Archive for the ‘Samuel Richardson’ Category

leigh anna kareninablog
Vivien Leigh as Anna (1948 film, scripted Jean Anouilh)

Ralph Richardson’s Karenin, reasoning with Leigh as Anna

Oblonsky to Levin: It’s Kitty I’m sorry for — not you! — Stoppard’s Anna

Anna to Vronsky: I would never see my son again. The laws are made by husbands and fathers … Unhappiness? I’m like a starving beggar who has been given food — Stoppard’s Anna

Dear friends and readers,

After seeing Wright and Stoppard’s recent film of Anna Karenina, featuring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfayden, Jude Law, I determined to read the book. I had tried when I was in my teens but been defeated because I found the Levin matter intolerable; this time I thought I’d manage by listening to it read aloud while driving my car. It took time so I lingered over it (sometimes at night reading this or that passage on my own) as Davina Porter’s reading was brilliant.

I found I much prefer the meaning of the story & characterizations in Wright and Stoppard’s from Tolstoy’s; that Tolstoy’s story is meant to be and is harshly punitive on Anna even if he feels for her loneliness married to a repressed easily resentful man much older than she. He presents her adulterous love as an evil impulse in her which moves from impelling her boldly to leave her husband and live an amoral life, and then twists her to destroy her relationship with her lover because she cannot accept her despised position. She cannot find something within herself to give her life meaning because she has moved away from religion. Greater sympathy is allotted Karenin. Tolstoy’s unique greatness seems to me that he conveys a sense of every day life slowly passing for all. He dramatizes people’s working lives, how they pass time in the evening; he reveals the tedium of existence. He is said to be respected for his rounded apparently believable characters, but when I listened to it with my husband in the car with me, they emerged as types, stereotypes from other novels in part. He does not offend against conventional standards of good taste — as forged by male oriented readers.

Tolstoy is not interested in Anna’s lack of happiness or fulfillment as a woman; the system needs to change, and that’s the point of the Levin part of the novel. Levin is said to marry wholly for love (which is basically an animal passion as we see once they marry they do not understand one another’s minds at all); he is not performative. Tolstoy writes against personal ambition, performativeness. Levin is also contrasted to the drone Oblonsky (Anna’s brother) who is unfaithful to his wife, Dolly, does no useful work, conceives of positions in gov’t and elsewhere as sheer plums of money for him to collect to support his habits. Not only does Levin work the fields and keep his house, Levin would change the political complexion of the nation to be more equal, to provide more education and opportunities for the lower orders.

Domnhall Gleeson as Levin (Stoppard and Wright’s version — it’s hard to find images of earlier Levins as non-entities often played the part and were forgotten by the public)

Here he is stopped because what is valued in political gatherings is the ability to network, to flatter others, to be congenial in an amoral kind of way, to look handsome. All these Vronsky does, and if Vronsky had not been destroyed by his relationship with Anna, the way he fits into his regiment and is liked and the way he immediately is a social success the one time he goes to a political gathering, shows he would have risen to power.

Sean Bean as a decent intelligent well-meaning Vronsky in 1997 (BBC)

He has a conscience and some decent ideals (unlike Oblonsky); when in the novel with Anna and she is still behaving, he opens and supervises a hospital, schools, but he would not begin to go further than reforming his own area and property and people within it without giving up one iota of power.

In short, Tolstoy writes a 19th century novel which (like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary) has been over-rated because he does at least deal with adultery directly. The way to value it is the way we value Gaskell’s Ruth where the heroine is similarly punished – this time for having a child out of wedlock where at least an attempt is made to present a woman’s sexual life. We can also liken Anna Karenina to Trollope’s novels (Tolstoy admired Trollope enormously, said Trollope’s books “killed him”): they are debates about the political and economic and to some extent social arrangements of the era where a kind of moderate reform is proposed, and how political life is really carried on exposed.


Structure — I assume the reader knows the story, if not you may find it in the wikipedia article.

Gretta Garbo as Anna (1935 film, director Clarence Brown)

Frederick March as Vronsky to Garbo’s Anna

The novel made be said to be made up of two novellas which could’ve been very short but are here blown up into a large book by modern psychological and realistic techniques. At the opening of Is He Popenjoy? Trollope says he wishes he could write his story in the brief strong way of railway novels, but must make it middle class through subtilizing it, then it becomes acceptable to Mudie’s lending library.

If I were to see the novel as an outgrowth of the 18th century novel (it’s set in the early part of the 18th century), I’d say Anna-Vronksy comes from Lafayette’s Princess de Cleves (same central types in the couple) by way of 18th century depth psychology: the president de Tourvel in Les Liasions Dangereuses, and this is a deep vein of fiction important in functioning for liberty. In Anna Karenina, paradoxically the story that functions for liberty is Dolly’s — how badly Oblonsky treats her shows how a woman needs more liberty and independence.

Anna Karenina
Matthew MacFayden as the conscienceless, self-satisfied bureaucrat, Oblonsky (given star billing in Wright and Stoppard’s play, considerably softened, he grieves for Anna at the movie’s close)

The Levin material is by comparison Sir Charles Grandison matter. I’m sure Kitty breast-fed, no need for Tolstoy to tell us.

A wholesome Alicia Vikander as Kitty (Wright and Stoppard’s version)

It’s exemplary, optimistic, leisurely, leaving time for disquisitions on art (though there are some of these in the Vronksy-Anna story when Vronsky takes up painting for a while), politics, farming, social life. In mood it’s closer to section in Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise when the heroine goes to live in Switzerland with her husband. I do like the debates over politics whose nuances remind me of arguments between Plantagenet and Phineas: Levin wants moderation; he does not wan to exploit so ruthless and yet wants his property and place. The others take the modern position of Republicans like Romney which are recreations of this older indifference to anything but the one narrow classes utter comforts. Where the story becomes fascinating again is realism (not in Grandison as character). Levin’s jealousy of Kitty before worldly men, the hunt and his resentment. No kindness in Tolstoy towards the poor animals slaughtered so effectively by Oblonsky who has the admiration of all, very chic in rags and the best guns. I imagine like Trollope over hunting foxes, Tolstoy hunted grouse, and farmed the way Levin does.

D’Epinday’s Montbrillant (mid-18th century long memoir as novel) has the same two types of fiction squashed together only the Grandison part is about salons, and Vronsky-Anna stories of adultery and sexuality are really seen from the woman’s point of view forced to acquiesce in her husband’s adulteries, and attempts to sell her to pay his debts.


From my reading experience as I went through the book and remembered the movie I had just seen and what I’ve read about the other movies and Tolstoy and other 19th century novelists:

At first: Tolstoy’s book feels so rich. It seems to contain in it other novels: well when Anna first meets Vronsky, he is just about engaged to Kitty, Anna’s brother’s sister-in-law. It’s deep attraction at first sight for Anna and Vronsky — which we are warned is bad news for Anna by Anna’s brother’s father-in-law’s attitude towards Vronsky.

It reminds me very much of Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga. Anna is regarded as this icon of mysterious beauty in just the way Irene Heron is. The possessive successful male sweeps her up, but he cannot understand or satisfy her. The dark continent.

Eric Porter played both Soames in 1967 and Karenin in 1977 for the BBC

Unlike Irene, Anna resists this attraction at first, but then she’s nowhere as unhappy as Irene with her husband. She has had a child, she is satisfied with her friendship with Dolly, her sister-in-law. In Tolstoy’s novel by this point we see that Levin is actually the central hero or presence of the novel, however ironized, for by beginning with Anna’s brother Oblonsky, Levin his friend is brought on novel’s stage and (unlike the 2012 play and movie) becomes central for chapters and chapters.

Tom Stoppard and Joe Wright’s movie is literally true to the book as it opens (they deviate later) — but then cut off at all the Levin material.


Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Wright and Stoppard’s debauched, half-crazed Vronsky

I’m into part 2 of 5 and remarkably very early on Tolstoy makes it clear that Vronsky lives the life of a shallow drone, someone Anna should have walked away from. In the play he is neurotic, over-emotional in the extreme whatever he does; in the novel is he an average aristocrat, perhaps a little better than many, capable of shame and good feeling. Others see this — Dolly’s father, for example. We see the low-life demi-monde Vronsky favors. The text feels for Anna very much, but Tolstoy sees love and coupling as sheerly drivingly sexual and has no inward understanding for real.

Myself I find Tolstoy’s a male view — it’s found in Trollope. Tolstoy does sufficient justice to Anna’s tight bond to her son and how much she is as yet comfortable with, respects Karenin at first, but she has tired of the way he is cold, stays away from her, is controlling from the outside. The words Anna used to express her love for Vronsky to Vronsky upon trying to explain why she is not degraded by their affair (all the while made to feel terribly shamed) could be a translation of the words Laura Kennedy uses in Trollope’s Phineas Redux when they walk in Konisberg at the castle over the parapets. The words in Trollope to describe her passion are close to those in Garnett’s translation. It’s uncanny.



Comparison of an incident: Bronte’s Villette and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

I can’t resist making a note of this. I had earlier been listening to Bronte’s Villette where there is a striking parallel and contrast to Tolstoy’s book.

In Bronte’s a powerful sequence shows Lucy all alone coming to Brussels and with her tiny amount of money seeking a hotel to stay. She is given an address by a kind stranger. Lucy Snow sets out. It’s nighttime. She finds herself followed by two young men who are laughing at her, to her they seem semi-thugs, they call out. In euphemisms it’s suggested they are after her sexually. Terrified she gets confused where she is and goes the wrong way altogether. This results in her landing into the school which takes her in. It determines the course of her life. It’s a harrowing sequence. Izzy was in the car with me and both of us gripped. Told of course from the woman’s point of view.

In Tolstoy’s AK, Vronsky tells this “amusing” story to the demi-monde woman he finds in his flat which he is sharing with a drone low-life officer, she this man’s mistress. It seems that two young men in his regiment saw a young woman coming home and they thought her living alone. What fun. For a lark they follow her upstairs. The next day an irate husband challenges them. Vronsky (good man they all think) has been negotiating to avoid a duel. The woman was his pregnant wife returning home early from the theater. Vronsky is much amused at how often the husband so easily become irate: his honor is involved. To do Tolstoy justice he gives us a glimpse of this young woman coming home and in distress.

But the accent is not there quite. The sequence is not harrowing. The incident reveals Vronsky whose concern is with his regiment. Yet it is told. It is part of Vronsky’s view of women: he tells it to the demi-monde as a joke. I have not got up to her response.

Only in the novel I’m typing slowly, Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde (English Jacobin & sentimental novel), do we have an harassment incident where the point is at least made that an attitude of mind by men towards women causes this at least by implication. Emily is staying with a cousin who does not care to protect her from the men in the house; they know she’s a poor, a nobody, no father and they chase after her through the landscape. The result is not a plot-hinge but it is significant in Ethelinde’s determination to quit this house. We are made to feel this sort of thing is what Ethelinde would have to contend with in this house when she arrives.

As a woman who has had such experiences I know they can drive a girl who has partly succumbed to the pestering and aggression (which is presented as just fine) to avoid going out. The Steubenville rape is a crude ugly bullying version of what I’m pointing to here. How far it can go.

Tolstoy as a young man, 1848 — he could be Levin

Tolstoy skips over the long year of deepening involvement — unlike another neglected novel which explores adultery seriously as an alternative to a miserable marriage where one can find companonship (Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde).
What Tolstoy is interested in, “does justice” to Anna’s horrific guilt once she and Vronsky have sex. There’s more of this self-horror than anything else. This is utterly different from Stoppard and Wright’s movie too -there we have the woman who wants to escape imprisonment and exploitation. I prefer the movie though I grant the depth of writing and intensity in Tolstoy is powerful

Levin is a sort of surrogate for Tolstoy, and again in the movie this is not so. He is more than half-caricatured by Wright and Stoppard. Oblonsky is sensible in comparison. It’s interesting to see this 21st century amoral modern take as opposed to Tolstoy’s Victorianism which makes Oblonsky into a semi-Skimpole type.

I find myself remembering what I read about Tolstoy about the time Jay Parini’s book, The Last Station, focusing on Tolstoy’s wife was made into an interesting film. The film made Sophia self-centered, materialistic, seeking sex for herself and not for procreation, but it was my understanding Parini’s book in fact was a real critique of Tolstoy as self-deluded, a powerful aristocrat who took advantage of his status all the time, with real sympathy for Sophie — which Helen Mirren picked up on.

Mirren counters the distrustful anti-sexuality thrust of Tolstoy’s conception of his wife and women

Tolstoy’s last text was one where he presented sexuality as such as loathsome even when inside marriage, Kreutzer’s Sonata.

Frances Trollope’s novel of an unwed mother, Jessie Phillips: A Tale of the Present Day is another 19th century novel which shows far more understanding of women’s vulernability and inner life. But she too (like Gaskell) makes her heroine suffer without showing what was the pleasure. Yet I had to drive 90 minutes in my car once again yesterday and found myself listening to a very long loving description of every detail Levin and Kitty’s wedding ceremony. The equivalent of a bridal magazine today. It so irritated me. Why so much time on this? Tolstoy is clever and he makes ironic jokes about how a couple of years from now for just about everyone this long ceremony seems idiotic, false, but that’s not what the lengthy text does. It insists that each detail the wedding counts; that’s why Levin is late in dressing, why Kitty spends months and months in planning with her mother. Bridezilla.

It could be a woman’s magazine today. It explains why fools complained that in Downton Abbey Fellowes had the brains to present Lady Mary and Matthew’s wedding only in terms of the fuss and trouble leading up to it.

Just before the ceremony Levin is not the ideal exemplary man having won the love of the sweet chaste Kitty, almost alienates her by letting her see his diaries with his disgusting affairs. This great novel of adultery is deeply against sex. When in Downton Abbey Dan Stevens had to play some of this kind of nonsense, he looked excruciated.

Not Wright at all and not Stoppard; they skip the wedding.

Meanwhile in the book Vronsky rushes to Anna in bed who has given birth to their little girl, confessed to Karenin and been forgiven. But Anna cannot stand her husband’s presence or embraces; she is beyond reason or humanity towards Karenin who (in the novel) turns emotionally noble and is willing to be shamed and take her back. Vronsky throws himself onto Anna, she cannot resist and three sentences later they disappear from the narrative only to turn up chapters later several months later so we can see them despised. We only saw their affair a year later.

I hadn’t realize how much Wright departed from Tolstoy until I’d gotten well past the mid-point of the book. In Wright and Stoppard’s version Anna leaves Karenin half-way through the narrative, and takes up life with Vronsky; has her baby daughter by Vronsky while living with him. In Tolstoy’s book she has not left Karenin as yet; Karenin has begun proceedings for a divorce and custody of his (now apparently detested) son. But Anna nearly dies in puperal fever, she hysterically calls for her husband, declares him great, noble-souled, and herself so much crap; she and Karenin manage to humiliate Vronsky and in the throes of this scene Karenin forgives Anna. Vronsky goes home, shamed, and realizing suicide can be brought on by humiliation and the world’s scorn tries to shoot himself through the chest and nearly dies. Both though do not die — Tolstoy implies perhaps Anna would have been better off if she had and so too Vronsky. She lives to regret, and in Tolstoy Vronksy lives on to want to get her back, only much later to be destroyed by her suicide.

It’s theatrically effective in the book and films which use it, and the discourse about forgiveness and how Karenin wants to keep to that, how it brings out the good soul in him is probably (I do believe) the conscious message. But I find the scenes at the bedside absurd and improbable — but perhaps a 19th century reader would not have.

Much of Tolstoy’s text is taken up with how badly Kareinin feels. He naturally becomes the prey of religious fanatics like the old countess, Lydia. It’s the only way he can hold up his head; she is responsible for Karenin’s keeping Anna’s son from her too. So the man is absolved and sympathized with again and again.

Not so in Wright and Stoppard’s film where the narrow, sexless and vindictive seething of the man is emphasized — here Jude Law has a tight mind and body


Horse race as done in the theater of Wright and Stoppard’s conception

This is not to say there are not many remarkable and interesting passages in Tolstoy’s book — sort of interwoven in as part of the story but reflecting both Tolstoy’s high sense of himself and his fiction and its purpose.

From the penultimate sections of the book, before the final crash of Anna and departure of Vronsky to a useless war where he and his regiment of desperate men will be killed for nothing — and the qualified contentment ending of Levin’s choice to marry Kitty and live the life of an aristocratic landlord-farmer.

The depiction of Vronsky’s attempt at a career as an artist and patron of the arts in Italy in the earliest phase of his time with Anna, when she is still in control of herself and enjoying life well away from Russian society. This sequence allows Tolstoy to present thoughts on art and the 19th century scene.

The death of Levin’s brother is another sequence — we see the poverty of most hotels in this rigid ancien regime world. We see how badly the supposedly idealistic leftist brother treats the prostitute he has taken in as his wife. On this level, Tolstoy feels for a woman; she ought to have stayed with a peasant husband somewhere. I’m sure Levin would have found her one had she come to him first.

I’m also “enjoyed” the realism of the relationship of Vronsky and Anna as it slowly hurts so badly from being outside the rest of the world, the ostracizing, and even Levin and Kitty with their lack of real understanding of one another and explosive fights in early marriage.

Keira Knightley as the grieving mother

Extraordinarily strong because so believable Anna’s stolen visit to her son and the responses of the servants, her meeting Karenina and his half-mad behavior. You can prove anything if you get to make up the evidence, but far more than Trollope successfully I think Tolstoy does persuade us a woman of this milieu, religion, would feel the intense guilt of Anna, digs deep into it, how it functions to twist her and give her little chance to finally live a life that is fulfilling for both with Vronsky. The scene at the theater where she goes out of some kind of inner-directed spite at herself and Vronsky equally strong. Vronsky needs to be accepted in the world and live in it; she needs just the respect.

Anna supported by the corrupt Princess Betsy (Ruth Wilson)

She is mortified and humiliated. I wish I could believe Tolstoy critiquing this double standard but he’s not.

The linchpin connection between the Vronksy-Anna matter and the Kitty-Levin is Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly with whom the book and Stoppard and Wright’s movie opens. Dolly feels for Anna; her husand, Oblonsky a careless rake and roue who is ruining them by his continual spending of money (leaving nothing for the household, saving nothing for the children’s education).

So, Oblonsky’s harried put-upon wife, Dolly, goes to visit Anna. Anna had persuaded Dolly to stay with Oblonsky after one of Oblonsky’s many affairs (the man has casual encounters and sex like some people have meals) was exposed — because it was with the governess. He spends all their money, he impregnates her carelessly; she is worn, her children will have no decent schools unless her father pays for it — reminds me of Montague Dartie in Forsyte Saga. She knows he does not love her. She is miserable. She thinks Anna is no different from her, just braver. When she arrives, Anna is ecstatic to see her and Vronsky so glad. She notices the people around them are third-rate hangers on as the world judges these things. We are made to notice how rich Anna is through her eyes — the riding out, the hat, the horse, the house they stay in.

So, were this an English novel, this moneyed state of Anna would be accounted for — it’s not in AR. It is probably not from her husband. Would she have her own estate? I don’t know. It seems to come from Vronsky who we are told in an early part of the book has to borrow to keep up his lavish life style.

The moral nature of what’s happening is central. Probably because I’m reading Galsworthy at the same time I am so aware of how Tolstoy too makes of Anna this beautiful mysterious icon. In her case being torn apart. Slowly after Vronsky and Anna return to Russia, whether St Petersburg or Moscow, their relationship sours badly. No one respectable will be friends with them; they get only hangers-on. People they once would have passed over, come to them and Vronksy and Anna cling to these fringe types.

Yet he can live with it, he can suffer the loss of his army regiment (very much a Rawdon type — from Vanity Fair); it’s more her fault than his because she cannot live the unconventional part of a mistress and woman of the world. Why she should want the friends we saw at the opening were all so hollow I can’t say. She has Dolly and her brother who seemed to be the only people she enjoyed herself with before. And men do visit. She is pathetically grateful to have Dolly’s loyalty, but we see Dolly becomes sickened at what she sees as their false friends, false lives and stays only one day on a visit meant to go on for a long time.

Mary Kerridge as Dolly (1948 version, sentimentalized Oblonsky, glimpsed weeping with remorse)

We then get the encounter of Anna with Levin who is drawn to her as mysterious alluring icon but then reverses himself when he sees his wife. Anna here has become evil as she is presented as consciously trying to seduce Levin sexually.

I also very much enjoy some of the political drama and discussions about art in the Levin sections; I don’t have space to detail this sort of thing. The political meeting with Vronksy emerging as successful had the sceptical understanding of Trollope and the principles and parties were of interest similarly. Tolstoy defends realism in pictures.

At the same time I was so grated upon by the long drawn out childbirth, especially the turning from ravaged screaming on Kitty’s part to bliss. No thanks Mr Tolstoy for your moral lesson here. I writhe to have to listen to this nonsense — Trollope wouldn’t have minded and might thought it was just the pap (like the wedding) women might want.

Very interesting are the less cliched stories: Oblonsky, Stiva, near bankrupt trying to get a lucrative post where he does nothing and thinking he deserves it! Some amusement there – this is how Felix Carbury behaves in Trollope and Davies’s TWWLN and Matthew MacFayden played both parts.

The story of Anna’s son being slowly turned against her and made to be cold from his life’s experiences with the angry embittered father and morally stupid tutor.

Why is Anna not afraid she will be broke and end in the streets? she is so sure of her aristoratic words & norms to reach for.

A 19th century illustration of the end of the novel
The novel concludes:

Again I am deeply engaged by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in the final phase of Vronsky and Anna’s story. It is more than grippingly believable. Tolstoy lays bare how someone (Anna) can act destructively against herself and her interests, because there is not enough on offer for an erasure of those parts of herself necessary to play the part in her world Vronsky as her open lover allows her. She is in too much pain over her own loss of self-esteem. I can see myself acting like that and have in life acted that way.

I continue mostly bored and irritated by the Levin matter.

At the close of book 7 is the powerful sequence where Anna finally loses all perspective, and throws herself under a train. I’ve just ambivalent responses to the depiction. I think the way to get round the worst is to lower expectations – that’s why when I first started reading I suggested Tolstoy is over-rated. If we think of him as just another Victorian-19th century writer, we don’t expect as much, give him more slack, and as with reading say Gaskell’s Ruth, we look at what is gained by an attempt at a frank depiction of a transgressive woman (Anna) or a woman who has transgressed (Ruth) sexually. Trollope will depict no such figure; Dickens would not touch this with a 50 foot pole.Most women didn’t dare lest they be accused of sexual transgression.

I know were I to have read the book in my 20s even I would just have utterly bonded with Anna and felt for her and not noticed as I felt continually Tolstoy’s continual corrective: Anna says everyone is hateful to her, and immediately Tolstoy brings home to us how most people are not hateful; everything she feels or says is quickly shown to be an exaggeration and coming out of her. The worst is how he talks of an “evil’ spirit inheriting her soul — surely this is God punishing her.

He also does not spare us. We are shown that Anna did not die immediately but felt pain and knew what was happening. When we are told that Vronsky saw the body he never got over seeing what was in her eyes. Or her mangled body.

One can read the sequence sympathetically from her point of view too. It is true Vronsky is tired of her. We can see she is trying to reach him as best she can. It’s his choice to stay in Moscow, visit his mother. What he wants is for her to make the best of it or go herself into the country where he would visit her or stay with her and come back to his social life from time to time. She seems unable to manage with this. Myself I know how she feels from the exquisite details about egoisms conflicting that Tolstoy does manage. I’ve experienced this in family life, feeling oneself disdained some, really not respected, and how painful this is, especially when something is done which points to it and the person denies it. Trollope knew our egos mattered: many of his scenes show characters reacting internally emotionally violently over this.

Months have passed when the last book (8) begins again. When we next see Vronsky, now worn, having again nearly gone mad with his remorse and leaving for the war front with a group of less than admirable types because he can’t get anything better together and listen to his mother’s vicious tongue about Anna this is a reinforcement of empathy for her — and him.

1899 Twilight Moon by Isaak Ilyich Levitan

One then has to wade through at least a hundred pages of Levin material where we learn God is good, well-meaning, dwell in the Russian landscape, and if Levin is also dissatisfied, this are the terms on which we have life. At the close of the book Levin has a vision which shows him the value of his existence and makes him think he will act more loving to everyone no matter how much they irritate, but soon discovers he cannot change himself. I thought of the long shooting bird (grouse) sequences and how vividly (very like Trollope) Tolstoy entered into these and told them in detail; unlike Galsworthy though he did not at all feel for the animals endlessly murdered (by Oblonsky and finally done in by Levin too) — to show his manhood, nor even so much as register them as presences (which Trollope at least concedes).


Ideally I would after listening to this reading, watch the recent Wright movie and read carefully Stoppard’s screenplay to see how the Anna character has been altered — and it has much — to make it speak to us today. I know Vronsky is blackened in the movie: in the book he was willing to give up much if only she would be at peace with the freedoms he sought and he was not seeking to have any other women (as he is in the movie).

The movie marginalizes Levin into sheer Lawrentian material (how often Wright turns a book into Lawrentian material, even Austen) and plays up the ironies of the Oblonsky story as relevant to us today. Wright also emphasizes the role Vronsky’s mother plays as Anna’s fundamental rival and enemy.

He also makes Oblonsky our everyone; at the close of the movie Macfayden is the only one in the room as the family gathers (including Levin and his wife) for some ritual who remembers Anna

He is though as corrupt and useless to anyone but in his kind moments like these as he is in the novel

The Levin group must be put into the movie, but in the movie they function as the vast majority of human beings who buy into conventions and are made safe enough by by them.

The first sentence of AK now strikes me as potentially if unintentionally ironic about happy families, happy people. Tolstoy may be read against the grain.


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Elizabeth Carter (idealized) by Katherine Read (1762)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m several days late for this week’s foremother poet. First I couldn’t make up my mind which poet to write about, and then I lost heart. But tonight inspirited by Elizabeth Carter’s “A Dialogue,” in love with her picture from Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz’s Brilliant Women: 18th-Century Bluestocking, and imbued with the probability that, like Elizabeth Hands (ft 1789) and Anne Grant (1755-1823) that Jane Austen (see Reveries under the Sign of Austen) probably read her poetry and letters, I’ve decided to celebrate Elizabeth Carter once again. (I’ve written about her before, on blogs, on listservs, in reviews.)

Here is a fine poem by her:

“A Dialogue” (1741)

Says Body to Mind, ‘Tis amazing to see,
We’re so nearly related yet never agree,
But lead a most wrangling strange Sort of a Life,
As great Plagues to each other as Husband and Wife.
The Fault’s all your own, who with flagrant Oppression,
Encroach ev’ry Day on my lawful Possession.
The best Room in my House you have seiz’d for your own,
And turn’d the whole Tenement quite upside down,
While you hourly call in a disorderly Crew
Of vagabond Rogues, who have nothing to do
But to run in and out, hurry scurry, and keep
Such a horrible Uproar, I can’t get to sleep.
There’s my Kitchen sometimes is as empty as Sound,
I call for my Servants, not one’s to be found:
They all are sent out on your Ladyship’s Errand,
To fetch some more riotous Guests in, I warrant!
And since Things are growing, I see, worse and worse,
I’m determin’d to force you to alter your Course.

Poor Mind, who heard all with extreme Moderation,
Thought it now Time to speak, and make her Allegation.
‘Tis I, that, methinks, have most Cause to complain,
Who am crampt and confin’d like a Slave in a Chain.
I did but step out, on some weighty Affairs,
To visit, last Night, my good Friends in the Stars,
When, before I was got half as high as the Moon,
You dispatch’d Pain and Langour to hurry me down;
Vi & Armis they seiz’d me, in Midst of my Flight,
And shut me in Caverns as dark as the Night.

‘Twas no more, reply’d Body, than what you deserv’d,
While you rambled Abroad, I at Home was half starv’d:
And, unless I had closely confin’d you in Hold,
You had left me to perish with Hunger and Cold.

I’ve a Friend, answers Mind, who, tho’ slow, is yet sure,
And will rid me, at last, of your insolent Pow’r:
Will knock down your mud Walls, the whole Fabric demolish,
And at once your strong Holds and my Slav’ry abolish:
And while in the Dust your dull Ruins decay,
I shall snap off my Chains and fly freely away.

As I read this poem, the thrust of the dialogue is the body’s complaint. Body is complaining that although Carter does full justice to Mind (which Carter did), Mind does not at all give any fulfillment to Body. Body threatens revenge (she will take over the house), but Mind remains in power. We cannot say alas or even celebrate as Mind counters that Mind is just as chained by Body as Body is by Mind. Encased in flesh, cramped and confined. Mind has to endure all these pains and panics too. But Mind has a friend who will rid Mind of this insolent power, and Mind shall snap my chains and fly away. Alas, that
friend is death.

The bright tone which carries this acute content and the realism of the description of Carter’s daily life and her evening releases (walking by the moon) might lead readers to ignore the content. It is at odds with it. Note too the Rousseauistic imagery.

I’ve wondered if Carter had some lesbian leanings. Some of the woman in her Bath group did. We’ll never know. There’s this to one of her women friends:

While soft thro’ water, earth, and air
The vernal spirits rove,
From noisy joys, and giddy crowds,
To rural scenes remove.

The mountain snows are all dissolv’d,
And hush’d the blust’ring gale:
While fragrant zephyrs gently breathe,
Along the flow’ry vale.

The circling planets constant rounds
The wintry wastes repair:
And still, from temporary death,
Renew the verdant year.

But ah! when once our transient bloom,
The spring of life, is o’er,
That rosy season takes its flight,
And must return no more.

Yet judge by reason’s sober rules,
From false opinion free,
And mark how little, pilf’ring years
Can steal from you, or me.

This expatiation upon a line of Theocritus (in Greek) calms me too:

How sweet the calm of this sequestered shore,
where ebbing waters musically roll!
and solitude, and silent eve restore
the philosophic temper of the soul.

The sighing gale, whose murmurs lull to rest
the busy tumult of declining day,
to sympathetic quiet soothes the breast,
and ev’ry wild emotion dies away.

Farewel the objects of diurnal care,
your task be ended with the setting sun:
let all be undisturb’d vacation here,
while o’er yon wave ascends the peaceful moon.

What beauteous visions o’er the softened heart,
in this still moment all their charms diffuse!
serener joys, and brighter hopes impart,
and chear the soul with more than mortal views.

Here, faithful mem’ry wakens all her pow’rs,
she bids her fair ideal forms ascend,
and quick to ev’ry gladden’d thought restores
the social virtue, and the absent friend.

Come, Musidora , come, and with me share
the sober pleasures of this solemn scene,
while no rude tempest clouds the ruffled air,
but all, like thee, is smiling and serene.

Come, while the cool, the solitary hours
each foolish care, and giddy wish controul,
with all thy soft persuasion’s wonted pow’rs,
beyond the stars transport my listening soul.

Oft, when on earth detain’d by empty show,
thy voice has taught the trifler how to rise;
taught her to look with scorn on things below,
and seek her better portion in the skies.

Come: and the sacred eloquence repeat:
the world shall vanish at it’s gentle sound,
angelic forms shall visit this retreat,
and op’ning Heav’n diffuse it’s glories round


From Richard Samuel, The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain (1778), Elizabeth Carter’s face

The poems and some of the information in my sketch of Carter’s life (just below) come from Lonsdale’s Eighteenth Century Women Writers and Joyce Fullard’s British Women Poets, 1660-1800. The rest comes from my memories of chapters in books, essays on her I’ve read and heard, and reading in her poetry and letters:

Elizabeth Carter who a poet, translator, essayist, scholar, and letter writer.

In the idiom of Muriel Spark’s Miss Jane Brodie, Elizabeth Carter was famous for being so learned and knowing Greek. If you’ve heard of her at all, it’s through a quip Samuel Johnson is said to have made about her both being about to read Greek and make puddings. There’s another about how she got up so early to do Greek. Recently she features as one of a group of women in a popular scholarly kind of book by Norma Clarke, Dr Johnson’s
. She was “highly gifted linguistically” (Janet Todd, British Women Writers), and is said to have been able to read French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew,
Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Arabic. Perhaps she was better at some of these languages than others. She is also said to have composed from a very young age plays, novels, sermons, and poems.

From her letters we discover she suffered headaches, which she alleviated by playing the flute, gardening, and taking long walks deep into the countryside.

I heard an interesting paper on her in a meeting of the Eastern Region 18th Century society a couple of years ago. The woman scholar who had studied Carter’s letters suggested that she came to London in her early 20s determined to make a career as a writer for herself, and we find her noticed and printed by Edward Cave, Johnson (Carter’s famous for this too Miss Brodie would tell us); among her important works (read and influential) was her translation of Baretti’s dialogues on Newton’s philosophy, ostensibly “for the ladies” (as they’re made “simple”), but actually read by both sexes. The scholar
who read the paper says there is something unexplained about Carter’s sudden retreat from London; she returned home to Deal. Since she returned to Deal, her career fizzled out. The scholar suggested some traumatic event occurred in London. It was hinted it may have been sexual, but we cannot know.

Carter lived the rest of her fairly long life in Deal where she was born. She was the oldest daughter of Revd Nicholas Carter, Perpetual Curate and his wife, Margaret Swayne. Her father gave her the same education as her brothers (classical as well as modern languages). Her mother died when she was about 10. It was her father who first published her poems by virtue of his friendship with Edward Cave, proprietor of The Gentleman’s Magazine where Samuel Richardson found her “Ode to Wisdom” and put it into his Clarissa, attributing it to his heroine.

She was hampered by the people she was dependent upon for a long while, but she began to write letters, wonderful letters, filled with sparkling observations, love, bitterness, life, mostly to women: Frances Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford, Elizabeth Montagu, and most famously, her beloved Catherine Talbot. This letter writing became her lifeline and then her network and she began to travel through visitings. She became part of the circle of women in Bath whose linchpin was Montagu: she knew the highly intelligent and kind Sarah Fielding (novelist in her own right, sister of Henry), Sarah Scott, and Jane Collier (The Cry).

Samuel Richardson stepped in to help Carter produce a subscribed to edition of Epictetus; that made her enough money to be independent. Richardson was a good man in many ways and helped many women authors; he was always generous with money and time and space in his house. In 1762 with William Pulteney, Earl of Bath, Lord Lyttleton’s help and Montagu’s encouragement, Carter published her Poems on Several Occasions. She travelled to the continent in the next year, and the year after that Montagu and Pulteney settled an annuity on her. (Fanny Dashwood of Austen’s S&S fame may not have liked annuities, but those on the fringe, and who wasn’t, much appreciated such crumbs from rich men’s tables.)

Later in life she was a familiar figure in literary circles. However, she disliked intensely the new radical movement and gothic and revolutionary and feminist writers like Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft. She is said to have detested the latter — Freud would suggest reverse jealousy. She didn’t take kindly to William Hayley’s dedication to her of his Old Maids, though she usually took teasing and pretty well. Of course she liked Hannah More. On the other hand, women who stayed “respectable” and didn’t produce revolutionary or feminist ideals of “the rights of woman” (a “wild theory” said Carter) were countenanced: she liked Joanne Baillie who wrote some marvelous gothic plays and hard sharp verse. Her father’s death in 1774 had been a “great blow” (Janet Todd). Although from afar she got kudos from people as high as Catherine of Russia and Queen Charlotte, her mainstays were female friends, which included Fanny Burney and Hester Chapone.

It’s said that she helped make women writers respectable. I don’t know. It seems to me that outside 18th century circles I only hear quoted the line from Johnson that she could bake cakes as well as study Greek at 6 in the morning. I take it I’m supposed to be glad she baked cakes and think that as important as studying Greek at 6 in the morning — which has the effect of mocking her as well as telling us how she wisely kept her studies in the margins of her daily life. Her picture by Thomas Lawrence is the usual flattery he produced, the usual conventionalization: we see this cosy old lady all in lace. You can see her face clearly though. There is an intensity in the eyes, and her mouth is closed, tight, small. There is more than a bright old lady here.

We do have her poems and what of her correspondence has survived as well as the translations which were useful in their time – and still read today by scholars. One reason we don’t know why she retired so suddenly from London is in the usual way her heir, a nephew this time, censored and destroyed her “confidential communications” out of said letters.

She probably did enjoy her existence as much as the mores of her era and her character could allow her to. I take it she decided the game outside safety wasn’t worth it or she couldn’t pull it off. Her “Ode to Wisdom” used to be well-known because Samuel Richardson imaginatively (well it was a plagiarism but Carter forgave him) attributed it to Clarissa in his novel.

Norma Clarke has a valuable chapter on Elizabeth Carter in her Dr Johnson’s Women. She does not tell us Carter’s birthday, and she does not quite keep at the heart of Carter’s personality and style of life (stay-at-home, write letters, uncommercial, dependent) except in phrases now and again which lack of evidence prevents her from developing further, e.g., “She was, however, a troubled woman.” I’ve thought Carter was someone who should be looked at as psychologically badly wounded and frightened by some experiences she had in her early 20s which led to her retreat from London. (Yes I’ve read Stella Gibbons’s mockery of this kind of thinking in her Cold Comfort Farm about Aunt Aida and the woodshed; all I can say is maybe Gibbons had a thick-skin, was psychologically and sociologically and temporally lucky.) Clarke does tell of Carter’s later good friendship with Catherine Talbot and does justice to some of their letters. Clarke also shows how clever Carter was in keeping sufficiently away from Elizabeth Montague’s “patronage” and how Carter alone seems to have found in Montague someone who had a “language of the heart.” Carter’s was a life built out of female friendships.

Elizabeth Carter is rightly in the center of a famous painting in the period: Richard Samuel’s Nine Living Muses. According to Sylvia Myers (who wrote a fine book on the “bluestockings” — she was coerced into using the still derogatory term by the publisher), this famous picture originated with an idea that came out of conversations between the painter and some of the “bluestocking” circle. The women pictured (but not at all individualistically or realistically drawn) are: Elizabeth Carter, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Elizabeth Anne Sheridan (in the middle with the lyre), Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox, Angelica Kaufmann (at the easel), Catherine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, and Elizabeth Griffith. Poets, translators, learned classicists, musicians, polemicists, novelists, editors, painters, historians, memoir and letter writers and literary critics and playwrights. Frances Burney is not among them as Evelina was first published 3 years later. This is a mid- to late century bunch of women not a late to early 19th century one.

Good sources of and on Carter’s poetry: A critical edition of Elizabeth Carter’s life and work by Robinson, Clarissa Simek, Ph.D., Arizona State University, 2009; “Elizabeth Carter’s Legacy: Friendship and Ethics,” by Afag fazlollahi, Georgia State Univeristy, Ph.D. Dissertation, 2011; Paula Backscheider, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre; Susan Staves, A Literary History of Women’s Writing in Britain, 1660-1780 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2006) pp. 309-315.

Two useful informative articles: how Catherine Talbot as a presence in Carter’s letters allows Carter to tell her own story: Celia Barnes Rasmussen, “Speaking on the Edge of My Tomb”: The Epistolary Life and Death of Catherine Talbot,” Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, 8:2 (June 2010).

And on Elizabeth Carter as a letter-writer and member of the conversational & social circle in Bath made up largely of women: Alison E. Hurley, “A Conversation of Their Own: Watering Place Correspondence Among the Bluestockings,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 40.1 (2006) 1-21

Ellen Moody

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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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To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to
what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept
your soul alive. — R. L. Stevenson

Our house, 1984 (Jim’s mother, me, two daughters): it has not changed all that much

Our backyard: you see Izzy’s windows last summer

Dear Friends and Readers,

Over on facebook, someone told of a long day’s struggle to order, throw away, pack, and generally empty out his parents’ home (possible so as to sell it). What exhausting work emotionally and physically. Well his words reminded me of a moving diary entry in the LRB by August Kleinzhaler where he told of his experience of selling his childhood home. Rooting up your memories, and throwing them away.

How much our houses can mean to us. I will never comprehend the lack of feeling so many people display towards their environment, their house. They fix it in accordance with “market values!” Yes, when we did renovate the above, for we did, a little (new windows, installed new appliances in the kitchen, put in airconditioning, a new heater, painted), the man doing the kitchen wanted me to have certain kinds of woodwork along the kitchen cabinets because without that it won’t resell at a higher price. I’ve repeatedly come across people who make their houses into magazine-imitative places, with rooms set up for show (thus the need for a so-called family room). They are careful to make the show rooms impersonal: keep out signs of their real loves and occupations. Rooms are carefully distinguished as to purpose. We do all things in all rooms each of us likes; the rooms are partly distinguished by which of the three of us basically dwells there.

On his last visit to our house (1987 or so) my father remarked:

“It’s getting to look like Seaman Avenue” to which Jim replied, “These things take time, Willie.”

How important memories we have and how they are made concrete and perpetual for us by their local habitation. Do others not value their memories? To understand how a house can mean explicates why the gothic uses houses to signify terror, horror, deep perversion for in these spaces the memories are anguish, sorrow, corrosive. I actually don’t have such memories here, or they are minor, didn’t dominate even when we had a bad spirit here at times, and have now been contained and I can live in these spaces at peace.

How women are taught to hate themselves: it is so common for little girls to have dollhouses. Like dolls, this kind of toy is sometimes despised, and even by mothers of daughters. I’ve known women to take away a daughter’s doll at 11. To me this is scorning one’s gender. It is partly circumstance, partly the construction of women’s lives, but also temperamentally female, to value the intangible, the inward, memory, why women are good at ghost stories. I built three dollhouses with my two daughters; we still have one large Edwardian one in Izzy’s room, shoved in a corner, gathering dust now.

I put pictures on the walls which have symbolic value for me. Scotch-tape them up. Here is my library table seen at an angle:

I’ve changed those pictures again. Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood still has pride of place though.

Much as I long to move to NYC, to sell where we live now would be erasing a 30 yr existence, and probably we’d have to sell our house as a tear-down. No one but us would value it. The thought of what I’m told I would have to do to “prepare” it for a buyer, make it attractive to a typical one is what I can’t bear to do. I hesitate to picture what would replace it even so (for this would just be the veneer) given the soulless McMansions and magaziny-looking houses that have gone up or are wrapped around other houses in my neighborhood. (One good effect of the depression is this kind of obscenity has stopped for a time.)

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

A corner of the room I mostly live in, where I work and read and write.

On wompo someone asked where we literally read and write messages from and where we read them in cyberspace: I sit in my “workroom” or study in my house; it’s filled with my desk, two library tables, my husband’s desk (he sits in the living room), favorite pictures on the walls, lamps, bookcases, a closet with clothes and some of my stuff for writing or teaching. All the rooms in our house but the bathrooms and halls have two outer walls with a large window in each. So too here and I look out on a pretty old fashioned suburban scene (neighborhood built in 1949-51). The bookcases are my Austen and Trollope collections. I change the pictures on my wall as I feel like it. Pictures of friends and cats are on another wall. Poscards. On my computer Canaletto, [In front of] Northumberland House, London, a fresh fair morning, mid-century, peaceful, orderly.

Close to hand, near to heart.


By Eavan Boland (from Object Lessons in Outside History, pages 20-21, Norton, 1990)

I wonder about you: whether the blue abrasions
of daylight, falling as dusk across your page,

make you reach for the lamp. I sometimes think
I see that gesture in the way you use language.

And whether you think, as I do, that wild flowers
dried and fired on the ironstone rim of

the saucer underneath your cup are a sign of
a savage, old calligraphy: you will not have it.

The chair you use, for instance, may be cane
soaked and curled in spirals, painted white

and eloquent, or iron mesh and the table
a horizon of its own on plain, deal trestles,

bearing up unmarked, steel-cut foolscap
a whole quire of it; when you leave I know

you look at them and you love their air of
unaggressive silence as you close the door.

The early summer, its covenant, its grace,
is everywhere: even shadows have leaves.

Somewhere you are writing or have written in
a room you came to as I come to this

room with honeyed corners, the interior sunless,
the windows shut but clear so I can see

the bay windbreak, the laburnum hang fire, feel
the ache of things ending in the jasmine darkening early

I read messages mostly as emails using the gmail board, as emails on Yahoo sites, and nowadays on blogs, and facebook; once in a long while I check archives of lists online. I let the messages come in separately for four lists (my three at Yahoo ’cause I’m listowner, and Austen-l & wom-po since those listservs wreak havoc on messages). And because of all this my life is rich with friends. What matters in life is soul activity.

Hitherto, I have made it a policy to write autobiographically only on Reveries under the Sign of Austen; today I yield to temptation and begin to make my life apart from reading, movies, the arts part of this blog too, and link the two together. So last week at Reveries I wrote of The Return to Queens College: Autumn Entry and for two other examples, Christmas, 2009 into 2010 and Halloween 2009.

Our pussycat, Clarissa, aged 4 months (she is now over 2 years) sitting on Richardson’s Clarissa in our library house


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Duke of Omnium (Philip Latham) and Phineas (Donal McCann) talking of their political ideals (12:24 1974 Pallisers)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m taking two days out between preparing and putting new materials for teaching “Exploring the Gothic” as well as writing on the natural sciences and technology (particularly in the field of medicine (e.g, “Patients not Prisoners”, and a review of The Doctor); and beginning to write my paper on the gothic and Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Today and tomorrow I’m adding some material to and revamping my website. I’ve been meaning to do this for months.

Back in the spring I was intensely delighted when my etext edition of Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield was reviewed in Eighteenth Century Fiction by a French scholar, Isabella Tremblay: some mild strictures are accompanied by strong praise.

I wrote a blog about it at the time. Now I’ve taken the time to answer the strictures and want to point out here that the reviewer did not take the time to notice I had a whole separate section for Cottin and had made a partial edition of Montolieu’s travel book cum-life writing as fantasy.

Woman on a Balcony (Frau auf dem Söller), 1824, by Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), recent cover illustration for an Oxford Mysteries of Udolpho, an image strongly appropriate to the mood and stance of Montolieu’s work

Anna [Hermione Norris] reading Clarissa’s letter telling Anna of her desperate need for some shelter as she’s pressured intensely to marry Mr Solmes (BBC/WBGH Clarissa, 1991

After two new papers on Clarissa, signifying a whole new level of understanding of this novel or at least on my part ability to be candid and explore the full sources of emotional pain in this book, I’ve at long last revamped my Studies of Richardson’s Clarissa website.

Alfonso Simonetti, Ancor Non Torna, illustration for 19th century Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, a gothic image whose outward formation (the crawling woman) is repeatedly found in novels about rape and violation (Diderot’s Nun) of the 18th century

I am also at long last gathering all the (71!) films studies in the form of blog review-essays I wrote on all 26 episodes of the Palliser films and put them in a single handy place in the order they were aired on BBC.

Mrs Jane Carbuncle (Helen Lindsay), wholly changed from Trollope’s conception, this is one of my favorite moments from the series, when she and her lover Sir George de Bruce Caruthers decided their best and natural business is to escape out the back door, unobserved

I began this series in the spring of 2007 and finished it today. It’s an accomplishment. Determined, dared, and done.


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Nell Blaine (1922-96), The Cookie Shop (1986) — a favorite woman artist for me

Dear friends and readers,

On C18-l, a listserv I’ve been on since 1994 Jim Chevalier asked the question, “What were our research interests?” for the ostensible reason that then we could all know what areas we shared and what was the expertise or real terrains of the community. The motive was more to get people to write and thus keep the community alive with writing presences.

At first few answered, and there was an immediate tendency not just to cite pubilshed articles or books, but refer to a recent academic site where academic-style papers are published. One growing (it was asserted) by leaps and bounds: it’s a form of self-advertisement, face-book academic version. But, rightly, Jim said that he was looking for something different from the sort of thing allowable to articulate in papers. People did begin to offer a description, short usually of research interests conventionally understood (what X is publishing or working on right now or has done). But happily finally the listowner, suggested this was a hard question to answer and told of his research areas and interests as his life’s work over years of living, teaching, being alive.

So I wrote in too, and thought I’d put my posting here as a blog since this blog is turning into an academic-style one where I write in a familiar letter manner about my serious scholarly interests (as it might be put in describing a resume).

I agree with Kevin Berland that this is — or was — a hard question to answer as posed. Areas of research interest for people who do it as central to their lives over a long period of time morph as our lives morph so it’s not just a question of new areas of interest coming out of projects but the way we go about it changing. For me too some of the areas I’ve gotten involved in have been the result of relationships and events (meeting people and joining groups) so I was commissioned to write a book on Anthony Trollope for the Trollope Society and having spent five years on it altogether found myself a Trollopian and have stayed with it — going to two conferences with papers, and recently (last month) publishing a review of a book that emerged from one of these conferences. I do love the man’s books and have grown to like him too, but it was an external event or meeting someone that diverted or expanded my interests. And now I’ve published on George Eliot too (and love her novels and letters and criticism about her, and biographies) and moved out further to Margaret Oliphant.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, one of my favorite Victorian painters, this is Leeds, autumn 1893, Golden Light — a copy hangs on one of the walls of my room

While the career trajectory often demands that one stay within a given period or interest, it’s not been that way for me. Early on I changed areas too: I began as an Early Modern specialist with an interest in poetry, dropped that to move to the 18th century and wrote my dissertation on Richardson’s Clarissa and Grandison. There I can formulate it a usual way: I was gripped by the book (Clarissa), still am (!), but also interested to answer the question, how the modern novel with its deep subjectivity developed out of the earlier romance forms. I wanted to know how this creative mood whereby when a reader reads a novel she will think she is literally “in” the book somehow, lose a sense of the world around her, and imagine herself in this world to the point you have to be proded to half-wake up to reality. I thought it was located in the reveries of epistolary narrative. I’m still fascinated by epistolary narratives, but have moved on to gothic, female gothic, French novels (as important to this process of creating the modern novel). I love French literature, and especially texts by women from the later 17th into our own time. Never tire of them :)

Again Nell Blaine, this time Cosmos, Night Interior, 1976

No small joy for me has been 18th century picturesque and rococo art:

Canaletto, Northumberland House, 1752 (the wallpaper for this main computer I write on and look at all the time),

landscape poetry, but it also helped that Robert Adams Day advised me a paper I wrote on Clarissa had a dissertation topic in it and said he would be my advisor. It was that offer that drew me to the 18th century as the problem of finding an advisor and a topic to write about that would be acceptable by some authority was solved.

But I didn’t give up my poetry and in the end instead of writing a scholarly researched book translated the complete oeuvres of two Italian Renaissance poets; Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, and kept up that one too — I wrote a review of a recent translation of part of Colonna’s oeuvre. I’m interested in women’s poetry and wrote a series of essays on “foremother poets” for a poetry festival online organized by a group of women poets, an offshoot of a listserv; we (a larger group) then published an anthology of poems by us (one a person in the book) called Letters to the World. Anna Barbauld belongs here for me as a central woman poet only now beginning to be adequately read.

Giovanni Volpato and Louis Ducrois, The Temple to the Sybil at Tivoli, 1750s (the wallpaper for my laptop on my library table)

And one develops new interests — one which is partly the result of teaching is film studies, film adaptations of novels. Students and lots of people “get their stories” from movies nowadays, and movies influence how books are read or make visible how they are read at a given time, and I’m now engaged in a book project, the Austen movies — as well as an article project on Trollope, the Palliser films. And now I’ve grown fascinated with the work of Andrew Davies. My respect for him increases daily — or nightly. The other night I watched a masterwork by him (and Tristram Powell, the director, son of Anthony who wrote Dance to the Music of Time), Falling, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Jane Howard (and I love and read all the time women’s memoirs and novels, an interest which began to be scholarly back with Clarissa).

I keep up with publications on the science of medicine (its history too) because I teach continually a course called Advanced Composition on the Natural Sciences and Technology. Often as much as a third of my class is made up of young and older adults who work in the worlds of medicine.

I see I forgot Austen. I first read her when I was 12 or 13 and have never stopped. She never fails me, and I keep my bookcase full of books by and about her, and essays and all sorts of things near my desk in my workroom. Close at hand, near to heart. In fact reading women’s memoirs and novels that come out of the Austen tradition or are like her books in their woman-centered point of view and interest in subjectivity and the private life impinged on by public are a need for me. I find comfort and strength in such books.

My favorite of all the heroines, Elinor Dashwood as enacted by Hattie Morahan in the 2008 S&S (by Davies and Pivcevic), in a moment where she sounds and has a facial and bodily expression like that of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

And also feminism. In the middle 1990s I had a conversion experience. I realized I had misunderstood the feminist movement, had (wrongly) seen it as a movement of elite women seeking to improve their career prospects and create power and prestige for themselves. This was the result of being here in cyberspace online and reading many woman’s postings and being on all sorts of lists. I realized feminism could and would help me, free me, enable me to understand what had happened to my in my life better and also read literature in a new way that made it meaningful for me, so that I could and did find myself in books in ways I could not see before — and for the first time. This has not changed what I read, but the way I read it and how I write about it. I could never have written the paper, “Rape in Clarissa” in the 1980s nor delivered it in public the way I did. Nowadays I discern four phases, here outlined, and these influence the way I see books and writing today too:

The first phase: officially visible started in 1848, in the US, by a conference in upper New York State, familiar to us in the suffragette movement where women asked for what in the western world is mostly at least in lipservice granted:

the vote, for career and education equality, for prohibition, critiquing the family structure strongly as such for hurting women physically and financially; this phase includes a demand for prohibition because when men, husbands and fathers are drunk, they don’t work and make money for the family, and they are frequently violent;

The second phase I’d sum up as the most radical and what makes feminism an object for attack, and is still hotly contested (this area includes discussions of say rape). Voices here are Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Simone de Beauvoir, Lilian Robinson, lots of famous names:

they moved to a demand for freedom for their bodies, they analyzed the role of sexuality and wanted to change the terms of sexuality and indeed the experience and said society was structured to give men power over women in each particular (the analogy would be with Marxists showing the economic basis of oppression), so a strong socialism model underlies this. It is this group of women who are called man-haters and prigs and accused of not liking sex. Well, they don’t like to be raped.

Third-phase sometimes seen as a reaction against feminism, and a qualification by women in order to deflect the backlash; here you paradoxically also find people like Linda Hirshman so insistent on getting power, be in corridors of power and angry too:

Motherhood is power once again (at least to some), if women find power in sexuality the way it’s done, that’s power (the argument against is this is no power the way it’s experienced, or only fleetingly); strong individualism (a US value), seek power for yourself and use it as you please; pro-families (best or to me most valued argued on the basis of how lower class and working women only get their self-esteem through their function in a family or as a mother); here you find women trying to reach out too beyond their class and race and ethncities.

And now post-feminism:

Refuge seeking, eclectic, sometimes seen as no feminism and a retreat, if so a sophisticated one. Examples found in Karen Joy Fowler’s Sister Noon, also Austen.

I say least about the last since the last has been least written about — as far as I know. I’d be grateful for any discussions of “post-feminism” others know of.

One more aspect of this morphing. Funny that I thought of Austen only at the end — so fundamental is she to me. I should also have brought out how we read and write differently about books and art over the years, so that not just areas of interest but how we go about them changes. Again there’s a conventional way of putting this: one takes up with say deconstruction or book history as this emerges in the scholarly world. But for me at least my engagement in such things does not come because they are there or fashionably spreading and bring up new ideas to use as perspectives. So if I nowadays bring in film studies perspectives, it’s not something external, or just that.

Emma Thompson, still my favorite actress, in a recent movie with Dustin Hoffman, Last Chance Harvey

So (I concluded on C18-l), I know lots about different things that are intertwined but also sometimes seem divagations … but are anything but. They are my life.


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Lovelace’s (Sean Bean) first attempt to rape Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) (1991 BBC Clarissa)

Dear friends and readers,

The Admiral and I will be gone for a few days, to Albuquerque, New Mexico (we’ll see Santa Fe!), where there is an 18th century conference at which I’ll give my paper-talk, “What right have you to detain me here?”: Rape in Clarissa.

A powerful picture by Edgar Degas:

Egar Degas (1834-1917), “Interior (The Rape)” (1868-69)

Here we see a typical common rape, most of the time still not registered or recorded. It often happens when a woman is in a relationship with a man, the kind of circumstances which can preclude a woman from going to court. The image is powerful because it is intimate, because of the posture of the man up again the wall, waiting, quietly predatory, reminding me of the depiction of Peter Quint in the recent 2009 Turn of the Screw film adaptation by Sandy Welch. The woman too turned away, vulnerable. That we know nothing of their story, who they are is part of the power and meaning.

The impressionists are too often liked as simply landscape artists. They were rebels; they broke with hierarchy, with painting to flatter patrons. Here’s a companion piece to “The Rape” by Manet, famous, the barmaid.


Journalizing, 3/26/2010: I’ve now put “‘What right have you to detain me here?’: Rape in Clarissa up on my site.


My next posting will be on Boris Pasternak’s great and utterly contemporary novel, Dr Zhivago (see my blog on the two film adaptations thus far).

A toute a l’heure,

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