Archive for July, 2011

Beatrice Cenci (Madeline Ruskin) at the Capital Fringe

Medea (Alexandra Deshorties) at Glimmerglass

all over so quickly–the shallow
affect to despise,
the wild destroy life, which both turn into
pure pain …
It makes no sense to think on these books or
tell old tales of the anguish of women …
Vittoria Colonna

Dear friends and readers,

For the last night of the Capital Fringe Festival and our one night at Glimmerglass Opera House (Cooperstown, NY) this year we found ourselves watching murderous, not to call them ferocious women whose stories fit with Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1797 The Wrongs of Women gothic novel. La Belle Parricide is also a kind of commentary on previous versions of the story (Shelley’s is the most notable), and Cherubini’s 1797 Medea is an 18th century she-tragedy turned into an opera.

Beatrice Cenci, said to be by Guido Reni

The five women (Lori Fischer, Monica LaForce, Alia Faith Williams, Luci Tyler, Rebecca Nesvet), who clubbed together to write five short plays under the title La Bella Parricide to retell the story of Beatrice Cenci from five angles insisted on how often the tale of Beatrice has been told, how it has drawn audiences from the time Beatrice (in this production played by Madeline Ruskin), her stepmother, Lucretia (Jacinda Bonaugh) and brothers bludgeoned to death their cruel, and incestuous father and were executed. Until now while images of Beatrice have occasionally been made by women,

Breatrice Cenci by Harriet Hosmer

all the plays have been by men, at least 12 of them, most famously, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

One part of the merit of La Belle Parricide is the plays tell the story from different women’s point of view without false sentiment. And what is most striking about the plays is the violence of the two women, their anger, their intense aroused sexual passions. They are victims unable to not to obey engaging in the most degrading lurid sex acts, at the same time that they refuse character assassination. Or if you must talk about them as bad, you are not allowed to turn your eyes away from the disgusting luridness, cowardice and just plain vileness of the men they were dependent on, had to cope with. Several reviews have summarized the different takes: from well before, to during, to a couple of hundred years after the crimes and executions (Izzy’s blog), to types of play (Hip shot), to different psychological insights (Washington Post review). The company was the same which did a brilliant ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore last year.

The auditorium was so full, the ushers were adding on chairs. The stairway up is narrow and old (stone), lighting not great, and the air-conditioning leaves a good deal to be desired. But all stayed the course, and the applause was strong.

As it was the last night of the fringe, and we were lucky enough to be round the corner from the Gypsy Tent (a central open air bar next to the building from which the fringe is run and where tickets are to be bought), we went over to watch the fun of the awards amid the friendly crowd. They were of all types: for critics, for admirable audience members (those who go to as many plays as time and the need to sleep and eat permit), volunteers, actors, playwrights, kinds of plays and events, and good-humored ones too. Jim and I had cold drinks, and we did try to dance the night away a little. Jim’s shoulder gave out though. The woman who runs the fringe and her assistant were central to the evening’s festivities. As Izzy says, we did not see any of the award-winners, probably because we went to all “high culture” type plays this time (rewritten Greek comedies, tragedies, a soap opera, a play about Picasso, sopranos) but we have a chance to extend our experience, for one of the winners will be playing at Woolly Mammoth Theater all August: a musical, Who’s your Baghdaddy, or how I Started the Iraq War.


Ancient images of Medea as sorceress

Now it’s not that we are blood-thirsty, or anxious to witness transgressive sex, parricides or infanticide, so I suggest there is more than a coincidence that the one older serious opera put on by Glimmerglass this summer was also about a famous murderous woman, Medea. A shortened version of Euripides’s great play was done last year at the Fringe, and far from sensational, these revivals are often remarkably moving (Fiona Shaw joined with Frederic Raphael at the Brooklyn Academy of Music recently). And again, though most who have written her story have been men, women have enacted and visualized her,

Evelyn Morgan (1855-1919), Medea

Glimmerglass in fact elected to do a sentimental version, one whose history of rewriting shows how vexed (and poor) the original playscript must have been. The music is by Cherubini, but the script is a melange of rewrites based on Corneille’s play (not Euripides at all).

Quite unexpectedly I found myself watching an 18th century she-tragedy turned into an opera; such plays often present transgressive heroines piously and so this one did. The opening act is pure filler (what Euripides omitted): we watch Jason (meant to be sung by Jason Collins, but an understudy did it that night) marry the virtuous Glauce (also supposed to be sung by Wendy Bryn Harmer, but actually sung by an understudy). The actor in the program notes tells us Jason is not so bad (“got worse than he deserved”) and certainly Cherubini falls for Jason’s hypocrisies (among them prudence). The second and third act of this opera are filled with long soliloquies by Medea which may be summed up as I want to kill my children, I don’t want to kill my children. Rather like someone plucking a flower, loves me, loves me not. All the raw details and fights of Euripides play — over the past, money, exile, are erased. The 18th century tragedy opera queen accuses Jason of loving this other woman and says over and over again how crushed she is. How unjust and unfair it all is. She weeps. By contrast, Euripides’ Medea takes Jason to be buying a convenient bride, seeking power, sex and so on and seethes with anger. She is a real woman and he one of the world’s success stories — how to network for example. In Euripides Jason gives Medea lessons on how to get along with the Creons of the world. She’s not listening though.

The tedium of this 1797 play was not relieved by the production. Wooden blocking and traditional outfits. From the date of the first version of the opera I take the play to be connected to the French revolution (not mentioned in the program notes) and to be meant to show sympathy for women. However ineffective today the language is intended to function as for women’s rights: Medea and her nurse are exemplary figures. I thought had the opera-makers dressed everyone in 1790s costumes instead of traditional garb, it might have had the right context. Maybe got Alexandra Deshorties (who sang Medea) up as Madame Roland or Olympe de Gouges? make her nurse into Charlotte Corday?

The lecturer beforehand never mentioned the French revolution; he never mentioned the story much, but went on about the music abstractly. Probably he was right about the music’s provenance and it had power but like the program notes which go on generally about Medea in history or legend detached from life, he evaded the subject of the opera, why it’s done. No one was thinking for real about the content of this legend nor this specific version’s content. It’s not from another planet.

It was not all loss. The best — and a fine long element in this version — is Medea’s relationship with her nurse, now her children’s nurse, Neris (Sarah Larsen). There are continuous duets and real sympathy between these women — beautifully sung that night. The applause after these was unforced. Jim thought the play was revived because Callas emoted through acts two and threee so successfully in the 1950s; when there were no subtitles, no one could see how lame were the sentiments. Since we don’t hear about who played the nurse to Callas, I must suppose modern audiences don’t think about these beautiful arias or who is on the stage in the 2nd and 3rd act. It seemed to me this was a play which enacted the 18th century theme of women’s friendship found in novels and poetry, a version of the mother-daughter pairs found in the gothics.

Glimmerglass is a beautiful building. It was blessedly cooler in New York than it has been in this astonishingly hot summer we’ve been having in the DC area (heat index one day 125 Fahreneit). There are lakes, nearby meadows, it’s refreshing to be there. We had a picnic supper and in the evening and following morning went for walks or just sat and watched a purling rill. We got into some good and fun talk with other patrons of the opera.

But to revert to the story of Medea as told by Euripides, Medea is a genuinely wronged woman who genuinely gets back at her craven despicable vile exploitative lover, Jason. He has refused to take her seriously, well when the play closes he can no longer dismiss her from his mind nor sneer. In the 1920s Virginia Woolf wrote that no thinking person can any longer simply vehemently condemn Clytemnestra, that contemporaries will in fact be on her side. Alas, I have not found that to be true, even Euripides’s Clytemnestra who is given most pity and rationale (in this play the focus is Agamemnon’s murder of Iphigenia) is often presented as a sheer witch.

Outside the world of plays, operas, movies, this summer has shown us that very little progress has been made by women when it comes to understanding or sympathy in sexual matters (I don’t address the others). This has been a summer of desolation in public court cases: this summer of desolation — from the women who were raped (a student by a fraternity, a Muslim cleaning woman, an office executive who phoned cops to help her) and got no justice (one had parents egregiously fined for litigating) to the woman who a jury acquitted of the accusation of murdering her two year old. In the case of the rapes the way evidence was allowed in (and not permitted) made it very difficult for the women to litigate, and when it didn’t, their personal lives were made the evidence against them. In the case of the woman accused of murdering her child, when the rules of evidence helped her we heard vicious howls — from women, mind, women.

So one might ask, why do these productions persist? My guess is a different group of people choose to mount the Beatrice Cenci productions than the mass of people who despise, dismiss, disregard and yes hate women (beyond Casey Antony, in some countries and cultures 90% women are still tortured all their lives by female genital mutilation and huge numbers of women snatched or trafficked). As to the Medea, it’s a war-horse, respected. Why write the material. Some did it for money, but not these 5 women nor Shelley.


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The Blue Fairy Book, compiled (and written by) Andrew Lang

Alice in Wonderland — in translation

Dear friends and readers,

I am come to the fourth and last blog on this conference. Today topics included the fantastical and imaginative (fairy books and math and Alice in Wonderland), just its seeming opposite, medical memoirs, and large handbooks whose entries and publication are fought over tirelessly because such huge amounts of money can be made by a few if the organizations can keep preventing universal non-profit medicine from going into effect. In effect the social targets for fantastical and fairy books brought before the listener how it was supposed children and their middle class parents were interacting with books, while medical books and the institutions which ignored, published or supported them showed us how an interested profession used books to fight over their territory and promote themselves, their science agenda, their careers.

A Sunday story. There was hardly any traffic on the way in, at noon the park outside the Dillon center was filled with people doing all sorts of things and the carousel nearby crowded with children.


“The Bronze Ring” from The Blue Fairy Book

Sunday morning I might be said to have fitted in two sessions each period since in both cases, I left 2/3s the way through one session and arrived at the second session where there was still 2/3s to go. In both cases the questions were good enough to elicit re-explanations of the papers. So I heard twice as much.

At 9:00 I went to “Utopia, Fantasy and Prophecy,” and heard a paper by Jennifer Gundry on how print culture (books, thoughtful high-minded doings) were regarded with suspicion and distrust in a selection of Utopias. The critics and reviewers (rightly) assault advertising, find slipping literary standards at each new technology or innovation; they indict the low quality of the new productions. Print has failed 19th and 20th century society. It would seem the only printed object valued is money. Sara Hines described the unexpected huge success of Andrew Lang’s series of “colored” fairy books; here there is a stronger nostalgic pull. With the success of the Blue Fairy book, Lang went on to compile (and write) the nostalgic notes. Critical writing and studies of folklore and fairy tales enables us today to understand him. (Probably translation studies ought to be brought in). Green came next, then a rainbow, then violet. Lang were first intended for the Christmas market; eventually they functioned as a poet manque for family rituals, gathering and creating time together.

I hurried out to a session on scientific and medical publishing. Sounds boring? Think again: Darwin is a central tract; so too Humboldt. I spend 1/3 of my course reading serious books on how medicine is practiced today. Jim Conor’s paper on “The Editing and Publishing History of Rural and Medical Care (1948) was of direct relevance to the essays I read with my students. This was not a how to book: name a condition and then offer treatments. Rather it is a book which describe and defines disease and has essays on aspects of the profession and its author was strongly for socialized medicine. Mr Conor told a story of a man who had continually to fight to get his book published, then respected, then distributed. Eventually it became enormously influential in Canada, in US minus the politics which (if I understood him correctly) were cut out. Jennifer Conor’s paper on a specific medical memoir by Gordon Murray enabled me to see how the medical establishment viewed the kind of scientific medical memoirs I’ve been assigning students for years. With respect. The specific one she discussed had problems that were never resolved, especially balancing autobiography and telling an appealing story with explaining technical cases in difficult language.

The interest of the Health Guide is how it became a lightning rod for political issues. The AMA and other powerful physician organizations were vigilant against anything smacking of socialism, and defining illness in ways that insurance companies want to control was seen as strongly socialist behavior. The AMA fought to suppress the book. Now its definitions are used by our local day coffee bar place. As to memoirs, they can teach ethical norms, and do well when they are beautifully written, like Atul Gawande’s Complications), and can reach a large layman audience. Jennifer Conor said a president of a respected college had had to resign recently because it was discovered he plagiarised his goodbye speech from Gawande’s Complications. The students had read Gawande and recognized the passage by checking the texts on their computers.

I got myself a coffee and then went to the mid-morning sessions. Marie-Claude Felton’s paper was “‘Je ne suis pas fou’: The Self-publishing journey of poorly-estimated scholars in the 19th century was a general history of statistics; she showed far more scientists managed to spread their work by self-publishing than is realized. Johanna Lilja told of an “indefatigible botanist” who persisted in the face of neglect, ridicule and misery; institutional norms destroyed him personally though much later in life he was done justice to. The paper was very sympathetic towards the institution and its problems and showed how it learned from this experience to cope with non-conformity. Susan Pickford began her paper by telling of what she called with any specific definition or defense “insane” scientists; she was going to talk about “outsider literature,” but I felt the use of such a blanket derogatory term (“insane”) unacceptable (like the use of “idiot” in Victorian literature for mentally disabled people) in scientific, medical (or humane) senses so quickly left.

I found I had just time to listen to two papers and heard a third discussed afterward from another session, “Play and Politics.” Manuela Mouraco and Margaret Stetz argued the children’s books he described were made with parents’ ideas and desires in mind; they taught children to fit in; encouraged certain kinds of socialization and interest in subjects that are career-worthy. Mouraco and Adam Trammell agreed the Keepsake and other annuals were intended to build an identity for the people buying them; they are books with a strong middle class bias and show nostalgia for the past.

In this session and an earlier one on librarians helping children to form reading groups in libraries, the idea was endorsed in the discussion time afterward that in a classroom socialization is as or more important than the topic taught. So that if math is being taught, the children should be made to do it in group settings. This reminded me of how the whole conference seems to value how books function socially for people, what intellectual stance they enable people to feel they belong to (or do). But what about the child who learns best alone and would learn far more about the topic if left to do so alone. He or she will be straitjacketed into first enacting a set of general social skills or be made to feel bad if he or she can’t (and perhaps graded on social capability rather thabn math). This set of values makes learning very hard for the disabled (e.g., autistic children). And it’s not just the autistic that such tactics in a classroom would stmy but many non-outward people. We do have inward growth as we learn academic subjects sheerly for themselves.

For lunch I sat with Elizabeth Starr on a bench in a lovely shaded area and we shared a sandwich, memories and goals. We hope to keep contact up. She has a student working on a biography of Jane Austen for younger readers and perhaps I could help.


The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, illustration by John Tenniel

The last session I attended was unexpected fun for me. It was on translating Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Clare and August Imholtz, a married couple of independent scholars and book collectors gave papers on different translations of Alice. Clare went over many kinds across the globe, and August concentrated on those just in Russian. Statistics of how many translations and where are impressive. Of course translation is bad at puns, and some of the word play and games that provide the experience we have of the text. They named particularly good ones (a Spanish one); August took us into the realms and suppositions of a Russian child.

Catherine Parisian then got up to tell us the history of Alice in Wonderland translated into Gregg and Pitman. How many Pitman’s, how many Gregg’s. It seems this was a way of teaching girls to read and to use phonetics. She knew I was in the audience and could read Pitman stenography and I did come up to the front to declare this text was Pitman and did not use vowels or the three line approach and the other was written precisely following the conventions. Stenography by hand is associated with women working in offices and we find it spread as soon as jobs were created: 1872 in the UK it’s said 6 women knew Pitman, in 1893 6000. Gregg grew exponentially from 1901 -1915. Alice was published in 4 systems: Callenders (1899, the 7th, Mad Tea Party chapter), Pitman (1908 and 1909), Gregg (1915) and Pitman again (1979, Chapter 7).

We discussed stenography as well as why the Alice books appeal so. We also discussed the real gender faultline in the uses of hand stenography in the first 3/4s of the 20th century. I offered my memory that in my high school class in 1963 there were not boys learning shorthand, though you could find boys learning to type. Only girls learnt sten so there was a strong taboo of shame involved. But when machine stenography spread and began to be used by court reporters, men went in for the training in great numbers in post-secondary school.

I was charmed with the notion that stenography had been taught this way. In Richmond Hill High School where I was first taught Pitman stenography I was never encouraged to respect it as a system. I did that later when I studied languages in college. I should say here that all the blogs I’ve written since I started going to conferences and blogging are the result of my use of stenography. While recently I can no longer cover pages of my sten pages in pure Pitman, and must use English spelling and abbreviated words, when I am really trying to get down specific wording there’s nothing comes near using Pitman sten.

A table of short forms within Pitman

It’s a 19th century invention.

There was again much more to the conference in the later afternoon. A Plenary panel, a general meeting, and finally an African American Literary Walking Tour, with Toast. I could not do any of it. This was the last night of the Capital Fringe Festival: we had tickets for La Belle Parricide, a play by a community of women on Beatrice Cenci so my conference ended on Alice in Pitman. Many people appeared to be leaving around the same time.

As I came out of the building, the sun seemed so bright and the air very hot. I threaded into the quiet justle of people going down the escalator. The trains to and from into Alexandria were running on just one track (not two) so there seemed to be a mass of people waiting to get on as they were thus running slowly (taking turns). I got home in plenty of time.

This is the first conference I’ve written about in this extensive way in quite a while. I had heard a diverse number of excellent papers which took positions which did teach about how books can be or are made to function socially. Countless individuals have largely idiosyncratic or personal responses to books that these large social perspectives ignore or sweep by and these are important for the individuals and for their communities too — making for finer disinterested ideals from the sympathetic imagination which can cross all borders. Yet people do choose a book because they are part of a particular sophisticated or political world, and read as part of that (often class-based) world. About this group of people at the conference, I came away feeling the generality might have at one time really loved books for themselves (as on some level I still do a fine, beautiful or wise and good and great book), for their texts (ditto), and that’s why they cared about books materially and how they function as social instruments, commodities and social capital.

See Sharp 1, Sharp 2, and Sharp 3.


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Children’s reading club, circa 1910, Children’s Museum, NY or NJ

Dear friends and readers,

A third instalment of my experience of the Sharp conference last weekend. What unites these sessions is the belief that people form social identities through reading books and magazines and create social networks and capital (Bourdieu’s term) by setting up and controlling what happens in institutions needed for the study of books. All the paraphernalia and social experience surrounding books are exploited to make favored books sell and norms spread; this includes illustrations. National identities and what language a group speaks, which languages die and which carry on partly depend on and are shaped by what texts are published and distributed.

Perhaps individual minds and hearts were not so much left out, as people were seen sheerly in their social roles interacting with one another with books. Of course individual experience with books occurs when someone is alone in a room or with his or her book and matters as intensely and maybe more than all this identity formation, marketplace behavior and accounts of social external interaction of a less intimate nature. However, it’s not something that’s studied generally nor quantifiable and not the focus of book history.


Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney

Saturday mid-morning I went to a 2nd session on “Transnational Transactions,” this one on forming literatures and marketplaces. In “The Two-Sided Triangle: Australian Books and American Publishers” David Carter described the attempts of Australian publishers and authors to go beyond a paradigm set up early for selling books: in publishing London was a center which dominated Australia; it’s a story of Australian books published in the US without reference to UK editions. Famous books like Henry Kingsley’s Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn and Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life appeared in both the UK and US, but there were numerous lesser books published in just American editions, e.g., Rolfe Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms, mysteries and thrillers (Fergus Hume’s The Steel Crown. Jessie Couvrer (Tasmania)’s Piper of Piper Hall. Copyright made a great difference in the profits that could be made so we see the twentieth century’s book clubs distribute Henry Handel [Ethel Florence] Richardson; the Nobel Prize made Patrick White’s books more popular in the US than UK. It’s a story of changes from decade to decade: in the 1930s Australians began to write books for an American audience; after 1945 the paperback revolution spread sexy and detective fiction; in the 1980s there was a boom in sales, which was not sustained. Australian science fiction and fantasy sold, but stories rooted in Australian landscape, history, culture did not draw much readership. Nonetheless, in the 21st century Sydney talk directly to London and New York publishers. Nowaday there is much intermixing so it’s not clear if J. M. Coetzee is an Australian or South African published in the US.

Gerald Groenewald’s “‘Through literature a nation becomes great:’ Afrikaner Nationalism and the reception of Afrikaner books in South Africa, circa 1910-40” was the story of how Die Huisgenout or The Family and House Magazine played a central role in the formation of a separate Afkricaner white identity. Sucessive editors differently attempted to define and model a national Afrikaner life by telling (inventing?) a history of traditions and ideals. Four to five out of 28 pages were reviews of books. There were 3 distinct periods under 3 distinct editorships: 1916-23, the magazine was high brow, serious throughout; then 1923-31, it turned more popular, had fewer shorter book reviews, many photos, covered sports. 1931-45 a trade journalist headed the magazine and added strong nationalism (“the great trek” was celebrated); historical artists presented as heroic, with Africaner texts 2/3s, Dutch texts 10 to 23% and English 10 to 15%. You might say the magazine provided a school for all in the early 20th century. (Afrikans seems to be a dialect of Dutch.)

Frank de Glas told the story of the Prix Formentor (1961-65), named after the hotel its initiator and his favorite writers met at and the Prix International des Editeurs (1961-67) He was showing how small groups of individuals could create respected reputations for specific books, larger national constortiums (something worth thousands of dollars) with translations functioning as consecrations. There had been an upsurge inteh sale of books in the international market in the 1950s, and this advertising move made for author brandnames. Carlos Barral made his own and the careers of his protegees (5 writers’s careers were described) and overcame cultural repressions. Rules that were said to be followed were sometimes broken; all but communists could get their books sold. Dacia Matraini was one of the 5, the only woman and she was “annexed” by feminists.

This was the lunchtime where I bought myself bad coffee and a stale croissant for too much money; drank and ate little, and went back to the Dillon center to look at the beautiful art works by staff in the gallery, browse the books on display, talked to an editor about my book project (“A Place of Refuge,” a study of the Austen films) and then read quietly until the afternoon sessions started.


The Boston Athenaeum Library

In the afternoon I went to a session about how books can also be the center of individual identity and small community formation. Katherine Wisser told who were the individuals who belonged to and created social worlds through the development of the Boston Atheneaum Library: 1806 reading room was established; in 1807 named Atheneaum; 1826 established in Pearl Street House; 1829 women officially let in; 1848 established in its present location on Beacon Street. The conscious motives were those of the Enlightenment, civic pride (Boston would vye with Philadelphia and Benjamin Franklin), and to build social capital for themselves. In 1856 the Boston Public Library was opened; 1876 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Proprietors were members, 70 in 1882, 65 men & 5 women; 3/4s of these people had gone to a Harvard college; their occupations were various, but over 1/4 were scholars, and most were involved with intellectual matters (lawyers.

Ross Harvey showed that while white New Zealanders through they were indoctrinating Maoris with industrial & capitalist (how to save, how to invest) ideas by the publication of a bilingual magazine, the Maori Messenger, Maoris had their own developed forms of industry and capitalism (tribe style), were interested in maritime, export, and agricultural activities. Their products included flax, potatoes, timber. George Grey helped Maoris hold onto their language; David Burns was used as an example of someone came to live in New Zealand and left a diary of his arduous life among the Maori, which was published.

Melanie Kimball’s “‘They wanted to read books by lady authors'”: early 20th century children’s reading clubs at the Cleveland Public library” (from archives from 1908-32) meant to demonstrate that children’s experiences were shaped by the librarians Kimball used American developmental psychology to categorize the different age groups. Children all want a club to be able to belong to a group and are vulnerable to peer pressure; between ages 10 and 20 they are trying out roles, looking at alternative solutions for lifelong goals, exploring their talents and others. It’s true the children’s statements she read showed more piety and conscious aspiration than seems probable in a child and the lists of books read were improving, some snobbish, and class and gender based: Dodge’s Hans Brinker; Alcott’s Under Lilacs; Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy. Archives show children naming their groups, electing officers. In the depression fees and car fares were waved; alas, by the 1950s there were few reading groups there to read, many more had become simply ways to meet and do something else.


Phiz (Hablot Browne), Meekness of Mr Pecksniff and his charming daughters, one of the illustrations for Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit

John Everett Millais, “Tom, I am come back,” one of the illustrations for Trollope’s Orley Farm

The 2nd session of the afternoon was the most exciting of the conference for me. I wrote a long chapter in my book on Trollope where I studied the original illustrations to his novels; my work was based on real study in rare book rooms, and my conclusions praised by Mark Turner in the one scholarly review I’ve had. The session was on book illustration in 19th century England and the second talk by Robert Patten, a well-known scholar of book illustration and Dickens (Charles Dickens and His Publishers [1978], George Cruikshank’s Life, Times, and Art [1991, 1992], editor of Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and Reading Practices [1995]), compared an illustration by Phiz for Martin Chuzzlewit to one by Millais for Orley Farm (a set of illustrations and book I know very well). I’ll describe his paper first even though it came second.

Prof Patten argued that the two illustrations showed radically different modes of illustration, with Phiz presenting a theatrical or presentational performance, where each gesture or item is an external symbol of an attitude or idea while Millais draw an inward, subtly complex picture in which the characters turn away from us, and their physical selves are not performing for us. Phiz uses personification, his art is emblematic; we are looking at a boxed stage set. External signs tell about interiority. The message is the hypocrisy of the Pecksniff’s and sincerity of Pinch. Millais’s drawing were engraved on wood by Dalziel, and Prof Patten suggested they capture a deep moment of psychological interaction not readily allegorized at all. In my book I spent a lot of time on the psychologized idyllic style and all he said seemed to me spot on, but for his final interpretation of this specific picture. Prof Patten argued we had gender balance here, for Mr Furnival, the lawyer husband missed his wife when she had left him because she assumed he was having an affair with his client, Lady Mason, so badly, that her power was triumphing the way her skirt fills the space, with her hand at the center. He gave his talk with confidence and panache and it seemed to go over very well

The talk afterward included demurrals. One man seemed to suggest that Phiz was more inward than Prof Patten allowed and Millais more emblematic. Two women suggested that the situation was of a women suppliant before her husband. I agreed with with this and retold the story of how Mrs Furnival had left Mr Furnival after many years of emotional and social neglect, that he had the right to eject her once again, and that although Trollope let us know the husband longed for her, she did not know that. Her hand is uncertain, she is pleading with him to take her back. I then said she also would have to accept marriage on his terms, and accept that since she was literally wrong, Lady Mason would again be the center of Mr Furnival’s hours. Prof Patten then commended my comments, especially when I said both Pinch and Lady Mason are suppliants, but then said but no, this takes place after the trial. So it is gender balance.

Well after I went home, I checked and discovered that this picture occurs well before the trial. The trial is yet to come. Mrs Furnival also had been hurt by far more than Lady Mason’s presence; for years Mr Furnival had traveled alone, left her with a servant and no company, no social life. It may be she was literally wrong to think Lady Mason was her husband’s mistress, but all else she had felt was just and now she had to give up her demands and real personal needs. We may hope he’ll behave better now, but there’s no promise, and in the course of things he may well revert.

George Brettingham Sowerby, illustration to Charles Kingsley’s Glaucus, or The Wonders of the Shore

The first talk was Elizabeth Starr’s carefully thoroughly studied explanation and reading of a complicated publication of science illustrations for Charles Kingsley’s Glaucus. Kingsley presented himself as a well-read amateur who was conducting a tour of the shoreline to which we as readers are invited. There were 5 editions of this text, and what we find are a series of complex interactions between the text and illustrations, the writer and his illustrators. In particular George Brettingham Sowerby’s images function to fill the gaps in content and imagination in Kingsley’s book, and turns it into a Ruskinian experience. This book was one of the influential popular science books of the era.

Prof Starr took the audience through several comparisons of text and picture, reading aloud the scientific text with its information and then showing how the plate illustrated and went beyond the text. Competition between the men may have formed part of what happened for Sowerby’s notes to his illustrations are in an appendix. Kingsley also used Philip Henry Gosse’s nature and marine biology texts, but if we look we see that Sowerby’s illustrations are influencing Kingsley’s descriptions.

This made great sense to me. Of Millais’s illustrations to Orley Farm, especially one of Lady Mason during her agon before she hires a lawyer to fight the accusation of forgery and try to hold onto her son’s property, Trollope wrote:

In an early part of this story I have endeavoured to describe how this woman sat alone, with deep sorrow in her heart and deep thought on her mind, when she first learned what terrible things were coming on her. The idea however, which the reader will have conceived of her as she sat there will have come to him from the skill of the artist, and not from the words of the writer. If that drawing is now near him, let him go back to it. Lady Mason was again sitting in the same room — that pleasant room, looking out through the verandah on to the sloping lawn, and in the same chair; one hand again rested open on the arm of the chair, while the other supported her face as she leaned uponher elbow; and the sorrow was still in her heart and the deep thought in her mind. But the lines of her face were altered, and the spirit expressed by it was changed. There was less of beauty, less of charm, less of softness; but in spite of all that she had gone through there was more of strength, — more of the power to resist all that this world could do to her.

It was 4:30. I had had a full day. I now will try to give a paper on Trollope’s original illustrations at a coming Victorian conference (Spring 2012 in NYC, Columbia University) and Eleanor Shevlin’s Washington Area Print Group (meets one a month, on a Friday afternoon at the Library of Congress between September and May). We (Jim, I, and Izzy) had tickets to see a play about Picasso at the Capital Fringe Festival that evening. I had just enough time to get home, eat with my two beloved people, and then go out again to make the play’s first act.

So, gentle reader, I again did not attempt to go to the day’s late afternoon plenary lecture, this time at the Natural History Museum. It was hot and a walk away. I got on the train.

Well, in my clumsy and half-thwarted efforts to phone Jim to pick me up at the train station, King Street, I ended up having pleasant talk with a man on the train just my age who also has trouble using cell phones. I said I found the ubiquitous use of them analogous to chimpanzees grooming one another: phones are the most stressful way to contact someone; you have immediacy but no bodily contact to control behavior. He said he felt he lost his liberty carrying one around. Yes, Jim had said when he was working he did not want one for then he was a dog on a leash. I did manage to make the call though and when King Street arrived, I bid adieu to my companion and got off the train, walked down to the street where Jim was waiting for me in his Jaguar.

And now to bed,

See Sharp 1, Sharp 2, and Sharp 4.

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Otto Dix, The Seven Deadly Sins (done in the same year that Weill wrote his Seven Deadly Sins)

Dear friends and readers,

How hot was it? Hitherto I’ve reserved “super-hot” for temperatures of say 100 to 105; yesterday we were told the heat index hit an astonishing 125F. I know the temperature was a mere 107. I just run out of words. I’ve never experienced air quite this hot before. While at the conference I met a young man (say early 30s), German-American, friendly, who lives in Cairo, Egypt. You go where you can get a job; he works for a research institute. It is regularly 130 F; many people don’t have air-conditioning. He does and walks from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building. People walk around with plastic bottles of water: dehydration is a danger.

We did brave this intense heat twice in two days.

On Friday evening we went to Wolf Trap for a second time this summer. We again had a picnic out under a tree (it was after 6:30 so we were simmering at 100) and saw this powerful Sondheim musical for a 6th time. We are having quite a weekend. It is a remarkable musical-opera using 19th century legends (Sweeney comes from the Regency period), motifs, character types from Victorian novels (something very Dickensian about it).

Michael Anthony McGee as Sweeney and Margaret Gawrysiak as Mrs Loveitt

How apposite it seems today — of course this is Sondheim’s presence. His lyrics resonate good. It was well sung and acted. Kim Witman (the director) opted for relatively few and symbolic props; plain costumes, with the orchestra on the stage behind the action which occurred on slabs. Perhaps the individuals were not able to project enough: the simple fundamental gestures should have been in an intimate theater and the players were working so hard against the odds to reach the huge audience going back and back and back in this open air theater.

It did make me remember the film we saw 3 Xmases ago now (tempus fugit) and realize how well the movie did several sequences: the lull about the seaside by parodic vacation family montages at beaches. There was nothing like that here:

Johnny Depp as Sweeney and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs Loveitt

Nor the high violence (more possible for a movie).

The most powerful we’ve ever seen was the first we saw where I’ll never forget Donna Lillard Migliaccio as Mrs Loveitt; Eric schaeffer directed and produced. It ended with that bitter bitter song of Sweeney’s and the stage went dark. Chilling.

Modern audiences are willing to tolerate a madden murderous transported man and his crazed raped beggar wife as the hero and heroine of a tragedy (19th Victorians would not and they complained when Trollope chose less say a forger, Lady Mason, his protagonist in Orley Farm). The secondary hero is a roving sailor, a nobody with nothing (no money, no connections) – certainly “not a gentleman.” The villain is the judge. Like many of Sondheim’s operas, one could not call it feminist, but unlike so many works by men, it was not anti-feminist. Mrs Loveitt is the figure here: large, heavy, businesswoman, she used to put pussycats in her pies and she works to keep Todd from knowing the beggar woman is his wife — everyone else but the sailor knows but then he’s mad. She is as central as the crazed figures, mad herself.

Izzy’s written a better informed account of the production: Wolf Trap Sweeney Todd. I agree the acting was effective. I did not know that “the heat was so bad in fact they were worried about the sound system and the microphones malfunctioning because of the singers sweating so much, and that everyone was supplied with Gatorade (the bottles were visible under the red chairs that were set up for the scene changes) and wore cold gel packs.” Izzy gave “them credit; they made it absorbing enough that eventually I stopped noticing the heat (the sun going down helped too though). In fact, the audience gave the show a huge standing ovation.”

Wolf Trap is still a marvelous kind of place. We were there three years ago with two cherished friends to see Boheme in Brooklyn.

Wolf Trap open air theater at night

I wonder to myself what was the early history of this place. How it came to take the form it does — the open air cheap seating at the back, the picnic grounds for all and for free, is a relic of former times. (Like Castleton though [see below] there are now enclosed tents for coteries and people willing to pay a lot.) The building looks like Glimmerglas (which does not have the open seating at the back for little money) so I expect they emerged in the same era.


Castleton grounds

And today Castleton. Loren Mazel owns a huge area of land where he built an opera house, concert hall and runs summer programs of music. This is what the tax system first set up by Reagan has led to. It was in the 1980s that the rich stopped paying proportionate taxes. The huge mansions and luxurious lifestyle that have emerged for the very few is one direct result (the other is stark misery for hundreds of thousands across the US, and the present determination of the Republicans to destroy social security, medicare and medicaid). Mazel was for many years the head of the New York Philharmonic and had a huge salary.

We saw a double bill of two one hour modern operas: Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, and Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, lyrics by Colette. The idea of Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins was worthwhile — a young woman, double self, from an agricultural working class family, goes off to make her fortune in order to return to build them and herself a house, a home. The actors were to perform ballet and sing. The thinking behind Seven Deadly Sins was impeccable: we see the cruelties of the capitalist world; its mindless pursuit of gadgets. Bare and minimal — they had huge US map lit up as their central prop. I find late 20th century operas a relief: not products announcing they are luxury items, often with a reactionary agenda, and at the Met itself an elite entertainment. The problem was the ballet was relatively weak: no traditional steps; they seemed to stroll about for an hour. The music too lacked intense passion or comedy; it sounded just like Weill at times: off-beat, jazzy.

The boy mimed by Nora Graham Smith (sung by Cecelia Hall)

The story of “L’Enfant et les sortileges” (literally: The child and the spells, better as “The Boy and the enchantment”) is a little boy is very bad and he is confined to his room to do his math homework. We are told he had tortured his squirrel and was mean to everyone. He throws a tantrum when his mother leaves him in the room, and destroys toys, books, wall paper, a pendulum. In reaction all the things in his room, including furniture, small animals come alive, threaten him. He is scared, feels guilty, saves a squirrel and is forgiven. It ends on him waking in his mother’s arms and saying sweetly “Mama!” The boy is never seen to do much very bad; the toys never hurt him; he makes no change for real and is rewarded for nothing. This is Colette’s mush, cloying and vacuous.

The best thing about “The boy and the enchantment” was the fantastical costumes; beautiful flamy gowns for Fire; lovely 1890s suits for Chair and Clock. Whimsical, unexpected, dazzling and pleasing.

I assume the ho hum quality of the staging of Seven Deadly Sins (including caricatures of working class people worthy of modern American TV), the innocuous presentation of the evil boy and his non-existent punishment (Where the Wild Things Are is more scary) shows more than a failure of nerve. It’s a desire to please a middle class audience who themselves are not directly under a threat. I am aware when we go to Castleton we often have seen privileged types who act as if all the world lived in the cocoon they seem to. The first time I came I did think of Versailles as I looked out from the man’s porch and saw as far as my eye could look a picturesque landscape.

From other less whimsical productions. The US today has been a forced for Nazi-like fascist militarism so the angry Mickey Mouse figure dressed as a woman (the Nazi movement was macho-male, encouraging violence) makes sense:

And this French one:

The privileged white boy haunted by a cat he tortured

The large barn theater has been rebuilt — probably at great cost, and something there has been lost. The previous building was lovely; a sort of huge square in layers. It had hospitality structured in — rooms for socializing, for eating. There was a choice of hot food, of sandwiches, a sort of garden place for all to eat (alas not all even then there was the separate place roped off for an elite of some sort). Now it looks like your usual dull auditorium with light and expensive refreshments behind a bar. No extra rooms, just the front part (vestibule with chairs and tables) and stage and auditorium. The air conditioning does work much better in limited configured space. But that’s not the only transparent reason for the renovations. The whole experience has been more commercialized: the website is now tasteless, mostly a huge ad. Probably this is the only way it can be supported and continued today.

The trip seemed shorter as we have gotten used to it. I read Vera Brittain’s The Dark Tide and Winston’s Graham’s Bella (about which more in other blogs). The hardest thing was to get into the jaguar to go home; it was like a furnace at 4. It is air-conditioned and soon we were cool. Izzy was glad to see us; she is not up to going to teaism alone. so I thought it best not to try. We had had enough outing. So Jim phoned for Chinese take-out; I drove to pick it up, and we had good talk at our table.

Then the evening: reading and listening to the lovely music (it usually is) on NPR which seems never to fail us, night after night just idyllically beautiful. It has been broadcasting the symphonic music events from Castleton so we haven’t missed out there.

Gentle reader, I must to bed,

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern facsimile reprint of one of Ward’s literary works

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Victorian illustration of Mudie’s Library patrons

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

Typical catalogue cover for the era

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

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

John Murray (1808-92)

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

The practical and economic: Murray’s Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

A modern “classic travelers’ logo (from Murray)

See Sharp 1, Sharp 3, and Sharp 4.


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‘”That might do”‘ (John Everett Millais’s illustration for a satiric scene in Anthony Trollope’s The Small House at Allington

Thomas Bewick’s History of Birds

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just spent a pleasant and stimulating 3 and 1/2 days at a Sharp conference held in Washington, D.C. first at the National Library of Medicine (Maryland), then the Library of Congress and Folger Shakespeare Library, and last the Dillon Ripley Center, one of the several buildings of the Smithsonian Institute which surround the mall. Since I can no longer take down in stenography the arguments of the papers I hear (my hand coordination is not as firm), I’ve not been writing about the conferences I’ve gone to in the detail I once did, but I still would like to make sense of, remember and share some of what I heard and experienced. Scholars came from far and wide: people from Australia and New Zealand; the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands; South Africa and Egypt, not to omit various places in Canada, the US and South America. There were book collectors and antiquarians; and publishers, librarians, and teachers; scholars from different disciplines, all to discuss primary research in the history of books. There were generous receptions (with wine flowing and lots of yummy snacks), plenary lectures, a book exhibit, and exhibits and tours in the Library of Congress, the Folger (on the first Folio); the weather was lovely and I spent two lunch hours by the side of a fountain overshaded by trees where people and children gathered to eat, talk, and play.

Thursday, July 14th:

I went first to the Folger Shakespeare Library for an hour long talk and tour of an exhibit centering on the history of the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays. The Folger owns an astonishing 92 copies from the extant 225 or so, and you learn about the printing of this book, its early history, present conservation and tales of collectors’ dealings and thefts. As important as this book is (without it we’d be missing 18 of Shakespeare’s 37 plays), it’s hard not to be aware that a strong fetishicizing goes into the determination and a kind of competition to own many of these volumes.

Not that it doesn’t mean a lot to me too: the first present Jim got me for our anniversary was a modern facsimile of this book; I once dreamed of writing my dissertation on Cymbeline and have read a number of the plays as they appear in this volume. I am touched by his friends and fellow players’ letter to the reader where they urge us to “read him” and say if you do not like him, you are in danger of not understanding him, so get friends to talk with you of him and help you understand.

From there I walked about the area and sat in a Starbucks for an hour, drinking coffee and reading Emma Donoghue’s Passion Between Women (excellent), then got myself on the Metro and took the long ride out into Maryland past the zoo, into Bethesda and the NIH. There was a tedious security check to get past a gate onto a bus but waiting on line I began to meet the various people there and discovered immediately how friendly everyone was, courteous, and ready to talk about their work and interests. I met a man whose work I have read and much admired, Jonathan Rose, who I quickly learned organized the first conference which took place 19 years ago here in DC.

The NIH is one of these vast institutions made up of many imposing buildings set out in a grand green landscape — all of which told us that we were in the presence of a formidably powerful or at least well-connected and paid set of people running the place. A shuttle bus took people there and soon in an auditorium a few hundred people were listening to Jonathan Topham from Leeds University, talking about “Why the history of science matters to book history.” He really told us how scientific knowledge came into being and spread through the publication of key, many learned, and school texts. Specific texts he discussed included James Secord’s Victorian Sensation about the impact of The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in Victorian England and Robert Darnton’s Kiss of Lamourette about the central importance of Enlightenment publications in science and the art (not to omit the intersection of political radicalism and pornography). I liked the talk afterwards about school texts. These were (it was said) “profoundly gendered”, aimed at boys. I remembered all my work on Rosalie de Constant’s botany drawings and the dissemination of her work, and thought to myself perhaps it was printed and said to have circulated widely because botany was a subject girls were allowed to study and this book could facilitate, indeed enable girls to begin.

At the reception I talked with (among others) a male scholar from Dublin who is going to be one of those who organize next year’s conference in Dublin. He confirmed the destruction of egalitarianism is happening apace in Ireland too. I didn’t wait for the bus as a young man was walking to the Metro and I walked with him back to the train and then home again home again jiggedy-jig.

Friday, July 15th:

I came by Metro and walked and just made it in time. I had forgotten how vast and labyrinthine the halls and tunnels in the three buildings that make up the Library of Congress. Gentle reader, I spent many happy hours (Saturdays and evenings) in the 1980s and early 1990s doing research in the Library of Congress, mostly in the Jefferson where the rare book room for literary works from the 16th through 19th century is to be found. I bethought myself that Frederick Wisemen really ought to make a film called The Library, so many are the people, so different their tasks and ranks, and (as I have reason to know) so politicized from intriguing and revealing points of view is much that controls what goes on.

A typical cover at the time: Ella Maillart was a French writing and speaking Swiss travel writer and photographer (this remarkable author & book were not one of those cited during any of the talks)

The session I went to was one of the finest I heard: “Not Censored! Publishing Loopholes in Hitler’s Germany”. Ine Van Linthout in her “Nazi Ideology vs. External Pressures in the German Book Market” showed that economic pressures (cash was short in the Reicht & foreign currency) as well as a perceived need for cultural legitimation (high culture would be part of this image), nationalist pride and personal rivalries and ambitions all led to the publication of humanist and (to Nazis) covertly radical books. Translations as well as books in the original language (particularly English language) circulated. They even allowed “trash” (sexy & violent junk entertainment).

The same reasons and forces explained why (to quote the subtitle of the second paper), Michelle Troy “Why the Nazi Regime Tolerated the Albatross Press.” The Albatross Press was a multinational cosmospolitan press whose central office was in Paris, funded from banks in the UK, and connected to Mondadori (Italian) publishing books like Joyce’s Dubliners, william Saroyan’s The Way To Be Alive, Huxley’s Brave New World, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Forster’s A Passage to India, even Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (No, not one book by a woman was mentioned). Albatross was carrying on the tradition of the 19th century publisher, Tauchite which published in the original language, many English novels across middle Europe. Prof Troy quoted Geoffrey Faber (of Faber Press) that “books are a nation thinking aloud.” Among the unexpected realities here were the Jewish owners who were allowed to publish their books and the escape with their families and money in the later 1930s; Troy described other people and activities in Paris who were left alone to publish and distribute books. There were translations of available of uncensored texts: Gone with the Wind (the only women mentioned in this second paper), novels by William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck. In 1943 the regime did clamp down but in 1933 more than 1000 books had been banned, and during the 12 year dictatorship there had been book burnings in 72 cities, 93 pyres supported by the educated middle class conservatives.

Despite its title, the last paper, Jan Pieter Barbian’s “After the Book Burnings: What Made it Past the Censors” gave the other side of the story. He showed pictures of scary-looking Nazis who were heads of publishing firms completely controlled by the Nazis. In fact not very much made it past the censors on the whole. One way you could stop people from publishing books was to deprive them of (expensive) paper, and that was done throughout; there were also now and again terrifying executions of people scapegoated. Scientific books were disliked. The Nazis also feared allowing workers to get their hands on any communistic texts; these were forbidden, destroyed, controlled far more than any erotica or scepticism.

Really chilling throughout this 90 minutes were the photographs of thug looking people sometimes in uniform (sometimes not) standing in front of Jewish stores that had been closed down, the phalanxes of soldiers and men in suits with guns and flags everywhere. All three people said the Nazis did not want to make the same mistake the powerful in WW1 had done, which was to ignore the average German person’s desires for some pleasures. Apparently the Nazis had as a goal not to put “the people” in a “bad mood” which was the result of the inflictions of death and misery and terror from 1914-18 (so for example, they let certain sophisticated French texts be published almost to the end of the war). Still, the Nazies were not against terrifying people.

The Keynote plenary: Elizabeth Eisenstein’s “From Divine Art to Printing Machine and Beyond.”

Elizabeth Eisenstein when she was youing, and the first ever Resident Scholar the History of the Book Center at the Library of Congress

Elizabeth Eisenstein, historian, professor, librarian, gave her speech in the Coolidge Auditorium which I’ve been in a number of times to see plays, listen to singers, and even hear lectures. The room was full; her talk was accessible. Basically she pulled piquant quotations from passages written by famous people from the Renaissance to our own day, most of which predict sudden endings of whatever was the going technology then and would result in dire loss of texts, readers, knowledge. Her remarks along the way were suggestive. I had not thought about how the uniformity of a printed book in comparison to a hand-written manuscripot would seem strange and thus be stigmatized as magical. She showed a long-standing ambivalence in various cultures (and many people) towards (these wicked) printers (they invade privacy, spread information and ideas). A single law can have disastrous results: the religious prohibition against printing in Arabic for a couple of hundred years (until the early 18th century) stopped the spread of literacy, and kept the average person and/or whole communities in a state of isolation and ignorance throughout the middle East and wherever this law was applied.

Towards the end she naturally focused on European culture. In 18th century Europe printing may be said to have created the Enlightenment electorate and created an opponent to religious reaction for the first time. In the 19th century people were most impressed by the influence of newspapers (as an engine of progress that many people really read). Nowadays we have been seeing some idealization of reporters and print journalism and she thought it important to understand that printed books are dependent on newspapers (and now the Net) to reach the public.

It was while I was in this auditorium that I made a friend who I had lunch with twice during the conference, who I attended a couple of sessions with and whose paper was especially interesting to me: Elizabeth Starr who teaches at Westfield College (Massachusetts). Her interests coincided with mine: 19th century novels and illustration traditions and I can truly say her company on and off during the next couple of days brightened the whole time for me. On Sunday we sat together on a bench, sharing a sandwich and watching children and parents at play in a beautiful sunny (with some shade) spot on the mall near the sculpture garden and fountain and a cafe.

A photo of the fountain on another day

As this is long enough for one blog, I’ll stop here and resume again tomorrow or the next night to tell of Friday afternoon where my topics which include book covers, what we can learn about readers from studying 20th century compilations of monthly periodicals, and Saturday morning where I was privileged to again listen to unusually informative papers on transnational circulations of novels and travel books through Mudie’s and other circulating libraries as well as the true realities behind the later 20th century be-prized book marketplace.

Sharp 2, Sharp 3, and Sharp 4.


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Dr Gregg (James Rogers) in Gallantry: A Soap Opera

Dear friends and readers,

Since I wrote about Pandora at Studio, we’ve been to three Capital Fringe events. All well done. Each time finding ourselves in a world of intelligent modern people with good taste, all ages, black and white, coming together to enjoy absorbing forms of theater.

Gallantry, the soap opera, by Douglas Moore (libretto Arnold Sunguard) was a spoof on soap operas. The quintessential soap opera now takes place in a hospital (see Nurse Betty, with Renee Zellweger), with the all-powerful male a surgeon-doctor, the sexy women nurses fighting for his love, all the while they confront crisis after crisis in someone’s sickness. Eerie scary images of medicine abound: long needles, crazed advice. It was sung operatically. At moments it did become tedious; there was just not enough variety, the stories and characters had not been worked out enough and the joke or parody grew too obvious before the end.

Nurse Lola (Emily Case)

There was a reasonably-sized audience. The bar and restaurant, The Warehouse, are demolished but one of the theater rooms the place supported in the back is still standing, as a sort of detached box. That’s where we saw it.

The actresses rehearsing, not in costume

The Many Women of Troy, a brilliantly acted (Ellis Greet as Helen was particularly alive in her part, strong), well-meaning post-modern play with music by Michael John Boynton (book & lyrics), Brian Allan Hobbs (music) and directed by Tracey Elaine Chessum. It was ambitious: a series of scenes and songs across history showing how people have been re-enacting the horrors of Troy, with effective parallels drawn in Ireland (the British) and other colonialist horrors (South and Latin America), Auschwitz and all its knock-offs, the US civil rights movement. If the people acting in it (about 8 young women), the orchestra (about 5 young men), the writers and director were running the US we’d not be murdering people, the tax system would be just, plenty of money for jobs, social services &c&c

It was not perfect: Andromache (Tracey Haupt) wept almost too vulnerably; she became gnuinely painful to watch. The script had much wit, availed itself of modern language, motifs, types, allusions to contemporary pop culture from the 1930s (via movies) to nowl but the whole ended in unconvincing schmaltz on behalf of hope. The authors had not seen or understood clearly in all instances (so it was anti-French revolution and they bought into 9/11 myths), but he cast and play-makers are a group to support. Izzy’s review is much more thorough and gives a precise account of the strengths and flaws of the production. Do go over and read.

The Many Woman of Troy
was also performed the beautifully air-conditioned Studio theater, and our walk showed us just how much that area has been gentrified. It used to be a little scary to walk around there, not now. Boutiques, modest restaurants with interesting food, meeting places.

Cynthia Cole, Sophia Kim Cook, Angeli Ferrette, Nicole Lamm, Susanna R. Lauer, Ruth Locker

Last Seven Sopranos, or (as it’s comically subtitled) “Divas just want to have fun.” All 7 dressed elegantly in satin red, they sang from a repertoire of familiar operas (e.g., “Porgi amor” from Le Nozze di Figaro), light opera (Victor Herbert), modern opera (“Summertime” from Porgi and Bess); fine art songs (Antonin Dvorak’s “Song to the Moon”); musicals (“I can’t help loving that man,” Showboat), including Gilbert and Sullivan (“Poor Wandering One” from Pirates of Penzance). Songs were sung in group style and also individually, and each diva had an aria of her own. Comic gestures of rivalry and some stage business helped keep things entertaining. For me, it was too much soprano voices: I felt the experience would have been improved with some other type voices, female or male.

Some of the seven offer lessons; all are trying hard to begin a successful career.

This time we were in a lovely renovated Greek temple which serves as a church near the convention center. Along the blocks walking there and back we saw lively clubs, parks, new apartments buildings, lovely squared streets amid signs of continuing blight, boarded up stores, decaying spaces.

It’s good for us to get out at night. Tonight was a breezy-cool evening even. We mingle amid like-minded people, sometimes talk and exchange a joke, listen in on one another’s adventures of life. Before going we are gay over supper, and coming back satisfied.

And so to bed,

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