Archive for October, 2010

The governess realizes Miles is dead becomes frantic with grief (Turn of the Screw by Sandy Welch, 2009)

Dear friends and readers,

I feel I’ve had a full Henry James double season. First this summer, Roderick Hudson, then the biography of James by Fred Kaplan, and now as part of the course “exploring the gothic” I’m teaching and my study of the gothic for a paper on Northanger Abbey, I’ve slowly read James’s “The Turn of the Screw” and would to suggest an uncommon but recently endorsed view: the governess is neither simply a victim, utterly passive, nor pathological liar.

It’s convenient to begin with the older view of Oscar Cargill: he opens with rejecting documentary evidence of three different kinds. As a scholar of earlier periods, this is prima facie suspicious. I do not question documentary evidence unless I have evidence to show it’s made up. So for example, the argument that James made up the archbishop, lied in his story in the notebooks is unacceptable unless Cargill has evidence to show this. His rejection of James’s preface is wrong on the same grounds. He is calling James a liar in effect. I found four places in the story where Mrs Grose acknowledges the governess has seen the ghosts because the governess knows details about their appearance she couldn’t any other way and several where she says she believes the governess is seeing ghosts.

The argument the governess is a pathological liar won’t do also for the reasons Wayne Booth outlined in his classic The Rhetoric of Fiction in the 1950s. We can only go so far with unreliability; we can have an unreliable narrator whose judgment is misguided but if we begin to say the very narrator is a liar from the get-go we can believe nothing we read. We would have to reject the basis of most stories written since the popularity of unreliable narrators began (later 19th century). The opening gambit on Xmas eve has the narrator, Douglas, go out of his way to say the governess was the most aimable well-educated governess he ever met, that he liked her very much (almost loved her).

The arguments that dismiss the external documentary evidence provided by James remind me of the arguments which call Mary Shelley a liar and say she made her notebook entries up so Frankenstein is written by Percy Bysshe.

Also that what allows these readings of the tale castigating the young woman is that the other three chief character do not unambiguously admit to seeing the ghosts. As a reader of ghost stories, I know this is commonplace. Often the ghost only shows him or herself or themselves to one person, the one the ghost is harassing. This is true of Susan Hill’s Woman in Black which we recently read in my classes (a classic novella ghost story). It’s part of driving the central character mad and isolating him or her.

Quint and Miss Jessel (2009 TOTS)

That the governess misjudged and overreacts is true — she is another in the long line of unreliable narrators: Like Winterbourne in Daisy Miller, like Rowland Mallett, she is overreacts with conventional morality and, meaning to do some good, she makes things much worse. In her case though her situation against these sinister ghosts with no help from her employer is very bad.

My argument is that James is showing us how hard it is for us to deal with what we term unspeakable (Eve Sedgwick’s term) and unconventional sex. We deal with it very badly and make things worse — as we deal with mean teasing, money problems and class. On one level, everyone in the story, all the adults, cause Miles’s death. The uncle first of all. He wants to know nothing, will not even read the headmaster’s letter, left his valet, Quint, in charge of the house.

The plausible too busy man, who wants to know nothing, be told nothing, not be bothered (2009 TOTS)

He doesn’t care what happens to Miles. We have hints from Mrs Grose that Quint and the master were in the house together and shared clothes so probably the master has sex with Quint. Quint had sex with Miss Jessel and probably got her pregnant. He was “free” with everyone says Mrs Grose — so the other servants. That he was found dead on the road coming back from the pub shows he had enemies in the pub too. A roughhouse type, nasty, a Stanley Kowalski so-to-speak (the nightmare of the sensitive homosexual male).

Mrs Grose sometimes admits that she thinks Quint molested Miles but in front of the children she always draws back. She also does not want to get involved.

Sue Johnson as frightened Mrs Grose; sometimes she is sinister and complicit in this movie too (2009 TOTS)

Again and again she won’t admit she sees anything in order to turn away (this is the way the role is played in the 2009 film). So she is like her employer. No wonder he keeps her on.

Mrs Grose tells the story of Miles going off with Quint to the governess when the letter comes. We are to understand the school was a place of bullying, fag system, and Miles was part of this. The governess’s first response to say and do and ask nothing is not a good one, but she was told by her employer not to bother him and she has no rank to write the headmaster.

Miss Jessel was also to blame as when confronted by Mrs Grose on how Quint was with the boy, Miss Jessel said “mind your business.

The governess kills the boy too because she over-rreacts and hates homosexual sex and also child-abuse but because the children tease her and seem complicit, she sees them as allowing it and so regards them as evil too.


This is what happens by the way in the stories about priests’s molesting boys: it does not come out because parents fear their boys will be blamed.

One level of the story is this shows how “I am not my brother’s keeper” leads to evil

But another is, what can we do? Once Miles is molested, what can we do? to transgress on his psyche and insist he tell, confess, be abject is wrong the story tells us. It’s wrong to bully the boy this way and it doesn’t help. Here that James was himself a young boy with homosexual orientation suggests he identifies with Miles — and indicts society for the way it treats such a boy — and encourages him too (as a rich boy).


James also engages or identifies with the governess. It’s not until about half-way through the story that the governess seems to change from simply protecting the children. It’s an old motif of ghost stories the ghost wants to take the child away. About p 79 or Chapter 10-11 in my book she begins to want power. She begins to gloat over knowing more; she seems to want to penetrate (that’s the word) not just Mrs Grose but both children and she herself wants to possess Miles. She becomes an instrument of the evil infecting the house. She knows she would be called “mad.”

It’s around this time the letter business happens. Miles does want to contact his uncle. That shows the boy has a healthy instinct there. He wants another school. So the governess lets both children write but she hides their letters. She does not want their account to reach the Powerful Man. Then she writes a little later and Miles steals her letter because he does not want her account to reach the uncle.

A power struggle between Miles and the governess ensues. The children smell a weak woman who is sensitive and can’t cope with teasing so they play games with her by waking her, going into the garden and so on. At one point I think the text does show that Flora sees Miss Jessel and went off with her but won’t admit it — as she enjoys teasing the governess. It’s the incident where Mrs Grose is dragged out to the scene and, harried, the governess asks Flora if she saw Miss Jessel. Not in front of the children. Mrs Grose then shouts that Flora is an angel and pulls her away.

Flora is a survivor, not an angel.

Other themes of the story which relate to our world: Miss Jessel as governess. Since the master seems to know how she died and know about her going away, it might have been the master who impregnated her. It’s hard to tell. The governess sees Miss Jessel crying at one point and her immediate reaction is mean: she calls Miss Jessel “wretched terrible woman’ instead of empathizing .After all the governess is herself a governess: poor, played upon by the uncle-master. But in the next scene the governess does seem to have listened to a story told by Miss Jessel which made her see they are alike in situation. The Dear movie had Miss Jessel sitting at the desk in a way then precisely imitated by the governess to make the point they are a doppelganger. What saves the governess (ironically) is her overstrict morality and her loneliness.

So it’s about women’s positions too.

Class: the governess at first sneers at Miss Jessel for gong with Quint as “dreadfully low” and Mrs Grose too. This is the dialogue where I felt James laughing at them as a pair of clowns.

And sex. At times the story anticipates Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. The simplest statement about something else can be read as about sex because of the use of innuendo. For example,

To do it in any way was an act of violence, for what did it consist of but the obtrusion of the idea of grossness and guilt on a small helpless creature who had been for me a revelation of the possibilities of a beautiful intercourse (Chapter 23).

The governess is literally saying she would like to know what happened to the letter she had written Miles’s uncle, her employer.

But at the end it’s a tragedy too: the house is haunted. Evil things have been happening there for quite some time and ends in disaster. How did Miles die? In that final scene he turns and admit he sees Quint and calls him “you devil.” Maybe Miles has a heart attack because finally he is terrified of this ghost and doesn’t want to go with him. The Governess’s hysteria may given him a heart attacK. It might be she asphyxiated the boy by holding him so tight so as to keep Quint from grabbing him.

Now all this occurred 70 years ago. The governess told no one the true story and no one cared enough to investigate. It was in the uncle’s interest to cover it up. She went on being a governess and first told a young man she like who liked her 40 years later. 20 years ago just before she died she wrote what happened down, and now on Xmas eve Douglas brings this story forth.

But it’s not about the past. It’s about today.

I was bothered by something that did occur in my second class. It’s 21 males against 3 females. The first reaction some of the guys had what the governess killed the boy and their first impulse was to blame her because she was sexually uptight. In talking though other of the boys saw the larger picture and Russell Baker’s introduction about it’s being a story of child-abuse by the ghosts also helped. So did the film So I conclude the so-called Freudian Cargill reading is partly a strong symptom of the misogyny of our culture which hates single women especially those who seek to control male sexuality (there’s a hatred of Austen in Twain, Lawrence that comes from this). We despise those who can’t cope with teasing as the governess could not. out of this comes the feeling the children are just playing. Right: that’s Mrs Grose. (gross is the allegory behind that one).

I think also the unwillingness to confront that Miles talked dirty sex with other boys (that’s what he says he did) and maybe allowed Quints to indulge in sex with him comes out of the unwillingness even to discuss pederasty or homosexuality.

So moral panic kills but not doing something moral is wrong too. At the time when Quint was left in charge the evil began. Something should have been done then and again by Mrs Grose when Quint took over the boy. The boy was puzzled, confused, led to boast and try for power as an upper class male against the governess, but he was too young and weak physically if nothing else so died.


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Anthony Trollope, a photo from the 1870s

Dear friends, readers and lovers of Trollope,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Armanick on the complete Duke’s Children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Anthony Trollope at about age 40, a rare photo of him when younger

Dear friends and readers and (especially if any of those who come to this blog are) readers of Trollope,

Last April I finished and sent off to to a peer-edited academic periodical a succinct review of The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope’s Novels, edd. Deborah Morse, Margaret Markwick and Reginia Gagnier. The book consists of 15 of the 40 odd papers delivered at an Anthony Trollope conference I attended at Exeter College in July 2006. My paper, Trollope’s Comfort Romances for Men” was published on the Victorian Web shortly thereafter.

I have been told my review would be published soon, and it has not yet been published. I know “soon” is a relative term, and had decided to wait until my review was published to put on the Net my summaries of all the essays (part of the work I did to write the review). However, I’m getting impatient, plus I’m afraid I’ll forget where I put them by the time the review is published.

So here one-half of the volume summarized and evaluated with details kept in: the introduction and the first 7 out of the 14. I’ll put the second 14 and coda on this blog tomorrow or the next evening. When the review is published I’ll link it in to both blogs, and cite the name of the periodical, plus bibliographical data. Here I summarized the contents of and evaluate each of the essays with details kept in in the order they appear.


Montague Square, south of Marylebone Road, London, which Trollope knew from his childhood and where he lived again from 1873-1880: he was a Londoner. “Not a gorgeous neighborhood, but one which will suit my declining years and modest resources.”

The Introduction by Deborah Morse and Margaret Markwick

The introduction has the value of citing recent articles that can be fit into the agenda and valued hierarchy of the introducers, some of which are by “rising stars” in academia. There is much stilted jargon, and the least title any of the contributors can lay claim to cited with solemnity. The papers are divided up according to the rank of the people (“new”, upcoming &c). The importance of what they are all saying is undercut by the language which suggests how subtle and ambivalent what they find is. Once you get past the jargon, you can find a thesis that supports recent ideas about female gender (against essentialism, showing women have masculine traits, especially ambition and competitive and amorality) and the kind of qualified pro-capitalism and critique of colonialism which is not multicultural popular in American academia; these are argued (as Kincaid says in his blurb) “unpredictable” & unexpected angles; ironically, most of the essays then present a Trollope who is a mirror of his era, albeit in different terms.


Kate Field when young, the woman Trollope named as the one he loved tenderly

“(A)genda Trouble and the Lot Complex: Older Men – Younger Women Relationships in Trollope

The first key note address (2:00 pm) the most enjoyable and stimulating of the whole conference (that I got to hear). Robert M. Polhemus talked about “older-men-younger-women, father-daughter relationships in Trollope.” He began by retelling the Lot story from the Bible, and suggested that in Trollope we find many older men fostering the identity and sexuality and fulfilled futures of younger women. The older men may play a father, brother, or companionate, or implicitly sexual partner role (apparently heterosexual) to the younger women. From “A Ride Across Palestine”, Prof Polhemus made visible the fluid and subversive sexuality of the older male narrator and younger woman dressed as a male who travels with the narrator; he argued that “Mary Gresley” was a reverse Jane Eyre: we see the cruelty of the demand the heroine destroy her manuscript to please the male ego of her betrothed, and how when she goes out to a missionary place with her rigid clergyman-husband, she dies. He quoted allusions to Currer Bell in “Mary Gresley.”

Polhemus wants to use his findings positively as about how older men mentor younger women who they also have sexual relationships with. He proceeds to discuss the spiritual and emotional incest between older men who mentor/befriend/protect/marry younger women, as well as fathers and daughters and siblings as something deeply fulfilling as well as good (productive) for the women — to hang on to these mens’ power I’d put it — he wouldn’t. He wants to celebrate how younger women are set up in life by older men (fathers, brothers, and yes professors) and sees in Trollope a similar urge to give young women to older men — especially after Trollope grows older. (See comments for a review of his older book, Changing World of Anthony Trollope.)


A hired man kidnapping Louis and Emily’s son from Emily (2004 HKHWR, Andrew Davies)

He Knew He Was Right: The Sensational Tyranny of the Sexual Contract and Problem of Liberal Progress”

Kathy Psomiades argument about He Knew He Was Right is the story of Louis’s sexual tyranny may be read as a story about the violence of the state (through its contracts) and the violence of reform (the desire of the female to escape this contract); Louis is the “other” liberalism wants to get rid of; he is anti-liberalism irrationality. She wants to use the novel to examine liberalism and gender (p. 32). She says that in HKHWR we find another version of Carole Pateman’s Sexual Contract (see p. 42) and Mill’s Subjection of Women. From McClennan we find that gender relations are often violent and tyrannical, p 35. Some women in the novel also unfairly usurp male power (Wallachia Petrie and Aunt Stanbury); Gibson marriage is gender warfare; three good marriages show new subjects inside old legal forms (Brooke and Dorothea, Hugh and Nora, Caroline and Glascock), and some women turn violence into something consented to, so this novel proves the justice of Carole Pateman’s claims; the good married people make the world safe for marriage. See this novel as mirroring the age; part of general tendency of era of second reform act to use marriage and gender to construct social and political theories about how human society and gender work.
At the heart of this essay is a sceptical treatment of all these constructs as if the speaker doesn’t believe any of them.

I was troubled by this paper since it seemed to deprecate the practical and intellectual gains of the 19th century liberal progressive movement (as seen in the work of John Stuart Mill) and recent 1970s feminist thought. It was implied that Catherine MacKinnon was against sexual fulfillment and Carol Pateman’s Sexual Contract wrong (!), and once again there seemed to be an avoidance of critiquing the pain Trollope’s characters’ use of power (female as well as male) inflicts on other characters. I guessed that there was a “third-wave” feminism point of view in the paper but am not sure.

It does make sense to me of the claim the fight between Louis and Emily Trevelyan is not about sex, with his demand for control of her being a kind of tactical cover-up: it raises the book to a high philosophical level an upper class academic might care about as part of their rights in a (limited) milieu of liberal establishments


Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda, an (apparent) bastard son (from the 2004 film by Andrew Davies)

“Bastards to the Time: Legitimacy as Legal Fiction in Trollope’s novels of the 1870s”

Jenny Bourne Taylor, like K. Psomiades, wants to elevate or generalize the novels’s stories into high abstract ideas and concrete realities so she moves into a cultural anthropology discussion, and then she’s extrapolates her discussion out of Trollope’s specific stories.

It’s another one of these very difficult essays which if read carefully make wide jumps, sudden sweeping abstract claims. So the only way to figure out what is said and connect the parts is to summarize.

She opens with a good introduction about the era and how these general themes may be found in a number of novels: The vexed question of personal legitimacy — what’s a proper marriage, legally sanctioned offspring, to be a socially authorized member of a family — found in many Trollipe novels.where the question of bastards is used. Trollope’s 60s novels: Dr Thorne, Castle Richmond, Can you Forgive Her?, Belton Estate, He Knew He Was Right; then his 70s and early 80s; John Caldigate, Ralph the Heir, Lady Anna, Is He Popenjoy?, Mr Scarborough’s Family. (I can’t find any bastards in CYFH?, Belton Estate, HKHWR.) JBTaylor says AT is intrigued by slipperiness of concept and law; and uses bastards as a site to delve other aspects of social life attached to this. JBTaylor has written a very long essay on one such case in real life: the Sheldon and there she’s superb and clear because it’s a matter of retelling the literal facts and arguments really made.

Anyway of the Victorians, Eliot delves these matters too, e.g., in Felix Holt and Daniel Deronda: a secretly spurious heir, the “adulterine bastard” Harold Transome; Daniel’s imagined identity is as Sir Hugo Mallinger’s younger son so he’s a noble bastard. Is Arthur legitimate; question found in state (James, Duke of Monmouth) and then in 18th century novels, Fielding’s Tom Jones and Robert Bage’s Hermsprong (pp. 46-47).

Sentimental figure of ruined mother driven by desperation to infanticide that dominates radical novels (Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays) of the 1790s; melodramatic talk swirling around poor laws, figure of bastard female in the 1850s (Esther Summerson) again, with Collins No Name, and then again back to secretly illegitimate son with Thackeray’s Henry Esmond.

She shows how legal historians and cultural anthropologists of the age exposed the constructs; Maine and McLennan share a idea about mixed progress where we see atavisms carryon in modern law and customs (p. 49) We see anomalies in laws about what makes nationality and can you renounce this as citizens. Laws relating to illegitimacy differed so in Scotland a child could be retrospectively legitimized (once the parents married); English child remained illegitimate for life. A case whereby a man whose father emigrated to the US and never married the mother until just before his death; the man sued as a Scottish person, but the judge found he was illegitimate because he lived and was born in the US which followed the UK law even if increasingly since US people were protesting it. In JBTaylor’s article she says the case was so disquieting because it highlighted the difficulties of defining legal identity itself.

Then she covers three novels where she says these concerns highlighted. The best discussion is the first as the novel most fits (though I am reconfiguring what came first and second to make it make sense). In Trollope’s Ralph the Heir; he satirizes fixed moral positions based on legitimacy, by showing how legal codes are rooted in social and economic interest; the Burkean ideal of continuity is then inconsistent, but there is nothing to use for a substitute; different forms of marriage for different reasons are set against one another. We have a feckless heir against a virtuous bastard; Underwood a Tory but an absent father, Underwood and radical tradesman are victims of political corruption; Neefit tries to bribe the legitimate heir to marry Polly. Gregory, a good man, like illegitimate Ralph Newton, is younger brother of legitimate son. Squire tries to buy reversion of estate for 50,000 but dies before transaction complete; real tragic feeling over Squire’s death and the illegitimate Ralph’s grief. Ending made happy: virtuous Ralph does get 40,000 and buys himself an estate; Father wants his eldest true son to inherit but contract of marriage was not in place; so now new lousy legitimate son must get it; the legitimate heir marries a baronet’s daughter and Polly her beloved Ontario Moggs.

The second and third: Lady Anna and Is He Popenjoy? what is means to have a valid identity in Ralph the Heir now in these two novels is said to move into instability of law itself. A legitimate wife and daughter (Lady Anna and her mother) become illegitimate but then they might just have a claim as date of Earl’s marriage and its reality under dispute.

This plot-design comes from Oxford Companion and only with it can you make sense of what’s said: Lady Anna’s father who had declared her mother not his real wife, now dies and his will is contested so perhaps a far away handsome heir to the title might get money; if they marry, then they are both okay. She marries a radical tailor who together with his father was good to her and mother when impoverished. Anna’s ideals of loyalty are decent grattitude and honesty to her emotions. Countess obsessed (usual mad Trollope character driven so by life, shoots tailor. A brilliant lawyer Sir William Patterson, is our fairy godfather: in some of his behavior he overturns custom like Chaffanbrass to follow “general good” which is not the same as upholding status and rank — which we see are tenuous.)

Back to Taylor: she sees Lady Anna very abstractly: Legitimacy is redefined in different ideological contexts discussed on a high level of abstraction. She says the young Earl is a modern middle class professional. Is he? Then that in Lady Anna’s choice companionate marriage replaces dynastic except that Daniel recreates patriarchical power for himself in private sphere.

Then we jump to this is a “powerful investigation of how fiction of legitimacy functions as social cement”

Is He Popenjoy? she says legitimacy now based on fantasy and nothing but a silly name. (Not so.) She quotes great lines by others: contemporary Victorian who said “How slight are the barriers which part modern civilization from ancient savagery”. In fact we have a ruthless brutal marquis who kicks his family out and aggressive ruthless father-in-law of younger son’s wife. Far from fantasy, this is power and is exercised — even if granted only by documents. It’s only the Marquis’s death and death of child that ends this. No fantasies either.

In passing she refers to inner story of sexual and emotional and social struggle of George and Mary Germaine. This is way too short, too truncated and fancy language final paragraph useless. Mr Scarborough is more the case in point about fantasies of legitimacy; Ralph the Heir fits her thesis, but not Lady Anna. Essay remarkably arid in tone.

In sum, two of the novels chosen don’t make her case and in Is He Popenjoy? she ignores what is of real interest (and even repeats a silly joke of Markwick’s as if it’s relevant when it’s just a mistake of dating in Trollope).

Since I’m watching a transposition film version of Tom Jones, it’s interesting to me how some of the tropes of Lady Anna and Ralph the Heir (shooting the man who wants to marry the father’s daughter and is not wanted from rank or position), the tragic bastard the father really love are found in Fielding.


Frank Greystock (Marvin Jarvis), from 1974 The Pallisers mini-series

“Out of the Closet: Homoerotics in Trollope’s Novels”

Margaret Markwick immediately alludes to several books on homosexual encoding in the 19th century (naturally Eve Sedgwick) but one I’d not hear of before by Richard Dellamora, Friendship’s Bonds, has a chapter on Lopez as exhibiting lots of “sodomitical” imagery. Trollope dresses Lopez is very Dandyish and in a svelte tux and that is how Raven and team dress Stuart Wilson: in the novel Emily has these longings for sex with Lopez :). Markwick concentrates on homo-social bonding in Trollope’s novels of which Castle Richmond is the most daring example (again an early book. Trollope’s early books are much more daring. (The erotic couple are Owen Fitzgerald and the Countess’s son as well as the older Countess and Owen.) She suggests some of the coded language of gay studies are found in Trollope, e.g., the use of the “orient”, of the middle East, and suggestively hints at Trollope’s unknown broad experiences when traveling backed up by this or that line she remarkably remembers turned to persuasively demonstrate what she’s saying. Markwick’s essay is normative in the way of recent masculine studies, with the reader being preached to that masculinity in Victorian times was seen in nurturing protective behavior by men, accompanied by an overt careful distancing of herself from anything coming near “extremist feminism.

I was disappointed at how little lesbianism she found — but that coheres with her negative attitude towards or erasure of real feminism. Homo-social relationships or friendships in Frank Fenwick and Harry Gilmour in Vicar of Bullhampton, John Grey and Frank Seward in Can You Forgive her, Earl of Brentford and Violet Effingham’s dead father; proprietors of periodical where this appeared quickly pulled the series when protests made by readers of Ride Across Palestine; the use of oriental imagery as coding homosexuality found in Turkish Bath; orient = sodomitical, and she finds jocular references to Orient as a focus for homo-erotical pleasure in The Bertrams; there is nothing there but she finds a joke connected to Bertie Stanhope in Barchester Towers (his clothes extravagantly feminine-dandyish); philosopher becomes an inword for strong sexual appetites which include the homoerotic in Frank Greystock (Eustace Diamonds); the most extended and persuasive treatment is of Patrick Desmond (boy) and Owen Fitzgerald in Castle Richmond, but somehow she hedges again and starts to describe this as a romantic friendship which neither of “them should shrink from akcnowledging.” She has a way of turning things into normative and of course they could return from trips to marry and have children. We hear “the confident voice of tolerance, presenting a manhood that sits comfortably with liberal thinking today.” (See comments for a review of her book, New Men in Trollope’s Novels.)


Trevelyan at Casalungo, Marcus Stone’s illustration of Lois Trevelyan at the close of TWWLN, from the original illustrations approved by Trollope

“‘Some Girls Who Come from the Tropics:’ Gender, Race, and Imperialism in Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right

Deborah Denenholz Morse presented a post-colonial reading of He Knew He Was Right. She argued that beyond making visible in the story of Louis and Emily Trevelyan the oppressive patriarchal power structure, one where the male seeks to control and repress the distrusted sexuality of his wife, in He Knew He Was Right Trollope uses Emily and the place she comes from to show how European males sought to imprison and quell slaves, the colonized peoples they were exploiting. She used the analogy Trollope sets up between Shakespeare’s Othello and this novel to suggest that we have a racial story. The three romantic subplots are there by contrast.

The problem with the essay is twofold. First without any evidence beyond Trollope’s friendship with one of the man against what Eyre did, she says that in the story of Emily and Louis Trollope is imitating the slavery politics of the island with Emily standing in for black people and Louis the whites.

Trollope said he wanted to make sympathy for Louis and failed; he certainly failed with Morse who has no sympathy for Louis’s sexual anxiety or mental breakdown whatsoever. She reverses gear then to say this is not a novel which condemns marriage because she wants to show Trollope presenting good men (you see feminists don’t hate men) and strong women in the other three marriages. Trollope celebrates through Hugh’s musing self-sacrificing love. Intense admiration for Nora (strong, intelligent) and quotes Hugh about beauty of loving. Louis emerges as simply a jerk of the first water. This is not an essay which could make sympathy for an underdog or ill person; better not give her any control over mentally troubled people.

Second, the trail of The Politics of Gender led me to another collection of essays, The Erotics of Instruction where one of the editors is also Deborah Morse and I’ve been startled. I found an earlier version of Morse’s essay/paper for the conference in this volume: basically the reading of HKHWR stays the same, mostly exactly the same texts from HKHWR are quoted for the most part (a few different as the essay is longer in Erotics); only the “reading” has a different context and much less jargon to prove it. The earlier essay in Erotics of Instruction also condemns Louis (though not as fiercely).

The other essays in this volume tells of themselves as teachers in a similar way. How “love” enters the classroom and allusions to such experiences and then readings of books (or not as the case may be).

Except one. By the one Name: James Kincaid, a major older Trollopian and as was common then a male. In his he decries the whole volume and project. Calls it “fouling one’s nest” “stinking” and says they are totally misguided and misunderstand the whole project of education and humanities. He uses the strongest language I’ve seen outside the net or blogs. His argument is that erotics are in all our experience but when we teach we are to be disinterested insofar as we can or we are corrupt and self-seeking in the worst way for our students. This book, he says, shows the hollowness of what has happened to literary studies. How humanities as a discipline is losing its way altogether.

His essay is preface by a dismayed set of paragraphs from Morse and women friends (a group coterminous with the one that put Politics of Friends together) about how he has hurt this beautiful hard worked thing they did but they want freedom for the press so will publish him. Right. They want his big name. His is the one famous name in the volume (though he’s not the only male).

I agree with Kinkaid (I’ve been teaching for nearly 30 years overall).

I would say a woman reader can react to Trollope as a father figure. I know that Davies a subtle reader has discerned this older man salivating after young girls in the novels and in his adaptation of HKHWR and puts a sharp analysis of this in the mouth of Paul Montague (a hero in the The Way We Live Now and Davies’s film) to Sir Roger Carbury who is a good and well-meaning person in the book and film. Sir Roger is taken aback to see himself this way but human he rejects this perspective and attacks Roger for spending a weekend with Mrs Hurtle (this follows the book again). How dare you attack me when look at what you do is the vein. Powerful scene in Davies, not quite what is in Trollope 🙂

The byways of chasing down the background for books and understanding where they come from.


Lizzie Eustace (Sarah Badel) shows George (John Alexander) the jewels she’s stolen from herself (1974 The Pallisers mini-series)

“Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds and ‘The Great Parliamentary Bore”

In order to understand it even at a minimal level I was driven to outline it in normal English. Lauren M. E. Goodlad said: Eustace Diamonds is the one place where we find Trollope saying something about India. We notice immediately its context, The Moonstone which is a novel which plays on India. So we can say Trollope is meaning to say something about India – though Goodlad admits that in his Autobiography Trollope said he meant to imitate a Wilkie Collins type detective novel and says nothing about India. ED is though an “example of mid-Victorian ‘geopolitical aesthetic.” She mentions George Levine who regarded these Palliser novels as about the ordinary daily life of people, conventional and “plodding.” She is going to refute his way of underestimating ED.

She then says she will have shown elsewhere (a paper is cited in the notes) that there is no racial discourse in Barsetshire books but there is in Pallisers, especially Prime Minister (Lopez as Jewish) and in TWWLN. ED is then declared to be “a site of meditation on imperial ethics”. She is going to dwell on Lucy Morris and the Sawab of Mygawb instead of Lizzie.

But first we must begin with Trollope’s statement in the autobiography, and then what is in the novel about the Sawab (the paragraphs about Lucy’s interest and defense of him) and then she turns to the theme of “honest ownership.” This resides in the diamonds (so too are diamonds central to Moonstone). In this novel there is a debate over whether jewels are heirlooms or commodities. She quotes Turtle Dove’s final opinion that the diamonds are “a simple question of dirty money” (not on p 258 but 259). Camperdown wants property to be regarded as Burkean so he can take it back for family.

The way Goodlad gets from this debate which is in the novel to the mentions of the Sawab of Mygawb is to say that imagery of jewels and idea of a treasure is attached to Lucy, so Lucy = family heirloom, Lucy resists being treated as an object, she is independent and she defends Sawab as this decent liberal person but we are asked to notice how she is seen to covet something so Goodlad implies here is a boring (irritating?) pretense of goodness and real hypocrisy, p 106. At the same time we are told Lucy is a double for Sawab as a vulnerable woman since Lucy fights with Fawn to support Frank and she leaves the family in support of her link (“property” Goodlad calls it) to Frank. Sawab of Mygawb only Indian in novel and he is there because Lucy sides with him; she feels for underdog; later out of party politics Frank attacks Fawn’s party’s neglecting the Sawab. Somehow Lucy is a dirtied as everyone else.

Goodlad basically sneers at Lucy while acknowledging the novel has other middle class women “who lack satisfactory economic alternatives to marriage.” (p.107)

She then proceeds to find minor Indian royals who came to England claiming they had been mistreated, and one in particular in a book by Major T. Evans Bell who is named and described as “is, or was lately a prisoner near Bombay and suspect of treason.” Rajah of Sattara. This is described as “the equivalent of of an Indian royal teetering between enthronement and incarceration.” (p. 110). Another Indian in magazine Vanity Fair was written about at the time who had an analogous case. Then she tells of Trollope’s friend Herman Merivale who was real-life Permanent Under-secretary for State of India during Myore debate — in the news that the UK had not annexed Mysore after 1799 victory but let family remain in control (not uncommon arrangement) and question was if Queen’s proclamation to support the allies (upper class Indians) who had supported Brits would be honored. In fact John Morley wrote that the Brit gov’t was gong to annex Mysore upon the death of this Rajah. All this is asserted to be the context for ED.

Then we are told Trollope is a “a novelist eager neither for a liberal civilizing mission nor a conservative romanticism.” What matters is which party in parliament presides over case and Fawn is a parellel to Merivale who actually did feel a wrong was being done to another man mentioned in Bell’s book. Now since none of this appears in ED she has to say the very absence of details is part of the point (but what quite the point is she really doesn’t say). She doesn’t quite want to say that Fawn is a sympathetic character (as he is regarded by most readers as despicable — to me not so necessarily) so she next quotes reviews at the time which said the character of Fawn really interested them as mimetic. Then we get a description of the satire at Fawn, Frank’s attack, and how Fawn ridiculed, and an account of the petty politics presented in the book (decimal coinage, marital maneuvers), and finally Fawn telling Mr Hittaway there is no support from the lawyers to grab back the diamonds from Lizzie.

What does all this footwork, maneuvering and doubtless hard reading to pick out such details in the welter of the events of the day as written about in magazines and nonfiction political books add up to? She has to turn to what Trollope wrote in his travel books and other novels: there we see him predict the extinction of indigenous peoples in climates suitable to British settlement (Australia and New Zealand), paternalism in Ireland (in the novels); she then turns back to the sentence she found in Davison (which she quotes at the opening of this essay) where Trollope says India is a “bore” because it’s “not a colony in the proper sense” as there are very few English people and these there as rulers. Davison said Trollope regarded the idea Indian was “keystone” to the English empire was “preposterous.” I can’t understand the very vague general statement that she ends her penultimat paragraph on. It seems to say nothing but that Trollope “resisted” idea there was imperial justice and the cover ups (“oriental” essence as alibi).

So we end on how everyone in parliament in ED is bored, or fast asleep, and how Trollope is showing us parliamentary politics are a coverup for demoralizing theft.”

She does not return to the jewels or Lucy but instead says how this novel is not “naive realism nor self-naturalizing” but “aspires to historical grasp that defines a geopolitical aesthetic.” If you know what that means, let me know.

On his website, Nick Hay said he didn’t understand this paper very well. I didn’t go to listen to it read aloud. He did think it was meant to show Trollope “became more radical as he grew older and this radicalization can be traced through the treatment of specific subjects in the books.” Maybe he was polite when in his blog he says he found the argument “quite compelling” even though he also says he didn’t understand it and I know him to think that Trollope despite his skeptical disillusion was conservative.

For myself I find an insidious undercurrent here which mocks liberal and generous agendas (as in Lucy), is embarrassed by them when the person is dull (like Fawn) and wholly unsympathetic to underdogs of the book. She seems always to refer to liberal ideas and liberalism as a phenomenon to be doubted and distrusted, but I am not sure what liberalism she means. She seems not to care about the women since she ignores the central debate about what happens to them without money and power (companions who are miserable, governesses who can’t have a private life, Lucinda driven mad) and the jewels, which Trollope de-mystifies as sheer money for everyone, a false front and prestigious showing off of owning women. It seems to me an example of a paper masquerading as caring about about what? I’m not quite sure.



Phineas (Donald McCann) and Chiltern (John Hallam) in the 1974 mini-series, The Pallisers (at their London club)

“Two Identities:” Gender, Ethnicity and Phineas Finn

Mary Jean Cobbett begins by alluding to Mark Turner (they all do, his book is on Trollope in the Marketplace which apparently is about gender issues too), and then says she wants to show that Trollope cared about Irish matters, was not a quintessential English person. She will show that a binary is fundamental to Trollope whereby men are shown to have feminine traits (the way she says Ireland was feminized in metaphors). It seems that this binary is “exploded” in An Eye for an Eye and the incapacity of people to act effectively in Macdermots and Castle Richmond “registers a gap within manhood” itself.

She turns to Phineas Finn: We first see how ambitious and hard-working Phineas is frustrated when he find it’s Lawrence Fitzgibbon (no deskwork for him) is given the Undersecretary at colonies; she picks on the one flaw in Dames’s paper on modern careerism in Trollope where Dames says that class and ethnicity don’t count in Phineas’s career rise: Fitzgibbon has rank Finn does not have, and has this “Irish otherness” not found in Phineas who does not seem to cohere to Irish stereotypes. Lonergan in his paper on Phineas (in our files) agrees with this and says it’s why Phineas is often overlooked when people look for Irishness in Trollope’s fiction even if Phineas is clearly interested in Irish issues and has been identified with 6 different real Irish members of Parliament at the time.)

Corbett’s Phineas is then made to be crucially “manly” as Victorians defined this (Tosh’s book on Masculinities) because he acts independently of his party; this Trollope does lest (she thinks) we think him feminized by his association with Ireland and all the love affairs he has — I would add possible dependence on Violet, Madame Max, and (later in PF) debt to Lady Glencora’s politicking. Bonteen needles Finn over this (picked up in film adaptation).

She then picks up idea common to notice: that Phineas has to choose between two identities if he marries Mary Flood Jones, and says the narrator (who she differentiates from implied author) is eager to contest Phineas’s desire to return to Ireland and “womanliness”. No Phineas is a man and manly and this is misrecognized because manliness not associated with nurturing, love, gentleness with women, lack of suspicion. So she says the book argues against “polarized scripts for ethnicity and gender.” The Phineas books challenge “dominant assumptions about gender and ethnicity.”

I did argue in my paper on heterosexual heroism that manliness for Trollope was not centrally a matter of aggression, but rather a group of attitudes which enable him to contest false and pernicious social expectations, and that he does have masculine women who enact some masculine norms, but they are usually non-virgins and/or older. I did not go on to say he contested the way women were defined and regarded and what makes for femininity or norms for masculinity as such; only that the power of some parts of his stories shows us characters in conflict with the sexual-social norms of the age.

I did not and do not think this is central to the fictions. I only argued it to fit into the conference — though fat lot of good it did me since I was ignored not only for the book but my book never quoted in the bibliography or anywhere. It does make them comfort romances for many men.

In my blog and notes I had apparently misunderstood this paper and thought she was arguing on behalf of Phineas’s careerism — which the implied author is ambivalent about. Now from her essay in front of me I see why I thought that: she does talk approvingly of Phineas’s near choosing Madame Max over Mary Flood Jones, and does not see his act as one of integrity rather a (obscurely phrased) him casting aside one of his identities (English, seeking power) which she appears to approve of.

Her point is to prove that Phineas’s womanliness is not incompatible with being manly (!?). An odd thing to end up on, to go to all this trouble to prove — and here is where Terry Eagleton in his brief review of this book has given me insight why. This is a concern of American female academics.

Tomorrow the second half of the book.


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Improbable Frequency

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight Jim, Izzy and I drove to a nearly empty snazzy-looking (all glass and very prettily shaped and decorated within) building where we and about 30 other people waited half an hour to be escorted up to a higher floor to watch a performance of arthur riordan and bell hellicopter’s improbable frequence. (I use no caps because the program used none nor does the Irish company, Solas Nua’s site.)

The New York Times review of 2 years ago, “It’s that Old Story: Spies, Physic, Gaelic,” will inform you of the literal story line, situation and general feel of the play. I recommend going far more heartily than this reviewer though I agree the play sometimes is straining for effect, goes on too long in this or that part, and at the close doesn’t quite make sense, but these seem trivial complaints, or in fact what is the point. The point of the play is the world is senseless and cruel. Its political relevance is that everyone in the play acts out a hollow conventional script. It begins with a man who informs you “Some people are cut out to be spies,” but it seems he’s not. The whole play is a kind of flashback where we see an action go on that explains why he said that. We return to this statement of his which is part of his “report” to a colonel, military of course, the military seems finally in charge.

There is a simulated torture scene, a femme fatale, a sentimental heroine; a (mad) scientist with a noisy machine that lights up and makes much noise, even a poet, Betjemann who is dressed up like a clown (complete with bow-tie and big stomach) and carries around with him a teddy bear that he caresses. That teddy bear is the only object on stage for which anyone shows any affection.

In DC here the actors did it so energetically and panache, style; the music was rousing and some of the Irish dancing made the Admiral laugh and laugh. There were especially effective performances by Eric Messner (lead role, our inadequate spy or hero, Tristram Faraday), Chris Davenport (Betjemann and the colonel so handy dandy these poets types are no different than the military which keeps up the order we live under, Madeleine Carr (agent green, our femme fatale who cavorts about sexily and is ready to murder anyone), Cyle Durkee (Schrodinger, the mad scientist). The stage opened up at one point to show a kind of frightening laboratory — the knowledge our society values. No wonder the play opens and closes with this closed-face, tight-mouthed man telling us he’s not up to this.

It’s rightly set in WW2 and (as an Irish play) in Dublin, Ireland. The thing the characters seem to value is their neutrality. They are not Nazis, mind, but they do seem to respect the Hitlerian regime, at least they don’t want “the Brits” to run them again. Our inadequate spy is of course a Brit. The setting is “noirish,” referring us to “film noir”, only here this perspective on experience has become camp.

The play is part of a revival of great Irish play-making and living theater that has been going on for a couple of decades now. We saw a good one in a midtown theater last year (Keegan Theater); I find I love Brian Friel’s Chekhovian plays.

This season I have carried on reading Elizabeth Gaskell as well as Trollope, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and am struck by how amoral and how much recent art either accepts and reinforces or does not know what to do about the breakup of at least pretending to care about values that sustained private relationships (except those few people who do have decent feelings and minds) nor a public sphere that exists to exploit, amuse, and above all, keep people in their place by intimidation. Our inadequate spy was after all intimidated. His great act was not to tell what he found out, what he saw or was said to him, not that it was of any value.

Oh yes turn off all cell phones and beepers lest you interrupt what’s going on. And I wanted to say, it’s been engineered to be this way, people; the playwright has omitted all those types making huge sums of money off war, by keeping all their income and cutting off all social services and useful jobs from others. Why did we not see the people behind the curtain or wall in the laboratory who’ve been at it so successfully for the last 35 years.
I suppose we did see one of these people a couple of weeks ago at a play done at the Scena (gentrifying area in DC) about Mrs Thatcher which starred her (Nanna Ingvarsson, a superb actress),Sink the Belgrano by Stephen Berkoff — how a bunch of the flunkies who live well destroyed thousands of people to the cheers of the newspapers and fools.

Ingvarsson was brilliant; the problem was there was no delving into Mrs Thatcher; it was repeatedly just her hard mean act. The ultimate hollow woman? femme fatale?

The senselessness of the mass murders at Belgrano gets a dark mirror of wild high jinks in improbable frequences and does entertain the audience more.

I did say the building this play, improbable frequencies, was held in was empty, didn’t I? Did I also say there are many spanking new buildings around this part of DC filled with modernistic (high windows) empty rooms … with computers everywhere. We could see the railway station from the walls of windows on one side of the floor we were on. I didn’t say that our escorts who took upstairs by elevators were two women in black suits or mannish clothes and 1940s style hats. The audience room was chairs around little tables as in a cabaret (only no drink or snacks, alas). There was a kind of mock-strip tease with a woman got up in glitter and feathers for an intermission.

We got in for half-price, $40 altogether for the three of us, not much more than a movie could cost all three of us nowadays. People come to these Irish things because they are gay on the surface. Only Friel (bless him) preaches.


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Henry James, a photo (1897)

This is not the effete young man, or the tired weary old guarded bland one, but an imposing solid guy, distinctive, intense, modern looking too without being (as he is in another) crumpled. Look at the powerful thigh, the stub of a cigar and flat cap.

Dear friends and readers,

When we finished reading James’s Roderick Hudson on Trollope19thCStudies, two of us had enjoyed ourselves enough to want to go on to read more of James’s works, biographies of James, more criticism. We lit on Fred Kaplan’s biography, The Imagination of Genius, read it through and have now gone on read two short stories, “The Middle Years” (autobiographical) and “The Turn of the Screw” (ghost gothic).

I hope to show that while Kaplan’s lengthy biography is admirable, perceptive, at once rich in so many details and perception, yet it’s still less than satisfying. Its subtitle: “The imagination of genius” is inappropriate. Precisely because Kaplan does not go into the books as art and remains literally on the surface of the letters, his book ultimately fails to convey a sense of a full person. He pretended to (or did believe) James was totally celibate; and — very bad, great lack — he didn’t begin to go into James’s imaginative and travel and critical writing sufficiently.

I also want to show (I’ll do this on Reveries under the sign of Austen) that at the center of The Turn of the Screw is a novella of a young woman forbidden by her employer to seek his aid, who is beset, terrified, harassed by the ghosts and teased by the children: where were we? The theme: the evil moral panic can wreak.
Chapters 1-2

Henry James when young

I began Kaplan’s Henry James: Imagination of Genius this morning and found I could read it, and more, I like it. He’s trying to recreate the inner worlds that James knew as a boy (and presumably as one continues) young man to account for what we find in the novels. Kaplan begins with a large get-together, one with plenty of food. What does it feel like to a young male heir: Kaplan opens with James at age 21, at age 29, and then dying, each as a vignette of what James is contemplating: he wants praise and money at 21; at 29 he’s made his way to Venice, to Italy, and (using quotations again) dreams of a handsome Italian boy rising from Adriatic waters, and then all the burning of stacks and stacks of letters, the nervous breakdown and illness at WW1, stroke.

Many of the vignettes of people remind me of characters in James without Kaplan saying so. We are perhaps expected to see that on our own. So there is Roderick Hudson in Henry James’s senior’s refusal to chain himself down to a business life, and instead his years of drinking heavily, his failure at an art life but success at a personal one.

Immersed in the US until he was 12 and then immersed in Europe, detached from all, not placed inside communities and the mother allowing all this. Bob, one of the two un-literary brothers ended an alcoholic.

That James did not “take to change, especially when it threatened values and ways of life that he believed had permanent value” (p. 5).

Kaplan shows Henry James Senior’s moving was a deliberate and effective method of isolating his children and controlling them. Thus when they did make their way in Newport, finding friends, going to schools, he moved them back to Europe and they were desolate. Newport was acceptable because its middle class was of the gentry fringe type — no successful comparisons in other walks of life to compare to Henry Senior’s. It’s obvious to an intelligent person from the letters what he’s about and Kaplan quotes these. William begged to be able to go to school, to college, and Henry Senior wouldn’t let him; ditto for Henry Junior. On one level, Henry Senior was against the kinds of friends the two older boys were making (aesthetic, painting), but a deeper one was they were developing integrated lives very different from his own.

As to the mother, he apparently simply wiped the floor up with her. Aunt Kate was the only force opposed.

When they got to Europe though the boys were too old to just take it, and while there is no record of this, the failure of the schools there (as it’s said in the letters) drove the father back — probably open complaints. One visitor described quarrels at the table about other things, but there are ever subtexts.

So all returned to Newport where still Henry Senior refusing to pay for college for the older boys, and trying to force patterns he approved of on the younger.

Meanwhile Alice, the girl is left at home — to stew I suppose.

Alice James, much later in life

I’ve read Kaplan’s book on Whitman (also a homosexual writer) and one (but a while back) on the letters between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: all three show the same kinds of insights.
Chapters 3-5

Minny Temple

It’s hard to do justice to the compelling brilliance of the third and fourth chapters of Kaplan’s book. It’s not sterile and not suave. For example where Kaplan explains the attraction of Minnie Temple for James (pp. 77-78). The quality of insight, general reach of evaluative critique, choice of quotation from James are stunningly insightful plus give this reader great pleasure in the integrity of outlook Kaplan himself displays. The candor of the chapter on the illness of these four adults and the lack of enough money from the father equally well done.

Still a gap, or a hole begins to emerge. Kaplan offers no real explanation for how these young adults became so fucked-up. Was it keeping them apart? But so many people don’t integrate into society nor their children well at all. This is the dirty little American secret so insistently hidden in popular media (but seen in intelligent blogs and postings and websites seen on the Net at long last).

I take it the father covered his tracks and so did the mother and the James children were brought up so repressed and pious, they couldn’t get themselves literally to write down what was said and done when they were in their adolescence beyond this obvious pragmatic intense control and repression.

Henry escapes — goes abroad in Chapter 4. Henry seems the least maimed of this band of children — William will emerge later once he marries and escapes. I read into the early phases of Henry’s time abroad and how he needed and was dependent on conventional family friends — like the Nortons. By contrast, Trollope went to taverns and bars and so on by himself in his young adult hood in London but then Trollope was a native.

The frankness of Kaplan extends to Henry’s constipation. I feel for him. None of our modern day pills was available to him, no MaxExLax, no docusate calcium.

And the homosexuality or homo-eroticism of the young James and his first stories and interpretations of these connecting to James’s rivalry/love for his brother good too. I did like Flowers seeing how the supposed noble souls in James do much damage (that include Rowland)., but the kind of reverse readings (where female characters stand in for males) and story as metaphor (where the story line is re-morphed into what is going on in James’s life) is not easy to do and to write lucidly on top of it.

In Chapter 5 James forced home for lack of funds; uncertain time, but beginning to make enough money to live on (with a little help from father) and he, his sister, Alice, and their aunt Kate set forth again, this time the rationale Alice’s health. They are mistaken for husband, wife and mother and Henry doesn’t mind. Alice and Kate return, leaving Henry who’s career is slowly growing, as he writes for The Nation and other venues and produces one novel (Watch and Ward, what a mess) and several stories.

I don’t envy these young people. I know they are among the privileged elite of their time, fringe elite, precariously privileged, but well above the driving necessitous lives of most people then — and in the US increasingly now as the middle class is now grindingly beginning to be visibly destroyed. Rather they remind me of my students in this light: the years of our 20s are very hard, because we are trying to find ourselves, and in a way are placed will we, nill we. The horizon at 36 has closed to a large extent for many so the pressure is on. For women this is complicated by a perceived demand we marry — for men too though it’s less for both than it once was. It is scary and it is hard and I feel for my students as who knows what to do, or what choice will matter.

I do see them as maimed. Far from envying, I wonder just what really went on in that household. The mother was either dense or covered her “ass” and manipulative or (one can find different explanations) complicit with the father as not only was it easier but alone in their rooms who knows what kinds of deep unpleasantness he could pull off. I think of Mrs Harlowe in Clarissa — in her complicity. I used the phrase “fucked up” as an allusion — to Larkin’s poem. It has some fame. Perhaps Linda will think it harsh too, but he means to make us look at the raw power of our parents’ terrible hangups and miseries and how they pass them on to us, will they nill they. Here it is:

“This be the Verse” by Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

By alluding to this I meant to suggest also we cannot know really what the grandfather handed on to Henry Senior — beyond Kaplan’s attempts to show him to have been a driving commercial relentless ruthless man. Of the grandmother we are as usual confronted with silence. Another women not allowed to have a history of her own.

Minnie did die young and while she is presented as cheerful, the paragraphs I pointed to configure an attitude which remind me of Milly in Wings of the dove. I don’t know if Linda has read that one: it ends with the heroine not just near dying but turning her face to the wall rather than see the betrayal and (humiliating) use that has been made of her by Kate and her lover (I forget this male’s name but he is a type repeated in James). The key Kaplan felt was the strong integrity Minnie held to. At the same time Kaplan critiques this ideal as coming out of a stereotyped view of women that represses them sexually, something handed on (as in Larkin’s poem) to Henry junior from his father (again pp. 78-79). Minnie was ever dying in James’s mind and he knew her letters were gallantry.

We are told that with Fanny Kemble he developed an “intimate friendship”. Kemble wrote two long autobiographies, a powerful book on slavery as she experienced as a mistress of an adulterous cruel master-type, many poems and once she divorced this man and was forced to give up her children to do it, lived an unconventional life — she couldn’t manage the stage so performed privately pieces from Shakespeare, in many ways a much harder way to survive (rather like Kate Field’s lecture-performances).

I was touched by his friendship and intense liking for Fanny Kemble. Me too

“To Mrs Norton”

I never shall forget thee — ’tis a word
Thou oft must hear, for surely there be none
On whom thy wondrous eyes have ever shone
But for a moment, or who e’er have heard
Thy voice’s deep impassioned melody,
Can lose the memory of that look or tone.
But, not as these, do I say unto thee,
I never shall forget thee: — in thine eyes,
Whose light, like sunshine, makes the world rejoice,
A stream of sad and solemn splendour lies;
And there is sorrow in thy gentle voice.
Thou art not like the scenes in which I found thee,
Thou are not like the beings that surround thee;
To me thou art a dream of hope and fear;
Yet why of fear? — oh sure! the Power that lent
Such gifts, to make thee fair, and excellent;
Still watches one whom it has deigned to bless
With such a dower of grace and loveliness;
Over the dangerous waves ’twill surely steer
The richly freighted bark, through storm and blast,
And guide it safely to the port at last.
Such is my prayer; ’tis warm as ever fell
From off my lips: accept it, and farewell!
And though in this strange world, where first I met thee,
We meet no more — I never shall forget thee.

—– Fanny Kemble

Chs 5-7: the career and life style begins to emerge

DeVere Gardens, London — it took a long time before James could afford to rent an apartment in this place, but eventually he did and lived there

In these chapters James moves from Paris to London, partly because he could not “break” into Parisian society. We see him do just that in London, and as he does so, his career and life style begin to emerge. He is writing for the Tribune, for Howells, and others, and (as will continue) his work is not sufficiently appreciated — yes, for an elite taste, but it doesn’t sell widely enough, and he finds he needs his father’s letter of credit more than he wants to. He remains thinking of himself as an American abroad. The chapters also take you through the writing of Roderick Hudson and The American and in quick thumbnail sketches they are somewhat attached to James’s life.

I say somewhat because not only in both cases but in Kaplan’s discussion of James’s life there is a real silence about his homosexuailty. Kaplan was openly able to translate the earlier stories into parables connected to James’s life but not these two books. This discretion makes the book duller and with less insight much less when it comes to Roderick Hudson. For the American Kaplan allows himself “Henry wanted to assert strongly that the individual was more important than the family, that personal achievement should have priority over social inheritance or structure” (p. 163). I did like Kaplan’s insight into James’s fantasies of forgiveness: Kaplan finds in Jame’s fiction “a deeply restrained anger.” On the surface this unreal adherence to believing his family really thought of him as an “angel” and people really forgive one another but below the rage not confronted. Kaplan feels James moves away from seeing how power to be felt and enjoyed must be exerted. I wonder about that myself. Must it? If so, then action must be cruel to satisfy people? Does that explain why continually in the political world we see the powerful trying to axe the powerless even when whatever it is is no skin off their backs? But I do think James does show lurches for power: what else is Rowland spending his money for but to work Roderick as a puppet. That’s put harshly but it has accuracy.

Paul Joukowsky

We are told James fell in love briefly with Paul Joukowsky and get two franker pages (pp. 171-72). It’s apparent that James continues to buy into seeing a lived-out free homosexual life as disgusting and offensive, and this can to some extent justify Kaplan’s reticence (as James was reticent), but not discussing this in terms of the fiction or his moods and tones in the fiction or his life. His mother describes his life as reclusive and that’s not contradicted by Kaplan. My comment is the ironic one that even so (as I said) I found the academic reviewers excoriating him.

James’s not so kind comments about Anthony Trollope are quoted Trollope kept a strong carapace in public himself. I note how much James liked Turgenev. I’ve read very little of Turgenev’s fiction — this past year a story or so, late at night, very dark indeed.

James then writes a series of masterpieces: Europeans, The Portrait of a Lady are two.

Ralph Touchett (Martin Donovan), Jane Campion and Laura Jones’s 1986 The Portrait of a Lady, produced by Steve Golin

Kaplan has situated and described the circumstances and (in his discreet way) the personal life James was living while writing his earlier distinguished non-fiction — the essays on French literature, French poetry, the book on Hawthorne, early travel pieces.

I was struck by how Daisy Miller sold precisely because it was misunderstood and the conversation about it then is the same one I’ve heard today here on the Net and among students. Did Daisy have sex with her cavaliere servente. If we go on to read further fictions by James we should remember his comment that he wrote so as not to be understood too well as “it would be dangerous” — as well as cut his sales even more drastically.

I love the choice of utterances, sentences and longer passages Kaplan makes. They bring before me on the page the sensibility that I am so drawn to in James. Kaplan unerringly quotes James’s finest humane moments — as well as the ironic ones. It’s funny how bad he finds the actors and actresses still cried up today.

I admire James so for soldiering on – he is making no or such painfully small sums. He write a masterpiece on American literature and culture and Hawthorne, called Hawthorne and is excoriated. He is underpaid; when a book sells, he has lost the copyright. I don’t blame him for not getting an agent. I have dealt with agents for other things on occasion, enough to corrode the soul for months. The rivalry between William and Henry bad. Constance Fennimore Cooper relationship develops and means deeply to both of them.

Occasionally Kaplan shows real limitations: in his reading of Washington Square he talks of the father as sincere, intelligent, &c — identifying with the father (who hates the girl) he misses the whole point. But also occasionally he is willing to bring in James’s homosexuality in a reading and the text is made sense of (p. 214, “Confidences”).

He carries on quoting aptly: James: “I should pretend to think just a little better of life than I really do.” (p. 228)

Henry James may seem and is doing very well with 7/8s of the population around him, but that’s not how he feels. People see themselves in comparison, and while it’s clear he sees and registers the abysmal poverty of the streets in Italy and London, he compares himself with his fellow writers and people of his class. Kaplan offers many stories, sets of pages and quotation after quotation and example after example of James being paid much less than he felt he should have gotten and saw as meagre sums. One example (pp. 216-18). Or when he was galled to find he has sold the copyright of a book which did after all sell very well and he got nothing in comparison to what he should have gotten. We are told how he leaned on the letter of credit from his father and how he had to write his mother for more.

There’s a biography of Trollope by R.H. Super where Super argues that Trollope had a good childhood and is himself seeing the things black. But if that’s how Trollope experienced it and that were his memories, that’s what counts.

I don’t see James as a loner so much as we have no record of what he did when not writing and not out to dinner. For good reason. He”s in love with this man Paul Joukowsky but we are not told how they meet or what they did; all that exists is an indirect passage in a letter where James recorded his moral distaste for the debauched groups of people Paul surrounds himself by — I take this as code for homosexuality. James was there and he wanted it all to be in good taste I assume. Rather like Rowland — people should control themselves in public too. At the end of Chapter 7 we are told he had fallen desperately in love — with Paris.

I don’t feel I’m getting to know James well enough. His statements are often vexed, disappointed, and hurt; there is much dark, sad desperateness which can explain why he said he has an “imagination” which dwelt on the “sinister” when it comes to the nature of human life at the same time (for him to marry would be to “pretend to think just a little better of life than I really do” — a typical utterance as he writes in high ecstasy of physical beauty in the places he visits. He seems to look to art for intense compensation.

I do miss more discussion of art: we are given thumbnail interpretations of some of the novels and short stories but only some. The talk is much more about the social circumstances of composition — very typical for modern biographers. And there is nothing about his essays on poetry or travel books. That would be lovely and probably make the book more cheerful.

Chapter 8: Felt triumph

Villa Brichieri, Florence (where James stayed and wrote)

His book Portrait of a Lady really appreciated, and he makes good money on it, indeed (Kaplan points out that James does not say this but he could have been seeing it) more than his father would take from his unearned property-income in a given year. He goes home on the wave of this success. He is in fact a man of letters, known across those parts of Europe his family and he understand and so care about, respected as a brilliant mind, fine writer. One of the reviews I sent yesterday summarized one chapter on the periodicals where it was said that James’s erudite small-audience kind of prose was a “plus” for those periodicals seeking to present themselves and make a place for themselves as belonging to finer literature and art.

When he looks about (comparisons again), he cannot help but see that he is succeeding at least as well as William and far better than Alice (who though has a woman companion-lover Katherine Loring) or the two younger brothers, one desperately depressed, the other now an alcoholic. And Henry could not have stood William’s kind of happiness, the last thing in the world that would sustain him is this heterosexual marriage with a conventional woman and children. He looks at his parents and sees them not as powerhouses any more: the mother shrunken, and now the father not all powerful at all. He’s growing up, freeing himself, a little.

There is such reticence in James that we feel this — we have a picture of a man who goes to his club for breakfast, dawdles about, then gets down to writing and in the evening socializes. Many details about this but it’s like a hole at the center. Not that I really think he was endlessly debauching himself; it seems that in fact he was super-discreet to the point that whatever sexual or private relationships beyond his business and social life and family he had were kept to a minimum, fleeting.

Some of this silence can be seen in the almost crazy worshipful way the mother was treated after death, like some kind of saint. Hardly likely. The father then starves himself to death for a year and leaves an unfair will — apparently partly through the influence of this Aunt Kate. I begin to wonder about some of these older dominating aunts we find in James’s fiction. Henry is the executor and has to fight William to get him to agree to fair distribution. The whole sordid spectacle is before us, but notably only general kinds of bleak pessimistic statements are uttered by Henry. That he did not admit his homosexuality is seen in letters quoted where he is explaining to someone why he doesn’t marry.

Among other things he could say he hasn’t the money for it. Again he is surviving by his pen, but he is endlessly being he feels cheated this and that way through his own bad guesses, business softness (or incompetence some would call it). We see these attempts to write plays and how they failed and general statements about how appalling was his meeting with this or that manager. The comparison of this with “Henry James Leaves Home” by Colm Toibin brings out the comparison between the two kinds of texts and the living person fully brought out in incomparably in Toibin’s favor.

Not that I’m not learning a lot: for example how James came to write A Tour in France, the circumstances, the money, what he enjoyed and what was so ennui to him. But it’s something beyond one desires in biographical art.

Genius, Chapter 9

James’s close friendship with Edith Wharton came later in life

Not much to say as I didn’t get much further (just a bit): only that I feel the book’s spirits lifting as James’s spirits lift. He is still making painfully small sums in comparison to what he sees others of his caliber and reach make, still then using his inheritance, but he is now it seems free. He has at least freed himself because of his parents’ death and the settlement of the estate.

Wilky dies but he doesn’t get there. Still of the five children he does seem to have become the most responsible. It’s true monetarily and as far as respect and achievement goes, William is catching up or has, but I am impressed by Henry James’s real decency in divvying up the property and his friendships. He seems to me becoming a figure of honesty and integrity — how it must’ve hurt to have to despise his own sexuality and keep it a secret. We cannot fathom it until we begin to imagine analogous experiences of our own … Then one understands aspects of his fiction better too.

How generous are the photos, and how many and how revealing. James not only lived into the photo era, he was a member of groups who took camera pictures of themselves. Kaplan says he didn’t like how he looked, but he did let people photograph him. Also the other people, the places — they are well chosen. It’s worth it to slowly linger through them — like a story.

It’s the same story still. Kaplan has the eternal problem of the biographer: he is hampered by the letters or can’t readily go beyond them, and they are apparently filled with talk about the money James is not getting and what he got, and how he was not treated right and so on. He sticks with the American versus British (Europe v US) contrast and it comes home to him all the more because he gets caught (stuck) by the way the publishers on two sides of the ocean take advantage. Happily though he has enough to settle into his first home, an apartment of his own at De Vere Gardens, London, with a good view (ahem) and is very cheered: “a moment of euphoria and fulfillment — the lifelong wanderer with a place of personal rest” (p 297)

Not so about the continual failure of his books to please a wide audience. He makes his money on short stories. It’s true the way Kaplan describes the book (Bostonians) makes them not very likable. They do have some real politics about socialism, and even James doesn’t discuss it in his letters, it is there — especially The Princess Casamassima which I remember.

I like Stevenson and am glad to see Kaplan show their friendship and shared concern with art (p. 276-77). But Stevenson couldn’t stay put, a wanderer who really did wander.

Kaplan comes out on the side of James as repressed: he did not act out his homosexuality nor did he think of himself as a homosexual. We have to remember the word comes in the 1890s in a medical sex book (I think it was). We have a different vocabulary, much more secularized (we don’t include damning people through Biblical connotations as in the world “harlot”) I was struck by this when reading James’s thoughts about Wilde (p. 301) and also how Kaplan describes the strong homo-eroticism of the tales of this era — very like Roderick Hudson apparently. Kaplan will describe a short story in terms that allegorize (interpret) it as homoerotic or sexual and then back off to tell us how James distanced himself — often by making a gender change so the person he’s identifying with is a woman.

The way Kaplan described “The Pupil” gave me pause. A young boy dies at the end; this is what happens in Turn of the Screw. I can’t find it now but the sense of the passage was James was expressing his deep sympathy with this boy out of an outsider sexual orientation. Was this what happened in Turn of the Screw? Are we to see the boy punished for having had sex with Quint and how unfair that is? (that he should have been exploited, expelled and then die of a heart attack). Then we get the humane use of language about his sister, Alice; he is telling the aunt maybe even if it’s not “so good for Alice” to have Katherine with her; there is no such thing as the long run. What nonsense to have to talk this way in the first place (p. 277). There were two in the family who were GLBT.

His attempt to break into the theater

Guy Domville (Act III, Marion Terry and George Alexander)

These chapters are on James’s attempt to succeed on stage and deaths, many deaths. They are very moving. I think perhaps Kaplan in repeating the idea that James’s problem was he was determined to write down is misguided. James may have said that but it seems to me he was determined to write differently because he know the angle at which he pitched his fiction was not external; he didn’t write Ibsen plays because his point of view was not modern in Ibsen’s way at all — he is anything but for women’s liberation. Guy Domville shows a man writing autobiographically about what is near his heart and using metaphors that draw from learned reading.

Clearly James had enough money but he didn’t think so; what a throwing away of himself one might say. I wonder if he was intensely stirred by the social interaction.

From death to death, and the portraits of each of the people (Browning, Stevenson, Fanny Kemble, Alice James, and finally Constance Fennimore). In each case I’d like to make the point that what’s so stirring is Kaplan’s presence his voice.

We haven’t been talking enough about the biography as art. In the biographies I wrote about over the last couple of years (Nokes’s, Sutherland’s, McCarthy’s, Plessix-Grey) I stress the biographer and the interaction for that’s what makes the book. Nick tells me he’s reading Glendining on Trollope: what makes her book singularly interesting is her take, her prose, her world view interacting and impinged upon.

We’ve been talking as if this is somehow coming at us from some impersonal place. I do this because 1) I don’t know enough about Kaplan to have a sense of him (as I did Nokes and Sutherland) or the subject (as I do of Trollope, Scott, Anna Barbauld) and this is deep stuff — unlike Plessix-Grey who on the face of her book was clearly inadequate, shallow.

And 2) Kaplan piles so much in. This is a hard-worked book so every sentence is thick with James’s wonderful quotations. So Kaplan keeps himself the shaper who is more silent.

Still he came out in these chapters. Death brings out the commemorator and celebrator in him. He gives us a sense of each person as so precious and how terrible to lose them. Like James, he has no sense of an afterlife — and he has James thinking this way.

I don’t know that I’m getting a lot about the fiction in this book. Probably not. I do know that the egregious reviews which castigated it as making James a gay man (and how they couldn’t stand this) are absurd and misrepresenting the book. James is not all that different in activity thus far than Edel had him. It’s only that Kaplan continually leaves rooms for what we have no documentation for and a wanderer whose sexual orientation is so different and his dreams; for Kaplan though the sex is only one aspect of what made James a man alone amid so many friends, associates, people who respected him (rightly).

If I’m liking James, it’s Kaplan that’s doing it.

Chs 12-13

Constance Fennimore Woolson

I’ve gotten into 13 and found myself a wee bit put off by James’s reiteration of how little money he makes — yes from books, but he’s got a fine income if he can purchase Lamb House in Rye, a central house in the area, built 1723, place for long established upper class people to live.

I was struck by James’s intense grief over Woolston’s death and how he rowed out into the middle of the lagoon and threw her black dresses into the water and they all came up to the surface and bobbed about him. He was doing public penance. It was a ritual public humiliation and how he hated these black dresses. The account of her independent but lonely life was moving: she must not have been sane at the end, though.

I am myself sceptical about James’s celibacy. I see there’s no evidence for sexual interaction but by the nature of the case there would not be. I’m impressed by how he got hold of and burnt all his letters to Woolston, how he burns others. There young men come to live at Lamb house for extended periods.

Hendrik and Andreas Anderson (painted by the latter): Hendrik was one of a group of young male friends of James’s

The nights are long and silent and tell nothing. He keeps the Smith couple despite their alcoholism and negligent ways. There’s one photo of James where he sits in a chair so crumpled: to me that’s a man returned from a tour of the streets.

I had not thought that James’s behavior in that lagoon might make some people laugh at him. It becomes even more painful to me to contemplate then. That moment in the theater when he (innocent still) came out on stage after the playing of Guy Domville to be hooted and jeered and the target of catcalls — at the same moment as other groups in the house frantically applauded, stomped and so on — I imagine it never left his consciousness quite, burnt into his brain. So too perhaps this scene which he engineered himself.

I had not thought of Kaplan’s interpretation of the Turn of the Screw at all. Henry is the little girl, and William Miles; Miles is (as I thought) expelled for homoerotic adventures with other boys, having been taught by Quint. The governess Aunt Kate. It’s too pat. Nor do I see Homosexual panic in it — rather it’s a defense of pederasty and of boys having sex. I see James identifying with the governess in her repression (so that is the side he writes the letters out of where he decries open debauchery) but also with those the governess is so appalled and horrified by, the stud Quint (having sex with Miss Jessel who killed herself) and the master and Miles too. He got around. Quint is the Stanley Kowalski from Streetcar that Tennesse Williams so loathed and feared first created by James: the man who would destroy him. In that sense homosexual panic.

I had thought Maisie knew all.

I thought I’d begin with this line, as indicative of so many passages paraphrased by Kaplan so one can see how the book is an interaction of Kaplan and James:

“He could think of nothing more wasteful, more brutal, more detestable, more personally soul-shaking than people killing one another in an organized way.” p 432

On politics this is James utterance; “The crudity of the struggle for place is … mainly what strikes me. It isn’t pretty.” p 432

I mentioned how two of the reviews online available to me (there were not that many) excoriated this book for its flagrant “making up” (mandarin words for this) of James’s homosexuality. I’m still thinking about this as I read paragraphs where Kaplan has written comments like “In various forms, many of them disguises, such a retreat frmo overt sexuality had been central to James’s life …” Kaplan insists — to me improbably — that weeks of visits from people like the very sensual sexy Hendrik Anderson results in no physical sex (for example, p 452). Of course we have no photos, of course they didn’t write it down. Rather I imagine something painful like having sex very quietly at night and then returning to separate rooms and never ever discussing it. So I am guessing that the reviewers who were so offended had the reaction I’m having: Kaplan is pretending to assume celibacy to sell widely all the while giving us huge skeins of evidence which suggest otherwise. Not wild debauches, but covert sexuality – and alas self-hatred.

Which leads me to say I have never been able to understand why the hatred of sexual interaction between people of the same sex. So what? Biblical and other injunctions are the outside rationales for gut fears but there are other fears — like of the dead which result in myths about vampires and of old women which result in burning old women as witches. This one lives on. Statistics show repeatedly that say anal intercourse occurs frequently between heterosexuals as do other forms of sex. One might argue that the only difference is the cultural deformations imposed by large groups of people in various places.

I finished the book in the early hours of this morning. As I think about it, I find it a dissatisfying or frustrating book. I honestly don’t think the general outline Edel erected years ago is changed. More pieces are put into the puzzle: we are told the names of James’s young male lovers/friends, how often they stayed; we are told more of his moving about, and I dare say a much better choice of passages by James, much better maybe – this book is packed with quotations, some pages are sheer pastiche.

The choice really gives us a sense of an acutely alive person. When he died, I felt his agony at this annihilation made its progress across his body, then mind, and then whole being. But repeatedly there are lines in the quotations totally at odds with the general sense of the man at the given point offered by Kaplan. So we have these long passages practically chortling with joy as James visits friends in the US and travels; they register so beautifully (to allude to one of his favorite ironic words in the novels) the quality of his experiences, the details of what he perceives physically, viscerally, his deep ethical horror at much in human life (e.g., the war). But then there’s this line about his ‘deep bitterness’ out of nowhere, unexplained and out of kilter with the rest. This happened repeatedly.

Also Kaplan’s discussions of James’s writing are short and really most of the time are simply read autobiographically. If he did this to save space and write a compact book or because he knows that “lit crit” is not what sells and not what publishers want, it leaves a huge hole in his book. Why are we interested in James if not what he says to us generally too? Why his books are beautiful? What he thought of other authors, art.

So on the whole while this may at this point be the best on offer that’s concise, and miles better than the Plessix-Grey sort of thing. It’s not cant, Kaplan has not produced a book of cant or stupidities and has not himself written on behalf of or out of the perspective of the privileged order to which James belonged as if it were reality for us all. But it’s not a satisfying book. When you finish a book on Austen and feel you are no closer, well the papers have been destroyed most of them and she produced but 6 novels and all of them censored to be a lady’s books and not displease her family on whom she was dependent.

But this is not the case with James at all. We’ll rely on HD TV.

I find it moving that at the end of his life Jame is finally saying to hell with a wide audience and writing the last three masterpiece novels. How he hurried back to Lamb House and the depiction of him on, writing long letters with “his little dog breathing softly by his side.” And “He found the world an increasingly brutal, violent place. He often felt lonely.”

I was struck in these last chapters how much Henry James relied on people who were not his family members; how uneasy and miserable his brothers at the close made him, and how his brother’s wife took over his existence and body to the point of removing a faithful long time servant who when Henry James was able to exert his own consciousness was close to him. William’s wife thought she owned him, body and all, to the point of disobeying his last desires and returning his ashes to the US. James’s relationships with a group of young men were all intimate in the letters in what they reveal of their souls and emotions to one another and they were a great solace for this man in his later years. Not enough. No, for they too were caught up in the same order of scorn. I do agree on how James loathed what humanity did in WW1. His friend, Edith Wharton, too and she worked hard to relieve suffering with her huge amounts of money.

This is an admirable but unsatisfying biography. After I wrote my last last week I thought to myself the title is inappropriate: it’s precisely that Kaplan does not go into the books as art and remains literally on the surface of the letters that the problem with the book lies.

People were not ontologically different from today nor did they withhold themselves from having sex any more than they do today. They wrote it down much less; it was far more dangerous. As today in public people tell many lies and present guarded versions of their lives so then even more so. Also that there no general mind (or will) at any time. Of course there is no documentation of what literal sex life and what James did with many of his hours; it would be deeply against his interests to write this stuff down clearly. What is astonishing is how much there is. Sedgwick credits James with beginning homosexual literature. Oh yes before him we do during freer period find poems by men to others they love (Shakespeare, Michelangelo), from the Renaissance on pornography begins to last (Aretino), the later 17th century is rich in documentation of lesbianism as reflected in conventionalized poetry too, but nothing as realistic or aware of the pain of being despised as James. That’s what’s so new, the self-reflexivity of placing the self against the conventional society — Shakespeare doesn’t do that nor Aphra Behn (who writes lesbian poems). Roderick Hudson is an important landmark first in this.

James late in life, in front of Lamb House, Rye, Sussex


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Jonathan and Helena given permission by his dead wife for them to fall in love; Helena and her daughter, Sally, Helena sprouting her fortune-tellers most recent consoling prophecies and advise

Dear friends and readers,

The power of You will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, an absorbingly persuasive film throughout, is felt strongly, stunningly in its last moment. In order to explain and critique, evaluate the movie, I tell the ending right away so perhaps it would be better if you are interested in reading this, to come back and read it after seeing the movie.

Above you see on your left its closing still: Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), an aging occult bookstore owner, and Helena (Gemma Jones), also aging deserted wife and apparent fervent believer in Cristal (Pauline Collins) her fortune-teller’s predictions have been given permission by his dead wife to become lovers, live together, whatever. They sit together on a park bench.

He reached his beloved now dead wife through the services of his spiritual medium. She has assured him he and Helena will be happy. Now we know this is all utter delusion, and from all we’ve seen know they will probably not live happily ever after together, but our faithful narrator (Zak Orth) says what does it matter, if they have this moment here, now (words to this effect). And the credits roll.

In the occult bookshop

The curtain has been pulled down not at a moment of reconciliation or resolution but with everyone else’s story in the kind of immediate misery and disarray Jonathan and Helena were in a moment or so ago (before they had permission and were breaking up).

Sally (Naomi Watts), Helena’s daughter has finally left her failure of a husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), man with a medical degree who never practiced, chauffeur who crashes cars, man who wrote one novel which sold to a publisher and did well with readers, and has been writing ever since, trying hard, but not been able to convince any of his ever-so-debonair and savoir faire editors to publish another since. Sally wanted to open up her own art gallery after freeing herself from her boss, Malcolm Dodds (Alex McQueen). Sally hoped to lure Malcolm into becoming her lover; in a painfully real scene, he has refused.

She blenches as he politely refuses her

She is also utterly dependent on a promise of funds from Helena, her mother. Suddenly the mother refuses: Cristal has told her the starts are not propitious. There’s no reasoning with Helena who has an odd look in her eye about the money. It is a great moment for suddenly Sally calls her mother an imbecile and fraud, and her mother says, but dear, you were so on the side of Christal (as in the touching moment on the right topmost picture on the blog where Helena is telling so faithfully what good lies in store for them all). So Helena blurts out, strong, demanding, angry, desperate, all along she had been pretending to believe in the mother to make her feel happy. But Sally now needs that money. Helena doesn’t want to cough it up.

Similiar moment of refusal: Alfie has been asking her to come back to him, and she says no, Christal would be against it

Roy is now living with Dia (Frieda Pinto) who he was first attracted to as a woman undressing before a window across the way from his and Sally’s apartment.

Roy and Dia

Dia gave up a good husband, broke her engagement on the weekend a huge wedding was to take place, on the supposition Roy is a gifted man. We know he has stolen the manuscript of a friend, Henry Strangler whom Roy supposed dead. When last seen he is walking away from the hospital where Strangler is alive, and coming out of a coma precisely upon the information coming through about Roy’s new novel, Stangler’s own. Roy looks like someone considering throwing himself in front of train.

Roy walking away from hospital

Aflie Shepherd (Antony Hopkins), the aging ex-husband of Helena who left her, now faces Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the super-sexy young dumb but good-natured ex-prostitute who he married, doted upon, who has spent an enormous part of his money.

Charmaine, an epitome

Alfie had caught her fucking with her young trainer, been beaten by said trainer (despite Alfie’s age). He wants out and she has said she is pregnant at long last. He can replace the son he had with Helena who died so long ago. He is livid and says, Is it his son? At first she insists it is, but when she sees he has understood she had been having affairs with a number of men, says “So what?” She begs Alfie to be cheerful, not angry, would like to keep her end up (even if he is so boring and old and she forgets her better gratitude). Maybe this is the best moment in the film. At any rate it’s highly characteristic, for Alfie replies, I do care, it does matter, I want him to be my son. Very intense. His and Helena’s unhappiness began when their son died. There’s much to be said by each for each’s point of view.

How did they get there? Like chess pieces on a board, slowly.

The movie opens with Sally with Rob, disappointed but bearing up, sensible (except she wants a family which in the context of this movie’s characters is only increasing mad people). Here they are looking at Alfie, Sally’s father and his fiancee:

Meeting the new bride

Dia is doing her Ph.D. in musicology (this is another of Allen’s films where all the characters have high art, high culture occupations, and while they talk about money problems, they never give anything up for lack of it), waiting to marry her respectable honest loving moneyed young man

Meeting Rob

Alfie is running and exercising with his friend, having refused to live the life of an near invalid Helena proposed

Dad strolling with Sally as his daughter, about to show her a present he wants to buy his prospective girlfriend

Helena has rightly thrown off her psychiatrist, who charges her enormous sums, insists she take this awful medicine and conform and be cheerful

How can a woman be cheerful whose husband has left her after 40 years; she has become dependent on him? she says to Cristal — who agrees

Sally has a new good job with a gallery owner, and walks with her friend, Jane (Fenella Woolgar) as they think of owning a gallery together in the future

Here Sally is picking good pictures for boss, artist nearby (boss’s mistress but Sally doesn’t know that as yet)

So how did they get into the mess they end up in? Well, all wasn’t really well to start with, and they keep making these unwise choices (Roy’s leaving Helena, Alfie marrying Charmaine, spending hugely to live in a hospital-like apartment overlooking the Thames, Dia breaking up with boyfriend, Roy appropriating Strangler’s ms), and either themselves outright lie to others (Roy lies to Dia and Sally, Charmaine lies to Alfie, Cristal to everyone but especially Helena) or act boldly based on a lie (Sally opening a gallery, Dia, Alfie again). Each of the choices is understandable but also disloyal to the person they are with.

This is a movie about embedded relationships that keep reeling round to now get worse and now get better. Everyone’s a fool, and some are knaves. It’s about delusions and how they get us through life but also destroy us. Virtue is not rewarded nor is there any connection between it and happiness. Sally, the most decent and sensible, ends up smashed. Things happen that are irretrievable: Helena will not return to Alfie, Charmaine can’t get unpregnant, Strangler is going to wake up and find his book has been appropriated. Everyone does not end up with less as Helena gets Jonathan at the end — if you think that’s a win.

At any rate Helena is happier at the end than in the opening scene where Cristal (Pauline Collins) has only begun to work her magic cards

As the ending is breathtaking so are some of the scenes’ dialogues and characters’ behaviors to one another, precisely because it’s so convincing. I can’t convey the complexity of the characters: they are as rounded as characters in novels, in a Bergman or Rohmer film. Beyond the persuasive talking, as in Allen’s Vicki Christina Barcelona (another similarly superb film which I wrote a blog about but it was destroyed by a virus), the heterodox daring of simply having a narrator tell the characters’ thoughts, comment on the action ironically, wryly provides inward depth to an ever active story line along with the different choices of music. Everyone is photographed so their bodies look like the sloppy ones (as far as possible – without de-glamorzing) most of us have.

The acting is unobtrustively effective. As Denby said in his New Yorker review of the film, Gemma Jones as a quivering and rudely direct brilliance; Lucy Punch is inimitable as an after all sweet dopey woman who has real personhood beyond her over-the-top sexuality. Naomi Watts is almost as central to the film as Jones, and provides a choral norm of frustration. Anthony Hopkins is the very smart man who is besotted because longing to retrieve youth and loss.

Here he is saying he made a mistake and saying he wants Helena back

Underlying it all is a great sadness.

Don’t miss it. It won’t uplift you. You won’t sit there stilled by emotion. The only lesson you’ll get is that you probably can’t or don’t profit from lessons.


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I return to my routs

A favorite fall picture: Camille Pissaro (1830-1903), Quai malaquais, Morning Sun (1903)

Dear friends who read this blog,

I thought I’d say that today I have finished both versions of my paper on the gothic in Northanger Abbey: a 31 minute version called “People that marry can never part:” an intertextual reading of Northanger Abbey” for JASNA at Portland, Oregon; and a 18-19 minute version called “The Gothic as Recovery in Northanger Abbey” for EC/ASECS in Pittsburg, Pa. I achieved the cuts by removing the sections which set the gothic patterns in NA in the context of Austen’s S&S, Emma and Persuasion, and slashing the fourth section of Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle to a tiny coda. The other three books I deal with are Genlis’s Countess of C******** (& 2 other gothics) in Adele et Theodore (1783); Charlotte Smith’s Montalbert (1795), and Anne Fuller’s The Convent, or The History of Sophia Nelson (1786).

I’m not quite through yet: tomorrow I will do myself the justice of changing what needs to be changed to obey conventions and send the longer paper to Persuasions. If they are willing to publish it, I’ll be proud. If not, sobeit.

Still I’m sighing with relief. This one has been a hard one for me: intertextual reading is hard to do. I did learn a lot about the gothic and have expanded my horizons and understanding of it considerably.

My hope now is to do less. Yes I’ve got stacks of student papers and midterms coming in this and next Friday, but now I have the time for them. My aim is to go slower. I’ll still work on projects towards publications because it gives me goals, meaning and a sense of “getting somewhere” for some kind of self-reward. My book-project on Austen films and my old idea of Bad Tuesdays in Austen will be my first two up. I’ve also promised a conventional review to be published of Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse in mid-18th century France by next May.

I want to relax more and also try other things, maybe to return to routs the way I used to follow them before the Net. Maybe this means stopping earlier and being relaxed about what I am doing. My good friend Nick phrased what I’m after well: “Something which you can go at your own pace on and is not so responsive too other people’s demands.” Yes. Especially that latter phrase.

I’d like to read more for myself. The problem is I don’t know what to read that way. It’s so haphazard and I find most descriptions of books don’t tell me what I want to know about them in order to choose which ones. Nothing in all the descriptions of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels (for example) let me know what is in the inner life and value of these books at all. Only a few truthful, able and genuinely ethical writers about their reading or experience of this or that artwork (including films) do this.

The lists have partly functioned this way all these years: they supply me with ideas for the next book (I need, want, try) to read.

I began two days ago by taking out time to make another blog on Austen films: I admit I am delighting in Lost in Austen: We must not reproach ourselves for our unlived lives.

Routs (by the way) is Daphne DuMaurier’s term for how she organized her life to find peace. For me it’s a way of keep my sanity and keep my deep sadness, loneliness at bay. I’ve had a couple of profound losses these past two years, and an ugly experience this past month: I allowed Queens College, CUNY, to fleece us: gentle reader, it’s one of the many badly and corruptly run institutions of this world and I advise you to stay away from it. They have $9600 of my money and I can’t get a dime back nor probably even an apology for what occurred. I did know it was a place for the unprivileged. I should have put it that the past history of being (in effect) for free still affects the way individual students are treated as cogs that must fit in the wheels of the powerful in the school with no concern for their well-being beyond them doing that. When I was 17 to 20, it was all that I could reach to help me escape from my wretched limited existence, and I did win a scholarship to go to England and found an alternative livable existence I have been able to endure and get some satisfaction from that way. Well, if I had forgotten or began to live under delusions (which the admiral accuses me of) about its behavior or attitude to its students, I will do so no longer.

I seek comfort but cannot find it but in absorbing my mind in aesthetic work.


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