Archive for April, 2010

The Duke helping a very sick Duchess (Susan Hampshire) away from the Ruined Priory

Dear Friends and readers,

After a six month-hiatus, I return to the 1974 BBC Palliser series once again to conclude my study of this magnificent film cycle, 1:1-8:17 on the old blog, and 9:18-2:24 thus far on this.

Three films cover Trollope’s The Duke’s Children. 12:24 is deeply elegiac, bringing to a poignant conclusion the Prime Minister’s career as head of government, and his wife’s as a political saloniere or hostess, and after a slow adumbration of the stories of Silverbridge, the son, and Mary, the daughter (Kate Nicholls), developing in powerful earnest these characters and their involvements with other characters (Frank Tregear [Jeremy Irons], as Silverbridge’s friend and Mary’s lover) and Lady Mabel Grex ([Anna Carteret] Silverbridge’s natural mate and ex-lover of Frank).

12:25 is intensely about the relationship of the Duke and Duchess to one another as parents and to both their children (though only she interacts with Mary until the series’s final part); and it begins the duchess’s long-time slow decline (which we saw signs of in 12:24), now into death.

As 12:25 is also given over to concentration on Silverbridge’s slow maturation and his clashes with father so 12:26 concentrates on Mary as the female presence whose happy fate (she decides her own destiny) is presented as compensation for thwarting and infliction of grief and loss on her mother for many of the early parts as she is forcibly separated from a man she loved and who loved her and made to live with her role as obedient (if tenderly loved, and safe) wife to heir of the Omnium estate; Kate Nicholls is the plangent muse of all three of these last films

From 12:26, Lady Mary (Kate Nicholls) looking past the ruins to her mother’s grave

Simon Raven told his biographer Michael Barber (The Captain) that Lady Glencora was to him the chief protagonist of the series, and in these two parts hers is the overarching story within which Silverbridge and the Duke’s interactions take place.

I begin with a commentary on this 12:25 and then provide a summary with transcripts of two central scenes and bits from a third. The penultimate episode of the Pallisers centers squarely on the rocky relationship of the Duke of Omnium (by this point brilliantly played by Philip Latham) and his eldest son and heir, Silverbridge (played effectively partly because he so looks the part, Anthony Andrews). Two long scenes between the Duke and the son are the centerpieces of this episode. I transcribe the central long full one in my next blog. Here we shall have the full scene of Duchess’s suddenly visible weakening (the second still above), and a bit her scene with Mary where she shows the intensity of her vicarious longing for her daughter to live the fate she wants to (from which I take this still):

The Duchess turning away to look inwardly as she realizes Mary is seriously attached to Tregear, engaged, and wants to marry him

The differences between these two parts and Trollope’s Duke’s Children must be remembered here. The Raven team have mostly eliminated and reversed Trollope’s The Duke’s Children’s important secondary theme. Trollope’s novel centers on the father’s conflict with his daughter as well as his son: Trollope’s Duke is locked in strong conflict with his daughter, Lady Mary Palliser over her desire to marry Frank Tregear (we get brief but significant glimpses of him in this episode, where he gives Silverbridge good advice and tries to look out for Gerald). This second conflict links up to the second theme of the novel: the Duke’s intense nostalgia melancholy and partial regret and at the same time refusal to acknowledge the maiming of a life done to his wife, the Duchess, by marrying her to a man she (in Trollope’s novels) could never really love truly as she could not understand or sympathize with him and couldn’t resist needling him when he evidenced in little ways the nature that was at deep odds with her own.

In both films the Duchess remains a strong and dominant presence (after her death emphatically), and we are to believe has learned to love the Duke, appreciate his ethical stance and deep kindness, though she still remembers with bitterness and hurt the despair she felt at first (it’s made clear several times this was just “at first” though “at first” seems to have taken an ambiguously longish amount of time). Her real absence in Trollope’s own novel (and lack of reach after death) is part of the problem Trollope’s Duke has, for without her interference (much more ambiguously aimed and motivated in Trollope as it would be in real life), the Duke actually seems unable even to talk to his son or daughter.

In 12:25 the Duke talks to and reaches Silverbridge. On one level, the father-and-son story is yet another sub-story in the roman fleuve structure of the films — which imitates the roman fleuve structure of the novels (and those of Oliphant, Proust, Powell). We have another young gentleman’s entrance into the world, one with a cornucopia of advantages, which are basically responsible for his apparent successes (we may wonder what the future will hold for him): just one of its array of male types. On another the story is one which reinforces submission on behalf of the group (which Silverbridge does), conformity to one’s family as best for everyone including those who fall in.

And now the individual episodes with transcripts. First a brief description of each and then commentary and its source in Trollope’s novel.

12:25, Episode 36: Election Results.

Scene 1) The film opens on the Duchess dressed beautifully (oh what an outfit), walking older and looking old in her face, but setting up an exquisitely pretty tea. Duke comes in to be told that the Boncassens are coming and despite his attempt to retreat to the library he is gotten to stay and meet.

Carlton Terrace, London, Duchess and Collingwood, then Duke. Wholly invented scene of meeting and tea with Mr and Mrs Boncassen and Isabel Jerry Stovin, Eileen Erskine, Lynn Frederick); Silverbridge leaves to go to campaign and be elected; Duke’s Children, Ch 14, pp. 84-85 Silverbridge told he will be elected and to go down (narrated) is source for going off for election; some of feel of early dialogue between Silverbridge and Isabel from DC, Garden party, Ch 28, p 176; bright and sparkling for Trollope.

Scene about how privileged and unaware of their privilege, made uncomfortable, these people are; want to be respected extra and yet don’t want this to be acknowledged; Silverbridge says election not a done deal and yet no opponents, at which he is gleeful and then repeats hypocrisy about why no one is running against him (favored candidate) — Isabel about how he can’t test himself if he has no worthy opponents (and we will find he has none for Isabel’s hand — quite this kind of nuance not in Trollope).

Preparing tea with the faithful aging Collingwood (Maurice Quick)

It’s a scene where differences between American and UK outlooks on class and politics are made clear. Mr Boncassen a scholar like the Duke; although at first she seems dim, Mrs Boncassen acute in the way of the Duchess (about social things, sceptical). Mrs B: “Well, what about people who have “fancy titles and no money, how do they make out?” Duchess; “poorly, Mrs Boncassen, poorly.” The Duchess gets the best lines in the scene. It should be said not all women have this astute social perceptiveness and no information and not all men escape to libraries.

Silverbridge leaves to work at election.


Scenes at Matching:

Scene 2) Matching front room, duke reading and duchess sewing, to them Silverbridge with news of his election, all pride, Duke cannot congratulate because his assumption of Tory party is not based on serious thought and is a betrayal of his life; young man openly irritated and goes to be congratulated by sister; becomes clear the lineage of the family, use of good seat, family loyalty at stake Duchess tells Duke he must pretend to accept it; so much of this and previous scene taking us back to 1:1 where the two were married to set up a dynasty.

When the Duke does not congratulate Silverbridge for the first time he is openly irritated. He leaves abruptly, maybe Mary will congratulate him. Duke was angered at his winning nomination as a conservative. Then Duchess attempts to persuade Duke he must pretend not to care for Silverbridge’s choice is really his attempt to assert his independence and rightly manipulated he will return to the fold.

Scene 3) Matching the room that has served as Duchess’s boudoir, Mary congratulating Silverbridge, the boyish nature of the speech is from DC, Ch 14, pp. 91-92; mother beams and says father recovering from shock, put yourself in his way and he’ll have something kinder to say, boy heads out.

Now the important scene with Mary: Now a scene with Mary, presented as mother worry (house keeps boy out of mischief), Gerald okay at Cambridge, and what about Mary. An invented scene. Mary tells of the Priory ruins scene from 12:24, Episode 33 (Scene 11); Duchess’s deep identification, does Silverbridge know and Mary says he says father won’t hear of it (12:24, episode 34); Invented scene but Mary’s assertion he’s a gentleman brought in here too, DC, Ch 8, p 54, mother brings in her special reasons for wanting Mary to make her own choice; it seems Mary knows nothing of mother’s past and will carry on knowing nothing; she will do her best if Mary really loves this man.

It’s here the Duchess’s story comes out: she and Mary discuss Mary’s love for Tregear; we saw the Duchess’s favoring of Frank in in a gondola in Venice). Duchess points out to Mary Tregear has no money and her father will not like his lack of noble connections, to which Mary says:

Mary: “You’re not going to be difficult.”
Duchess: “No no not now that I have come to know Mr Tregear, but then I have reasons for wanting you to be allowed to make your own choice.
Mary: [All innocence, the mother has never told her daughter of her past; a false erasure of mother’s past which apparently does go on among families]: “What reasons, mama?”
Duchess: “Well, I want you to be spared any unnecesssary sufferings, to be parted from the man you love makes the heart empty at least for a time. Now if you really love each other, you must be together and I shall do my very very best to bring round your father.”

Episode 37: Who to Wed?

Scene 4) Duke in some antechambre in Matching, looks grim, Silverbridge to him, they apologize to one another, from letter Duke preaches to Silverbridge after the election to guard fellow countrymen that they might be safe, free … From DC, Ch 15, letter on p. 99.

The first of several long and/or important effective scenes between Duke and son. Son comes in and apologizes and Duke replies he was ungenerous. Long talk about values, Duke too didactic but it’s moving as son’s face lights up at moments as Silverbridge so admires his father. Here we learn that the Duke still looks forward to Silverbridge marrying Lady Mabel and son is unable to tell father but clearly “off Lady Mabel”.

Now the great scene in the Priory Ruins:

The duke and duchess glimpsed as they enter — long shot

Summary: Duke and Duchess walking slowly together, she is black, important moment for series, contrast to them all aglow in sunlit landscape of Matching in previous Part, now in black, and she puts a deep red rose in his lapel. She remembers back to her walk with Alice (CYFH? and 2:3, Episode 14.

This gothic memory shows how gothic deepens; it was more than about harm; she was bucking his authority; she claims to be talking about Silverbridge, but her aim to get him to accept and help Tregear supposedly as Silverbridge’s friend; (that he’s a conservative not to count); his old ploy that he doesn’t interfere; she says Silverbridge got his seat that way, but Duke persists he must make his own passage, what’s wrong with him? not a man of means; he agrees to think carefully about Mr Tregear but will not find him a seat; what is he to me but dubious friend of Silverbridge, and she bursts; “and your daughter”, and he doesn’t hear for her illness and coughing, and asks him to take her inside. First serious scene towards death (opening of 12:24 Dolly says he couldn’t do without her, and we saw her take medicine mid-part).

A transcript:

Establishment shot: We glimpse the Duchess coming into the ruins through the masonry of the ornate columns. She is dressed in black. Then we see just the half-columns and then gradually the Duke and Duchess walking slowly and both in black come into view; they are clearly an aging pair, smiling companionably he with a cane, taking the night air

Duchess: “Ah, these ruins! [We hear birds; we see him in evening dress emerge alongside her]

They walk forward as aging couple.

Duchess: “I do so love it here [bird now very loud]. You remember how angry you were years ago when I walked here with my cousin, Alice under the moon.” [She laughs, he looks grave and serious]
Duke: “I couldn’t bear that any harm could come to you.”
Duchess: “It was only a cold, you old silly.” [So what she has is only a cold she thinks]
Duke: “It is getting chilly now. Shall we go in?
Duchess: “Oh no, I want to talk to you . . . about Silverbridge . . . now then if you’re to reclaim him for the liberal party, you must do all that you can to work yourself into his good graces.”
Duke: “My dear, I am trying to do as you suggested . . . work myself into his good graces. What do you want me to do? fawn on [they are framed by plinths now) the boy?”
Duchess: “No, no you must be more subtle than that.”
Duke: “Hmmmm.”
Duchess: “You could start by being kind to his friend, Francis Tregear.” [From her enigmatic intense face we see she is intriguing again, this is not for Silverbridge, but ostensibly for Mary, ultimately compensation for herself in those opening parts we saw]
Duke: “Mmm. He has been a very bad influence. It was from him that Silverbridge first learned his conservative affectations.”
Duchess: [very irritated frustrated look on her face] “Planty, we have already agreed there is to be a truce about that.” [She also looks as if she’s about to quaver and old, ill, cold] and that truce must extend to Mr Tregear.”

Duke looks thoughtful because puzzled. Her assertions makes no sense. Shots go back and forth between their faces as they talk [we see they do not live in the same realms of values].

Duchess [breathes a little then] “Now then, Francis Tregear wishes for a career in public service.”
Duke: “Then he’d better set about finding himself one.”
Duchess: “But he has no influence and little money.”
Duke: “My dear, I can’t mend his lack of either.”
Duchess: “But you might help him [looks and stance in her eyes and face remind me of her body language when she spoke with Lopez] by finding him a seat in the house.” [Confiding]
Duke: “He’s a conservative.”
Duchess; “Planty, we have already agreed that that is not to count just now.”
Duke: “My dear, it’s is gettin’ cold. Now shall we go in?” [now he indicates they are to walk off and the shot is medium range]
Duchess: “No, no just a moment. A seat in the house for Mr Tregear?”
Duke: “I don’t interfere with parliamentary seats. I . . . you should know that after . . . after all this time.”
Duchess: “And yet Silverbridge was for Silverbridge.”
Duke: “It fell vacant in the natural course. Silverbridge made his own appeal to the electors.”
Duchess: “And so will [now breathless, might have said “should”] Mr Tregear. Planty, I’m only asking that you should persuade some friend to find him somewhere to make [she paces about stone square, we are watching through cloistered columns again].
Duke: “No . . . Young men of Mr Tregear’s class and condition must work their own passage.”
Duchess: “What’s wrong with his class and condition?”
Duke: “Nothing. I mean that although he is a gentleman, he’s yet as you admit a man of little means. He must look to a profession before he looks to Parliament.” [This is Mr Low’s argument about Phineas in Phineas Finn.]

Duke has now taken off his warm elegant black cloak and has it ready to wrap around her.
Duchess picks off a red rose from a bush.

Duchess: “Planty I should wish you to think [puts it in his lapel] very carefully about Mr Tregear [he looks lovingly at her], mmmm? [we hear the birds].

Cloak is now on her and wrapped tight and she holds it.

Duke: “But I am not going to find him a seat in parliament. After all, what is he to me, nothing but a somewhat dubious friend to my son.”
Duchess [bursts out}: “and your daughter!”

He looks up suddenly as it might begin to come to him what this is all about, but he has not heard after all, they are interrupted because she suddenly looks very ill indeed, and sick and turns and looks at him with a ghastly nauseous look.

Duke: “My dear, did you say something . . . ” [after all it seems he had not quite heard . . . ]
Duchess coughs hard, short of breath and he looks at her alerted as she suddenly confronts her state.

Duke: “My dear, you’re ill.”

She breathes hard, sways, tries to deny it, looks grim.

Duchess [weak voice]. “It is chilly [“very chilly?” — hard to make out]. Would you take me inside please?”
Duke [arm around her] “My dear, we should have gone in when I said.”
They look into one another’s eyes.
Duchess mouths: “Yes” and then turns.

No music. they walk back in the silence, she leaning against him. I think of crows. Camera follows from distance as she coughs. We hear their steps on the stone pavement.
A long shot takes in bushes with red and purple flowers to the side.

I love this scene. The Duke and Duchess late at night in elegant black walking among the Priory ruins. She remembers his anger (so we return where we began, very satisfying esthetically and thematically, binding this story) and says she only had a cold. How mad he was at Alice. He insists he was worried about her health (forgets he wanted to control her too). Neither brings up Burgo or the forced marriage but we remember it and they do too. Sometimes intelligence is asked of movie-goers.

In a later scene Duchess again tells the Duke he must work his way into the good graces of his son. Duke: “what do you want me to do, fawn on the young man?” No just be more tactful and distanced and give him room — she doesn’t say this and we get the irony about how parents often are driven to make up to adult children who they have little control over. This is not a 1870s story but a 1970s one.

Then the Duchess moves to Mr Tregear and we see another of these scenes where she is trying to get the Duke to do what she wants in cases he can’t or won’t and doesn’t know or sympathize with her goal. She wants him to get a position for Mr Treager.

He says he doesn’t do this sort of thing. She mentions Silverbridge; he denies this is that sort of thing. (This harks back to scene 1 where the Boncassens note that the election may be said to be free but Silverbridge has the same name as his district and no opponent. It also refers to the many places in the series where he denies her this way, and maybe he is no good at this kind of networking unless it’s his direct blood relative.)

The Duke clearly does not like Frank mostly because the Duke blames him for Silverbridge’s change of heart, he is someone who made the Duke’s son “a Tory!,” and what’s more his origins are “dubious.” She almost spills the truth to say Tregear is a friend of your daughter, but instinctively fearing his (let’s call it Oedipal) reaction, she halts at an outburst about “your daughter,” partly because she begins to cough violently.

She is cold, looks unwell and all the while he is attempting to put his cloak around her; she coughs, feels chilled, and they go in. It’s that last silent interaction that’s so good.


London and Parliament scenes.

Scene 5) Parliament seen, speaker talking, up in gallery Duke, clergyman sleeping, Silverbridge joins him, and father asks why he is up there with him; he replies he can hear just as well up here, but we are to feel he prefers to be with father already, again this is not the book but a strong domestic nexus that is 20th century nuclear middle class ideal. Also he is not happy among Tories who are not his family friends.

Orlando’s reference to armor-clad warships comes from his requests to the Duke in PM; they agree Drought is a man they neither of them like; Duke responds, “Well, you chose your own boat sir” (line in DC) gradual realization of Silverbridge that men matter (Trollope’s firm idea is men not measures), remark on Drought’s behalf that he is willing to “do his part of the grind” and “most fellows aren’t, sir” has its origin in a dialogue between Silverbridge and father, DC, Ch 25, p. 158, a chapter in the book where Silverbridge urging Gerald to keep to the liberal side and “I’ve made an ass of myself”); the invitation to dine at the Beargarten which so touches the Duke; the comment about cads there and in Parliament to from DC, dialogue with son, DC, Ch 26, pp. 163-64 (instead of Phineas Finn and Irish matter changed to armaments so as to eliminate Donal McCann’s part).

In Parliament Orlando is going on and on about armaments and ironclad ships as the camera moves up to observe the Duke high up listening and Silverbridge comes in. The jist: Silverbridge finds Orlando as distasteful as the Duke but does not acknowledge Orlando is “his”
leader and defends him on the grounds he’s a grind. Something Silverbridge remarks the Duke is and few are (including him).

A touching scene because Silverbridge invites the Duke to his club and when the Duke understands this (it takes a moment for him to get it), he is so pleased and off they go.

Silverbridge beginning to tease as they go off together: “Of course there may be one or two cads, Sir, but there are plenty here as well.”

Scenes 6 and 7) Important scene: Club (Beargarten), Source is DC, Chs 26, pp. 166-68, and DC, Ch 27, pp. 170-72 (where Tifto [JOhn Ringham] barges in); they’ve finished dining and are coming in for cofffee and drinks afterwards; talk about how club engenders selfish attitude, then the reference to Lady Mabel in the book too and in both film and book Silverbridge’s face registers he’s changed his mind, interrupted first by Tregear who leaves quickly and then Tifto who doesn’t; Tifto commits the gaff of offering a bet to Omnium:

In book Tifto doesn’t offer a bet, but Silverbridge does say “you are making an ass of yourself”; father says you must part with him with “courtesy and kindness”.

This is a memorable scene for those who know the novel. Tifto invades the son and father after dinner and makes an ass out of himself, shows himself to be vulgar, attempts to get the Duke to put on a bet, finds it amusing when the Duke says he knows nothing of horses but that they have “tails and heads.” We see Silverbridge’s agon and Tifto’s resentment at the end. Prefaced by graceful Tregear’s entranceand his exit when he sees father and son are alone — so a contrast to Tifto. Lady Mabel has come up but Silverbridge never quite tells his father he no longer wants the young woman the Duke thinks he the Duke could understand and love.

We’ve already seen Isabel Boncassen is very different from the duke and would not understand him — she really seems not to understand much. A child-like woman again. Trollope’s Isabel has some aspects of gay witty lady of Restoration comedy.

Episode 38: Derby Run. Back to Matching and now Duchess is ill. Scene Eight.

Duchess can no longer walk or move with ease; in great physical discomfort

Matching, Duchess in Boudoir, Duchess dressed and sitting up but ill, with Mrs Finn next to her as friend and nurse, DC, Ch 1, p 4, Duchess fretting she cannot go see Derby, stop Silverbridge from “doing anything unwise” about Lady Mabel. Mrs Finn says Mary needs help, mother says she “poor dear” thinks she must stay here when she longs to be in London and with Tregear. This is Mary’s posture during early phase of book vis-a-vis her widower father. Later she’s sent to Lady Cantripp, eventually returns home). Duchess irritated because she cannot give Tregear encouragement or work “on Planty” while laid up (“I am finding it very hard” especially as he’s in London, lays back, sighs.)

Barbara Murray again a nurse — alas this is what superfemales dwindle to in bourgeois dramas. Duchess wretched, wants to go see the race of Prime
Minister, help Mary see Tregear in London (I repeat Mary at Matching because mother ill — we are to feel they close); she has heard something to Lady Mabel’s discredit and wants to find out about that. The point made. She is much more ill than she admits, can’t eat, not eating. Can’t get up.


London, Carleton Terrace, the familiar breakfast room. Ninth scene. Nighttime. Lady Mabel Grex announced and we get a powerful scene where Silverbridge rejects her aggressive overtures with easy panache.

I’m not keen on Silverbridge here, but Lady Mabel does seem hypocritical here (see comment on how she is very like Kate Croy in Henry James’s Wings of the Dove). She is left stranded and excluded at its end.

He has some good lines. There is nothing nothing like this in Trollope. Instead Lady Mabel remains self-contained, dwelling in anguish (“howling” with a “storm” about her is how Frank Tregear thinks of her towards the end of the book) in her father’s ruined (gothic estate with no life to live, and the one she misses is Frank Tregear who is the rat who changed ships (again see comment on his affinity with Jamesian males). Even Raven’s Tregear is
ambiguous and we rarely see him with Mabel after 12:24’s anguished scene.

Silverbridge is reading Bell’s life in the old breakfast room. To him Lady Mabel, and here she gets her first full rebuff. Sources include DC, Ch 40, pp. 256-58 (Mabel says “I could live alone there and be happy”), 42, pp. 273-74 (self destructive behavior over rig), Ch 52, pp. 327-328 where we have Trollope’s Silverbridge’s awareness and jealousy of Frank (all this long nuanced history is excised or condensed in the film); Ch 59, p. 377 (deepest scene of book). In film as Lady Mabel has been companion of Silverbridge’s pleasures when young so when he casts her off she iss paralleled to Tifto (1) as in 11:22-23 structurally Silverbridge paralleled to Lopez.

She says he’s not been calling; father interrupts so pleased (this is sign of TV drama genius); and Mabel tries to use this. This is a bad weapon for Silverbridge repeatedly tries to show himself separate from father, so now his estrangement from Lady Mabel grows stronger at this wrenching of his father’s presence before him. This scene is all that is left of Duke’s invitation to Lady Mabel and her time at Matching, but the plot-hinge is there even if a vestige.

For more on Trollope’s Frank and Mabel see comments.

12:25, Silverbridge and his Dad next time.


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A still from a film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s “Afterward”: Mary Boyne (Kate Harper) crossing an invisible threshold into the uncanny

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d tell about the list of books I’ve gotten up for two sections of English 201: Reading and Writing about Texts, a freshman and sophomore level literature course given where I teach. I’ve taught it before, and rather than try to create a whole new set of books with another theme, I’ve decided to refine what I was doing and revert back to two gothics courses I gave under the rubric 202: Texts and Contexts, some 8 (!) and more summers ago.

I have long loved the the gothic — really ever since I’ve known or recognized there was such a genre. The first one I read may have been Stoker’s Dracula, which I read with the front door to my parents’ apartment opened since both were at work until 5 o’clock. I didn’t fear people outside; it was the fantasy terrors in the closets that paralyzed me.

I’ve dedicated a section of my website to gothics, and the first time I was invited to invent not just a theme that fit into a pre-conceived course (like “Memory and Self at American University or American Literary Masterpieces), but a course from the get-go, I tried gothics. I’ve a subsection of my library dedicated to the genre and my fondness for Austen’s Northanger Abbey comes from my fondness for the genre. I’ve never tired of Bobbie Ann Mason’s The Girl Sleuth nor felt alienated from my reading of Judy Bolton, Nancy Drew and other books of this type discussed by Maureen Corrigan in her Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading.

So not just in the meantime but out of some need in my being, I’m going to do this (probably) far from transcendent genre again.

For the first time, my list is going to depend on online texts. Last time I did a 201, I did well with an online ghost story by Edith Wharton By picking and chosing from the plethora online, I can pick and chose what ghost or gothic stories I want. I just have to hope that they are not taken down before next January 🙂

For the students the list will look like this — they will see what they have to buy, and a pile of not too many, not too fat books.

Hill, Susan. The Woman in Black
Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly
Charnas, Suzy McKee. The Vampire Tapestry
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw
Faber, Michel. Under the Skin
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey
McEwan, Ian. Atonement
Summerscale, Kate. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Jodhi May as the unnamed governess in Nick Dear’s 1999 Turn of the Screw

I also remember last time how many students looked openly hostile and ill at the sight of a group of older (I had classic gothics) and newer books. So I’ve cut down my number and kept all bought books medium length to shortish. The only older book there is Austen’s Northanger Abbey — which is linguistically speaking and if not novella length, a book the size of Mary Reilly.

As I told my friend who works in the bookstore and who I’ve dealt with for about 15 years now when I order the books, if Mary Reilly is not gettable, substitute Jane Eyre and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; if no Vampire Tapestry, substitute Stoker’s Dracula; if no Under the Skin, substitute Frankenstein.

What I have here are modern re-renditions of the mostly 19th century archetypes of these classic books,whose most familiar image may be epitomized in John Atkinson Grimshaw’s A lady in a garden by moonlight (1882):

I know how the class as a group perked up when we got to the second half of the term last time and were doing all modern books.

But what we are actually going to do is much more, because we’ll have short stories and films. So it’ll go this way as a plan:

Two ghost stories (one possible vampire “Mr Jones”), with Hill’s having a particularly unnerving film adaptation Wharton’s “Afterward” a masterpiece:

Edith Wharton: “Afterward” (it’s online), perhaps “Mr Jones” (if I can find it online)
Susan Hill: Woman in black

Effective illustration to original edition of Woman in Black

Three powerful vampire tales, none misgynistic, two females and the third a genuinely inventive re-imagining of a brutal creature:

Marion Crawford: “For the Blood is the life” (extraordinary, a female vampire, online); and/or RLStevenson’s “Olalla” (ditto, more subtle)
Suzy McKee Charnas: The Vampire Tapestry

Cuny, medieval unicorn and lady tapestry (one chapter of Charnas’s novel is called “The Unicorn Tapestry”)

Historical romances novels, Mary Reilly, a rewrite of Jekyll and Hyde from the vulnerable woman servant’s point of view remains ultimately a werewolf tale; the Holmes story is about wife abuse

Martin, Valerie Mary Reilly
Sherlock Holmes: “Adventures of Abbey Grange” (online)
Kate Summerscale — The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Uncategorizable gems which will enable me to explore why gothic fantasy gives us deep insight into our troubled lives, needs, desires, really creepy, blighted sinister stuff:

Dickens’s “Signalman” (just extraordinary, online)
James, M. R. “The Stalls of Barchester” Cathedral” (chilling, awakens atavistic beliefs, ditto, online, this James an important master for modern ghost stories)
Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

Illustration for edition of M. R. James’s ghost stories

Science fiction horror gothic, serious allegory in Orwellian tradition. also connects to fear of body, Frankenstein tradition of breaking deep taboos:

Faber, Michel. Under the Skin

Analysis, parody, and moves into realism: sexuality, class, war

Stevenson’s “Chapter of Dreams” (online about dream world from which gothic came for him)
Austen, Jane Northanger Abbey
McEwan, Ian. Atonement (alludes to and rewrites the former as well as Richardson’s Clarissa)

The fantasy never permitted to happen, 2008 Frears and Hampton’s Atonement (the lovers together and free)

Movies: a whole bunch; will or could include

From the Shades of Darkness series, Afterward;
A much admired unnerving Woman in Black (BBC, 1992),
From Return of Sherlock Holmes series, Jeremy Brett’s brilliance in Abbey Grange, Frear and Hampton’s Mary Reilly and Atonement;
Andrew Davies’ Signalman;
One of the two Turn of the Screws
(1999 by Nick Dear with Jodhi May, 2009 by Sandy Welch, with Dan Steevens)

Perhaps too: a piece or so from Davies’s Northanger Abbey;
One part from mini-series of the terrifying profound gothic, The Dark Angel (with Peter O’Toole)

I considered Michael Cox’s said-to-be-brilliant The Meaning of Night, but as I’ve discovered it’s maybe over 800 pages, it’s out of the question as too long. But I did order and will see if I can find time to read it because it looks brilliant and effective.

I’m not entirely satisfied with my list even as a dumbed down version of what I would prefer to do (say the 19th century originals or a course in political and realistic great books).

I wish I had a good book about gothic I could assign. I hoped to use Summerscale’s book but have discovered it’s not first rate (which I do think all my choices are, even if easy or not transcendent masterpieces) so even if I carry on with it, it cannot function in the way I partly hoped.

As usual, the prize (Samuel Johnson no less) is a way of selling Summerscale’s book. The blurbs absurdly overpraise and mischaracterize it too. It’s not riveting and not a horror, and not a recreation of Wilkie Collins (whatever is meant by that). Rather it’s a book which self-reflexively suggests what we find so fascinating in these mystery detective stories. Summerscale is able to recreate the Victorian world expertly and fully and includes (very rare in Victorian books) all the levels of people from their own points of view (so it reads like a vivid historical Victorian novel) and she often relates Dickens and other detectives (the inimitable Chief Inspector Bucket for example) to Mr Whicher.

Alun Armstrong as Chief Inspector Bucket from Andrew Davies’s 2005 film adaptation of Dickens’s Bleak House

I’m not finding the book a disappointment because it’s not a mystery, but then I didn’t expect the blurbs on the back told me anything for real about the book. Nor do I like mysteries very much — except when they genuinely unnerving (like Susan Hill’s The Various Haunts of Men for me). When I was young, I would be startled and think the writer of the blurb misunderstood, or maybe they didn’t read the book. It may be that they often don’t, but nowadays I think they simply lie and say what they think might allure the niche audience the book is aimed at or might please the publisher or the friend who has asked them to write said blurb.

It’s not written as a mystery (however it was marketed); it’s as much literary and social criticism as it is about a real life murder. From the outset she aligns Mr Whicher with detectives in Victorian fiction, and suggests she is unearthing the Victorian milieu usually hidden from us or not sufficiently (or at all when it comes to the lower classes and their life) for us. It’s pretty clear by one-third the way through that Constance, the stepdaughter from Mr Kent’s first marriage, is the major suspect. The victim is a child, young boy in a cradle still, by his second wife.

Not that the book doesn’t have flaws and when I think of these I am dismayed to realize how I dumb down my courses to fit the average student (thus Bronte’s teacher’s monologue seems more a propos as days go back). First here and again she brings out semi-lurid statements about other murders — probably meant to entertain me. Her book can be used for reactionary behavior — building prisons, making harsh sentences to protect themselves they may think. She goes far too quickly over the seething cauldron this murder turned on.

It’s a Governess story. The second wife of Mr Kent was the governess in the first household. The first wife after a couple of pregnancies and living with this man went into an intense depression, and nonetheless he carried on impregnating her. Four infants therefore died — apparently of total neglect. He hires a governess and the children start to survive. Finally the poor wife dies, and he remarries quickly. Who? The governess. And she proceeds to be endlessly pregnant (for those who have the text, see pp. 70-73). Summerscale tells this but does not bring out morally what this is all about. The girl who confessed to the murder of the boy is a first wife’s daughter living upstairs in servants’s quarters. There is evidence the Mr Kent is having a casual affair with another servant. Shades of Peter Quint in Turn of the Screw, no? (as seen in the 2009 film). This servant Sarah Gough, did not seek the boy when missing and it was she who called the boy a snitch.

What did he snitch I wonder.

It’s a middle brow book as she is careful not to go directly and fully into the taboo areas, and will have broad appeal. I’ll lay a bet it may be a favorite with some of my students — those not given to move into levels of fantasy. I’ve students I can use this text with to show the realistic origins of the gothic. I’m thinking maybe I should have another text on depression, say Styron’s Darkness Visible, only I worry yet further students will dismiss the gothic as the product of “whiners” and certainly not directly connected to them. Were I bold I’d use Kathryn Hughes’s Victorian Governess, only the gothic has far more sources in the human abyss than what governesses knew in Victorian England.

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) Silence (1799-1800)

I can switch my books and sometimes do, but not that often for then I confuse the bookstore and overburden my good friend there.

So if anyone reads this, can you suggest a book about the gothic (literary critical on the psychology and metaphysics of the genre) which is genuinely readable. I know of Jack Sullivan’s Elegant Nightmares which shows the genre to be a popular Kafkaesque genre for the 20th century, and Anne Williams’s Poetics of the Gothic (also Julia Briggs, Night Visitors, Coral Ann Howells, Mystery, Misery and Feeling, which is too focused on the 18th century (especially Ann Radcliffe, whom I love but do not dare to assign), on male and female gothic, brilliant. The first analyses books we won’t read and the second is too long.

I’m a little nervous about being so dependent on the Net, but the alternative is to order a specific anthology. That would lock me into many stories I don’t want to do and force me to cut some of the books I do want to do.

And the list automatically omits stuff I regret not doing (the classic older books), downright hated or seen as religious testimony (Oliphant’s Beleaguered City!), maybe a repeat that is finally misogynistic no matter how effective or exuded what I thought bad vibes from audience — attitudes (many vampire shorter tales).

Also omitted because I’ve found they are “defined” as woman’s books automatically and impossible almost to get through to the boys and the girls misread the last two badly: Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, and DuMaurier’s Rebecca. Jane Eyre a real loss here.

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840) Evening (most of his work destroyed during WW2)


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Giovanni (Christopher Maltman) and Leporello (Erwin Schrott) awaiting the Commendatore (Anatoli Kotscherga)

“If the joke against him [Macheath, here Giovanni] is that he is vain to adopt the grand manner of the genteel rakes he at least stands their own final test; he has the courage to sustain it” (Empson, “The Beggar’s Opera,” Some Versions of the Pastoral)

Dear friends and readers,

Lately high art has once again been taking refuge in versions of the pastoral: last week Izzy and I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, this past summer, she, I and the admiral saw Benjamin Britten’s The Beggar’s Opera; and yesterday we went to see in HD form at a local “center for the arts” (renovated movie and play theater) Claus Guth’s 2008 Don Giovanni done before a full audience, all dressed up (as we could see — no dressing down there as we see increasingly in the US) at the Salzburg theater in Vienna (Austria).

The production is a masterpiece, at once suggestively of wide application, and locally (in the narrow story and characters) rooted. I would say for the first time I was made to realize why this opera is said to have such depth and interest.

Claus Guth set the action in a dark wood. Everything happens on a stage which is decorated as a simple rugged ugly forest and by the end of the opera it’s filled with torn garments, dying trees, and garbage from parties (cans, wrappings, dirty food, spoilt clothes — from blood). It opens with a few leaves on trees; mid-point the trees have gone bare; the last third, it’s snowing, as Don Giovanni and Leporello defy the Commendatore (who is digging the Don’s grave just behind their picnic)


We were in a modernist take on an 18th century art work which was a kind of anti-pastoral — and in this it reminded me of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera.

Christopher Maltman as the Don and Erwin Schrott as Leporello came across on one level as two sordid fools, a kind of Vladmir and Estragon who can’t think of what to do with themselves but chase women and fight pettily with one another. They are a homoerotic pair continually squabbling.

As in Saturnalia we have Leporello in the don’s costume with the ever bleeding don laid out in semi-hysterical exhaustion.

The play’s anti- ancien regime subtext came out strongly for the Don need only say he’s the Don and Leporello shuts up — as does everyone else. The women profess to adore him: Maltman is attractive, muscled and is made to behave sort of vampirishly (he drains everyone too), but it’s his position, that he’s my lord that matters. His face is wry and twists with feelings of noblesse oblige (a pretense his pain does not matter). I was also reminded of Faust: how naive these enacted self-glorifications how narrow and silly.

As many will doubtless recall, Empson identifies the pastoral by its level-headed bringing down to reality. Through its distorting x-ray mirror, individuals can be exposed for what they are.

Waiting for the bus

This is a opera where the women want sex with the Don, only on their own terms of power over him. Donna Elvira (Dorothea Röschmann) gets drunk when blindfolded and led away to think Leporello is the Don. Zerlina (Ekaterina Siurina) (this is the usual interpretation) prefers the don over the brutal jealous probably boring Masetto (Alex Esposito).

Elvira fooled by a glum Leporello

Zerlina on swing, Don below

At the opening of the play we see Donna Anna’s father shoot (pistols – modernized everything) and inflict a mortal wound in the center of the Don’s stomach (perhaps to the side a little). Thus Maltman is dying slowly throughout and, refusing to acknowledge so much as the blood itself, spends the opera making jests of his pain and anguish.

Stilling the pain

This is a version which sympathizes with the Don by making him half-mad, sick (a neurotic promiscuity is the idea). Bleeding throughout and he gets blood all over Zerlina’s white dress.

The best single singing moment was the tenor Octavio (Pavel Breslik) with his aria wanting peace with Anna (Svetlana Donev). It was poignant and he no macho male. (Everyone sang marvelously I don’t mean to say they didn’t but Octavio was transcendent). Here the “new” interpretation came into play by having Anna and Octavio attempt to drive through the wood in a not-so-recent cheap-looking car that promptly broke down. The Don looks into their motor as an excuse to get at Anna. The characters go in and out of the seats. Much stage business comedy. Octavio’s aria is undercut by having her inside the car smoking moodily away as he sings his heart out. It’s clear she’s bored. Jim said he felt for Octavio for the first time.

Donna Anna apparently unaware gives her hand to Giovanni

It’s also nihilistic. Like other performances I’ve seen the last chorus is dropped — people often take this coming on stage at the end as providential. See Giovanni is punished. It’s also things are going on as usual, for in the words Zerlina is planning to go off and live with Masetto and have children, Leporello at least free (but now without a source of money) to the tavern, Octavio and Anna to bury and carry on their upper class lives. Only Elvira is stranded but she is justified. All this was dropped in any event. I was glad for I find it grating.

It is however also very much an 18th century play. Donna Anna does not go off with a gun (presumably to kill herself) for love of the Don. In this production she does not pay much attention to Octavio — she grieves intensely for her father now and again.

Anna grieving over her father’s remains

The importance of the father reminded me of Clarissa, of The Marquise of O, of Tom Jones. At the close the father comes back and the drunken, half-dead Giovanni falls into the grave the old man has been digging for the last moments of the opera. The centrality of sex is very 18th century and the exploration of its underside too.

It’s comedy and hard comedy at that. The characters are mad egoists charging about like they do in a Ben Jonson or Moliere comedy.

The sidekicks, that hilarious don and his Sancho Panza servant, Leporello

They cling while they prey on one another

I liked the jokes with clashing anachronisms, the snazzy and prosaic street costumes and stage business. The Don puts on a Burger king crown towards the end; the dancing is modern club so no one really interacts with one another.

The characters live in disconnected worlds, apart from one another.

Finally, it was a relief from the Met’s crassness this year where the general manager thinks to impress us (and put bums on seats) by overproducing and making things ultra-Broadway like. There was nothing overdone, trashy, neon-lit about it the way the Met is often. The women were all relatively young and attractive, but no push-up bras and extravagantly (grotesque) sexy outfits. (American productions go over the top in tastelessness and vulgarity, I think, because at the same time the US remains a fundamentally religious country, as fervently anti-sex for women especially as ever.) I admit I missed the Met host (or hostess) behind the scenes, the interviews, and cameras staged behind the curtain so the audience can watch scene changes inbetween acts. But we did see lovely Salzburg, enough of the inside of the theater to get a sense of its size and feel (it reminded me of Carnegie Hall).

This is the first European production I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen English ones in London but their Anglo-ness connects them to US ones); and I liked it very much. I could make out the Italian words easily (partly because of the subtitles, but the enunciation was clear). It seemed far more tasteful than what is seen in the US, less commercialized somehow, more sharp and clean, no compromises. The stage had a strange beauty — far more so than last week’s Alice because they didn’t try so hard, didn’t overdo:

Leporello and Giovanni before a broken rotted tree, which stands in for a marble statue at the play’s close

A meaningful afternoon. We were charged $13.50 at half-price tickets. The H Street Playhouse (Washington, DC) is in a gentrifying neighborhood we’ve been to before — to another nearby theater to see Marat/Sade and to this one to see Orpheus and an In-series performance. The proprietor was there to introduce the movie and tell us to behave :), doubtless to persuade us to feel good about the experience and tell others. Jim felt word was not getting out: he had just happened upon the ad. But then no long previews, no clutter.

Simplicity Empson said was the byword for pastoral, simplification, getting into contact with the mysterious forces of nature

The finale: dance-like bowing of group holding hands before audience


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10:20, the deep congenial (loving) friendship of Lady Glencora and Madame Max (I originally meant to make this my avatar)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve returned to my study of the Palliser films in more earnest than I have done since last November. My first goal is nearly fulfilled: to understand this series for real — by which I mean I have really gone beyond sheer impressionism and can support all I say by concrete detail.

Here now is a newly revised thumbnail outline of the whole series, aligning each part to the particular novel and identifying the particular characters and stories in each. The major stills of this blog all come from an elegiac endpoint at the close or a climax of the major stories: Lady Glen and Madame Max now Duchess and Mrs Finn; Duchess and Duke, Phineas and Marie Finn; Phineas’s speech defending the Duke. The minor (so to speak) story stills are in media res moments: an election-campaign scene (George Vavasour’s money sluiced); the wrenching away of Frank from Mabel; the unkind mockery of Lord Fawn.


11:23: The Duke confessing he is glad the Duchess has no thought of resigning from her job (his wife); late in marriage as presented in films

Major Story 1: 1:1-3:6: Small House at Allington (a few chapters) and Can You Forgive Her?, begin Phineas Finn; the Plantagenet, Lady Glen & Burgo Fitzgerald story overriding arch

1:2 to 3:5 is the George/Alice/Kate Vavasour story; Vavasour story set adrift in 3:6 (CYFH?);
3:6 transitional from Plantagenet and Lady Glen story to Phineas matter (CYFH? combines with Phineas Finn)

1:2: George Vavasour’s election campaign manager and the publican are reluctantly splitting the money they have sluiced from their duped candidate

Major Story 2: 4:7 to 6:12: Phineas Finn, or the first part of the Phineas matter, the overriding arch story, with the Brentford family, Lady Laura & Kennedy, Violet and Chiltern matter a subsidiary parallel; the story does not exist apart from Phineas’s; Madame Max is a linchpin combining the Lady Glen/Plantagenet/Palliser matter with Phineas’s story) (PF)

Like 3:6, 6:12 is transitional: begins The Eustace Diamonds; we have the end of the Phineas/Lady Laura matter (PF) and beginning of Lizzie Eustace/Fawn in earnest (ED); 7:13: the Lizzie Eustace and her suitors and hangers-on story (what’s left of ED after much chopping and alteration; no Lucy Morris, no Lady Fawn, no Lucinda Roanoke) (so ED); 7:14: transitional: it carries on as Lizzie’s story but also has Mary’s death early & by its end we are in the thick of Phineas’s story once again (ED and Phineas Redux)

11:22: Late marital happiness of Phineas Finn and Madame Max; she says it’s better when they do without each other now and again

Major Story 2 continues: 8:15-9:19: Phineas Redux, begin The Prime Minister; Phineas story second phase, with the death of the old Duke, destruction of Lady Laura, Madame Max’s rescue of him and their marriage, Chiltern supports Phineas, Palliser & his other allies stands aside; in 8:16 first episode of clash of Duke with his two sons (PR, some anticipation of PM (especially Palliser romance, children and parents’ interaction which is newly invented pre-DC material). The two major stories are intertwined but here it’s the second that is emphasized.

8:16-9:18: Adelaide-Gerard Maule love story, Fawn a second suitor. If not the shortest inset story (if one regards Lord George de Bruce Caruthers and Jane Carbuncle as a separate story, theirs is as short), it’s striking for the one story where closure occurs off stage. The last we see of them Adelaide is in tears, and Gerard has marched off after insulting her. Onstage we are shown the Duke giving in to giving them Madame Max’s legacy, but they themselves are dismissed. Do the short stories undercut the complacency of the Palliser story? No. They are variants on it.

11:23: Phineas’s high moment defending the Duke in the midst of a jeering and uncomfortable parliament

Major Story 1, second phase, with grown children and death of protagonist: 9:19-12:24: The Prime Minister; begins the long trajectory of the later years of Palliser story in the political arena as seen mostly from the domestic or private point of view (PR still and now PM much changed). Phineas matter is still here in the form of Marie Finn’s friendship for the Duchess, her role as a chorus, and his climactic defense of the Duke (as surrogate for the Duchess) in parliament.

10:20-11:23: is the Emily Wharton/Ferdinand Lopez story; ended more than set adrift as man commits suicide and woman retreats to father’s arms in 11:23 (a PM story which actually takes over Trollope’s PM at times)

12:24-26: The Duke’s Children, with ending of The Prime Minister. The ending of the Palliser story, with emergence of Silverbridge and Mary as new generation, and death of the now Duchess of Omnium in 12:26 (more PM and DC, with Silverbridge-focused matter (with his father, Tifto, Isabel Boncassen) and Mary-focused matter (with Frank). Much omitted with Mrs Finn taking Lady Cantripp’s role and her own.

10:21, 11:21, 12:24: the Mabel-Frank substory fitted into an introductory (where Silverbridge following mother’s orders ejects him from castle) and two charged scenes, one in Venice moving swiftly and silently and one powerful one in 12:24

11:24: Frank Tregear and Mabel Grex (I can’t show those which are excised altogether), as it happens a proto-Henry James sinister one; in the book they have begun by being after their respective sibling partners’ money


The reader will see I have identified an outline for 2 overriding stories: 1) the Pallisers and 2) Phineas Finn and Madame Max, the central figures. What often become or are the main stories in the 6 novels figure here frequently as contrasting or parallel substories. One of the 6 novels, The Eustace Diamonds, is interwoven into Major Story 2, or the two Phineas novels. It may seem perverse in me not to present ED as a third major story, but I’m trying to get at the underlying outline and major hinge points which hold the 26 episodes together.

I’ve also identified the inset novellas, some longer, some shorter, which are mostly set adrift. I no longer attempt to count them as they intertwine. The most savagely-cut sub-stories are found in The Eustace Diamonds (which however itself becomes not quite a substory) and The Duke’s Children (ditto): of Frank Greystock and Lucy Morris’s governess world, the Lucinda Roanoke parallel; Frank Tregear and Mabel Grex as a pair taking over Silverbridge and Mary, and Mabel’s tragedy. Mrs Greenow and her suitors are omitted altogether.

These decisions were partly taken because these characters do not affect the major hinge-points of the Palliser and Phineas’s story (by contrast for example, one cannot eliminate Lizzie Eustace’s story because her husband, Emilius, killed Bonteen when Bonteen attempted to defend Lizzie and her property from Emilius).

It might also be a particular actor is so effective, that his part increased, e.g., Derek Jacobi asks both Madame Max and Adelaide Palliser to marry him: the first is narrated briefly by Trollope; the second is not there at all, but substitutes for Spooner (a burlesque story in PR), and may be modelled on Mr Collins asking Elizabeth Bennet to marry him in Pride and Prejudice. I surmize Fawn’s part grew when Jacobi came on board and the parts were filmed; he was inserted into political parties, political table talk (ironic) and a humiliation before the prince at the political club. Jacobi is often mentioned when people remember watching the films from years back; the character, Fawn, (alas to me) emerges as the unmanly man of the series (a quietly gay allusion to Swinburne makes the one character who might be gay, Lopez, sympathetic insofar as he is isolated and without connections):

7:14: The familiar metonymy of character=bird in the cage is common in these films, but not likened to a man: Fawn is here set upon one of the domineering women of the films, Clara Hittaway, his sister in Trollope’s ED

Nevertheless, it’s telling that it’s a male role that is increased, and one that addresses the problem of “manliness” and manly success in the series (Clara is telling Fawn to advance on all fronts immediately; Fawn: “But Clara, she has withdrawn her position …”). And we miss out three major women: Mrs Arabella Greenow (comic), Lucy Morris (poigant), Lucinda Roanoke (bitter), with the story of the fourth scattered into near disarray, Mabel Grex (tragic). As I’ve suggested before, one can see the novellas as presenting a series of men trying to make it in the world and (in different ways) failing. While Raven did make a much more upbeat story, he kept the discomfort of Trollope’s comfort romances for men firmly in place.


Journalizing 4/16: I read, skimmed, and rearranged and (in my notes at any rate) somewhat revised my understanding of the arrangement of the six novels, their main and subplots, from 1:1 to 8:17. I’ve decided that before I go on to summarize and comment on the last two parts of the series (12:25 and 12:26), I will go back and outline the ending of the Phineas Redux matter (9:18 and 9:19), as well as the opening of The Prime Minister (10:20), and insert these summaries into that blog. Then I’ll move on to the center of The Prime Minister, which contains the Ferdinand and Emily Lopez story, and the first snatches of the Frank Tregear, Mabel Grex, Mary and Plantagenet (yes that’s his first name) Palliser or Silverbridge stories (10:21, 11:22, 11:23)

I have at least properly done 12:24, the first of the three parts of the Palliser series where most is based on The Duke’s Children.

Then I’ll be ready to I’ve study 12:25 and 12:26. I’ve just reread Trollope’s The Duke’s Children and loved it. I mean to write two blogs on the two last parts adapted from this book.

Then the whole matter (all the blogs I’ve written over the last three years) will go up on my website.

I hope then to return to my movie project on the Austen films which now exists as a a long draft chapter called Seeking Refuge: The Sense and Sensibility films; I mean to finish that and send it out to a publisher.


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Mia Wasikowska as Alice about to cross to wonderland

Dear friends and readers,

An interlude. Izzy and I went to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on late Saturday afternoon in the Old Town Alexandria theatre second floor auditorium. Lewis Carroll’s semi-child, semi-adult’s tale is a quintessentially Victorian text, and it had just been discussed on WWTTA plus I was reading a book on Victorian Vogue: British novels on screen by Diane Sadoff. I remembered seeing Burton’s brilliantly tongue-in-cheek Sweeney Todd with Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. Izzy likes fantasy and has read Alice numerous times. We would be supporting the one humanly contactable moviehouse (the people answer the phone!) in the Northern Virginia area.

What we discovered is this is a Victorian text updated to address the issue of what a woman should do with her life? This way of formulating the question would have been familiar to Trollope; had he come up with the reading of the film I now offer, he would have recognized what a non-serious fantasy option was on offer. I suggest it’s there to flatter while we see agency in women (from the White and Red Queen to Helen Kingsleigh, Alice’s mother, Lady Ascot her aunt, and the Miss Havisham-like Aunt Imogene) in the film works to harm our heroine, at best doing her no good at all. Tellingly, the characters’ names mark the film as faux Victorian, even down to Imogene, a favored Victorian name, since Hazlitt on Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, usually referring to some ideal loving worshipful strong young woman, and Trollope has one such heroine with this name in Ayala’s Angel.)

A brief filmic analysis: first, Burton’s film is not an adaptation of Carroll’s novels: it’s a appropriation. Burton has appropriated what I now realize are the famous or well-known characters, scenes and incidents of the Alice books (both of them) and reworked them into a new surrogate male or boy’s adventure story. It is feminized in the way of the film adaptation of Pullman’s Golden Compass: a female adventurer is placed at the action’s center, with a dog or some other attached animal helping her. In The Golden Compass, the girl’s protector on which she also rode was a polar bear. It is noteworthy that beyond the giant animals who help Alice, the Cheshire cat (voice Stephen Frye) is configured as an animal helper.

These are children’s literature paradigms and there is a book on them; it’s in here my bibliography for a paper I do with my students where they read a favorite book from childhood.
It’s really a male story with a female at the center. Alice becomes St George of England fighting the dragon — the Jabberwocky monster is a dragon.

The promotional shots are all emphasizing the costumes and half-mad whimsical presentations of the fantasy. The imagery was what I’ve gotten used to of late as socially acceptable or wanted fantasy — not just Lord of the Rings; it’s very cartoony too — filled with fearful grotesques whose accent is a kind of imbecility:

Tweedlededee and Tweedlededum

I have a memory of other fantasy films like this which go back well before Lord of the Rings: vegetation imagery and these big-eyed lithe girl figures which descend from Wonder Woman cartoons. Only here our heroine’s top is almost falling off:

The imagery is at its best when it’s a neurotic retake of Disney (which company is one of the major producers of this film):

The flowers from Fantasia

The tea party from an odd half-off angle

On WWTTA two people suggested the film may be seen as feminist because we have strong women at the center and they are sympathized with. But Johnny Depp as an androgynous Mad Hatter acts to save Alice while depending on her; given the nature of these costumes, he delivers an almost human performance, which you can’t quite guess from his promotional shot:

Still he’s a great deal more sane and paralleled to the men in the framing story while the the parodically princess as White Queen, Anne Hathaway who may be kind to mice, but has a bowl of fingers in her laboratory, and is wildly burlesque, is more like Alice’s mother, Helen Kinsleigh (played by Lindsay Duncan):

Parodic vaginal lips?

and as Red Queen Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s partner in what’s called real life) endlessly pettily iconic malice in her rigidity can be likened to Lady Ascot, the anxious rigid aunt in the framing story (Geraldine James) intent on coercing Alice to marry her son, Hamish (played by Leo Bill, the actor who did Robert Ferrars in the 2008 and is again presented as havnig pig-like soft skin):

What is most interesting or original for an Alice story is the reconfiguration of the framing story — which we must attribute to the screenplay writer, a woman, Linda Wolverton. Alice is first seen as a a child having bad dreams; her mother is not around and Charles Kingsleigh (Marton Csokas, with a deliberate allusion to the Kingsleys, Charles and Henry), the father comforts her to say “people who have bad dreams” (sensitive, imaginative) are more valuable people (words to this effect). He’s a grand enterpreneur, colonialist going out on adventures — the first thing we see in the movie is his map.

Fast forward to Alice at 16 or 17 and he’s dead (lost in his journeys) and she and Helen, the mother, Lindsay Duncan (again the older sexed up woman who is complicit and forcing the girl to conform — a role apparently automatically hers since Tom Jones 1997 and MP 1999). Alice is being coerced into marrying a horror of a young man, Leo Bill is perfect in fatuity and slight salaciousness, clearly petty, mean, stupid, ugly and so on. She sees the rabbit and flees mother, aunt, suitor, and Aunt Imogene (Francis de la Tour as a frantically self-absorbed mad woman who tells everyone she is about to be married, and sits in wedding rags) after some hesitation.

But when she returns from her adventure, this is no Dorothy returning home to kind Auntie Em. What happens is when she returns, she rejects all the people about her originally. We are to believe this adventure helped her find herself, learn courage (by killing monsters) and have the courage to say no.

Does she do it on her own? Well, again not quite. No animal helper this time; instead Lord Ascot, her uncle (played by a now kindly Tim Piggot-Smith) who is ever so much more intelligent and human than her mother or rigid aunt (Geraldine James is now typecast as the utterly conventional older woman, the same role is given her in Davies’s He Knew He Was Right). Lord Ascot offers Alice an apprentice ship to follow her father’s footsteps.

Alice is next seen in a sparkling outfit aboard ship. Off she goes, easy as that.

End of movie.

Izzy pronounced it fantasy and she’s right. It’s the same fantasy we see at the close of the 1995 Persuasion, the 2000 Wives and Daughters (remember Molly on the hills of Africa with Roger Hamley). The girl takes a man’s position. Not only not very likely but not much fun. Read Billy Budd; Heart of Darkness.

But apparently there is this attempt to offer some other “solution’ in life to a girl. The allegory in other words is that of a girl today who finds an alternative to marriage by becoming a boy. When her feats as a boy (or girl on animal) are over, she is ready to live the life of a man — which neither then (Victorian era) or now can she easily.

In Victorian Vogue: British Novels on Screen Diane Sadoff buys into an unqualified idea to the effect that women viewers are nowadays people with “skilled professional jobs, earned good incomes and had sex with whomever they chose.” Therefore they want and get a surrogate in films of the 1940s (or an equivalent erotic escape), while in films of the 1980s and 1990s they are again urged to “stay home” (e.g., the 2006 Jane Eyre) This may be, but it’s not true that the films of the 1980s and 90s have not been liked and not spoken to women. They clearly have. Now I’d say in the recent spate of Austen films they are offered utter retreat or abjection, and in other films by women a place in a traditional community as bringing happiness (the Cranford films by Heidi Thomas, Sue Birtwistle and Conklin for example, Emma 2009). The rebellion point of view is kept up in say Davies’s Tipping the Velvet (where the women are winners) or we see the young woman unjustly never given a chance and then heavily punished (the 2009 Turn of the Screw).

What they are given by this Alice in Wonderland is vacuous wish-fulfillment fantasy which three minutes thought would fool no one who was not desperate. Compare Lyn Ramsay’s Morvern Callar or LoneSherfig’s An Education.

The allegory is about desperation. Apart from the present depression, the reality is the girl would be sexually harassed and absolutely embedded in a culture where she would not be given such a pristine choice of young man at all. It’s symbolic.

One of Alice’s boyish outfits in the frame story

What is the movie generally symbolic of? Nothing very comforting for the disillusioned pragmatic woman today. We may hope all the women in the film got good salaries. I agreed with Rebecca (on WWTTA) that the details are amusing and hit home, and with Diane R (also part of this listserv community) that women are treated as agents and do not have the woman crumbling before a man in love with him or — but consider Stael’s Corinne and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones (which I wrote my previous blog on): are not both desperately in need of the good hero (English, Oswald or Mark Darcy) validating her existence and approving of her. Is not this Johnny Depp’s role as the kindly mad hatter for Alice, Stephen Fry as the helpful Chesire and Alan Rickman as an all-wise caterpillar. The film opens on the father’s and closes on the uncle’s generosity of spirit. The women in the film are half-mad from the two queens to Miss Havisham type or they are utter conformist on behalf of non-existent safety (Geraldine James and Lindsay Duncan).

What I wish I could show would be Francis de la Tour, Geraldine James, Lindsay Duncan. But no stills anywhere of these women. Not even Alice as a little girl comforted by her father (nor Tim Piggot-Smith for that matter). So I end on Alice as we first see her:

and that pereniallly late rabbit who looks ominous over the time:


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Lucy Honeychurch looking up at a Florentine church or sculpture, from 2008 Room with a View (Forster’s novel, Andrew Davies version closer than M-I-J)

Dear friends and readers,

I had planned to write a blog on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, or Italy because I remembered loving it when we read it on WWTTA (I now discover) in 2003; it would be a link between my last blog on Julia Kavanagh (whose French Women of Letters ended on Stael as a superlative and important woman writer of the later 18th century and romantic period) and the next one to come, the first of another group of reports on an 18th century conference, this one on French women writers of the 18th century, especially Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, their epistolary fiction, and one of the best sessions I attended, sheerly on Stael’s Corinne. One paper compared De Stael’s book to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the film adaptation by the same name by Fielding and Andrew Davies!

Sylvia Raphael’s translation of Corinne, detail from Domenichino’s portrait of Stael as The Cumaean Sybil

Renee Zellweger as our modern sybil, in pajamas, with drink by her side, cigarettes, diet sheet, and among her books and magazines (a replay of Austen’s Elizabeth?)

Alas, I’m in the ironic position of discovering this was one of those books I read with others on the Net a few years ago now where we really had full talk on the book weekly, including close readings by list members. I say ironic, because this amount of prose is just too much for one blog: what I need to do is make a new region on my website and work hard to put the postings on attached to each part of the book — as I used to do, e.g., for Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest. I no longer have the ambition or idealism (see comment on blog).

A compromise could be to put a few that I and/or others wrote with others on Corinne here, but there are really so many and quite a number excellent because the book itself is so rich. Among other things I compared two later 20th century translations, Sylvia Raphael’s translation with Avriel Goldberger’s with one another and an anonymous 1807 translation into English by someone with the elegance of Radcliffe and the ability to convey intense emotion by natural diction of the time that we find in Austen (she either read this one or the novel in French).

I found the 1807 translation the most satisfying (after the forceful poetry of Stael’s French); Goldberger got abstractions correctly, but she was embarrassed by the abjection and melancholy of Stael and would become stilted; she says in her introduction that Corinne rouses resentment; I suspect she thinks that because she can’t bear the demand for idealistic conduct combined with retreat and a desire for adulation. One of the people on WWTTA was reading Isabel Hill’s Victorian translation and said Hill often became irritated by Stael’s radicalism and the translation turn hostile to its source text.

We also as a group discussed the love relationships which put the transgressive heroine at such a disadvantage, individual characters and scenes, the mores of the UK versus France and Italy with respect to women, not to omit Germaine de Stael herself.

Germaine de Stael (1766-1821)

What I liked most about the novel was its meditative travelogue parts and meditations on classical literature and poetry. So for this blog offering a sense of the experience of Corinne, I choose out of all the postings we wrote, a few on Books 11 to 12 and 18.

One must tell the story first — to situate the meditations. As the book opens we are asked to believe a woman named Corinne lives independently in Rome and is the center of adulation for her talents as singer, entertainer, and saloniere (not called that but it’s what she is). A young Scots Britishman, melancholy, virtuous, a man of sensibility, Oswald, comes to Italy, plays the part of a conventional hero (a rescue) and they fall in love. With excruciating slowness with much doubt about how they will feel about one another after they trangress, they enter a liaison. At first all is bliss, but this quickly devolves into discomfort when the world despises her and he is influenced by this. They part.

He is then inveigled to marry a Lucille, who his family has long wanted him to marry: a narrow, obtuse utterly selfish young woman who bores him. Scenes in Scotland soon include Corinne who records the stifling conformist life. Corinne becomes an advocate of Oswald to Lucille (who doesn’t like him much) and Lucille becomes pregnant. (This is a repeat of part of the story of Delphine where the heroine behaves similarly to a male, narrow-minded, fierce, domineering, when he marries and impregnates another woman.) As I recall, Corinne gives birth to a, or she takes over her rival’s, daughter by Oswald.

The story ends with Corinne’s return to Italy, Oswald following her, her dying, and looking to be replaced by the daughter who will not (we presume in most stories) live better, but re-enact the mother’s story. Some of the readers found Corinne’s conduct at the last vampiric: she will live on through the grief and memory she causes in Oswald and the new daughter; she will make the girl another like herself. For my part if anyone was vampiric (draining the life out of someone) it was Lucille over everyone she met (rather like Rosemary Vincy in Eliot’s Middlemarch).

I have omitted many ins-and-outs, the politicized feminist and other Enlightenment themes, and the long passages of meditation over landscape, very Ossian some of them. Her literary idols are however neoclassical (she loves history as done by Gibbon), and Corinne’s understanding of literature as reflecting cultures is that of her author, Stael. What follows is commentary on two such meditations as embedded in the story.


John Robert Cozens (1752-97), Vesuvius seen from a jetty in Naples

Book XI: Naples and the Hermitage of St. Salvador

Chapter 1:

The first sentence makes it manifest they are lovers: “Oswald felt all the pride of triumph in carrying off his conquest” (p. 317)

So it is a conquest.

For once he felt no contradictory regrets or reflections. Now we get an Intense description of countryside signaling the presence of malaria. I wonder about this poetic connection between a landscape of sickness and the two having sex where sex is a conquest for theman. Now we are told how Oswald watches over Corinne, and the narrator bursts out:

Ah! should not female sensibility be forgiven those heart-rending regrets which are attached to the days when they were beloved, when their existence was so necessary to that of another, and when they constantly found themselves supported and protected! how dreary the solitude which succeeds those periods of bliss! and how happy they whom the sacred ties of matrimony have softly conducted from love to friendship, without experiencing the torture of one cruel moment! (1808 trans, p. 319)

Euphoria during the times of early sex is seen through the eyes afterwards when the man has tired of the woman. De Stael has no belief in long-standing erotic attachments which maintain tenderness.

Moving onto meditations on society from the trip in Naples:

De Stael’s idea is man up north can have no relation “but with society” while down south because of the warmth he can relate to nature (p. 322). Elsewhere “life … proves insufficient to gratify the faculties of the mind” (this reminds me of Johnson); “here it is the faculties of the mind, which are insufficient for the complete enjoyment of life …” Superabundance of sensations inspires musing indolence (p. 322). The 1807 translator does her best to do the description well, but neither the 1808 woman nor Goldberger comes near it, so here is the original French:

Pendant la nuit, les mouches luisantes se montraient dans les airs; on eut dit que la montagne etincelait, et que la terre brulant lassait echapper quelques unes de ses flammes. Ces mouches volaient a travers les arbres, se reposaient quelquefois sur les feuilles, et le vent balancait ces petites etoiles et variait de mille manieres leurs lumieres incertaines. Le sable aussi contenait un grand nombre de petites pierres ferrugineuses qui brillaient de toutes parts; c’etait la terre de feu conservant encore dans son sien es traces du soleil, dont les derniers rayons venaient de l’echauffer (Balaye, p 288)

This landscape projects the erotic experience going on, as after the above we are told Corinna “engrossed,” “enraptured,” Oswald pressed her to his bosom (p. 323). He goes to and moves away, “impelled by respect to her who was to be his companion for life” (p. 323). So Public Displays of Affection are disrespectful? Yes for the this period and milieu they were. We see no PDAs in Austen.

We are to assume this holding back is just because they are in public. But De Stael suggests we are to admire Oswald for this. It is a sacrifice. Here we have an overvaluing of the male. This is no sacrifice

They are about to retire and we know make love. An ominous fear overcomes her; the clouds cross the moon and frown on their love. Has he not this evening controlled himself? (p. 325). He didn’t behave disrespectfully to her in public. Then we are told that she would have given herself to him in the assurance that the act itself from him was a promise of marriage; her acknowledgement of his power over her inspires him with more respect for her. This is what we are told. Her offering herself up to him as very vulnerable is from a psychological standpoint manipulative masochism. Masochism is defined as a way of manipulating and controlling others through offering yourself up as victim. You also make yourself their focus. A focus for their power.

Chapter 2:

Now we are back to the eighteenth century meditations on culture. She suggests (as was then common — this is in Montesquieu) that the Neapolitan climate is responsible for lack of work and accumulation ethic. She sees it touristically surely (it’s the economic arrangements that count here). We are shown a life of pleasure, yet very fond of money (p. 327). They are deficient in a sentiment of dignity. Their virtue surprises her as there is nothing enforcing or rewarding it — as she sees this. She sees energy of government as instrumental in getting people to act (p, 328). She mentions /Abbe Galianai as one of those who are conspicuous and possess high degree of talents of pleasantry and reflection (p. 328).

Galiani wrote a very important treatise on grain; why important? It’s about how customs and laws and government operations lead to or can prevent famine. It’s one of the earliest documents to really examine the relationship of money, economic arrangements and the living standard (ability to eat) of the average person. Abbe Galiani and Carraccioli had been frequenters of the Necker salon.

The hero and heroine now come on stage; they watch Vesuvius from their balcony, brief suggestive:

This reverie of fire descends to the sea, and its
waves like those of the latter manifest the rapid and continual succession of an indefatigable movement …

The watcher astonished; feels he or she is “contemplating the universe.” They agree to climb it.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), Sunset near Naples 1780s

First chapter 4:

It is a fascinating chapter for anyone who has been to the ruins of Pompeii. In the book the Ruins of Pompeii not far off as they set out for Vesuvius. Pompeii is she says “antiquity’s most curious ruin,” in fact at that time you could see the city and all its doings frozen in time, p 204. This is ruins upon ruins, tombs upon tombs, p 204; sense of a long time looked upon of human suffering. She looks at the houses and figures out the way the people lived. Meditation on history and its goals and value: how do men endure the gift of life … in the presence of this landscape he opens his soul to her first.

Pompeii, photo taken 2008

Book XVIII: The Florentine Years

Corinne now turns back to art and the imaginative world to relieve her grief and to restore herself. In Chapter 3, we are back to visiting churches (p 364). It comforts Corinne to think that many great souls or famous souls were despised during their lives, misunderstood, rejected, and now (when they
are no longer a threat to people now living) celebrated. She grows stronger in their presence. There is a good choice of quotation:


I am grateful for sleep, and even more grateful to be marble; While injustice and shame last, Not to see, and not to feel is the great goal, the task, Therefore do not wake me, and speak low


Alone at my sunrise, alone at my sunset, I am alone here still

In Chapter 4 Corinne goes to a Florentine Gallery and there is a good meditation on the idea that “what touches us in works of art is not the misfortune but the soul’s power over the misfortune” (p 368). Corinne sits down and pens her grief, portrays her suffering. Then we get a remarkable comment:

It was the cry of grief, ultimately monotonous as the cry of birds in the night, too fervent in expression, too vehement, too lacking in subtlety: unhappiness it was, but not talent. Good writing requires a base of genuine — but not harrowing — emotion … most melancholy poetry must be inspired by kind of verve implying intellectual energy and pleasure. True grief is not fruitful: it produces only a somber restlessness that incessantly leads back to the same thoughts. Thus did the knight, pursued by a lamentable fate, vainly wander around and about a thousand times, only to return always to the same place (p 368).

The above is brilliant in French. Goldberger does do ample justice to the meditative thoughtful passages of the book. She is good on the travel/art parts. Again I am reminded of Wordsworth’s idea that poery comes out of the past “recollected in tranquillity.” The past is never frankly implied, but it’s clear from Wordsworth’s poems (e.g., “Michael”) that we are talking of harrowing of the soul.

Chapter 5 brings Corinne thinking about her situation and what she comes out with is superbly beyond anything in the Clarisssa line of self-blame and prudential lessons. De Stael is herself a woman and she is lucid and does not scourge Corinne over what happened during her liaison with Oswald:

“I was witty, true, good, generous, sensitive. Why did all that go so very wrong? Is the world truly malicious? … What a pity! … I will die without anyone’s knowing what I really am, even though I am famous … there is something barren in reality, something that one tries to change in vain … Nature, too, is cruel … I am seized with the desire to break free of unhappiness, to return to joy … Ah why are happy situations so ephemeral … Is pain the natural order of things? (p 369).

De Stael cannot see evil without trying to explain it away and find good or turn it into. We remember how she turned from the gothic in the early parts of the book. This is the real flaw of Corinne: an inability to face the world’s ceaseless injustice and cruelties. Well Austen’s Jane Bennet said she preferred to give things a candid turn or life became too painful for her.

Austen’s sybil-traveller Elizabeth touring Derbyshire (1995 P&P, Andrew Davies’s script)


Upcoming: the three 18th century sessions on women’s novels of the 18th century, ending on Corinne.

Merchant-Ivory Jhabvala, Room with a View, people on their way to Florentine gallery


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Dear friends and readers,

On the last day of the Christmas MLA conference this past Xmas, I managed to buy for myself Eileen Fauset’s excellent literary biography of Julia Kavanagh, a 19th century Irish woman of letters: The Politics of Writing. Fauset’s biography shows Kavanagh to have been a courageous woman, good novelist, and significant critic in the history of women’s literature. For the past few weeks I slowly read Fauset’s book, interspersing it with reading in Kavanagh’s French Women of Letters (1862)

and English Women of Letters (also 1862)


which treasures I own facsimiles of, due to Elibron reprints. Below I’ve summarized Fauset’s book and commented on Kavanagh’s writing as well as that of her 18th century subjects.


To begin with (Chapter 1), Julia Kavanagh was a woman who lived a hard but successful life as a writer: crippled when young (spinal curvature), she was Irish Catholic and her parent separated sometime after the three moved to London (there were no other children). Her father was useless as a partner or companion for life: he never made a living, was continually involving himself with other women, a promiscuous ne’er-do-well philanderer. She and her mother made their way through their connections and her genius into the writing world and she published novels, books about women of letters, travel writing. They lived in London, eventually made their home-refuge, France, and travelled in Italy. Kavanagh became fluent in both Italian and English. She died relatively young. How her mother managed after her death we are not told. This chapter is not well written; it’s faults are awkwardness, overlong paragraphs, uninteresting style. But it is rich in genuine new content. From it I’ve learned that Anthony Trollope’s somewhat unkind but astonished portrait of “Josephine de Montmorenci” combines George Eliot with Julia Kavanagh.

Chapter 2 consists of full-scale summary, analysis and interpretation of six of Kavanagh’s at the time (19th century) wide-selling and reviewed novels: Nathalie (1850), Adele (1858), Daisy Burns (1853), Sybil’s Second Love (1867), Grace Lee (1855), and Rachel Gray (1856) [in this odd order]. Fausset brings them alive, retelling them with gusto, lots of quotations and providing an insightful reading which shows how they are like books well known today (Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, Oliphant’s lesser known novels) but go much further in their frankness, iconoclasm (the heroines often don’t marry, realities of real family sexual life brought out, the heroines professional lives too). At one time these were wholly unavailable except at huge prices or in specific rare book rooms; now they are available (for not such cheap prices, but not even in the hundreds) as google repeat books on the Net.

Jodhi May as 19th century governess on her way to an interview (1999 Turn of the Screw, screenplay Nick Dear)


The first of her three extraordinary works of biography and criticism, Woman in France during the 18th Century is the subject of Chapter 3. Kavangh’s study combines original research on so many of the women we have discussed in passing or details by Fauset, research on Kavanagh’s “take” as well as Fauset retelling the story as Kavanagh does, and then a brief description of how the original materials and Kavanagh’s take influenced the depiction of these women afterwards. The book was translated into French — I should have said that way before. So last night I read interesting accounts of what we know of and how treated were Maintenon, Liselotte (again Elisabeth Charlotte, wife of Louis XIV’s brother and mother of the regent, she left wonderful letters), de Berri, du Maine, de Launay (later de Staal), Aisse, Lespinasse — niece of Madame du Deffand.

The blind Du Deffand (engraved late in life), aunt

Julie de Lespinasse, the niece

Lespinasse is a “favorite” of mine since I read her stark desperate poiganant letters to Count Gilbert (a cold man who regarded her with indifference and I suppose amazement). It’s very like Marilyn Yalom’s Blood Sisters in the length of the portraits, somewhat better because there is no rightest point of view (as comes out of a book dependent on memoirs of those who loathed the revolution). The larger question is (again) how all this relates to the appearance of strong feminism in the women themselves and French society at the time.

On the individuals covered: Alas, Fauset and Kavanagh know and knew nothing of D’Epinay’s masterpiece hugh Richardson epistolary novel, Montbrillant. It was published in 1929 in French (for the first time) and Fauset ought to know it. But such is the barrier of not knowing the original language. On Chatelet though Fauset and Kavanagh are very good. Both she and D’Epinay deserve much much more attention than they’ve gotten. Both so indicative (Chatelet dead of miscarriage, Epinay in her earlier life apparently hounded by someone to cough up sex to pay his debts and the story is not uncommmon and put in Montbrillant) and interesting and ambitious too. There are biographies of Chateauroux (earlier mistress) Pompadour, du Barry, Marie Antoinette, and Madame Roland, not to omit Madame de Genlis (who wrote an enormous number of books and a gigantic memoir). She also offers an account of salon life: very sceptical, she didn’t believe they had all these great insights gong on all the time (and in Montbrillant Epinay agrees). In the juxtaposition of Antoinette with a series of mistresses, Kavanagh is interested as we are in the gains and losses of the mistress position. She dislikes Pompadour as cold, selfish, a pimp; she gives a complicated portrait of Antoinette, very sympathetic to her as a mother and showing her as an inept politician. Fauset says that Antonio Fraser has proved to Fauset’s satisfaction that Fersen was Antoinette’s lover for a while, and when it cooled, faithful friend. Very great sympathy for Roland: the politics, the memoir, the downfall, her lovers (though Kavanagh choses the wrong guy for Roland’s lover).


Chapter 4 takes us through French and English women of letters. Fauset sets out to say why Kavanagh was attracted to the later 17th through later 18th century French and English women of letters. First, she did find in their work a new tone, a new attitude of mind so general and dominant as to be persuasive, as well as new genres coming out of that attitude. In short, the first women’s books, literature.

She saw that in their lives many transgressed, especially sexually, but she was fascinated by how they managed this and navigated (so to speak) these social restraints, how they spoke out from the margins, and that they made a stand “against sexual difference.” Again this is academic fashion to say gender is undermined: I’d put it they made a stand on behalf of the value of sexual difference. Fauset first deals with the French volume and then the English (in general). She brings to bear on Kavanagh modern scholars on 18th century women’s books (Joan DeJean) and the effect is of a real dialogue between 19th and 20th century voices on this 18th century material.

I’ll begin with the volume on French women too as that’s the one Kavanagh wrote first. She begins by defining romance, as central for women and (rightly in my view) dismisses Clara Reeve’s novel as the first gothic romance: it’s wooden, does not give the truths she is looking for, it’s the outer customs but not the inner self. French women she saw as at the center of the discussion of what counts as realism, in other words what counts as the subject we want to talk about, the conversation we want to have. This book was her first and she began with a general account for the sudden growth of women writers and the new kind of fiction they were writing. Beyond the qualities of delicacy, sympathy and tenderness to the fore, the very lifestyle of women made them write of different content and they wrote subjectively of it.

She sees this. Also the importance of memoirs and letters and the salon life to those who write and could go there. If you could not go, you got to read about its results in part through the memoirs and letters and new “private lives” being printed for the first time. All breaking boundaries. Allow me to dwell on the individuals, gentle reader.

Lucie Dillon de la Tour du Pin (recently the subject of a fine biography by Caroline Moorehead, an 18th century memoirist, letter-writer (not treated by Kavanagh) who lived into the first half of the 19th century)

She concentrates on a few, begins with Madeleine de Scudery and there (again right) says how central are the conversations in these enormous books. Dialogues between characters and what they say is what’s important.

Madame de Lafayette is a shorter section. Kavanagh recognizes she brought something very new to the novel, but appears not to value this that much: the delicate subjective approach would seen not that important to the later Victorian where the historical, political, and larger social novel had trumped the woman’s book. She says that Lafayette shows how women are constained by the norms of their era; the first to reveal this in this way, but then moves on as if this is not important. She values Lafayette for her valuing women’s friendship and how she connects on the one hand to the Hotel Rambouiillet and 17th century learned women — and here Madame Scarron, aka Madame Maintenon turns up in a very different guise. Later on when Francoise d’Aubignac went to court, Lafayette and she became estranged. Also Lafayette was good friends with Madame de Sevigne. Lafayette certainly had an impeccable style, but it’s an insight beyond that or Genlis’s similar romance (quite close) would be as good. For those who can read French and loved Princesse de Cleves, Mademoiselle de Clermont is closely analogous and has a conclusion which anticipates the ending of Persuasion (the writing of that letter and coming together over it).

Joan de Jean finds Princess de Montpensier the more important book than Princess de Cleves because of the range of issues, and the bringing out of what a coerced marriage does to a woman’s inner life. We see a woman subjected to the politics of the state.

A very fine and perceptive long section on Madame de Stael, interweaving Kavanagh’s chapter with what was thought by significant (powerful or intelligent) people then, some of whom knew her, interwoving with what’s thought today, and Fauset’s own views. I’ve not got time to summarize it just now but hope to come back this evening (with more on LLD).

I’ll just say Fauset uses different books than those usually quoted and perhaps they are more insightful. One is an author we read while we were reading Vigee-LeBrun and about Angelica Kauffman: Angelica Gooden: Madame de Stael: Delphine and Corinne; the other a new Twayne type: Gretchen Rous Besser, Germaine de Stael Revisited. Also two 19th century women wrote interestingly: Diana Craik rewrote Corinne as Olife, and Geraldine Jewsbury reviewed Kavanagh’s volume concentrating on Stael. Alas Stael’s novels died for most of the centruy: they were outside the taste of the era, not only as woman’s books which expose “le malheur d’etre femme,” but are deeply sceptical, not mystic, not religious, insistent on seeing clearly into the sources and reality of manipulations.

IN the Madame de Stael section Kavanagh says the problem with Stael as a novelist is she is too analytic and too disillusioned, too cold, oddly enough that she refuses to be romantic. To write novels requires that we lose ourselves in passion is Kavanagh’s view. She finds the epistolary form one which allows the writer to develop principles and passions though in a way no other format can — we are freed from chronology and also the implied author. She also sees that Stael deals wtih “some of the saddest and most perplexing problems of society and life.”

Fragonard’s Gardens at the Ville d’Este at Tivoli (The Little Park)


Now for English women of letters: The English one, the second does not have a preface. It’s conceived of as volume 2 of a set (if not sold that way). She recognizes the importance of Aphra Behn by beginning with her. While Austen is there, she does not stand out except for greater subtlety and characters and a sense of deep pleasure, but not as different and doing something new or great the way Scudery, Lafayette and Stael do for Kavanagh. The longest sections are for Radcliffe and Smith and they are not set up to highlight these two women either.

Kavanagh is highly unusual for even writing of Behn, and while she’s embarassed, she writes at length and defends her. Kavanagh particularly admires Oroonoko, the delving of Surinam, and Behn’s eloquent defense of this slave. She sees that Behn is blamed for what men wrote regularly and makes this plain. Behn put into the novel a fresh vision of just the hidden sexual material of the Restoration from an often angry ambitious woman’s point of view.

It’s apparent Fauset agrees with Maureen Duffy’s biographical portrait of Behn. I’m struck by how Kavanagh intuits German Greer’s stance; there is something here of the woman selling herself recklessly as the only way to nearly (and not quite) surviving. She defends Behn as a learned woman too, reveals the world of secular nunneries, and attacks Moliere’s Precieuses Ridicules (later seeing that Burney boought into this with her Witlings).

She does scant Sarah Fielding as someone who didn’t really write women’s novels: it’s apparent that Kavanagh has missed out much of Fielding’s work, read only David Simple, and argues Fielding’s talent was more for the essay. She has read Fielding’s Remarks on Clarissa (which are important for their empathy with the main character and understanding and respect for Clarissa’s behavior post-rape).

Kavanagh and Fauset are very good on Fanny Burney and her importance — as well as limitations. Not much new or different form modern scholarship here. There is an emphasis on circulating libraries which Kavanagh is concerned to show the importance of for women (she conceives of herself as writing to other 19th century women).

The section on Ann Radcliffe is a very strange: Fauset never once cites Rictor Norton; his book does not appear in her bibliography nor the recent intelligent studies by Robert Miles, Pierre Arnaud; she does not know of Deborah Rogers (1980s) huge bibliography; not even Murray’s Twain book. Her source is McIntyre, a book written in the 1920s plus (yes) all the works of Radcliffe thus published including the memoir in front of Gaston de Blondeville. Without these newer findings and readings, no wonder the section is impoverished. It’s a testiment to the strength of Kavanagh’s text which Fauset does repeat that it is as insightful as it is at least on Radcliffe’s texts. Fauset stays with Kavanagh’s Victorian insights into the description and effective landscape projected psychology but says she knows little about the life. Too bad she had not read Norton who at least makes an outline.

But until now she’s been so up-to-date — or seeming so — I was startled.

Then I realized she had never quoted Gurwirth on de Stael. And as I read on, I see she also lacks the latest good biographies and essays on Elizabeth Inchbald. She has read A Simple Story and Nature and Art, but again without the recent work on the plays and biography she is left to Kavanagh: who for her time is at least adequate: Kavanagh saw the Catholicism, miserable first marriage, Inchbald’s dislike of marriage after that, her independence, her brave rise (very like Holcroft) from very humble background to real intelligence and a cultured life worth living. Kavanagh is also insightful on the vulnerable and shattered heroines (even Miss Milner) in a simple story, their relationship to the tyrant hero

My conclusion is Fauset has not read the English sources the way she should have, and I see has neglected recent feminist accounts too. So for the second time her book falls away The first was the awkward graduate-student wooden style of her chapter on Kavanagh’s biography. Probably an insufficiently revised dissertation there. The section on Radcliffe is strange because Kavanagh sensed a deadly distressing story and the wild insights into sexuality that Radcliffe puts before us, and shied away and Fauset doesn’t make up for it. Indeed pretends or does not see. How could she not even read Arnaud is a great puzzle. Radcliffe is seen as masochistic there, but also a brilliant inventor of the female gothic. Inchbald she is workman like because Kavanagh was: Kavanagh would not be taken by the frivolous comedies and more masculinist stories of the stage, and so there’s just A Simple Story.

Charlotte Smith in the 1790s

Alas, on Charlotte Smith, she’s not as good. She has only read the earlier novels, apparently up to Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake. They were so hard to get, fell out of print, and so she hasn’t got Smith’s disillusion with the French revolution and adherence to its principles. Again she’s fooled by the denigation and only read the sonnets and not with the insight and pleasure she ought to have brought to them. No Beachy Head, no Emigrants (blank verse poems of great power). But as far as she goes, she sees the genius and strength of Ethelinde — that’s remarkable as it is the best of the three early women’s novels (the way George Sand’s Indiana through Lelia are); Kavanagh inveighs against Old Manor House for its insipid heroine. You can see how fond of Kavanagh I’m getting when I say I smiled at that. She feels for Smith’s private agon and miserable life but Victorian like feels Smith should not have brought it into her novels — maybe because she, Kavanagh, kept her private life out.

However, the end of the section captures why this book is so inspiriting to me: Fauset sums up Kavanagh’s achievement in her women of letters volumes (and I’d say the novels probably too) thus: “[Kavanagh’s] sincerity of purpose, a phrase she could have applied to her subjects, is beyond refute.” How refreshing to my soul (p. 172).

Kavanagh argues that despite Inchbald’s supposed amorality and radical thought, she is an important writer for women; this is going far for a Victorianist. Kavanagh says that through this lens we see the sexual injustices of the earlier and her own period. Most important Kavanagh sees “the sense of delivery” — the actual text and details of a given story — are part of Inchbald’s power so that in Nature and Art when she presents a scene of a young girl accused of infanticide by the father of the child (unknown to anyone else) who is the judge in the court, we are wholly engaged in the agon.

Kavanagh on Maria Edgeworth is very strong for other reasons: Edgeworth’s novels set in Ireland, about social change and with wide ranges of interest in topics partly the result of her relationship with her father was seen as an important progenitor of the 19th century novel (by Trollope too by the way). Kavanagh is dubious though about this father’s influence, and Fauset notices that the dearth of real information at the time about Edgeworth’s life (how much was censured of the father’s four marriages, behavior to his wives, and in effect emotiona incest and use of his daughter was suppressed) hinders Kavanagh. At the same time she is aware she is missing something — to us today she misses entirely the lesbian qualities and homoeroticism of Edgeworth and loses much of its complexity for without that the didacticism seems all that is consciously taught.

Jane Austen. Kavanagh is one of the earliest people to see the greatness and importance of Austen’s texts – for women. She does not see these texts as earth-shaking equivalents say of Shakespeare’s vast canon, but in their place they are powerful and she tries to say why. Each time I’ve stopped to read her essay on the particular women in her book, and then returned to Fauset’s analysis and this time I found Fauset too short, and not having read enough of the Austen criticism.

Kavanagh’s section on Austen is long too — as long as the ones on Stael, Lafayette and Scudery and she says little of Austen as a person. Her only source was Henry Austen and she does pretty well — sees the absurdities of it and takes what she can; she dwells on the six novels. I can only point out or summarize for a record a couple of utterances or ideas. Kavanagh sees this central tortured figure of a woman who has to hide her love because it’s socially not acceptable in her circle or will humiliate her beyond endurance. She contends Austen’s superior is in her delicacy (also tenderness and sympathy as well as quiet satire — but the first two she finds in all superior women’s art). By delicacy she means insight into character “the windings of human nature.” She can follow the “foolish logic” of average minds and imitate this. at the same time she finds Austen uses an inspired silliness for some of her characters — she bathes them in this (say Mrs Bennet, Mr Woodhouse). She does find Mansfield Park to be Austen’s closest to perfect novel. About Harriet (since on WWTTA we’ve been talking of this) Kavanagh says she has a “light, cheerful and unsentimental disposition” which we see can enable her to endure her lot not just silently but without continual depression. This makes her different from Jane Fairfax in the book Emma. This makes her different from Jane Fairfax in the book Emma. Harriet can also be led by Emma (why Emma likes her); she can be made to behave as if she thinks, acts, and feels like Emam to the point she will make serious decisions based on Emma’s judgements. She can be silly too, but not in the inspired superamusing way (not bathed in it) of say Mr Woodhouse and his gruel.

She loves the subtlety of the books, the moral depths and the intelligent entertainment. She testifies to many people at the time really enjoying her — now this is 1862.

Turner’s Tintern Abbey: Austen’s Fanny Price kept a transparency of this on her attic-school room window (her “nest of comforts”)

Amelia Opie and Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan who bring us into the 19th century

Amelia Opie is treated oddly: Fauset said it’s very apologetic, backhanded praise, with Opie’s life treated as a romance. I went over to read the text itself and discovered Fauset is accurate. I am beginning to think that these little lives were written over a period of time in different moods and palaces and perhaps all brought together when they mounted up. Opie was a contemporary nearly, her poetry was known, and her later life as a quaker. The novels are treated autobiographically and a great deal made of John Opie’s early death. Probably too Adeline Mowbray represented a problem for Kavanagh as it openly urges living outside of marriage, even if at the end the heroine is so severely punished for this. Father and Daughter is the novel Kavanagh prefers to discuss, and keeps apologizing for the style.

I’ve never read any novel through of Owenson, Lady Morgan. What I read of Wild Irish Girl seemed to me shallow and hastily done. Since reading Nancy Paxton on rape in colonial novels (Writing in the Raj), where she discusses Owenson’s Missionary (also a gothic book), I’ve been led to see I ought to return to Owenson, Kavanagh’s account here is shaped by her own Irishness; she just loves Lady Morgan’s books and provides strong praise for her independent life, her individuality and her high socialability. She admires how Owenson includes strong politics in her books (and also Maria Edgeworth).

Kavanagh says that this political frankness brought Owenson strong enemies and vitriolic criticism.

Here is where Kavanagh’s English Women of Letters ends; her French Women of Letters ends with Stael, not George Sand as probably she thought of Madame Dudevant, the name by which Sand was known and discussed in the Victorian periodicals, as contemporary, a French counterpart to the Brontes.

The point of Kavanagh’s books was to keep the memory, to keep these important Enlightenment women alive. A deep sense of hope fuels the project, and the earnest attention she gives to their perception of experience, woman’s difficulties and “human mind, its toils, its pleasures, are worth noting, that trace, however fine and often invisible” the important deep past.


Fauset’s concluding chapter is on Kavanagh’s travel book, A Summer and Winter in the Two Sicilies. In line with the rest of the book, Fauset dwells on what is apparently the emphasis in these books: the position of women in Italy. Kavanagh was appalled at the lack of choices for a fulfilled life for Sicilian women. In brief, the middling to upper class woman who did not marry, was put away in a convent or coerced into leading a repressed life as a kind of upper servant where the house becomes a prison. Many rather than do that, entered nunneries. It sound like an exaggeration, but books about customs at the time insist on thow women were pushed into arranged marriages, nunneries, or held tight within a family system; that beating was approved of, also overt jealousy. Kavanagh tells of incidents she saw that frightened her (one woman terrified to leave her house lest she displease her husband) — all this reminds me of Catherine Delors’s heroine in Mistress of the Revolution (original or real title: Lecons de Tenebres) as long as her husband was alive; she escapes because it’s a romance and she is able to find a place as a lady’s companion (but there will be problems like those outlined by Betty Rizzo in her Companions without Vows). Such women could never have travelled as she is doing — though she is herself aware of all the constraints and troubles she has in travelling. She mentions hintingly problems of sexual harassment.
And what about lower class women? apparently Kavanagh doesn’t much deal with them. They look impoverished as individuals but live in a large community where poverty is not the disgrace it is in England and where there are many holidays, festivals and community provisioning of everyone so the kind of near starvation and shame seen in the UK (England, Ireland) is not known. Kavanagh says “there is a sense of acceptance without repulsion of the poor” and so lower status is not so wretched or misery-producing. “The mildness of the climate, fertility of the country” and lack of a demanding continual work ethic makes life softer and happier. She writes that this kind of “social freedom” for the lower classes “compensates for the lack of political liberty.”

Town of Berat, Sicily, early 19th century: Kavanagh probably went to Italy to improve her health

I looked at the google excerpts from this book online and yes, it’s a far more anthropological, and sociological and less personal book that most of the travel books of the era — more like Harriet Martineau’s magnficently entertaining and insightful travel books in America. The customs and prejudices of the people are put before us. I was impressed by her pity for a poor pig “frightened” and “screaming with all its might” during one festival; perhaps he was to be murdered. She did see herself as a guest in this country too, and praises its art.

The book then comes to a sudden end with a half-page postscript summing up its main themes and Kavanagh’s extraordinary achievements, especially considering where she started out and her handicaps.


To sum up, to read this book is to learn about a 19th century life, 18th century women of letters and their books, and a 20th century take on it all put together. It is an extraordinary and original achievement.

It’s uneven because the writing is sometimes weak and wooden (Chapter 1), Fauset’s scholarship is often not up-to-date, but what she knows she knows as well and deeply in her heart as Kavanagh. Fauset (not Kavanagh) shows much more strengths in French 18th century literature than English. One of the most attended sessions at the ASECS conference I was at last month (see next blog) was one where the topic was the obstacles and difficulties of writing women’s literary history. This book shows one: to go to one of the important origins of what we say and how we look at 18th century women you have to be a Victorianist. Jobs go for people expert within a period. Jobs go to people expert within one language and to study women as a group as writers you must transcend nationalities as well as periods.

My next blog will be on three of Kavanagh’s subjects which were the subjects of ASECS panels: Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni’s, epistolary fiction Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou l’Italie and Fanny Burney.


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