Posts Tagged ‘clarissa’

It is plausible that no translation, however good it may be, can have any significance as regards the original — Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations

One must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is the same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates and all patchwork — Primo Levi, “Potassium,” The Periodic Table

Eugene Atget (1857-1927), The Petit Trianon

Dear friends and readers,

My theme: I’ve returned to an old love to do a new project: French-to-English and back again translations in the 18th century. I begin with Walter Benjamin and my own experiences, then cover Beebee’s book, Clary on the continent, Prevost’s different Clevelands, and various different telling individual cases (different Tom Joneses, Radcliffe’s translators); I end on Renato Poggioli’s “The Added Artificer” which deserves to be much better known.


I have a hard time remembering when I was not fascinated by translations. I think it began back in high school when at age 16 I read a probably poor translation into English of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I loved the book and wanted to know more about it, and especially I wanted to read it in French. Later on somehow reading a book in one language and then reading the same book in another gave me an experience of two weirdly interdependent books and thus worlds. When I was in college, I took French for all the years I could, extending my non-major following of it with one-credit courses: such courses met twice a week, but for one and one-half hours of sheer talk in French allowed using our books. We’d take turns using its conversations. Then in graduate school, I took a course in Italian over one summer to fulfill the language requirement (one had to pass two tests in two languages), and just loved the language, again enjoyed so much lining up a text in Italian aligned with its source or target text in English.

Anne Finch when young

During the 1980s I re-taught myself to read French and read French novels, and then for over 20 years starting the middle 1980s I taught myself to read and to translate Italian and translated Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara’s poetry and then wrote an essay on Anne Finch’s translations out of the Italian though the French. Just what I had done at first for Colonna (and what I’ve done since for a poem by Elsa Morante I found in the original Italian with French text facing it).

So when over the past week I dropped one of my projects for this fall term, the paper on Paranoia and Infamy, I naturally turned to the proposal I wanted to send to Chawton, and was happy, even eager to reread some of my books on translation (Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility, The Scandals of Translation, Sherry Simon’s Gender in Translation). Did you know that over 90% of translations into the world are transations into English? how little translators are paid? How women’s writing begins in translation, how they express themselves through its covering medium?

I discovered my old folders filled with essays on translation, some read, some not read, and books and essays just on translation in the 18th century, the 19th and more recently.

Charlotte Smith by George Romney (1792)

My idea was Charlotte Smith’s translation of Prevost’s Manon Lescaut, or some study of intermediary texts between her later novels and Prevost and Rousseau, but to tell the truth I was not sure I could find something to extrapolate out of a tight narrow comparison. I do have Isabelle de Montolieu’s translation of one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer’s Tale (Corisande de Beauvilliers, and all of M. Montagne’s (whoever he is) French translation of Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, which I also own in English. And of course Montolieu’s translation of Sense and Sensibility (with her preface) and soon will have her translation of Persuasion.

So I went about to look for previous work on individual books I’d done. I’ve now remembered my careful comparative reading of the opening of Radcliffe’s Udolpho with Victorine de Chastenay’s translation of the same text into French, something of Chastenay’s life (she was imprisoned during the terror and lost family members and emerged somewhat shattered and depressed, and various essays on 18th century translations of classics (Riccoboni and Davaux’s Tom Jones, a French and a Dutch translation of Prevost’s Cleveland contrasted to the French texts) and of course Prevost’s Clarisse.

Victorine de Chastenay (translator into French of Radcliffe’s Udolpho)

And I’ve read away and reminded myself of what I once knew. So, I spent Tuesday I spent yesterday reading translation studies and then how women in particular use translation: how the earliest women writers began (felt they had license) by translating, how it works to free, a way to express what is otherwise forbidden (that’s how I see Smith’s translation of Manon Lescaut), a way of declaring love and wanting to share (Chastenay’s Udolpho).

Jean-Antoine Watteau, unnamed shepherdess

I read Mirella Agorni’s poignant, The Voice of the ‘Translatress’: From Aphra Behn to Elizabeth Carter Author, The Yearbook of English Studies, 28 (1998 Eighteenth-Century Lexis and Lexicography): 181-95, and I compared a literal translation of Ovid’s Oenone to Paris with Aphra Behn’s translation/adaptation. In her case (as is not uncommon among men as well as women) she did not have any Latin, so someone gave her an intermediary crib. Behn turned the poem into erotica — on behalf of Oenone, a nobody. Since reading Germaine Greer’s persuasive debunking of all the myths growing up around Aphra Behn, including that she was an aristocrat (born on wrong side of blanket), supported herself sheerly by her playwriting (when it seems rather she combined being men’s mistresses with playwriting and verse, including translations, and pop novellas), I can see why she’d identify with Oenone.

Behn is worth remembering and this unashamed revelling in idyllic
pastoral too. Some of her most moving verses defend her as a translatress:

I by a double right thy Bounties claim,
Both from my Sex, and in Apollo’Ns ame:
Let me with Sappha and Orinda
Oh ever sacred Nymph, adorn’d by thee;
And give my Verses Immortality.

Jane Austen died declaring her immortality in defiance against everyone spending their afternoon so trivially.

‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal!


The Abbe Prevost (1697-1763) translated all Richardson and Frances Sheridan’s Sidney Biddulph

Speaking very generally, as the century progressed and the novel achieved more respect, translations became more ostensibly faithful. Paradoxically at the same time (especially if you are working on the literal old model that a good translation is a sort of excellent crib — rather like those who go to movies and critique a film adaptation by how “literally” like it seemed to them to the book), translations became more creative. You can see how the author expressed her or himself through the medium.

Some of the best general essays written thus far on translation are general philosophical ones. A particularly rich one is by Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”. He opens with what may seem a strange idea: “It is plausible that no translation, however good it may be, can have any significance as regards the original.” The analysis in defense of this is brilliant and rich with ideas. One train of argument suggests that any translation is about the encounter of the two languages and two cultures. I find this to be so in my experience of translation. I don’t own the words I use and must use the words of my time and culture and watch them interact with the words and cultural assumptions and whole world view of the other language — French or Italian. He says the desire to translate comes partly from a love of a certain language. Again I know this is so.

Lovelace just before the rape: Simon Brett’s late 20th century illustrations for the Folio Society edition

I reread some of Beebee’s Clarissa on the Continent, about 18th century to modern translations of Clarissa — and abridgements. I know now the Broadveiw edition provides a new edition of the 3rd edition of Clarissa, thus replacing the now out-of-print 4 volume Everyman.

Beebee’s book includes a close reading of two contemporary translations of Clarissa: Prevost and Michaelis’s. He compares these two texts to Richardson’s 1st and 3rd editions of Clarissa (which are themselves different, though both think they must Frenchify the text from the point of view of French taste and ethics). Beebee teaches us how to read translations. He has a chapter where he surveys later translations and abridgements. Particularly of interest to me was Dallas’s abridgement as Trollope wrote a critique of that; it was the book 19th century readers knew Clarissa. After Dallas when some 19th century person says she’s read Clary it’s probably Dallas’s Clary.

In last chapter of Beebee’s book he compares Sherburn’s 1970s and Burrell’s 1950s abridgements. Most of the time today Clarissa is read in an abridgement in the US. In France they read Prevost’s translation (quite different in a number of ways from Richardson); in the US when I was in college (1960s) we read Burrell’s abridgement for Modern Library; the last decade or so students read Sherburn’s abridgement for Rinehart. Margaret Doody has a long article lambasting Sherburn (by the way).

I had been really delighted to come across for the first time ever a close reading and discussion of Burrell. I was not sure of his full name. His edition had never been acknowledged or described in print as far as I knew. I had read Doody and Stuber’s exposure of Sherburn’s abridgement as a far too personal, rigid, a narrow take with interjections by Sherburn (!), but never came across any commentary on Burrell.

Lovelace attacking Clarisssa (Simon Brett again)

It was Burrell’s abridgement of Clarissa that I first read at age 18-19 and was riveted by. I had the not uncommon experience of not being able to put the book down, of being gripped to read on and on into the wee hours of the dawn. The most vivid memory I had though was of disappointment; somehow or other I had missed the rape. I still remember hunting around the text the following morning (after a little sleep) and not finding it. Later false memories began to tell me I had found it later, but now I realize that in fact I must’ve read the rape for the first time in the Everyman reprint of Richardson’s 3rd edition.

Well, guess what? Burrell omitted it! He censored out the scene. It was in the Everyman I realized that Lovelace raped Clarissa in front of the other women; there I first read the famous passage where Clary says she will be his, just give her a bit of time right here, right now.

Nonetheless, I believe that Burrell’s edition influenced me & strongly; Burrell produces a romantic (vexed word I know, but I’m trying to use it in the common sense way of overwrought individualistic emotionalism and rebellion) text. Burrell will omit much surrounding matter here and there which qualifies Clarissa’s subjective interpretations and outcries. I’ve never read Sherburn so didn’t realize he actually interjects his own interpretation and sometimes himself imitates Lovelace — falls into Lovelace’s vein. Beebee shows how both men cut the book in ways which erase some of the worst aspects of Lovelace’s character. Reading them, though, against Richardson’s books teaches us what was most deeply meant to be expressed in the original — especially after you have studied a variety of translation and adaptations.

Final duel (Brett)

I probably loved Clarissa, was more grabbed by it in Burrell’s edition than I would have been in Richardson’s whole text. Burrell omitted much of the long fourth volume, especially all the Job passages and the gruesome and to me egregiously spiteful nasty dramatizations of the deaths of wicked people. He kept Lovelace’s agon, time at the assembly ball, the lead-up to the duel. (See how vicious the Deity can get; watch out is my gut response to these Burrell thought them in bad taste.) Burrell also turned Clary into a pre-Byronic heroine and softened the presentation of Lovelace.

So I was at long last vindicated. 40 years later I learned I didn’t miss the rape after all. I had not fallen asleep over my book.


Samuel Palmer (1805-81), A Dream in the Appenines (1864)

Some of the best studies I read yesterday were about the clash between cultures, languages, created worlds through languages though having the same literal stories and denotative word content, and even syntax (at times). You do have to read more than one language to do translation studies and as the central hegemonic languages in the 18th century for new literary movements were French and English, these are the languages most studies are in. I went into Annie Cointre, Alain Lautel and Annie Rivera’s La Traduction
romanesque au XVIII siecle
, especially a long essay on Prevost’s
Cleveland — in French and English and Dutch versions. It brings home so many issues, including the way history was more valued than fiction and historians paid more, how this book applied to a naive desire to read history made easy and salacious (as in our time). This was by Ellen Ruth Moerman.

Abbe Prevost reading Manon Lescaut aloud to group of admirer (1856 painting by Joseph Caraud)

To do a translation study you must do book history. Prevost had several translators; his book came out in more than one edition and it was censored differently in different countries. The Dutch translator was quite content to translate anti-Catholic church commentary, but the Catholic French one was not. All of them stigmatize the Quakers (everyone dislikes quakers because people resent general non-conformity with the larger group). Then Prevost wanted partly to delude his British audience into thinking his book was really a history, really written first in English and had the English copy published before the French. There are two different prefaces: one published in English opens with a solemn discourse on the uses of history; the other in French is more tongue-in-cheek and he defends himself for writing a preface (what is this hypocrisy that prefaces are to be apologized for; they are needed) and insinuates if you enjoyed the Man of Quality, you’ll find him in this book again.

The 1997 BBC Tom Jones understood how important Fielding’s presence can be in the novel for the reader who wants over self-conscious wit, self-reflexive mockery

Two essays on the translations of Tom Jones, one by Kristina Taivalkoski-Shilove and another by Annie Rivara (on Riccoboni’s Amelie)
very worth while. It was fascinating to discover that the freer early translation by La Place was the Tom Jones most French readers knew and preferred; that it was a labor of love Davaux did when he translated faithfully and carefully and included all the opening narrator chapters. In the 20th century Tom Jones is reprinted in popular editions without these opening chapters. For me the book is ruined; much of the deep pleasure comes from the presence of the narrator. But apparently not for a mass readership who are said to lose “interest.” Amelia was not popular, and Riccoboni’s choice to do it came out of her deep engagement with its story of unhappiness in years of marriage.

From Christopher Cave I was delighted to learn that Andre Morellet, humane philosophe who translated Beccario’s treatise demonstrating that torture turns up no valid information translated Radcliffe’s Italian. He found in her a congenial reformist spirit, but he continually rationalized her prose. She produces a super-abundance of description which cannot depict reality so many experiences are piled into one. He choses a line of description that’s clear and readily pictured. What makes for her original depth psychologically and pictorially vanishes. It’s true you can’t make fun of her text and it’s no longer what some find tedious. I just love myself getting lost in labyrinths with endless doors and locks.

Piranesi, I Carceri (opaque)

Piranesci, I Carceri (clarified)

And I spent time with my old love, Renato Poggioli’s “The Added Artificer” (in a marvelous anthology put together by Reuben Brower, On Translation). Like Venuti, he shows that a translation is another text, and one that is creative in a different way. The translator (like an illustrator) can transcend the first text by transposing another personality into the key of his or her own. You strive after self-expression by looking into a pool of art. Instead of a translation being pouring new wine into an old or previously extant bottle, the translator is taking older wine and making a new bottle with it. The translator is herself a living vessel saturated with a sparkling spirit and recreates the container someone with whom he or she has an affinity has given a previous embodiment to. A good translation may be read for itself, without comparing it to the original work.

Eugene Atget, Grand Trianon, Pavillion de Musique (1923-24)


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I am glad that I have ended my revisal of this dreadful scene. It is not to be endured — Samuel Johnson, Othello [Desdemona. But half an hour! Othello. Being done, there is no pause. Des. But while I say one prayer! Oth. It is too late. Smothers her.]

I was impressed for the ten thousandth time by the fact that literature illuminates life only for those to whom books are a necessity. Books are unconvertible assets, to be passed on only to those who possess them already.” Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time

1988 Pan edition (1st one I read for 1st time)

2009 source edition (the one I could get into the book store for my students and which I have now read with them twice)

Dear friends and readers,

An important side topic emerged on one of the Yahoo reading listservs I am grateful to be a member of, Inimitable-Boz, where a group of people are reading Dickens’s Bleak House, a few it seems for the first time, and most for far more than the 2nd or 3rd: why do we re-read a book, how does the pleasures of rereading, and re-rereading differ from the first reading.

It came out of one of these inevitable (it seems) protests from someone that as I am reading this book for the first time, I must not be told anything about what I have not yet read yet, which behavior I have learnt since coming onto the Net is regarded as a “spoiler” and must be labelled “spoiler alert.” Honestly as far as I was conscious of this I never came across this idea before the Internet, but since has become so familiar to me that I know many a reader protests in puzzlement against introductions and prefaces to books (carefully prepared for them by a publisher, paid for) and which [honored, respected] behavior may be found carried to the extreme of not allowing someone to describe a film at all before attending, lest knowing something “spoils” it for this person. Admittedly this last is an extreme response that I’ve seen trotted out by people mostly in order to silence any talk about films that might be serious, or prevent anyone from asking or discussing with the person some thoughtful or content-rich reaction.

One member of the listserv sent along an insightful column by Stanley Fish where for once (usually I dislike the personality he projects too strongly to read anything he writes), I felt grateful to Prof Fish for explaining the obvious: “What Do Spoilers Spoil”. What distresses me is the demand often has a chilling effect on sharing, talking about, and enrichening our experience of books.

Among the points Fisher makes that I want to repeat:

In August 2011 two researchers at the University of California at San Diego reported (in the journal Psychological Science) that in a controlled experiment, “subjects significantly preferred spoiled over unspoiled stories in the case of both … ironic twist stories and … mysteries.” In fact, it seems “that giving away … surprises makes readers like stories better “perhaps because of the “pleasurable tension caused by the disparity in knowledge between the omniscient reader and the character.


The positive case for spoilers is even stronger if you are persuaded by those who argue, in the face of common sense, that suspense survives certainty. This is called “the paradox of suspense” and it is explained by A. R. Duckworth: “1. Suspense requires uncertainty. 2. Knowledge of the outcome of a narrative, scene or situation precludes any uncertainty. 3. [Yet] we feel suspense in response to fictions we know the outcomes of

I like when Prof Fish talks of different kinds of pleasures, as the one you have on a second time reading when you know what’s going to happen and can see so much more the ironies and how things are working out, appreciate the skeins of imagery and also his theory of a paradox of suspense even when you know. I experience that — or I’d call it a paradox of engagement. I had begun rereading Winston Graham’s Warleggan for the third time the other night. I came upon the long terrible (hard to read) sequence where Francis Poldark, a major character, one beloved by me, who when not simply (justifiably) angry, depressed, embittered, suicidal, is man with gifts to be cherished, a tender heart,when he dies – slowly — hanging in the end to a nail to prevent himself drowning while he waits for people to realize he’s gone missing and come and rescue him. I knew he was going to die, had not made it. It didn’t matter. I suffered just as much reading the text, maybe more and felt the last lines as keenly — though the first shock or surprise was over.

I leave my reader to go over and read Fish to see how this is.

Equally dismaying, if you take these protests seriously, you are not allowed to talk of anything in the book, story or characters as that’s not yet known. There is, I submit, an inexorable intransigent anti-intellectualism at work here. I should not tell stories revealing how blank some students can be but one a propos comes to mind: I had a student last term who when she realizes I had read Sense and Sensibility more than once looked just amazed. Really. “Why did I read it more than once? whatever for? I knew what was in it.” What can one say to this? I can’t make up my mind if it was faux naivete, surely it was. Or was she coying me, quizzing, mocking at some level.

And yet those wanting to talk are made to feel they are sociopaths trespassing.

Another member of Inimitable-Boz suggested

Spoilers ought to be with mutual consent. Otherwise they can be received as deliberate aggressions. The first pleasure of discovery is like (male or female) virginity. Once lost it is for ever. Why do we re-re-read? perhaps it is to recapture what we nevertheless know is lost for ever. Or is it in order to experience better what we missed or did ill the first time?

I find the demand for spoiler warnings intimidating, aggressive in itself, imposing on others one kind of reading and making you avoid discussing the book as a whole seriously. The solution of everyone reading the book first before even beginning is in fact the one way you can avoid stifling discussion. But that’s unrealistic in terms of realities of people’s way of using cyberspace reading groups (it’s a way to get oneself to read a book in the first place for some). I wonder how much discussion people have after the book was read and closed or movie seen and ended. My feeling is people like to discuss a book while they are reading it.

There’s also this: an author will often not tell us something explicitly but expect us to know it. He or she may not tell it explicitly so we will respect the character may, enjoy the paradox of suspense more or certain ironies. For example, Jane Austen does not tell us until near the end of Northanger Abbey that General Tilney has not imprisoned his wife in chains and left her half to starve. She expects us to know that Mrs Tilney is really dead, died 9 years ago, this is not a cover-up story. Thus when Catherine goes wandering about the abbey looking for her it’s funny. She is absurd. Austen doesn’t tell us explicitly in order for us to empathize with Catherine’s upset and distress. In Bleak House we we are expected to know who the disguised woman is (Lady Dedlock) and by Chapter 5 what her relationship is to Esther Summerson (her long-hidden mother) and who Nemmo is: the father. Dickens doesn’t tell us explicitly.

I did have students in my classes who expressed disappointment and dismay when it turned out that Mrs Tilney would never be on stage. One of them said to me, you said Mrs Tilney is an important character. Yes, that does not mean she has to be alive. These are unsophisticated readers who have not gotten into the conventions. I know that Woodcourt will be the hero who loves Esther shortly after he comes on the stage and Dickens expects me to know this. It’s not giving anything away to talk about it. In the case of Lady Dedlock she is powerful and upper class and she makes Joe’s life a misery after she leaves him. We are to see her ignorance about these sorts of things. I suggest the novelist gets that paradox of suspense Fisher talked of, plus that if it were made explicit we would not respect the characters in the same way. It gives them a distancing integrity; we take their views seriously, now Lady Dedlock wants to remain secret; she is disguised.


On to re-reading & recurring characters.

1988 Pan edition (the 1st one I read for the first time

2009 Source book (the more appropriately illustrated Pan 2008 for Demelza is not available here in the US)

I’m just now struggling — gentle reader, truly struggling — to fit in the Poldark novels by Winston Graham and the 1975-78 two season mini-series film adaptations as part of my serious reading this summer while doing two linked projects on Jane Austen. I’ve discovered I must carve out 1 1/2 to 2 hours every couple of days genuinely to go beyond where I’ve gotten to take in the novels more fully. Or I’m going through grazing the surface and not taking in the structures and rich content specific to each book. As to times, I’ve probably read Ross Poldark four times, Demelza three, Jeremy Poldark three, and Warleggan twice (all written just as WW2 was ending to 1953); the second quartet, The Black Moon, Four Swans, The Angry Tide (1973-77) merely twice each, with the later quartet, The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, The Twisted Sword (1981 into 1990) and coda, Bella (2003), once each (see handy list).

I don’t re-read just to experience better what I missed before or read ill last time. Maybe that is true for a second or third reading but after a while one doesn’t experience that. I don’t re-read to recapture the surprise either. (In life I’m not particularly keen on surprises, dislike them in fact and reassure my students all the time we will not have any surprises in our class and I will work hard to ensure your grade is no surprise to you. [I know that’s not possible for all students as some delude themselves.])

I re-read simply because I love the presence in the book, the author implicit there, or the characters, or the world that’s created and want to experience it again.

I say of Austen she never fails me. It would take a lot of words to say what I mean by that but that’s why I reread now — even when I’m tired of her, and sometimes think her very narrow and even over-rated, when she irritates me. I’ve just started Trollope’s Kellys & OKellys; I’ve read about 2 times I think and it’s not failing me at all. I’m just gaining strength as I read; it’s like iron in the blood. Some books make me feel better. I’ve read a number of Trollope’s Barsetshire and Palliser novels countless times. I love Mr Harding as he appears in his first novel, The Warden, comic-tragic political fable. And I love his trick of recurring characters.

In Trollope and other novelists who write very long novels of social critique peopled densely, there’s the phenomenon of recurring characters. By that is meant a character who exists in one novel turns up in another – and what’s more they fit. So, for example, Dolly Longestaffe (a cynical useless drone type male who lives off others and does nothing himself) is first seen in The Way We Live Now but then turns up at the racecourse in The Duke’s Children (an entirely different book in spirit mostly except this one sub-plot where suddenly there’s Dolly). I’m not talking about series of cycical novels (sometimes called romans fleuves) for then the story is kept going and so the characters naturally are evolving too. Modern detective fiction uses the central detective who is the focus of novel after novel and he or she comes with other characters.

To distinguish Trollope’s art from Dickens’s, it would be rather say if Esther Summerson from Bleak House would re-appear in say Our Mutual Friend to offer Lizzie Hexam advice. We would know for sure this would be very good advice. In Trollope’s Miss Mackenzie Lady Glencora Palliser shows up running a successful auction. She would. In Ayala’s Angel, the hunting set are a bunch of characters we first met in The American Senator. They live nearby. Mr Harding turns up in the very late Kept in the Dark as a sort of joke. Someone wonders if he has married a harridan, and we know it is just not possible.

Readers often love this. They get a great kick out of some favorite or memorable character recurring in another novel by the same author.
What I’m getting it is how real Trollope made his world to him and how interconnected: a vast oeuvre which he writes bits off of in different moods, then you would or might see this phenomenon, but we don’t do we? Asked how many novels or books he had written, Trollope replied he’d written 88. Some such number in the 80s. He did not say I wrote 47 novels, so many short stories, so many this or that. But 88 stories. I think he really did see his work as continuous and the novels interconnected even if they are not set up say like Proust’s or Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

It’s not cheapening characters to do this — or not necessarily but they come out of the “larger context that defines them …” (Bob’s phrase over on Inimitable-Boz). Now Winston Graham has made a world of 12 novels with the same central evolving characters for the first 7. And I’m drawn to nearly all the central characters quite intensely, but especially Ross, Demelza, Dwight Enys, Jud, Elizabeth Chynoweth, Francis Poldark, Drake Carne, Mowenna Chynoweth.

This feeling is not true for me for Dickens. I don’t go to him for this. I like Andrew Davies’s two adaptations and Sandy Welch’s Our Mutural Friend because they correct and improve and turn Dickens’s into an experience I can return to again and again. I’ve taken Davies’s film adaptation, Little Dorrit with me on trips the way I do some novels, in order to get me through bad patches. I find travel very difficult and vacations also a strain, a displacement.

The experience need not be a novel. I feel this way about Samuel Johnson who is his best in his life-writing and essays.

It can happen for just a specific book that grabs one over and over again. For many women including contemporary African-American this seems to be true of Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell’s central woman’s historical novel classic of the mid-20th century turned into The Wind Done Gone). Jane Eyre. For me Byatt’s Possession. Some are so intense or painful it’s hard to read them a second time but I do. My husband has read Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time countless times. He never tires of all 12 books.

Some people can feel this way about a movie or a film-maker (Bergman never fails my husband; we go to all the Bergmann films.) Some filmmakers are highly uneven. I find this to be true of Woody Allen.

There are books written about reading that talk about this: Maureen Corrigan’s Leave Me Alone I’m reading really ought to be called Rereading.

Then another person commented:

Ultimately, as far as I am concerned, I reread or re-reread because of a drive to understand human experience, which, in the last analysis, is my experience. If the issue of identity and self identity has any meaning, it lies here. Who am I? means what values do I stand on and embody through existence AND what urges and drives push me on consciously and unconsciously in the present world.

Reading, re-reading, re-re-reading and so on matters to me too, in this way and also re-seeing, re-watching, and then watching again very slowly (using the vlc media player so I can slow down the film and capture stills and take down words). Where am I in the fiction or whatever it is is an important question and what does this text bring home to us. This past week I saw a magnificent performance of Britten’s Peter Grimes (HD opera transmission from Teatro alla Scala, Milan, with mostly British cast). What matters here? what are the artists showing us too? Then I went home and reread the Crabbe and then wrote a blog so as to understand what I had experienced and also express it. Get it down.

But I think we have to take into account something irreducibly personal. The book or books and the author works at some level into our deeper personal experiences, background, belief, longings and soothes or teaches us what over and over it helps us to be reminded of. Or have articulated for the first time, and then again and again.


Nell Blaine (1922-1996), Summer Interior with a Book

Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading. — Logan Pearsall Smith

Books are our friends too. I read to be with like spirits. Contra this is the idea we must not re-read for there are so many yet unread a first time. Life is short and soon we’ll die. Also when we re-read a long time afterward (or even a shorter) we may be so disillusioned, dismayed by what we liked.

I tell myself it’s a fatal puritanic (using the word in its ordinary condemning sort of sense, self-flagellation) super-work ethic kind of outlook that has to as a kind of appetite somehow get as much “new” experience as we can before we die. We must not waste time. (Self-improving for me does include listening to books in my car; I started partly because I hated the waste of time in the car, the hours driving my daughters and driving to and fro to work; the whole world outside NYC where I can’t buy a milk without getting into my car.) I have that impulse I must learn something new.

It’s silly. New experiences come from older known things and facts do not necessarily enrichen us. Facts are constructs too. Last night I finally found a book I can read at night! Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I caught myself saying to myself I can read this because I know all this already, and wishing I could read instead a book in Italian by Elsa Morante. But what do I mean know all this already — Tudor history. I don’t know what she has to offer me in her vision and she is just superb in recreating a living world at the opening of the 16th century.

I too have had the experience of disliking a book I once liked. Sometimes I can get sick of Austen. It’s more coming back at another time in life or in the world. We see the earlier work differently. It’s that way for me with Richardson’s Grandison. I find I have no patience for it, and once I loved it, wrote a long chapter in my dissertation on it.

There I suggest no use fetishizing a book. We don’t fetishicize people. If we don’t like to go clubbing any more and indeed dislike what we see, well we’ve gone on. Though I admit I like to remember reading as something special.

It’s revealing what we long to re-read. Sometimes such longings (favorite books from when we first began) bring us back to our original selves before we became so “adult” and we find our primal emotions and what counts to us again.


Joshua Reynolds, His niece, Theophila Palmer re-reading Clarissa

On Eighteenth-Century Worlds someone is reading Richardson’s Clarissa for the first time and sent in a passage by Clary she found riveting, significant:

Oh, my dear, ’tis a sad, a very sad world! -While under our parents protecting wings, we know nothing at all of it. Book-learned and a scribbler, and looking at people as I saw them as visitors or visiting, I thought I knew a great deal of it. Pitiable ignorance!-Alas! I knew nothing at all!

I responded that I have a matching passage which I keep in a sort of online commonplace books:

What a world is this! What is there in it desirable? The good we hope for, so strangely mixed, that one knows not what to wish for! And one half of mankind tormenting the other, and being tormented themselves in tormenting…

I liked hers; it had a moral turn in it of fighting back (implied), of at least having the salutary gain of knowing more. I added it to my commonplace book.

I first read Richardson’s Clarissa (in the Angus Burrell abridgement) at age 19-20 (I was older than 18, probably some 2 years older). It gripped me like some disease, a fever in the blood. This is the third edition and it does include some dazzling letters by Lovelace; said to have been written earlier but kept out because he thought they blackened Lovelace too strongly. Rather they are so colorful, such ripe fairy tale fantasies of exhilaration in triumph and escape that they make Lovelace more appealing, though if you think about it even less capable of any feeling for others. I began not to look in corners lest I see Lovelace lurking there. Then I reread it in graduate school in the unabridged Everyman edition. On this 5 year later re-reading I did a talk in a class and then a paper where the teacher suggested I had a dissertation topic here and he would be my advisor. Robert Adams Day was the man’s name, now dead, he died more than 10 years ago now. I did the dissertation and called it Richardson, Romance and Reverie (about the special super-alert pictorial-dramatic visions a poet must conjure up to write a novel).

I didn’t make up my mind then but after another year of graduate study and more courses in the 18th century I decided I would not “do” the Renaissance after all, but the 18th century and make my dissertation Clary.

I read Clarissa countless times while doing my dissertation and also read _Grandison_ at least twice through. Then coming onto the Net I lead a group reading the book in 1995 — we did it according to the calendar in the novel. Started January 15th and ended December 18th. Some days the texts were so long it was very hard to read it all in the time allotted. It was after that I made this region of my website. Just scroll down and you’ll see the postings.

I’ve re-read Clarissa twice since, two years ago and the year before that. I did a paper defending the film adaptation and finally dealt directly with what for me counts centrally in the book and makes it relevant today: its treatment of rape. I’ve not tried to publish either beyond this. Why drive myself up a wall to please some editor and have to change (ruin partly) my work when if anyone wants to read and to learn whatever there is to from the paper, it's there. I also put up the proposals with them and some of my findings about the scenes and letter relationships. Always it’s the letters, the relationships between them that the final keys or clues to the book lies somehow.

Now this last time (two years ago) while I see all Anna Howe’s flaws and inadequacies, I began to like her — especially since Nokes’s movie. I also was very moved by the visit of HIckman to her. The movie is utterly inadequate on Hickman. Male made movies often cannot get themselves to do justice to the sensitive ethical man. Nokes hired a tough-looking actor but did not present the inner core of Hickman’s character at all. At the same time his substitute of Belford for Colonel Morden as the man who murders Lovelace in the climactic duel is brilliant, just right.

And this time through book and film I was with Clary all the way fighting Lovelace after the rape. His attempts at further rapes. I loved when she ran away and when she kept saying no, she will not be coopted by anyone. She's not even for rent for anyone.

Infamy? to give way to them is to conform to rules made up by evil-minded people and then you surely will be destroyed by them when you put yourself in their narrow grasps. I have ever rejoiced for her when she died — not that I believe in any afterlife or God but that she knows oblivion at last. Is safe.

The film of course emphasizes the intense grief and waste and ends on the stone. The heart of the film, the basic unit of the grammar is the still picture.


2008 Pan Jeremy Poldark (the only one of this text I have)

1988 Pan Black Moon (my favorite of my two Black Moons)

So, gentle reader prepare yourself for more meditative accounts of the Poldark and other re-read and re-listened to books, books not necessarily fashionable at all, and detailed accounts of Downton Abbey the second season and Poldark and other mini-series and good films. As long as I can get up the energy …

Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza Poldark (Angharad Rees) on the night before he must return to prison for the trial (Poldark Season 1, Part 9, no equivalent scene in Jeremy Poldark)

I do love these films. The central heroes & heroines are gentle at heart. I can put myself to sleep dreaming of them and their landscape which I long to visit.


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Isabel Collard (Christine Kavanagh) accused of murdering her brother-in-law and lover, Roger (James Faulkner) and mother-in-law, Harriet Collard (Judy Parfitt) (Blackheath Poisonings, 1992)

Dear friends and readers,

Now I’ve re-watched all 26 episodes of the Palliser films, re-read all my blogs, and am watching for a second time Simon Raven’s 1992 adaptation of Julian Symons’s BlackHeath Poisonings (a pseudo- or imitation, pastiche 19th century mystery text).

I’m staring at the central question the volume I’m aiming my essay at is supposed to answer, Adaptation: British Literature of the Nineteenth Century and Film:

What do particular adaptations of 19th century texts reveal about the ways we understand, respond to, analyze 19th century culture?

and rereading the series of postings on what unites film adaptations of 19th century novels in my Reveries blog. I compared a number of adaptations of 19th century novels:

Hardy Films: Two Tesses and One Jude

The Golden Bowl: films from 19th versus 18th century sources

to a number of adaptations of 18th century novels, stories, texts:

Quills: Sade and Austen

One Duchess and One Cornwall Landowner: 18th versus 19th century sources

In a nutshell, my idea is 18th century films repeatedly delve into sexuality for its own sake and present the issues of each in such a way that we delve deeply into the nature of people’s psychologies interacting with the mores and issues of their particular social groups. This lends itself to abstract social issues like say slavery (as in Amazing Grace where the accent is on the individual’s inner world). The 19th century films turn to social and familial pathologies, attempt a larger picture of society in which these pathologies are formed, and we see how the social roles imposed on people conflict with and/or sustain their deepest needs and desires.

The full truth is, though, the Henry James films don’t fit this neat opposition. Since James was himself a closet gay and his books closet gay books (on a quiet level, see Roderick Hudson), they allow themselves to be used for exploration of sexual issues. For example, Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady.

One has to take into account changes in dramaturgy, technology and the way film-makers think they should and can make films. The dramaturgy of the 1970s is essentially staged plays or playlets, as as capable of holding the viewer as anything from the mesmerizing computerized and radical new modern thematizations of the 1990s and recent poetic cinematographies (1st decade 21st century) are. You must have great actors to carry it off and good scripts. The dramaturgy and cinematography is of the older stage scene kind; no montages, little voice-over, no mesmerizing computers and music. The acting is not quite all but a great deal of it. They build slowly, and slowly the characters emerge, and the story evolves and its worlds are created before us.

The 1990s after 1991 BBC Clarissa (a landmark film in retrospect) use modern computer techniques, zoom, distancing, jump cuts, on location with good cameras, huge sums on places and luxuries — important as all this is — but the outlook. They use overtly sexual scenes and include transgressive (homosexual and lesbian) sex.

Which angle to take perplexes me too:

The authorial one? If Raven’s, then we lose Trollope. Trollope’s Pallisers however well-known and brilliant do not tell the whole story of the man, and especially as by Raven emphasize the upper class material in his vision. By contrast though the same man’s vision is found in Herbert Wise’s Malachi’s Cove out of Trollope’s short story.

how different the angle on Trollope’s vision is provided by his story (part of the source for this film done in Cornwall), this film and the filmic onlocation (Cornwall the cliffs by the sea where the poor made a living gathering seaweed for manure). It’s a startling revelation of Trollope’s ethical vision and inclusiveness.

The generic context: the Pallisers comes before the 1980s and Brideshead Revisited and the later 1970s build up toward sophistication. It is a relatively naive film technically in comparison to what came later, viz., they are not conscious of what they are doing in the way of the 1990s films and thus bare or stripped away from the kinds of intensities of meanings coming out of the images that one sees in Blackheath Poisonings for all its inferiority of story, plot and themes. They rarely use voice-over, have no flashbacks that I can remember, remember strictly within very conventional presentations of sexuality with women strongly repressed (by themselves and through preaching.

Filmic Trollope: Davies has spoken very little of his work on He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now. There are no features in the DVDs of these two, no over-voice commentaries. All I have are articles by Sarah Cardwell on TWWLN. Trollope’s are apparently not “tracer texts,” texts that hit home somewhere so strongly that they become sociological events when they are filmed and generate other filmings close by. The content of such texts becomes traces found in many other works. Not even Barchester Towers can lay a claim to that — though it is remembered as the progenitor of academic politics-mysteries books in Showalter’s Faculty Towers (a study of this subgenre).

For summary and commentary on Diane Sadoff’s Victorian Vogue, see comments.


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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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Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in quiet creative reverie (Gwyneth Hughes and Anne Pivcevic, Miss Austen Regrets 2008)

Dear Friends and readers,

You see above my new avatar for my “Reveries under the Sign of Austen” blog. I’ve put a copy on the wall of my room too. It pictures a mood I wish I could sustain while writing.

For tonight and the next couple of blogs I again present notes from a recent conference I attended: this time the ASECS conference at Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is the one I present my “Rape in Clarissa” paper. As you can see three months have gone by; I’ve been occupied with my projects, reading, and writing. There is no tearing hurry as I probably will not be going to another conference after the one coming up at Portland (JASNA AGM) for at least a year afterwards (we are conserving money). Still unless I do them soon, I’ll not be able to transcribe my notes, for I do rely on memory, and if I don’t transcribe them I will never remember what I heard and it will have been not much good to me. I also like to think others enjoy and profit from reading about 18th century scholar’s topics in this form.

As I’ve begun to do, these will be much shorter as I can no longer take down details, and I include only reports of good papers and interesting sessions. As I spent one full day away from Albuquerque (in Santa Fe, looking at the town, a church, a few museums), there’ll be only two blogs. For tonight I have four sessions to tell of, most of it on Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, gothic and epistolary novels, and Germaine de Stael’s Corinne.

I got up at 7 am on Thursday in order to make a session starting at 8 on Riccoboni’s epistolary novels (“Special Delivery: French Epistolary, 3/18/10, 8:-9:30 am).

William Hogarth’s portrait of David Garrick and his wife, Eva-Maria Veigel (1762)

Andrea Magermans spoke about “Madame Riccoboni’s Epistolary Agenda.” In life as well as her fiction, Riccoboni was a prolific letter writer, and there are many intersections between her personal correspondences and epistolary fiction. In both she transcends the preconceived notion that women write letters spontaneously and asserts the equality of men and women. Her real life letters are playful, flirtatious, exude confidence; at the same as she assumes a self-deprecating stance; she varies her style to suit her correspondent; her fictional letters mirror this performative self; they have characters who are vivid and subjective in outlook and boldly display [her] opinions.

We hear in her personal correspondences a depth of hurt, from a woman involved with a younger man who is not reciprocating; as someone who wants her views on art to be taken seroiusly. She tells Garrick she loves him while knowing him to be married; she wants him to write her often and addresses herself to his wife too; to Diderot she wrote about plays, as an actress who knows the theater; he tells her in turn he disagrees with her views; he also says he finds her Fanni Butlerd superior to Juliette Catesby. She lectures LaClos on what is a real woman (as opposed to his portrait of Madame de Merteuil).

The novel Fanni Butler has the heroine writing the lover she has lost whose strategy is vengeance. Riccoboni uses a highly emotional style; Fanni is a woman trying to control herself; at the end of the book she rejects Alfred, keeps his side silent, and publishes the letters. She depicts herself as morally superior (though she has had an affair). We have a woman to reasserts composure.

Felicia Sturzer’s spoke on Riccoboni’s Lettres de Mylord Rivers a Sir Charles Cardigan . Riccoboni wrote 8 novels, 6 with woman at the center. This is one of the 2 with male writers, with a heroine, Adelaide, who rejects her suitor, and appropriates power to herself: she will be mistress of her body and fate.
An inset novella inside the main action concerns two heroines whose story challenges the probability of the male point of view in the main story. The novel is profoundly disillusioned about the reach of social interaction; characters struggle to understand one another and don’t manage. The positive outlook we find in the book is undermined by its author’s cynicism and melancholy. The epistolary technique works to held off closure in the novel.

Riccoboni withdraws into her self (“Je me demande ce que je suis”); again we have a woman (like herself) in love with a younger man. She shows the practice of coerced marriage robs women of happiness and dignity for life; they are alienated from themselves. She is not interested in telling stories of scorned women but of women who dictate the terms of their relationships (or who should).

Film realization of Cecile’s introduction to the man her mother has arranged for her to marry (1988 Valmont)

In general women’s novels of this era, and many epistolary and gothic ones have as a central theme that the woman who submits (and so many were forced to) in effect has any attempt at authentic identity destroyed for life

Sophie Calle, an (ironic) image of a birthday

Elizabeth Heckendorf Cook spoke about a modern conceptual artist, Sophie Calle, in order to draw parallels between the experience of an epistolary novel and Internet correspondence. These works enable us to watch writers writing and see how they are not in control of their texts.

This evoked quite a discussion of the audience’s experiences on the Internet and how lately with such a mass of people using computers to write, no longer are even medium-length postings typical. For young adults, what’s wanted is the equivalent of a single-line postcard. Instant messaging is a good example of not being able to be in control of your text. You cannot see the shape of what’s being said until you print it out. You are also prodded to respond to someone’s texting.


Joshua Reynolds, his favorite niece Theophila Palmer reading Clarissa (1770s)

Of course the session I gave my paper at falls belongs to tonight’s category: “‘He said, she said:’: Rape in 18th century law, fiction, and moralist writing” (5/18/10, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm). I’ve already said enough about mine whose proposal and text the reader can read on my website. Unfortunately, the two people who had said they would speak on rape in India (this would have a been a post-colonial treatment) and the laws concerning rape in 18th century America didn’t make it. There were, though, two post-modern papers on rape. Leslie Richardson showed how rape shatters, imposes and fragments the victim’s identity; and Sarah Skoronski pointed out parallels between Richardson’s Clarissa and Eliza Haywood’s The Fruitless Inquiry. Both novels exposed how the English law courts and mores offered nothing to comfort or help women. The discussion afterwards was lively and wide-ranging; one idea was reiterated: repeatedly it matters little what a woman says about her experience; she is judged on stereotypical grounds of distrust.

For the third session I can report on again I got up early to make an 8 am session: “Revisiting the Epistolary Novel” (3/20/10, 8:00 – 9:30 am) included two gothic novels.

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840), Eldena Ruin (1825)

Caroline Domenghino spoke about the German epistolary novel of the 1790s as reflected in Ludwig Tieck’shttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Tieck William Lovell. Ms Domenghino’s argument was William Lovell is a generic hybrid mixing gothic, novel of sensibility, bildingsroman, and epistolary types. The main characters are easily deceived; most of the character undergo a journey of deformation; and everywhere are arbitrary and malicious (gothic) forces.

It begins in England; the hero must travel and gets involved with a secret society in Rome; he is corrupted by staged ghosts into becoming a murder by a man who hates his father; he seduces his friends sister who commits suicide. The novel is filled with harrowing twists and turns; fatalistic causality is everywhere; philosophically it’s pessimistic; there is no viable model for a good life. An epistolary novel often gives us a horizontal spacial story; and here we do have tales of intriguing secret societies; and letters and documents which are misperceived. They are often not dated; destructive in impact; again little effective social interaction takes place in the book, only oscillations in blind relationships. Friends become bitter enemies. (Obviously?), it takes a stance opposite to that of Goethe’s Wilheim Meister.

Lorraine Piroux spoke about the impersonal presence of LaClos in his Les Liaisons Dangereuses as an instance of how the private and public intermix in epistolary narrative. The imagined editor of the book insists on flaws in the writers’ styles in order to make us se the letters as the product of the characters and erase the author altogether.

She then went on to say that (ironically) such attempts at self-effacement conflict with the contemporary campaign for copyright or ownership of the text by authors. These claims and the use of paratexts in epistolary fictions are attempts to make one’s text authorless and found in other writers (e.g., Diderot, Richardson). I see the authors as protecting their private lives and themselves from attack; Ms Piroux made the sophisticated point that the notion that literature is an impersonal product of the self is a modern one. These are really deeply personal books.

So the two libertines, the naifs, the complicit and corrupted women while seeming impervious to the expression of personal sentiment in the author are not really so. (I agree with this and when I read these novels often feel that this or that passage is the author expressing him or herself.) The authors get away with these non-personality figures and libertinism becomes the language of literarture itself — divorced from responsibility and a specific real self.

J. W. Turner, Arthur’s Seat, Craig

Nicole Wright spoke about Scott’s Redgauntlet, a partially epistolary novel. She described how Darcie writes to Alan, and how about 1/3 of the way through Scott shifts to omniscient in order to pick up speed and create a larger historical impersonal perspective. Darcie, she suggested, is a Clarissa type as a male. Scott had written in his preface to an edition of Clarissa that Lovelace deserved death for what he did to Clary; we see Darcie imprisoned, tortured emotionally, emasculated, and we enter a nightmare world of the oppressed which includes egregious cruelty to animals. An enlightenment point of view plays over this narrative which is pushing for the rights of society’s outcasts and animals. The fierce Wandering Willie’s tale is a reinforcement of the central tale in dissolute thriller mode.

Later in the book we do return to the epistolary or at least first person mode because Alan reads Darcie’s journal while in prison. Scott thus manages multiple perspectives that are subjective and a dual point of view (as Alan and Darcie are often presented as on opposite sides of all sorts of issues). There are (given this recursive structure) remarkably few repetitions of ideas or types of events.

The discussion afterwards was as filled with insight and information as the papers. From the paper on Les Liaisions Dangereuses we discussed T. S. Eliot’s claim the poet necessarily subordinates his personality; Piroux said you cannot escape your individual presence; while ownership of a text is an imaginary contract as physically the books are made by the publisher, the way we are extending copyright shows just how much we really assume the individual is his or her text (even if this is brought on by corporations who seek to control texts which bring in money)

People said that if you have students who do like to read, they often love epistolary novels. They enjoy the writing selves, the voyeurism, the turning back and forth from relative perspectives.

Finally, we returned to William Lovell as a peculiarly bizarre book, reflecting the troubled era of the 1790s and crazed events that occurred.


Hubert Robert, Washerman on steps in Rome

Probably the most easily enjoyable session for me in all the three days was the one on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne; ou, l’Italie. It was the last session of papers I attended and was titled “Teaching Germaine de Stael’s Corinne (given after lunch on Saturday, 10/20/10, 2-3:30 pm)

Preparatory to this blog I wrote in April (so I meant to write up these reports much earlier) about a reading and discussion we had of this marvelous book on WWTTA in 2002; so I need not discuss the book’s story or why it is an important text. Nanette Lecoat was the moderator and she said the aim of the session was to share ideas on how to keep (or once again make) this book a major European classic. She briefly showed how she always made a careful chronology of the novel’s events to start the students’ off and then brought in chronology of the Napoleonic era and history within the novel to help the students know literally and historically where they are as they read.

Ione Crummy taught the book in a womens’ studies court in 2 state universities and said she felt the experience was a success: the students ended up liking and understanding what they had read. They read it in excerpts. (So it’s considered too long!). Students could read it in the original French or an English translation. She presented the story as partly a romantic dialogue between the sexes — or two gendered people — as we see in Benjamin Constant’s novel, Adolphe, or George Sand’s Lui et Moi (Sand and Musset).

She also made a heavy use of photographs and videos of the places the heroine travels to and where the action takes place: England, European continent, Italy, Scotland. So she showed us slides of Tivoli, the Sybil’s temple, the Sistine Chapel, Vesuvius, the Colosseum at nightGainboroughs. She played music for the students that is played in the novel.

Laura Fortner wanted to present the book as entering into serious philosophical issues as part of a survey course in great books. She specifically pointed to her students’ tendency not to like “whining” characters as something she saw as main obstacle to their liking the book. (I admit I think this focus overdone and wonder why she worried about this problem more than any other.)

Eric Gidal’s approach was the least compromising and probably (for those students he carried with him) the truest way to lead students to understand and like the book. He assigned the whole thing; he contextualized it with excerpts from earlier and contemporary texts:Addison and Steele on travel; Schiller as a romantic; Fielding’s Tom Jones as picaresque; Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise as a book fo sensibility, subjectivity, women; and Byron as a matching figure to Stael.

They analyzed the character’s social behavior as a way of developing a better ethics for themselves. He showed them that Stael’s book promotes a tradition of personal liberation; self-determination; entering into rich national cultures and art forms. He presented it as elegiac and tragic as we see characters unable to reach the past or reconcile cultural authority and independence.

He did use universal terms a good deal so there was probably an erasure of the book’s critique of the way sexuality is experienced for women in our society as central to their misery.

This point of view was taken up by Veronique Olivier-Wallis who juxtaposed excerpts from Corinne (again excerpts) with a reading of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and a watching of the popular film (Andrew Davies the screenplay writer and central presence).

The anxious Bridget, a modern version of the shattered Corinne

Ms Olivier-Wallis said by juxtaposing the movie especially to this older book, she got a lot more questions about mores and customs then than she ever did before. The students compared what they automatically understood in Bridget Jones to what they read in Corinne.

What did they learn? Bridget Jones has a Hollywood like happy ending while Corinne is not so lucky, and ends a victim. Yet Bridget is also an object of prey to two men; she cannot be herself or feel she has worth unless she’s loved by a man. To be an authentic self she has to alienate her body and mind from what comes naturally. Bridget cannot find herself. She needs to be forgiven by Darcy; to be enabled by him. Corinne asserts the right of a woman to fulfill her passions for herself (as men do). Oswald does repress himself and marry a woman he despises; we see that he too ends miserable.

Peculiarly female anxieties (and not all have to do directly with sex) and the problem of self-acceptance are central motifs in all three works (Bridget Jones, the book, the movie, and Stael’s Corinne).

Fabienne Moore’s talk had the great merit of candour. More than the others she was willing to say where broad troubles come in when teaching this book.

She linked Corinne, ou l’Italie to Europe and presented it as a travel book, where the travel finds her identity through meditating cultures and landscapes. Her idea was also to show how the novel argues a woman has equal right to enlightenment learning, histor and poetry as a man. She did say she felt she may not have been able to get across the importance of history and traditional cultural ideals as embodied in great works or monuments. She talked of the ideal of tolerance then; the book fosters peaceful civilization seems to have been her point. The idea that we can revitalize ourselves through studying, say German did not go over. A country’s place on an (imagined) world stage they did get.

(It must be admitted the problem here really is the average college student today is not as intelligent as one could wish. Mass post-secondary education has made the percentage of more capable thinking students smaller in classrooms.)

Paul Sandby, Windsor Terrace at Night: meditative landscape art

She also found that the way the book works by presenting its argument through tragedy (we see those deprived of these rights destroyed) doesn’t work for most students today; many will not listen to the idea anyone can die for love. So the tragic ending where Oswald is a rigid masculine embodiment of imperialism was hard to get across. Corinne as a character was too exotic to many of them too.

I was sorry that Karyna Szmurlo gave up her ten minutes so we could have some general discussion afterwards. She is such a generous insightful soul and knows so much about and loves Stael so thoroughly it would have been a joy to listen to her.

However, we did get into some good talk afterwards because time enough was left.

Ms Olivier-Wallis had brought along a graduate student of hers who had been introduced to Corinne by way of Bridget Jones. Andrea said she loved Corinne and Bridget Jones both: they are women alone, dependent on their friends, women trying to find love and build a good life for themselves. She loved the farcical comedy of the modern work and understood the tragedy of the older one through it. She liked serious inward novels and thought happy endings not realistic.

It should be remembered she’s probably one of the best students if not the best in Ms Olivier-Wallis’s class. Clearly, though, Bridget Jones, book and film are a way of opening a door students can go through to reach Corinne. You make the unfamiliar understandable by beginning with the familiar.

The people were willing to listen to my experience of reading Anne Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest with people online as well as a classroom as analogous to the problem of reading Corinne with students. I brought that in to suggest how meditating in tranquil rural and peopleless landscapes and the poetic texture of the language evoking this experience is central is to Radcliffe and Stael’s art and how you have to get students to love that, linger on it, appreciate the reading experience.

John Crome, Yarmouth Harbour

Karyna agreed close reading was central to loving Corinne, and added that there’s no getting away from the superiority of Stael’s French. You need to take the time, to have quiet moments in class, to read on the level of the sentence. It’s prose poetry; you have to try to explain or present what the heroine does when she performs improvisations in front of an audience.

Another person in the audiene whose name I didn’t know felt Radcliffe’s Udolpho was a book very like Corinne in its depiction of women’s powerlessness and tragedies. Both are sentimental novels she said — and that is so, for in a way Udolpho is very like Austen’s S&S in its depiction of family life and losses.

Mr Gidal added that Corinne is an anthology: it’s a travelogue, has Ossianic songs, neoclassicism (there’s a section where the heroine falls in love with Rome and alludes to Gibbon’s Roman Empire ironic tragic history); you must grapple with its links to ethnographies (anthropological analyses). You should try to explain what is cosmopolitanism and why such an attitude is one we might want centrally in our earth today (ideally). Finally, one must not make too many compromises in trying to make the book accessible. One must pick one’s critical issues.

And so the session, and the intellectual content of the conference for me ended.

I spoke afterwards to Karyna and the young woman in the room who had talked about Udolpho. She had apparently been in a number of the same sessions I was in and noticed me. Our talk about these was heartening for me.


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