much better: he does not know Demelza is again pregnant; she hides it for it’s a burden he says he does not want (though apparently doing nothing to stop this); she has been badly hurt by overhearing a conversation between him and Elizabeth where it seems he still feels love for Elizabeth and a sense of having compromised in his marriage; it’s not clear — as in life things are not.

There are old-fashioned steretypes no longer seen in these film adaptations: simply good people who act out of kindly motives, affectionate and well meaning talk. There is also a kind of hold-over from 18th century fiction itself: the challenge and duel. One of my favorite women characters,Verity Poldark, in the novel chooses a man her relatives will not accept, and Ross, whom she befriends, befriends her by letting her meet this man in his house. For his pains, he is threatened by her relatives, and the man he tried to help almost kills her brother, his cousin, Francis.

Norman Streader as Verity Poldark

I like her for her kind good nature, strong ethical values (like Ross she disdains judging people by rank) and her time as a spinster in the series — not for who she chooses to marry (a man the series forgives for killing his wife too) nor her later complacencies. Hats tell a lot about characters in series; hers is not the fancy Gainsborough one, high, with feathers, but a plain pancake with a ribbon.

These flaws (or stereotypes) do not detract from the really strikingly good acting and complexity of a number of the major characters. The old dramaturgy which leaves time for acting is a joy. They make an effective use of landscape dynamics.

The unmarried life-loving sweet Demelza

I see this continuity: generic tropes in scenery and scenes. The recent 2008 S&S has crashing sea on the rocks and waves; so does this one only there are now computer technologies to enhance. Tropes of love romance (the physician is slowly forming a relationship with a woman from an aristocratic family) and others are found in the praised later films said to be subversive in this way and that; but these punctuating archetypes are there.

Beyond the character of Poldark I’d like to single out how what is emphasized and what is omitted is unusual. For example the verdict of not guilty is not dramatized. You’d think it would be, but in a way it’s a waste of time, for the characters would rejoice or sulk. Instead we see a quiet conversation between the father and son who were bribing everyone to destroy Poldark; now they’ll call in loans, and can try to eliminate his oppostion to them in other ways. Pullman did write teh 1972 Golden Bowl, and I note it’s Alexander Baron who wrote a number of the episodes in the second season (also a fine writer of these film adaptation in the 1980s).

Hero against cliff


Smugglers Cove

At the conclusion of the Fifth of my VHS Cassettes Poldark is resorting to allow smugglers on his property to make ends meet, pay his creditors. Hanging is the punishment for this tax evasion (as some of the characters call it — this is a subversive mini-series). At last Demelza tells him she is pregnant for a third time (she has had the one miscarriage of the pregnancy that caused the marriage, and one baby dead from a disease caught ultimately from Francis Poldark whom she nursed). Since we are given warning signs she is endangering this one by going out fishing to get the family food, we stand warned for anxiety over this. Poldark takes it well – and we see them become affectionate again — though he says he would have been angry a few weeks ago; and did not want any more after the dead child; there is a truthfulness to this series which is seen in the fight sequences. Unable to control himself, he attacks his arch-enemy, George Warlegen — he’s the man who engineered the trumped up trial in the last episode, whose result could also have been hanging; Warlegon’s father is the man who wants a monology on copper and mining in the area and to destroy Poldark’s mines or take them over. This fight is unusually realistic. Probably stunt men did it, but no great feats of darnig-do or swordsmanship or anything graceful. They slam one another clumsily and there’s time for close-ups of hatred and intense resentment.

Jud Painter (Paul Curran), one of Ross’s two main servants

Comic interludes are provided Jud Painter, by the poor man who didn’t give evidence against Poldark when paid to do it. He is taken up by Warlegen’s men and beaten. He’s thought dead and put in a coffin; turns out he’s just so drunk and beaten. The funeral fun is interrupted when he gets up. Unrealistic since it would not have taken a couple of days for a man in a coma to awaken or he would not have, but this leaves room for an imitation Cornish wake and ghost sequence.

A promotional group photo

The scenes on location continue to be strong – as well (I hope anyone reading this will see) the genuinely left-of-center point of view in the series.

We have the militia represented again seeking out these people. But it turns on Demelza managing to put them off and flirting with the captain. So too the financing issue and debts are shown but not with much depth — enough to make us see the struggling pair but not the larger context which is colonialist — English power and wealth came from exploiting these people.

The spread of scurvy, and the desperate need for fresh fruit is brought in to by the story of our doctor (Ennys played by the man who did Bunter) and his growing romance with a rebellious aristocratic woman who I surmize is the one who has funded Ross’s mine. This is a male wet dream but she wears very pretty hats and would fit in well in 1940s Gainsborough (UK company) film costume movies. Pleasing archetype for women here too.

The riveting part of this episode is the death of Francis Poldark: he drowns himself, half an accident but one is led to surmize half-unconscious death wish. He imagines that he finds copper in the mine he now shares with his cousin, Ross. He wants so badly to find it. It would solve all their problems; it would make up for his betrayal of Ross to the capitalist monopolizer, old man Warlegan; he would gain self-respect and respect from others. He seems suddenly to forget he can’t swim — we see him almost drown early on in the series. We also have scenes where he articulates his knowledge of Elizabeth, his wife’s lack of love for him — or Ross Poldark — remember she married him for his money and rank over Ross to whom she was engaged, and she would have run off with Ross a few years later but that Demelza got pregnant and Ross did the right thing in marrying Demelza. He expresses the loneliness of life. Clive Francis is a high point in the series for me (his performance).

While the historical part of the novels do not come across sufficiently in the story line (though we do see a lot that’s suggestive):

Port Quinn, Cornwall;

What is probably the core issue of the novels autobiographically does: again when Francis dies, we see Ross willing to express to Elizabeth that his married life represents a compromise and maybe he’d have rather married her after all; he even for a moment seems to suggest that if he might just chuck the whole life he has, rejoin his regiment and pension Demelza off (in effect). But there are words he suddenly spouts — poetry where he speaks of what is his real commitment to Demelza for her character, his love for her has grown, and by the end of the episode, having been given money mysteriously, far from chucking it all, we see him rush home to Demelza with a gift and the good news and they go up to bed together.

A fun scene in the series is him changing their baby’s diapers. I mentioned yesterday that anxiety had been created over Demelza’s new pregnancy. She keeps it from Ross; he didn’t want it; she goes out fishing endangering herself. As the episode opens even though she has now told him, she goes fishing again and we are made to worry — as the camera watches her struggle in her boat, maybe it will capsize, maybe she will drown, maybe she will have another miscarriage or a stillborn (as she did the first pregnancy).

A seascape

We hear her breathing hard and struggling on land and we think she’s about to drop it, but cut to another scene and it’s been delivered safely, a boy. Jeremy Poldark — I see a later novel is named after him so he lives to grow up.

Now the diaper scene is wholly anachronistic as are the scenes of women refusing to obey absolute orders from the men — but it is fun for a 20th century woman to watch this.

Prude (Mary Wimbush), in the novel she helps the child Demelza orient herself into the household; in the novel, she is an ally, this part worried for Demelza over her pregnancy


Zennor, Cornwall

Poldark, 1st Season ends in stunning defeat

I finished watching what IMDB tells me is the 16th episode (one hour) of the 1st season of the series. Each of the six parts my VHS cassettes ended with a “to be continued;” this is the first part to end with a “The End” full cast list and fade out shot with Ross and Demelza embracing, kissing against a bleak shore with quiet waves and spirited yet melancholy music.

The ending is remarkable: the series ends in utter defeat. Ross arrived from the US to try to build a life for himself out of his inheritance, specially his farm land and mines and fails. He is going to return to his regiment for a 6 (or ten) year bout, leaving Demelza behind. Her beloved dog, Garrick, is murdered, shot dead by Warleggen’s armed flunkies when she on her way to leave Ross for good takes him with and her makes the mistake of crossing a fence. Another of our chief heroes, albeit a murderer of his wife, Mark Daniels, is shot dead as he with a gang of angry marauders enters the Warleggen house (taken over from the Poldarks upon Francis, Ross’s cousin’s death and Francis’s widow, Elizabeth’s bad decision to marry George) Warleggen has been systemically throwing all tenants off the land to enclose it, firing most miners to replace them, imprisoning and/or killing and transporting all protesters because he has the judges in his hand. A riot has ensued and the house is burnt to the ground. We last see Warleggen saved by Ross (remember he’s our hero) from some tortured death by being put in his horse and Elizabeth on the other, and the two chased out of the area. This should please Elizabeth for in this last episode she has been at George to take her away from “here” to London as part of his promises when they wed, and he has refused, as the first of other promises he had no intention of keeping.

The great house destroyed — a major symbol of all these series: one is imported into the recent (2001) Dr Zhivago as where Zhivago and Lara run a hospital from; it’s standing as they part for Moscow and Yuritan, the symbol of lastingness in these series. Not at the close of Poldark 1.

Ross has not behaved well to Demelza to say the least of it. When he heard that Elizabeth is about to marry or has married George, he jumped on his horse and rode off to her house, climbed into her window (very hero like all this) and raped her. Not so hero like. This is 1980 and the scene is only implied — less is shown than the 1979 Tess by Polanski but the event is clear. No explanation given, nor is it discussed in terms of why do this to Elizabeth — who Warleggen nonethless married so if it was to stop him, it didn’t; if to humiliate him, he waived that (so to speak). No sense in the series of Elizabeth’s distress is given time for — this is like the murder of the wife who was adulterous with the doctor.

She is not photographed to show any real distress either. Her hair is overdone in the way of the early 1970s mini-series, and probably this shot is intended to evoke resentment as much as identification:

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth

Not just rape, but he has all long let Demelza know her status, and while he was gone that night she went off to a ball (naturally one is happening), a striking scene where the two men who had been after her almost get to go to bed with her. Since she is of course our chaste heroine, in the case of the more serious one, the military man who let Ross off, she changes her mind and simply throws him out. (Not likely or improbable, but a strong enough scene). The other is treated comically. But Ross believes she went to bed with at least one of them and is very angry. He wants her to confess and apologize — clearly though he’s not intending to end the marriage over this or even get brutal. She refuses and demands a separation. As with her pregnancy where she led thim to believe she had other lovers and the baby coming was someone else’s, so here she does not disabuse him at first. Only as time goes on and the quarrel grows worse and she sees him get up separation papers, an allowance for her and determine where to send the son to school, does she tell.

Still they fight because he won’t regret his actions to Elizabeth. Slowly though he melts to the extent of apologizing — because (now romance gets in) he is influenced by what he sees among the families of his miners, and even more the good Dr Ennys and his upper class Caroline compromising and engaging themselves at last. Ennys too is going off to wars — we are in the 1790s now and I imagine the wars of the French revolution are spilling over into the riots and chaos in Cornwall (as they did in Ireland). So the last scene by the beach is another chase one where he has come home to find her not gone but grieving over the dead dog and not wanting to give up the child. She flees him out of the house and he runs after her and they bound through the cliffs, past the destroyed mine and near to the shore. They reconcile sufficiently so that we know they will be making love soon and spend the next 10 days together.

Ross’s farmhouse, which he leaves to Demelza to care for while he’s gone

But this does not change his having failed, his leaving her to cope as he says he can’t.

The mood is (oddly) upbeat in its way with odd comic moments (Dr Ennys’s getting together with Caroline). The music is part of this; scenes of the ball; and the sheer energy of the riot scenes. Ross does also finally strike tin and there is a powerful scene of a miner dying — Ross blaming himself. Oh yes, his mine blows up too. I forgot that.

Recent movies — since the later 1990s are far more frank about emotions, show the full vulnerability of people they way these older ones didn’t and the full darkness of what happened would not be undermined, but in that the series stayed true to the failure ending has impressed, the determined grim depiction of compromises in love and sex, the depiction of class differences,the attempt to expose the upper class maneuvers through Warleggen are all strongly commendable.

In fact this series as a political romance is worthy of the 1980s British TV to come. I end on my favorite still, Ross as he appears in the beginning of the next season.

Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, back from a 2nd set of wars, civil, revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, this time in Europe

When the first series opened, Ross was back from the American wars, “French and Indian” we call them, and I fancy were someone to adapt Charlotte Smith’s Old Manor House (and it would make a great adaptation), when the hero, Orlando comes back from the middle section of the book where he fought in the French and Indian wars, was captured by Indians and lived for a time as an Indian, the actor doing it could do no better than dress in such an outfit and take such a stance towards the world. Or the Fitzgerald who fought and lost in the Irish revolutionary wars (a Lennox grandson), from Tillyard’s Aristocrats (in fact the 1999 mini-series had a polished, cleaned up luxurious image rather than this).

Surely, the reader who has got this far will have seen I’ve fallen in love with Robin Ellis as Poldark (who I was drawn to as Edward Ferrars in the 1971 S&S) and identify, or recognize aspects of an ideal self I find deeply appealing in Angharad Rees as Demelza.


P. S. Journalizing: 6/15/10. As someone has commented on Judy Geeson, I thought I’d add a still of her. Geeson’s character, the London-born rich orphan, Caroline Penvenen, seems to me the most unreconstructed of the transfers from 1940s Gainsborough costume drama romance (renamed using Graham’s fiction), as evidenced by her absurd hats, super-extravagant costumes for every day life, and providential interest in curing scurvy and giving of money to Ross (secretly yet). Perhaps she is part of what keeps the film popular; alas, she replaces the unfortunate murdered Sue (who I did put on the blog above) in Dr Ennys’s life — to his credit Dr Ennys remains guilty and grief-stricken for Sue, at first unwilling to accept this replacement.

Caroline Penvenen

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Thomas Holcroft by John Opie

Memoires of Francoise de Motteville, 17th century historian

Dear Friends and readers,

Here is my second blog about panels and papers at this year’s MLA in Philadelphia. Here I stay with long 18th century matters. You will learn about the radical Jacobin writer, Thomas Holcroft, his life, translations, and memoir (as revised by William Hazlitt). More briefly: Johnson’s aesthetic ideals and how he was used in the marketplace, a Bengali rewriting of Defoe’s Crusoe by a woman (and a rape in The Further Adventures of Crusoe where it’s ignored); two French women romancers, Mesdames de Scudery and LaFayette. Then again more detailed the remarkable histories of the Fronde told by Mesdames de la Motteville and Guette, one a kind of Machiavelli, the other a 17th century Lady Brilliana Harley as crossed by the spirit of Christine de Pizan.

First up, perhaps the best session (for me) that I attended this time: a Monday afternoon session (3:30-4:45) on the English Jacobin writer, Thomas Holcroft.

The first paper, by Miriam Wallace, “Translating Culture: Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield and Holcroft’s theories of translation,” thrilled me because she talked at length — at length — about Isabelle de Montolieu’s epistolary novel, Caroline de Lichtfield, for which I have made an e-text edition of the net, together with a biography, bibliography, account of other of Montolieu’s works, and an e-text of a selection of her meditation-walks from her travel book, Les Châteaux Suisses, Anciennes Anecdotes et Chroniques.

Woman on a Balcony (1824), by Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869)

The son of a shoemaker, wholly self-educated, Holcroft came to London and, as a writer and radical, became a close friend of William Godwin, Tom Paine, Joel Barlowe. To support himself he had worked at a race course, been a prompter for small parts at theaters, and, having taught himself mathematics, French and German, lost himself (as it were) in books, in the 1780s he sought a respectable living as a translator. He translated French texts, among them The Marriage of Figaro (it’s said from memory) and German, and there has been some scholarship on his translations from German.

Prof Wallace then outlined the story of Caroline de Lichtfield, its nature as an epistolary novel of sensibility with a woman-centered point of view (about the education of a young girl). See my Note on the E-text, the novel’s source. Prof Wallace saw elements in the novel which anticipate Holcroft’s 1792 epistolary Anna St Ives.

“Le comte de Walstein retrouve sa soeur Matilde et son ami le baron Lindorf s’aimant enfin”

She then compared the first volume of the translated text with Montolieu’s first volume. Holcroft is much harder on the courtier-father who, and ancien regime values which, coerce Caroline into marrying Walstein, though in both there is a clear judgement against parental tyranny. Holcroft has less idyllic passages. She saw this book as serving transnational purposes in Holcroft’s mind. I’ve argued in a paper and will in my book, The Austen movies, that it was this book which inspired Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. See my note on the contemporary reviews. At this point because of the proliferation of facsimile texts by google, you can buy all 3 volumes Holcroft’s text for around $90.

There was some brief talk after the paper and I asked her if she knew what Holcroft’s translation of Felicite-Stephanie’s Adele et Theodore was like — I own a copy of Genlis’s French text. She had not compared these texts but she did talk about the importance of these women’s texts, and how his translations of them were seen as a sign of his revolutionary sympathies.

Hilary Freezer’s paper, “Thomas Holcroft’s Translation of Male Desire in Anna St Ives,” was of intense interest to me because she articulated for the first time what I have left to be true: the homosocial loving friendship between the suitor-rivals for Caroline’s hand, Walstein and Lindorf is far more intense than the love of either man for Caroline; she then found a parallel for this in first Jacobin Anna St Ives. Frank Henley is working class, sone of a gardener, and becomes close to the predatory rake, Coke Clifton; in this depiction Holcroft comes closer to delving real male sexuality intimately inwardly and candidly in an earnest way than anyone else in the era. For example, Frank becomes impotent before Clifton. As in Caroline de Lichtfield, both men are competing for one woman, and the passages Prof Fezzey quoted reminded me of the French novel.

Clifton and Frank debate idealistic morality, and Clifton calls Frank visionary (naive). Clifton says “I was born to rule, not to be ruled.” There is much sexual tension between them: one says of the other: “I could kiss him one moment and kill him the next. Tellingly, Coke slaps Frank after seeing Frank come out of Anna’s room. Frank does win the contest for Anna’s love, partly because he’s feminized. An Irish character is called black, boisterous, is presented as the “other” and it’s he who abducts Anna and almost rapes her. Coke plans the crime, but does not act.

Holcroft also means to redefine what is a gentleman, and this is an egalitarian ideal which includes sensibility traits. Consciously, though, Prof Fezzey said, the novel does include surprisingly conservative or establishment views. Holcroft’s concept of manliness excludes drinking, gambling (as in life he had seen how destructive these can be). His hero, Frank, is against sexual promiscuity, for balance, benevolence. He hesitates to court Anna not because he’s of a lower class, but because he wants to keep his passion under control. Holcroft saw the Gordon riots as the result of people losing control over their baser passions, as an unparalleled daring outrage which led to desolation and destruction. Holcroft does not seem to blame catholicism here either: for example, Clifton is the one who pursues Anna; yet it’s he and not Frank who criticizes the murky climate (so to speak) of Catholicism. Holcroft’s most basic instincts were for moderation; he presented a heteronormative story for Anna and Frank; concludes with a bourgeois marriage story.

A 1792 painting: Mademoiselle Rosalie Duthé by H. P. Danloux

Arnold Markley’s excellent paper was on Holcroft’s memoir of his life, which exists nowadays only in the revised and censored form Hazlitt made it into under Godwin’s orders: Holcroft, Thomas and William Hazlitt (1852). Memoirs of the Late Thomas Holcroft: Written by Himself; and Continued to the Time of His Death. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Holcroft had dictated these memoirs, and had gotten up to Chapter 17 and his seventeenth year when he died. Holcroft wished to show how his specific experiences of a childhood of abject poverty led him to become a strong reformist. Hazlitt was hired to finish it because Hazlitt knew Holcroft and was felt to sympathize strongly with Holcroft’s ideals. The money they made was to help Holcroft’s widow.

William Hazlitt, a Self Portrait

Hazlitt supplemented the 17 chapters with letters, interviews of Holcroft’s friends and passages from Holcroft’s books. He finished the new book in 1810, but, having been castigated for his truthful memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, Godwin insisted in alterations which were expurgations. Hazlitt remained committed and tried to do his best. He sought interviews with people who turned him down, including Wordsworth and Coleridge.

What can we tell about Holcroft from this memoir that has come down to us? Holcroft passionately wanted to tell the pure truth of this life, to show how he had ovecome difficulties by endurance and developing (not stifling or ignoring) his hidden talents, even if they did not seem to be remunerative to others at first. He shows how an adult emerges from a child. Specifics include how he taught himself math, acted in pantomimes, and taught himself not to be gulled (cheated, deluded). He wants to teach the reader never to gamble. Somehow he had taught himself how to care and trains race horses at the new market races where he saw such cheating, gambling. He was passionately against capital punishment: we see this came from his experiences his tramping of roads with his parents where they would sell tiny things; he saw the turmoil of such a life, the “singular wretchedness.” At age 15 he saw a man hanged and never forgot it; it was “intolerable” to him to look at the gloating mob.

How great the irony that this moderate man who worked so hard to improve himself was accused of treason in 1794 and for a while was waiting to be hung. What must he have thought and dreamed while this coming punishment was about to be inflicted on him. He and the others with him were reprieved; he was one of those released as not guilty; others were transported. But afterwards for a long while Holcroft was shunned, felt himself the target of venal manipulation and ugly tongues and left England. Hazlitt offers a length treatment of this trial. The whole experience was a particularly painful stigma for Holcroft to have to endure.

Hazlitt’s book includes accounts of Holcroft’s novels and plays which mirror Holcroft’s life and political goals. An early comedy, Duplicity, is on gambling; soo The Road to Ruin. A later novel (Hugh Trevor, 1797-8?) shows with horror the ugliness of a gambling life. We have a social climbing hero who is expelled from school for cheating; it’s a kind of map and dictionary of common vicious behaviors, cant language, showing criminals stealing big sums. Holcroft criticized capital punishment nonetheless, for it was meted out for tiny thefts too. He insisted people can be rehabilitated, and can be turned into useful members of society. Holcroft’s memoir, a major effort by a dying man, was his last effort to reach people with his exemplary life story and belief in the power of virtue.

There were not many people in the audience and the papers had been long; we had some comments right after each paper and then, alas, it was time to stop.

Unfortunately, my hands seem not to have been firm for two of the other three sessions, and my notes are too poor for me to do more than summarize the papers briefly except when it came to the Bengali Crusoe by a woman writer and the material on women historians. For the latter I was helped by my own knowledge of the era and woman historians so could get down more.

Earlier on Monday (10:15-11:30 am) I heard three superb papers on Samuel Johnson, part of the ongoing celebration of his three hundredth birthday (he was born in 1709). Molly O’Hagan talked about Johnson’s involvement in the production of the Lives of the Poets from the point of view of conflicts and struggles between Scots and British publishers over control of the texts of poets; Johnson’s name wanted for respectability. The publishers had only wanted the briefest introductions; in the event Johnson produced gems of biography that became a separate great work in its own right. She read a letter by Johnson where he eloquently defended the author’s ownership of his text.

Samuel Johnson intensely reading by Joshua Reynolds

Carrie Shanafelt showed how Johnson was critical of strong demands for realism and personal egoism in imaginative work. Thus Johnson praises Thomson’s visions in his Seasons and the beauty of ideals as well as detachment in Addison’s work: both understand the limited nature of an individual’s observations; the writer must move beyond the solitary nature of judgement (writing and reading too) to the outside world, avoid isolation. He wanted realism to be tempered by having ideals shape what is created; amoral fiction destroys out hope for bettering ourselves. Johnson attempted to maintain hope in literature as a guide, support, and expansion of experience.

Nicolas Poussin, Winter; or, The Flood

I have to admit that Sara Landreth’s “How Doctor Johnson broke the laws of motion,” went over my head. The admiral was with me; in case you don’t know, gentle reader, Jim is ABD in math and had many courses in physics, and he said the paper was superb, better than any of three he heard in a session on 18th century science.

The talk afterwards was lively and led us into Defoe. Somehow Defoe’s Moll Flanders came up as work intendedly realistic where there is no sense of consistent shaping ideal, and someone said how students enjoyed it from an unconscious or unexamined cynical perspective. I wondered how cynical they were since both 1996 Moll Flanders movies show the film-makers shaping the story to promote a moral outlook consonant with our own time: Pen Densham makes her into a poignantly good mother and anti-racist as his version of ideal feminism; Davies turns her story into a parable of survival in a hard capitalist world. The talk then turned to films — which people usually enjoy talking of. Not that Johnson was forgotten altogether :)

The third 18th century session I attended devoted to an individual was on Daniel Defoe (Wednesday, 10:15-11:30, shortly before we left to return home). The papers attempted a new perspective on Defoe’s work caught up in the title: the Global Defoe. Jeongoh Kim discussed how Defoe’s works are filled with the power networks, information and commodities of human geography in his era. Rivka Swenson discussed The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; she suggested that Defoe was writing to promote the union of Scotland and England but his texts shows how communities are becoming refragmented despite all efforts to join them nationalistically.

Moll (Alex Kingston) and her third husband, her brother as it turns out (Tom Ward) sail to the US (1996 Moll Flanders)

Christopher Loar dwelt on the importance of technology and violence in the same book: an island is discovered by colonizers; the two different groups want control, and a massacre ensues. Crusoe dreams of a neutral space where trade and improved lives can take place; it is quickly shattered when someone kidnaps a woman, and a group of people seek revenge, a rampage using guns erupt so a free peaceful place becomes a murder zone. Loar dwelt solely on the nature of the warfare.

At the end of the session when I asked him about the woman, who she was, why did it matter so much, was she raped, was she returned to her original tribe or did she stay with the new group, he appeared startled at the questions. He had not thought about this central event which began the barbarism. At first he made a slight joke, well, it seemed someone had “taken liberties” with her, but he changed his tone partly because of the next and last paper and partly because it was obvious he had omitted a significant part of the event and suffering.

Consider, gentle reader, the massacre is begun when “a woman” is “kidnapped” or raped. Neither speaker Knew for sure what had happened. I asked if she survived. Neither had noted that detail.

Women’s experience in the Global Defoe was represented by Rashmi Bhatnager’s paper on “Heroines in the Bengali Muslim Robinsonade in Colonial India, 1908.” Robinsonades refers to a multitude (really) of rewritings, elaborations, free translations and adaptations of Robinson Crusoe since it first was published. Isabelle de Montolieu did one of the free translations: Journal d’un père de famille naufragé dans une île déserte avec ses enfants.

The novel Prof Bhatnagar discussed is Englished as The Sultana’s Dream (translated by Barnita Bagihi, a 2005 Penguin paperback). It’s a story of a girl’s rebellion against a coerced marriage. A non-European woman is imitating Crusoe’s rebellion against his father, and she gains a sense of power by imagining herself a castaway on an island. The heroine’s brother teaches her English when her father is asleep. Language, the vernacular Bengali becomes a place and way for one to fight one’s predestined fate. Urdu was identified with Islam and oppression. In the book the heroine does marry an enlightened husband and becomes Begum Rocaca; her husband encourages her to go to the library as an act of liberation; he and her brother support her against her father.

It was the public libraries with English books (some in translation, some not) set up in Bengal in the 1840s which allowed this, a sphere of freedom for the reader to formulate an identity for herself by reading and translating. In these places there was a readable translation of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. These readers also enjoyed Victorian melodramas which when translated into Bengali with memories of Defoe’s book plus Defoe-like Robinsonades took on Indian values too. A new amalgam emerges. Defoe’s book is thus opening new worlds and ideas and freedoms.

Such a book presents the condition of Indian womanhood indirectly. We are in a female imaginary which escapes the narrowing of Purdah society. The heroine is exhilarated and awkward as she walks the streets and public space. Often, though, these dreams have not a single man on the street too. Still this is a place or text where female subjectivity can be expressed, a kind of Utopia where women are not secluded.

I asked if the book dealt with the fear of rape. She said yes, the heroine is nearly raped. I wondered why she had not brought that up herself as women are secluded precisely to prevent them from having sexual experience their families can use for themselves. I never got a chance to ask as the session ended.

Again Moll (Kingston) stirred deeply as she looks out at sea and imagines the adventure before her

The last 18th century session I went to brought me back to multiple writers, two of whom were women historians of the Fronde. This area is of particular interest to me since I’ve read so much about the English civil war, and especially books by English women, memoirs, letters, biographies, poetry, recording their experience of what happened — and 20th century studies of this literature too. It was called Histories/Histoires (held on Tuesday, 3:30-4:45 pm).

The first paper was Helene Billis’s on Corneille. She saw Corneille as engaging in the real politics of the day through the themes and characters of his idealized tragedies where he supported the absolute state as the only way to stave off war and have grandeur (experience beauty?) in life.

Emily Kugler also discussed romance and historiography in the work of Mesdames Scudery and Marie-Madeleine LaFayette. She spoke of a similar movement froma God-centered history to one concerned with human motivation. She said stylization, character development and plot-design shaped the partly romances they wrote so when they wanted to include history and signficant themes the problem was how to weave history in.

Prof Kugler then quoted a funny passage from Charlotte Lennox’s Female Quixote. Lennox had made money by translating French letters and publishing editions of Madame de Maintenon (among others). We see our heroine is having a hard time distinguishing romance from reality because she is viewing the world through Scudery romance eyes.

She then quoted Devoney Looser’s book on history in England in the 18th century, a book I haven’t been able to see as about history since it’s mostly about novels. A new definition of history and respect for the subjective approach of memoirs, the fragmented nature of letters and autobiographies, as well as travel books has to come in before any new understanding can be achieved. Since Prof Kugler too did not seem to have thought about considering a non-fiction text as history which male chroniclers, and objective historians since don’t think of as history, she really couldn’t get say much that was new beyond see how romance and historical memory mix.

I have read parts of Clelia (in a 17th century English translation), La Calprenede’s Cassandra, which purports to tell the private lives of post-Republic classic heroines and heroines; also read several times and taught the masterpiece novel, La Princesse de Cleves twice. I read Zayde once and remember thinking of how beautiful and still it was; a distillation in little of the enormous books of Scudery. All these books are women’s novels, very different from Lafayette’s history of Charles II’s sister, Henrietta, and Scudery’s letters, or say Lucy Hutchinson, Anna Halkett or Catherine Macaulay.

I did enjoy listening to Kugler quote some passages from these books aloud in French with an English translation (provided by her). The famous map of tender love by Scudery (above) and the quietly erotic cover of the recent edition of Zayde epitomize the tone of these romances she concentrated on.

Mihoko Suzuki discussed the memoirs of Mesdames de Francois de Motteville and Catherine de Meurdrac de la Guette. Her paper was lucid, well thought-out, informative, in short excellent. She began by telling us that these two memoirs are ambitious books with events told from the subjective point of view so often taken by women; they are consulted by historians and read today.

Like Lady Brilliana Harley, Guette was a provincial wife and mother protecting her property. She supported Mazarin and the Regent and involved herself successfully in negotiating on behalf of peasants as a mediatrix, and she presents herself as having a gift for negotiation between opposing parties. Her credibility derives from her distance from the court and knowledge of local conditions and nobility, her grandfather having been a nobleman of the robe. She does exaggerate her mother’s education.

In Catherine de Meurdrac de Guette’s work we find extreme violence; she remembers scenes of rapine, solders breaking down and destroying all before them, pillaging. She experienced hunger herself and as someone who had to cope with the results of the violence afterwards. She does try to mitigate the inferences one might draw from such scenes but she is resolute against any praise of them. Like Brilliana Harley, she copes with a seige; in her case, she persuades a Duke and his army not to attack her land and people. She is of course the heroine of the piece (she tells us she read widely — and she apparently did as this book shows it), but the overall result is an exposure and critique of the violence of the era.

Francoise de Motteville was a woman in the court itself, and her memoirs may be read something in the spirit of Madame Campan’s on Marie Antoinette. Motteville is witty, satiric, fills her book with aphorisms. Her purpose is to explain and justify the private motives of powerful people in public dispassionately; she assesses Richelieu, deconstructs state-level rhetoric. She shows he was working for himself, not the public good at all. She was Anne of Austria’s confidant, but when her judgement is not in accord with the queen, she criticizes her. She displays real independence of thought.

She also renders character sketches with credibility, men and women both, and uses the interpolated tale in the manner of Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette as a way of ironically commenting on her major story and characters. In her book women as centrally causes of what happens as men. She insists on the truth of what she has written. She retrieves for us what happened behind the public scenes, outside the documents, thus explicating enigmatic pamphlets.

Prof Suzuki suggested that Motteville is the closest historian of the French 17th century to Machiavelli in his Discourses. Guette is a 17th century Christine de Pizan in her gravity, morality, and woman-centered perspective.

I asked if she thought any particular woman beyond Brilliana Harley was analogous to Motteville or Guette. She felt perhaps Lucy Hutchinson was an historian equal to Motteville but her tone and outlook were so different that the books can’t be compared fruitfully. She thought we needed to move to the 18th century (say Catherine Macauley and Mary Wollstonecraft) to find equivalent broad and sceptical views like those we find in Motteville.

A 19th century illustration for Alexandre Dumas’s romancing of these women historians (Le collier de la reine): the illustator has imagined the intelligent woman being appealed to by a subordinate court male; notice the powerful body she’s given

My friends, I relearned a lot by transcribing out these notes tonight.


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Angelica Kauffman (171401807), The Muse of Composition

Dear Friends,

This is my fifth report on the smallish conference of 18th century scholars held at Bethelehem, Pennsylvania. It consists of reports on papers from three panels: on Saturday, “Bibliography, Textual Studies and Book History, Part I” (8:30-10:00 am), “Foreign Intelligences” (2:00-3:30 pm), and “Late 18th century writers” (3:45-5:15 pm). All were excellent; the women discussed are Anne Finch, Fanny Burney, Mary Brunton, Jane Cummings, Hester Thrale Piozzi, and Elizabeth Inchbald.

The 8:30 session on Saturday concerned the public image fostered by, and actual dissemination of texts by Anne Finch, Fanny Burney, and Mary Brunton. Michael Gavin’s paper, “From manuscript to Print: Criticism and the Poetry of Anne Finch” was about how Anne Finch attempted to rise above the detraction of writers by other writers in the local politics of the era.

Miniature of Anne Finch, at the court of Mary of Modena (1680s).

Mr Gavin argued that Anne Finch’s poems are “haunted by critics.” If we look at her prefaces in her unpublished books, we find a hyper-sensitive poet who invites her readers to share her feelings. For example, her “Introduction” justifies her authorship in the face of hostile male critics, and sensitive readers who read out of their own concern and psyche. She excluded polemical poems from her 1713 Miscellany by a Lady. His argument was the dynamics of literary factionalism got in the way of her writing good poetry.

Mr Gavin began by discussing some of Finch’s poems which were never attributed to her from the 1698 religious miscellany edited (or gathered) by Nahum Tate, and the 1701 Gilden Miscellany . It’s true her poems fit into Jacobitism, can be fit into religious polemic (even Whiggism — she is hailed by Nicolas Rowe in Gilden’s volume), and she is also a poetess of exile. Nonetheless, she wanted to stand outside the literary fields of battle. She was herself a translator as were numerous women in these eras when they began careers of writing. Finch’s prefatory fable for her 1713 volume, “Mercury and the Elephant,” was meant to symbolize this stance. If we want to understand the nature of her career as a poet, Paula Backscheider has described it in her book: dedicating one’s life to writing superior verse aesthetically. I’d add, ethically, as a therapy for herself.

The painted drawing room at Norbury Park (in whose environs Fanny first met Alexandre D’Arblay)

Catherine Parisian talked about “Frances Burney in America.” Although Burney never went to the US, her books were printed in American editions and attempts were made to distribute them. The talk was on the specifics of who published what in Philadelphia and NY. She was interested to show which edition (or text) was dependent on a previous one.

Big runs were 200-300 copies, and it did emerge that despite the high hopes of the publisher/bookseller in the US, no where near enough of Burney’s books sold to justify him continuing. There was a market for this kind of high-minded intelligent book by a woman which was not sexualized overtly (Camilla fits this bill perfectly) but they didn’t reach it.

Lady Anne Barnard, 18th century Scots painter, A landscape

Emily Friedman’s paper was on “Sacred Taboos: Mary Brunton’s Posthumous Packaging.” Ms. Friedman felt the titles of Brunton’s novels (Self-Control, Discipline) are meant as self-evident jokes, and that has been scanty attention given these complex works. Her first novel, Self-Control, is about a heroine who chases after a hero to American and sails down a dangerous river in a canoe. Discipline is a strongly Emma-like novel: a heroine’s mother dies and she has no one to teach her really properly; she is given a Miss Taylor as her governess (whom she bullies) and is left to fend for herself and her father.

Brunton’s last novel, Emmeline, a work not finished, now consists of a fragment published posthumously, together with a memoir of Brunton’s short life. (She died in childbirth at age 40.) This last story is of a woman who decides she no longer loves her husband, divorces him, remarries, but discovers she and her husband are not accepted by anyone around them, and remorse and guilt drive her to misery. What happens is the new husband leaves her. It’s only 100 pages, but reads like a novella in itself.

It’s a fascinating document; contemporary reviews are painful to read now if we recognize Mary Brunton in each of the novels and this one especially has painted herself and aspects or circumstances of her life under the guise of fiction.

Reviewers did excoriate the heroine and Mrs Brunton for writing such a fiction. (Having read Brunton’s Discipline I do know how she excoriates and moralizes over her heroine, and I wondered if this 100 pages is a better novel to us precisely because Brunton couldn’t finish it, and thus ruin her text.)

In the questions and talk afterwards Ms Friedman agreed that Brunton writes very much in a vein like that of Joanne Baillie, Susan Ferrier (Scots I mentioned earlier), and Jane Austen at one remove. I asked Ms Friedman about the value of Mary McKerrow’s biography, Mary Brunton, The forgotten Scottish novelist, 2000, and she said that its emphasis is on Brunton as a Scots writer but much is well-written and revealing. Ms Friedman said this biography is mostly taken from the memoir about his life that was published shortly.

I thought Mr Gavin wanted us to see that by analyzing Finch’s poetry from another stance than that of poetry, more of its greatness came out, and asked him what he thought of its melancholy and the aesthetics of the short romantic lyrics. As I’ve dedicated years of my life to putting her poems on the Net and writing about her his paper was of especial interest to me. I was glad to see him concentrate on the unattributed poems. Someone else pointed out how Finch was in a dependent powerless position, and one reason she decided to print only de-politicized poetry (fables mostly) in her 1713 volume was she could not do otherwise.

I didn’t say so but it continues to bother me that many of the papers and essays published nowadays take positions which enable the writer to avoid the topics of feminism, and the content of the writers’ depressions and troubles. Also this final publication of Brunton’s work by the husband consisting of unfinished works, a memoir and a shaping of the author’s life which moralizes it conventionally and slides under the rug anything that does not fit that moral reminds me of how Anne Radcliffe’s husband published a similar book about her: her posthumous (but finished) Gaston de Blandville, a memoir by the husband’s friend which includes large swatches of her poetic journals, and a moral portrait which erases a troubled solitary life.

Frances Singh told me about the paper she gave on a panel called “Foreign Intelligences” (at 2:00 pm on Saturday). The title of the paper was “Jane Cumming. missing in 1812.” I was not able to hear her deliver it, but would like to offer a summary of it here as it seems to me of real interest.

Jane Cumming was the illegimate daughter of an Indian officer who died and left a comment on her mother to the effect that she was an “evil woman.” At first Jane’s grandmother ignored her; then she had her picked up from school and sent to a training school. Someone said the teachers were lesbian and parents began to take their daughters from the school The school was ruined, and Frances brought out the terribleness of what people would say to one another is brought out.

Jane Cummings left a record of what happened, and it has not been lost to us because the story was picked up by Lillian Hellman for two film adaptations The Children’s Hour. Tellingly the first versions (on stage and in the movies) erased the possible lesbianism of the schoolteachers and the second (a 1960 movie) presented the two lesbians at the center very unsympathetically. The little girl who told is presented as a kind of spiteful fiend. Nowhere does the discourse allow for a discussion of the original blind egoism of Jane Cummings’s father (and erasure of her mother), narrow views of another human being of the grandmother, and then the realities of what would go on in a school and attempts at humane communication between people that say lesbian love might have been reaching for.

On my small list, Women Writers through the Ages at Yahoo, we spent a season reading women’s plays and discussing their films, and discovered that until very recently one group continually excoriated by the public and misrepresented with extreme hostility are lesbians. (The only group as much disliked are “bluestockings” whose stock has not gone up in the way of lesbians because they are not seen as wanting sex.)

The three papers read on the “Later 18th century writers” were all informative and perceptive. Lisa Berglund delivered hers in a lively way as well: it was on the marginal commentary in Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections of a Tour of France, Italy and Germany. Lisa first gave a brief resume of Piozzi’s life, ending on her last years as a widow, and her late-life “crush” on a young actor, Augustus Conway who at the end of his life committed suicide. One must remember how rich Piozzi was, and also how she said she was miserable during her many years married to Thrale and very happy during her years with Piozzi.

The Thrales’ West Street house in Brighton, photograph from 1865

In this commentary Piozzi is looking back on her life, and she is much franker, more personal, more concrete than in her published writing. She indirectly mirrors conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. Piozzi was treated viciously in the press when she married and when she published later in life. Lisa read aloud to us some touching daily passages she wrote out in both her earlier handbooks and this last one. Part of the point was to show us that the public presentation of Piozzie’s husband was bland and almost not there, but that in this commentary his personality comes across. The commentary in general then is in a way more valuable than the self-censored narratives in public. Lisa intends to published these for Valancourt Press.

The book is also a narrative of her life’s writing process, and Lisa gave out xeroxes of different stages of the writing from Piozzi’s diaries and papers and we looked at the changes Piozzi made as she wrote. It seemed often to be a process of crossing out, generalizing, alas, erasing.

Juniper Hall, where Fanny met her husband, Alexander

Lorna Clarke is working on Burney’s court journals, and her paper comes out of her study of these. What she showed us was how much fictionalizing and imagination went into this journal. Fanny’s process of writing her journals changed at various points of her life and each time her writing alters. Instead of a diary of her daily proceedings, in the 1780s, it became a memorandum which she can write up later. Her notes show she was often very belated so what we get is emotion recollected in tranquility. We could say of her years at court, they were not wasted but that she spent a good deal of the time writing and rewriting.

The major revealing point that Lorna made was Burnye’s texts are a record of a complex interaction of then and now in Fanny’s mind as well as of Fanny writing to someone and expecting a rely. The letters to Susan are a kind of realistic novel with many layers in them. Then very later in life (after her husband’s death), she is glad to keep a diary of retrospection all the while she kept to the epistolary technique. She had developed a mastery of these dramatic and epistolary techniques of writing to the moment. The product is then (in effect) a major novel since much is fictionalized by Fanny’s imagination at different stages of time: close to the event so and so most nearly like what happened, further off so elaborated, meant for Susan’s eyes so the perspective is shaped that way, and then later in life.

Lorna developed a chronology which seems to me to cover the ground and give insight into what we are reading. When you look at the different layers of what is there and how differently different parts were written, we have a fiction of great complexity as well as a rarely well-documents significant life. Hers was an extraordinarily good paper which if heeded could bring before us finally Burney’s journals in a light that would enable us to read them with modern techniques of literary analysis instead of as simply fodder for biographical papers.

Elizabeth Inchbald, frontispiece to British Theater, 1806

Beverly Schneller argued that we should regard Elizabeth Inchbald’s Catholicism seriously — as she does. Inchbald’s first biographer, lost his head (joke alert about superstition and fairy tale ritual here). Ms Schneller suggested that in Inchbald’s novels and prayers, she stays strickly orthodox. Inchbald was puzzled at the strong hatred Protestants for Catholics. She showed how in Inchbald’s life we have much evidence she went regularly to church and followed other Catholic practices, and then went over Inchbald’s fiction carefully, showing analogies with Catholic doctrine and practice. So that although Inchbald lived an unusually independent life for her era. she was at the same time conventional about religion and family.

Ms Schneller also emphasized the importance of Inchbald’s editing work for us today, how she was the mainstay of her family. One area that has been misunderstood is her brief relationship with her husband. He was not long-lived. Often it’s presented as something she was forced to do, the result of having to find a protector against sexual harassment. Ms Schneller wanted us to see the marriage as something Inchbald chose because the man was Roman Catholic.

Alas, there was not time for much talk afterwards. So I’d like to add this thought here perhaps the point of trying to argue for Inchbald’s serious adherence to Catholicism could be to aid us in interpreting Inchbald’s fictions, plays and some of her scholarship. In particular, for example, her Simple Story has a Dorriforth, a man who is a priest and characterized as severe and critical towards the frivolous social behavior of the heroine, Miss Milner. How are we to understand this? Perhaps Inchbald’s purpose was more than secular moralizing. I know when we read it on Janeites, I saw it as very much in the French tradition of manners of comedies only the insights into human nature were harsher and the dramatic narratives incisive and unusually powerful. The second half of the book occurs after the death of Miss Milner and swirls around his lack of a relationship with his and Miss Milner’s daughter, Matilda and himself, now a secular gentleman, Lord Elmwood. It’s a striking contrast to the first half as it’s a gothic novel usually justified as showing what are the results of bad education. Clearly this kind of rationale doesn’t begin to approach what is going on in this plangent — and half-crazy I should say — story of estrangement and despair. I never did get to putting up on my website the many postings a group of us wrote about this novel in 1998 and now I don’t know if I can because my files (wri files) often won’t open at all.

I end with another professional woman artist of this era:

Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), Le chat angora — threatened by that hair brush!


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Dear Friends,

This is my second record of the EC/ASECS meeting held last week at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: I’ve written about the meeting of the Burney Society on Thursday afternoon, Devoney Looser’s lecture on Burney’s Memoirs of Dr Burney and our dramatic reading aloud of Burney’s Witlings. Now I turn to Friday’s sessions.

The first session I attended , “The Eighteenth Century Gothic,” was notable for the unusual or relatively unknown novels and texts chosen as well as the rich suggestiveness of all the papers.

First up, was Madhuchhanda Ray Choudhury’s paper on The Necromancer, or the Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by Karl Friedrich Kahlert (recently published by Valancourt books; also available in a Folio Society edition, prefaced by Devandra Varma): “The Spectre, Spectacle and the Spectacular Redefined in The Necromancer.” This is one of the Northanger novels about which Michael Sadleir was the first to write insightfully.. Ms Choudhury argued that people read this book for its spectacle and that it reveals that the enlightenment did not reach deep into people.

It’s a novel about fraud. The necromancer uses the latest technologies of the era to seem to bring the dead back to earth to those who grieve for the loss of these people; we see him fooling victims in a forest and punished for exploiting the poor and ignorant and miserable by a brutal execution. Volkert is the necromancer’s name, and he is a consummate dramatist who is in effect producing shows and exploiting acting skills comparable to what was found in theaters of the era. Volkert claimed to be working from a book written in an ancient mystic language, and his audiences are made up of naive and frightened people.

James Boaden (the memoirist) recognizes the contemporary audience’s taste for terror, and suggests the audience resented the kinds of explanations Radcliffe would offer; the audience would resent and be disappointed by the rationales. They wanted to be fooled. Reviews at the time would moralize about these kinds of plays and novels (as did the novelists), but in fact we see that exposing the frauds in this novel does not lead to the audience blaming the necromancer; quite the contrary: the audience is indifferent to the exposure and feels sympathy for the fraudulent wizard. When Volkert is beheaded, he is treated like a martyr, a hero and his spells are valued for their eeriness. There is clearly intense pleasure in the macabre and bloodcurdling (so to speak) and Volkert regards himself as a genius. Very interesting is how the necromancer justifies himself; he says he does not regret having reached the dead; he did it for a just cause; spells are a manipulative tool which he uses to serve his community (!). He becomes a heroic figure in the book. Thus claims for any desire to be enlightened are undermined by this book.


The second paper by David Fine was about Sydney Owenson’s The Missionary (1811): “Let me feel death and shame but once: Rethinking The Missionary’s Sensibility.” An alternate title is Luxima: the Prophetess (reprinted 1859). (It’s described by Nancy Paxton in her Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1837-1947. where it’s described as the love story of Hilarion, a Franciscan missionary to india, and a beautiful Indian woman, Luxima.) Mr Fine argued that the novel engages the language of mystical experience, blurs lines often drawn between the self and others, vilifies the flesh and finds the roots of this vilification in false shame. Mr Fine felt the novel addresses political changes going on at the time; and while it attempts to recover and justify the cult of sensibility, it reinforces domination of individuals by those who can manipulate passion. Sensibility is far from freeing the individual from false norms of the establishment; sensibility imprisons people. The Portuguese missionary tries to convert Hilarion by using carnal love; she sees only the sacred in their experience, and the reader sees how her experience is rooted in the flesh.

Mr Fine suggested the emotion produced by this encounter simply replicates the environments the characters find themselves in. Mysticism (he said) can produce a rupture of the boundaries set between self and society normally.

(To me this analysis showed that whatever the novelist intended, her novel finally made an argument like Austen’s S&S, and those non-gothic novels hers is like, e.g., Jane West’s A gossip’s story, 1796.)

Robert Southey writing by Edward Nash (1848)

The third paper by Elisa Beshero-Bondar was on Robert Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801, 1838); “Southey’s Gothic Science: Galvanism, Automata, and Heretical Sorcery.” Prof Beshero-Bondar suggested this poem had much in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818, 1831, partly by Percy Bysshe Shelley). Southey reveals the conflicts between gothicism and conventional beliefs; he merges natural philosophy (knowledge about electric bodies) with the gothic and Eastern and Western beliefs. (Southey’s apparently similarly iconoclastic poem, “The Curse of Kehama” is also dealt with at length by Nancy Paxton in her Writing Under the Raj.) She felt he was influenced by Humphry Davies’s and Thomas Beddoes’ experiments; Erasmus Darwin’s vitalist emphases in his poetry and Southey’s own travels to Portugal. At some level Southey was exposing false institutions, false religions and authorities grounded in customs and traditions. There is an assault on Islamic tenents, fatalism, submission to God. He was appropriating various models as a way of writing powerful poetry. He also anticipates his later conservatism in a questioning of the ideals of the 1790s. Cultural systems are shown to be oppressive fields, mechanisms of the powerful to control individuals.

The poem itself contains sorcerers defying God’s patterns, undermining contemporary codes of all sorts, dissecting corpses, adapting electrical energies in order to simulate the energies of the human soul. They construct a system of dynamic forces which triggers events and provides an elaborate simulacrum of the world. Some of the vocabulary and terms used are familiar to us today in some modern scientific fables (as I cannot get myself to read any of this kind of science fiction, cannot get my brain to process it as it seems to me so absurd I couldn’t really take down the parallels which seemed to be recognized by other people in the room). The events are not Godless; rather Southey modernizes Miltonic images of Satan to provide works of demon art. Electricity becomes a way of gaining power.

Prof Beshero-Bondar did not quote from the poem, but I add some lines from it from W. A. Speck’s Robert Southey: Entire Man of Letters; while Francis Jeffrey attacked the poem viciously, he did allow it had some beautiful lyrical passages:

How beautiful is night!
A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
No mist obscures, no little cloud
Breaks the whole serene of heaven:
In full-orbed glory the majestic moon
Rolls thro’ the dark blue depths.
Beneath her steady ray
The desert circle spreads,
Like the round ocean, girdled with the sky.
How beautiful is night!

Anthology which includes Orra

The final paper of this panel was Melissa Wehler’s “Revising Ophelia: Joanna Baillie’s Orra and the Tradition of Madwomen.” Ms Wehler compared how Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Baillie’s Orra both progress from an aristocratic effective or socially viable woman to a mad person. It was the differences that interested her: Ophelia drowns herself, Orra brandishes her madness as a weapon. Orra rewrites her story. She summarized Foucault’s arguments in Madness and Civilization and suggested Orra’s madness was a way for her to escape imprisoning norms even if the result was a malign otherness.

Ms Wehler said Walter Scott disapproved of Orra as a character on the grounds she was no woman. Ms Wehler agreed, only she argued that this typology is conventional and she liked Baillie’s undermining of it. She compared Ophelia in her madness to Orra: Ophelia exemplifies conventional ideas about femininity; is tragically innocent, is a courtly, tender, distracted female, a spectacle for the male gaze demanding empathetic pity. In contrast, Orra is non-normative; madness provides inner sanctuary, the males around her cannot exploit her joys; they want to use her as a benevolent matriarch, but in her gothic madness she avoids all acceptable feminine types. Her posture is one of defiance and rebellion. So in a crucial moment (apparently) intense emotional distress leads to creativity.

The discussion afterwards was intriguing and (to me) paradoxical. The intriguing part brought up fashionable ideas in scholarship nowadays: for example, that the gothic opens up a space for performance; it’s a way of framing “the other” safely for authors and audiences. Witches manipulate people it was said and so have agency; ghosts are usually not women (I don’t think that’s true). Someone suggested that men contact the supernatural and women don’t (again that’s not true). The thrust here was to say why Orra herself never has contact with the supernatural but has to find the supernatural within herself. There was also new information (for me). The Vashti character in Orra leads to Daniel Deronda’s mother. I picked up that Southey’s poem had a lot of analogies, archetypes and parallels with modern science fiction stories on TV and films and popular novels.

The paradox of the discussion seemed to me to be its disconnection with life. The people who were finding female agency in madwomen were people who knew that the way to find and keep ordinary power is to conform to expectations of other people and had done so to achieve their own successes. So there was a disjunction between their feminism for literary discussion and feminism for real.

For my part I suggested the material of The Necromancer anticipates the use of seances in the 19th century: early and frequent death was so common, the average person longed to reach lost beloved people (especially women who were continually impregnated and lost many children). It thus seemed to me not a fantastical book at all but one rooted in the kinds of longings A.S. Byatt dramatizes in her Angels and Insects. I also asked about the connections of The Missionary with other Anglo-Indian colonial novels. Hilarion tries to convert Luxima to Christianity; for her transgressive conduct, Luxima is continually threatened with abduction and rape; even though he never has sex with Luxima (since it’s sinful according to him), Hilarion is excommunicated; both nearly die in an auto-da-fe, but are saved; however, afterwards Hilarion is killed by a knife wound. The characters expose the cruelty of the power structure and perhaps the uselessness, amorality and hopelessness of an early justification for colonializing: converting people to Christianity.

I did not bring up a gothic novel we read on ECW (Eighteenth Century World at Yahoo) a couple of summers ago: Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, or, The Transformation. There was not enough time (I had asked two questions already). But I would like to bring this one up here. While not one of the novels mentioned by Austen in her Northanger Abbey, it has many of the characteristics of these “horrid” novels and like The Necromancer, and Thabbala, it is set in Europe, uses pseudo-science and science; like The Missionary, it attacks powerful groups in society which exploit the poor and powerless. It also bolsters unconventional beliefs in the supernatural which comfort people. But it also dramatizes pathological states, incest, the breaking of bodily taboos, vampirism and is pitched to a high level of hysteria. See a fascinating article at Common Place: “The Awful Truth.”

The hermits of Wissahickon Tabernacle, perhaps Brown’s inspiration for Father Wieland’s temple

So the novel is also highly individual, with quite a different set of obsessions and themes from the above relatively unread gothics today. So one thing this session showed was how little we can generalize about the gothic and or any of the “horrid” and sexy transgressive gothic texts, and how inadequately they are described most of the time.

Next up is a session which was also partly on the gothic in novels and real life: “The Seductive Menace: The Dangers of Popery; it included a play by Matthew Lewis, Sade’s Histoire de Juliette, Richardson’s Clarissa, and some real history of the oppression of Ireland.

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Abbie Cornish mothering Ben Whishaw as Keats and Fanny

Dear friends

Isabel and I went to see Jane Campion’s Bright Star yesterday and while I liked a few things in it, in general I found it disappointing to dismaying. That’s unusual for me, as I usually like costume dramas, historical and film adaptation types both. Part of my reaction might be the reaction of the audience we found ourselves surrounded by. This film resembles Shakespeare in Love, Becoming Jane, Miss Austen Regrets, and other movies about geniuses (see below) in its maudlin presentation of love and insistence love is the center of the writer’s life.

To begin with, the first half was over-wrought to the point of absurdity. In keeping with the recent propensity not to have any long speeches or scenes, the characters abruptly move into the most melodramatic confrontations at the beginning of Keats’s meeting with Fanny Brawne. It was ludicrous and improbable — not to omit a little hard to follow. This first part also included continual sops to the audience in the form of remarks by various characters making fun of reading, intellectual life, poetry, and reiterating how Keats doesn’t make any or not enough money. These were apparently intended to be funny, and there was some slapstick with some of them. They keep the audience around me tittering. This grated on me and I might have left but things began to improve around the time Fanny and Keats fall in love and especially when he gets sick to death. the conflict was apparently between Mr Brown, Keats’s friend and Fanny. He wanted to expose her as a hypocrite, and flighty; they were rivals for Keats’s friendship.

The problem then was there was no build-up. Since we were already nearly falling off a cliff of melodrama, it was hard to feel for Keats and took time. Towards the end of the movie all the undercutting sotto voce snideness went and the viewer was allowed to wallow in grief in peace. Not without other preachy remarks now and again about Keats’s lack of money as well as how when you have a strong will you can have everything and anything you want. This attitude was attributed to Fanny in some self-righteous scenes with one of the male characters said to be a friend of Keats’s, Browne, who impregnates a maid and then stays with her and has to support her (perhaps marries her, it’s not clear). (This reminded me of a movie about Aspergers with Hugh Dancy, Adam, I saw a few weeks ago: its subtext was also how really all the hero had to do was brighten up and go out there and be independent and all would be well.)

There is a feminist background to the movie. I read a long time ago (when a graduate student). W.J. Bates’s Life of Keats and I remembered him reporting how badly Fanny fared in talk after Keats’s death. I have in my house a much shorter biography by Gittings where he tells of how after Fanny’s death she was treated with much condescension in the scholarship: she is called a shallow flirt, caring only for clothes, and cold to Keats to some extent. They never did have full sexual intercourse. In the movie this Fanny is endlessly sewing and we are asked to believe the spectacular outfits we see her in continually (one a scene practically) we all made by herself. She also is no reader and lies to Browne when first meeting Keats to pretend she has read a good deal. Nonetheless, or despite these egregious faults (which in the movie are not seen as faults at all), she is presented very strongly positively. Indeed the movie is about her, not Keats. Here again there is a lack. She has no interest but loving Keats and silently sewing. I began to wonder why Campion had made this movie.

I did note the strange intertitle at the end which tells the audience she wore Keats’s ring for the rest of her life and liked to walk in their favorite park wood. Not that she never married. Given the over-the-top romance, I thought to myself she must’ve married. And indeed she did, a Sephardic Jewish man after her mother and brother died, and lived abroad until the last 5 years of her life when she returned to England and when she died was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

I wondered where Keats’s sister had gotten to. None of his family was anywhere to be seen. We heard about his work in the hospital but it was nowhere in this movie. But my real complaint was the same one I have with most biopics of writers’ lives: Becoming Jane, Shakespeare in Love (the title says it all), Miss Austen Regrets, Mozart something-or-othered; in science one sees this too: in Infinity Feynman’s life is presented out of the perspective of the five year period he was married and through the lens of his first wife’s death from TB. Apparently the popular wider audience wants to believe that writers write out of love for someone and that love dominates all; if women, it’s a man’s thoughts which inspire them (Austen was inspired by LeFroy); if men, it’s a woman and sex. In a study of classical biographies (of Euripides, Sophocles), Mary Lefkowitz shows that popular biographies of writers in particular show how unhappy such people are, a kind of revenge and resentment mode. We do see Keats writing but we never heard any intelligent conversation about books or get any sense what a rhythm of a real writer’s life or the real obstacles (remember Connolly’s Enemies of Promise) are.

The best thing about it was Ben Whishaw’s reading of Keats’s letters and poems. There was much voice-over and he reads very well. And Abbie Cornish has a body, she is not anorexic. But then what was wanted was Keats should look frail and near death.

I’ve liked Campion’s movies before: the one on James’s novel, The Piano, an earlier one on Janet Frame. But I know too she tends to be overpraised (even when her movies disappear from theatres inside one weekend). She must have a lot of friends (as opposed to Bogdanovich who never seems to get any praise at all).

Ellen Moody

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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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