Posts Tagged ‘germaine de stael’

In the long winter of 1784, which I passed in Normandy, this little Novel fell into my hands … for their amusement, I translated [into English] as I read [the French], the most striking passages of the story; which appeared to me so interesting that I was induced to translate the whole; or rather to write it anew in English — Charlotte Smith, from her preface to her Manon

The idea of making a name for myself in the Republic of Letters animated all my faculties — Victorine de Chastenay, on first beginning to translate Radcliffe’s Udolpho

Pierre Arnaud’s recent translation of The Romance of the Forest

Dear friends and readers,

You will instantly recall that last month under a similar heading, I wrote about how I was working on a proposal to give a paper at this coming summer’s Chawton conference on women and translation: I didn’t fall asleep over my book after all (!). Well I did a good deal of reading and sent along two different options.

I discovered that Charlotte Smith really changed Prévost’s Histoire de Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731) and Gayot de Pitaval’s Causes Célèbres et Interessants (1734-44) to bring into the English imaginary explosively transgressive reality-based material from sexual and familial life. In Smith’s Manon L’Escaut, or the Fatal Attachment, Prévost’s enigmatic text intended to justify amoral decisions for aristocratic male readers becomes a story genuinely focused from the point of view of a pro-active heroine with a realistic pragmatic consciousness. I also found that her Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1790) her first fully poetic landscape novel was translated into French by M. De Montagne, who made of it a romantic “paysage.” Montagne’s romantic translation is really melodious, I loved the sounds of the French, it was like verse in prose. Smith turned gothic and sentimental romance into vehicles for critiquing the ancien regime as it was experienced in the UK at the time. Montagne helped make these sort of landscapes an accepted mode in France.

Lidia Conetti’s recent Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Udolpho: sometimes it’s better than Radcliffe or Chastenay

When I went back to Chastenay’s 1798 translation of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) I discovered Chastenay resembles Radcliffe in her reformist radical agenda, in her case much modified by her family’s devastating experience of the revolution (including imprisonment, lose of property, and her father having nearly been guillotined). She also identifies with Emily St. Aubert, Radcliffe’s heroine. What Chastenay loses in subtlety, she replaces in much more social understanding of real life experiences of unjust imprisonment, familial abuse, murders, and harrowing hostage experiences. She carries over Radcliffe’s sheer sensibility of into a focused forceful romantic paysage which adds to Radcliffe’s nightmare scenarios of dreams of nervous distraught pursuit and chase, and perhaps remembered experiences of near rapes (incest?).

A later 19th century cover to Chastenay’s translation shows an awareness of the depth of inward strangeness in Radcliffe-Chastenay

Nonetheless, I wanted to suggest that reading these texts (as people still do) as sheer female gothic obscures their critiques of the social, economic and political order which are valuable in themselves, which influenced other important books (e.g., George Sand’s Consuelo/La Comtesse de Ruddolstadt, influenced by Radcliffe through Chasteney).

Alas, I think I wrote about this more clearly here than I did in the official mandarin-type proposal. I am just so much better at writing casually in letter style. I thought by having two sets of texts I could make my argument about the value of these translated texts more strong. I would not present an analysis of each text as that would take far too long but just my findings. It interested me too that Smith’s Manon was suppressed — perhaps people thought her strong amoral heroine dangerous — and people are still today unaware of how she alters that text to make Manon the center and an active heroine (at least in Manon’s mind). Montagne’s Ethelinde is also a nearly anonymous and thus disrespected text. So they make a neat comparison with Chastenay’s whose text is still read in France and countries where French is read. There are on the Net still the frontispieces for the volumes of her 1798 text. I saw a popular copy in a good bookstore when I was in Paris for 2 weeks once. Hers also has prestige and is well-known and yet I think there is but the one article by Dorothy Medlin on 4 (!) different translations of Udolpho into French and only one small part is on Chastenay text.

A frontispiece to a French text of one of the memoirs, life-writing, travel books to emerge from the French revolution & Napoleonic wars

On the other hand, it would be fun to to expand more on Udolpho and on Mémoires de madame de Chastenay, 1771-1815 (written between 1810 and 1817, published 1896). Chastenay lived to the mid-19th century; she knew and spoke with Napoleon (who treated her with respect); she translated Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village as Le village abandonne as a genuinely protest text. I’d really like to tell more people, expand on what I’ve already written about Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (published 1795) (see my Nightmare of History in Radcliffe’s non-fiction Landscape). Radcliffe is so beautifully well-read in art books, architecture, cultures, and she is a sort of Girondist (rather like Madame de Roland), a serious reformer who means her novels to be taken in the way other novels of her era were which critiqued society. In her case the ancien regime.

Using Smith’s Prevost, Montagne’s Smith and Chastenay’s Radcliffe, a configuration of the three texts, I’d write and talk about translation. If I study Radcliffe & Chastenay’s lives, life-writing, travel, I’d write and about the two women writers, though the centerpiece would be a comparative translation study.

My larger goal is to call attention to a large body of work still ignored, to which these translations belong. When these books are studied the arguments often resemble those film adaptations once had to contend with: evaluation and judgement based solely on a one-to-one literal comparison with the assumption the first text is necessarily the most important and better. I want to show micro-analysis is still at the core of translation study but when we change our assumptions how much we have to learn and how many new and fascinating texts to read.

Hubert Robert’s Hermit in a Garden

I really enjoy reading and doing translation. It’s a real urge as such. One sits with books and books, dictionaries, thesauruses, different previous translations. Sheer language endeavour. Poetry as such. Books I’m interested in from this terrain include Isabelle de Montolieu’s influential translations of Austen into French (both of which I just bought from Amazon, complete with prefaces): Raison et Sensibilite (someone retyped the whole text, four columns a page), and La Famille Elliot, ou L’Ancienne Inclination (a facsimile, the volume labelled I contains the whole text). When Montolieu writes her prefaces to her translations of Austen, she assumes in the first no one will ever hear of Austen a decade from now nor S&S, and in the second her respect has grown enormously (she’s read Emma and MP) and feels she must translate more strictly but her sense of Austen’s place does not come near how she regards Smith (she translated one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer‘s tales and provides a preface again).

I have written on and just delighted in Felix Fénéon’s gem, Catherine Morland (1898/99, reprinted by Gallimard 1946), and recently bought Pierre Goubert’s serious literary biography of Austen, a rare treatment in French (biographies of Austen do not abound outside English, not in French either); he translated her earlier novels and wrote about them in the Pleiade. I’ve read one of two 1807 translations Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie into English (one read and much admired by Austen), and it’s a cross between Radcliffe and Austen! have wanted to try Isabel Hill’s 1884 Victorian and did read thoroughly the brilliant Corinne or Italy by Sylvia Raphael (often unmentioned, she died young, her book printed as an Oxford Classic, 1998).

And I do want to read more translation studies. On my TBR pile is Belllos’s Is that a Fish in Your Ear? and Suzanne Levine’s The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American fiction. I need some outside goal, deadline, to help me do all this for if it’s so pleasurable, it’s hard work.

My proposal was turned down. I think probably most unfairly. To do myself justice and also keep my thoughts where I can find them again and share them with others, I’ve put my proposal on my website. “To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do: Translation as Matching Creative Act”. I’ve at least done myself that much justice. (Freedom the press and speech belongs to the woman who has a website.) As you know if you ever read my Sylvia blog I’m just an honorary Duchess aka ex-adjunct lecturer.


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North coast of Cornwall, just above Crackington Haven, Boscastle

Dear friends and readers,

I recently read another Winston Graham novel, a novella really, The Forgotten Story, set in 1898, written 1945. I had not expected but found (once again) central to a Graham novel, a marital rape, and central to the atmosphere Cornwall. The heroine is a cross between Verity Poldark and Demelza Carne, married to Tom Harris, but having left him, having a boyfriend, Ned Pawlyn (who later offers to flee to Australia so they can live as man-and-wife without being known), starts the quarrel in the bar which appears to lead to her father’s death, she has no means of supporting herself decently. This is 1898 and the only professions open to a young woman still are wife or teacher. She takes a position as a strict girls’ school — we are in a mild version of Jane Eyre too.

The telling gripping incident of the story is a marital rape scene, which I’m coming to see as an obsession, a highly unusual one. Tom rescues Patricia from the bar quarrel and to assert his rights over her, rapes her. Grahame returns to this unusual motif again and again: presents a marriage scene where the husband rapes the wife and it is clear this is rape. Although Patricia has left Tom publicly, she gives testimony on his behalf in a courtroom which reveals her liaison with Ned, she is ostracized and there’s a scene of public humiliation.

All the while she is of course in her heart a virtuous heroine. We are to re-define what we mean by virtuous and it does not mean strict sexual fidelity although in fact Patricia never has sex with another man, a decent merchant marine sailor, but not because it’s forbidden, but because she does not love him enough to go off with him to Australia as a partner, though he would provide an escape from her bad situation once her father dies and spitefully leaves her nothing.

Graham chose to return to the end of the Victorian period to be able to show this paradigm, only Graham de-constructs the framing social circumstances and shows us how unfair they are. Tom Harris no longer has the right to demand Patricia back. In 1891 it had become no longer accepted since a famous court case for a husband to try to wrest his wife back to live with him. But he feels he ought to. The sense in the fiction is that this is wrong. This is at least one place where a woman should have real liberty. She is nagged by her (murderous we find) aunt to return to Tom using the conventional argument, she should. She is shamed by her community when she does not return to him. .

That this motif is returned to ceaselessly shows its centrality for controlling women in this set of social structures, and that it’s at a great price to her.

The ending shows Tom Harris who has all along been an ambivalent figure (he appears to be exploiting the boy to pressure Patricia) into a hero of integrity. He rescues Antony and brings Patricia back from the school. We discover that Tom has been responsible for her getting her job: he had the connections and respect by his family and position as a lawyer. Unlike Ned, he can take Patricia somewhere as his wife; they can afford to provide a home for Anthony.

To read more about A Forgotten Story: for a summary and coherent analysis please go to: Winston Graham as writer of the Poldark novels and A Forgotten Story.

The presentation of Patricia’s choice to return to Tom reminded me of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn. How do they come to this decision. From the same standpoint as Toibin’s: the woman is married to the man and so she obeys the social convention, goes with it. In the case of Toibin’s Brooklyn he uses this obedience to convention to point up the coldness of people towards one another, how they can pick up and drop one anther ruthlessly to follow what’s their interest. The force in Toibin is grimly powerful. I have read Toibin’s The South (about a woman who escapes her family to go live in Spain and finds herself embedded eventually in another family group), Blackwater Lightship (about deep alienation within a family), and The Master, Henry James as a gay man, an outsider. After a while the books all do spin around the same concerns, and for me at least are gripping. I find I can’t put them down easily each time I start one up again. I get intensely emotionally involved.

For Booklyn I found I had to peek ahead to the last pages to make sure our heroine does what will eventually lead to some happiness for her, I was so anxious for her. I feel the same for Graham’s heroines, all but Marnie. Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn required enormous strength to get through so much did I worry for her because she seemed to be this good person, self-sacrificing and could be bullied into giving up what could make her life joyful. But then when I came to the end of the book I saw I had been mistaken. In fact she might have liked to stay in Ireland and not return to Brooklyn, that is, stay with her birth family group instead of the new one she had become a part of it.

Toibin’s Brooklyn‘s grim insight is what we think keeps people together is not their intangible feelings, but order itself, and their value for one another comes out of how chance has put someone near someone that fits his or her needs. And either you belong to the order or you don’t.

In Graham’s Forgotten Story in effect this young woman does follow her economic and social interest in going back to the husband who s a rising lawyer. It was due to him she got the one job she did get, a teacher at a school; he vouched for her. She is indignant when she first hears of it, but forgets the indignation during the force of the shipwreck, and re-finding Anthony alive. And if she married Tom, she can also take the young boy with her and protect, mother him. It is to her social advantage and people obey conventions, every one does.

Recent cover of Forgotten Story

It’s not an emotional adherence, it’s coolly done. And we don’t see her do it, we are told it impersonally as the boy sleeps. We learn the boy after all was taken in (his father had abandoned him, sent him back to his family because the father had begun a second family where the boy was not wanted). Tom, Patricia, and Anthony head out for South Africa to make a new life for themselves taking the boy.

The forgotten story is that of this rape, of this marriage. Swept under the rug, swept away as the storm which sweeps away Uncle Perry, the uncle who colluded with the aunt, swept away as Uncle Joe, the father whose real vulnerability we are never permitted to delve. Why he married Madge? what happened to Patricia’s mother?

The fiction remains conventional (in a way Toibin’s does not): Graham treats this decision not as a violation of feeling and he presents the woman’s choice with tact and sympathy. It reminds me of the central heroine of the Poldark books who also finds security, peace, respect from the community by agreeing to marry Ross Poldark, the landowner whose servant she has been and who she has been going to bed with for a couple of weeks.

Early cover for Forgotten Story,signalling it as a woman’s romance novel

But it is the same insight: the convention the society sets up pushes people to obey it as they get rewarded for it. It does not take much in the Forgotten Story to see that those who do not have such conventions on their side suffer badly. And the curious insistence that it’s on a rape that the whole thing turns, on the rape of woman’s body — as the whole trajectory of the Poldark series finally does (I’ll write another blog on the Poldark novels after all and this is partly one). I’ve written a review of two books which argue the order and stability of socieities also depends on their willingness to murder children who do not fit in: Child Murder and British Culture.

Angharad Rees (this promotional photo is of her as a modern woman) – an enigmatic sexualized heroine who does not tell

So, to conclude not only is Graham still unusual for presenting marital rape as a central motif in his novels, he is highly unusual for doing it repeatedly. I suppose we should not be surprised that this aspect of his fiction never comes up in discussions of the Poldark novels; when I’ve talked off list or blog with people who’ve read the Poldark books, they deny Ross raped Elizabeth. Of course she was consenting 🙂 — they can’t deny the rape of Morwenna, so there is the implication in the conversation that I’m morbid to dwell on this unfortunate (highly it’s implied) heroine, when her story is meant to be not that atypical, only her reaction.

When writing my paper on Richardson’s Clarissa and rape (“What right have you to detain me here?”), I took the common view how rare is the depiction of marital rape (well, except in modern African stories, mostly those by women). I was right there, but wrong to have left out this exception.

For more on Toibin’s Brooklyn, see comments.


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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germaine de Stael (1766-1821)

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

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

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

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

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


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

Book XI: Naples and the Hermitage of St. Salvador

Chapter 1:

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

So it is a conquest.

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

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

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

Moving onto meditations on society from the trip in Naples:

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

First chapter 4:

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

Pompeii, photo taken 2008

Book XVIII: The Florentine Years

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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Dear friends and readers,

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

and English Women of Letters (also 1862)


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


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

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

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


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

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

Julie de Lespinasse, the niece

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Smith in the 1790s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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