Posts Tagged ‘Joanna Baillie’

John Constable, Vale of Dedham, Scotland

Dear friends and readers,

This week I was torn between choosing a relatively or wholly unknown woman poet for this week’s foremother poet, or a woman who was part of a larger cultural milieu in which women flourished in her period. I at first thought to write a blog on a Scots’ lyricist who has one famous (often-sung) ballad attributed to her on the Net: Caroline Keppel Adair (born 1734?). But I couldn’t verify the information I had. The books I used when I made the posting have long since been put back in the library; one of them (an anthology of Scottish women poets, available as an inexpensive paperback on the Net) I did buy and when it arrives, I might be in a position to feel I could do one securely on Adair.

In the meantime I thought I’d write about another Scottish woman poet whose poem of friendship to another woman moves me, and about whose “The Highlanders” I found an interesting essay in JStor: Anne Grant (nee Macivar) (1755-1853). I like her combined stance of quiet reason and the vatic and poetic:

Of Beatrice, I know only that she was Anne Grant’s beloved friend. The story of the poem is of a woman who has had to give up poetry to be a wife, have an take care of children; now grown older, she tries to revivify her muse, and finds that friendship and truth rather than romance must be her themes; she names several women writers (showing the contexts she saw herself in), a Scotswoman poet, Anne Hunter (about whom I wrote a foremother poet blog on Jane Austen’s World), a sonneteer, Anna Seward, a romantic and pro-revolutionary, Helena Maria Williams, and the historian Catherine Macauley. Having said she cannot achieve the vatic, she recreates her poetry in a new descriptive, quietly vatic stance.

Familiar Epistle to a Friend

Dear Beatrice, with pleasure I read your kind letter;
On the subject, methinks, there could scarce be a better:
How vivid the scenes it recall’d to my view,
And how lively it waken’d remembrance anew!
Yet our souls are so crusted with housewifely moss,
That Fancy’s bright furnace yields nothing but dross:

Surrounded with balling, and squalling, and prattle,
With handmaids unhandy, and gossipping tattle,
Cut fingers to bandage, and stockings to darn,
And labyrinths endless of ill-manag’d yarn,
Through whose windings Daedalean bewilder’d we wander,
Like draggle-tail’d nymphs of the mazy Meander,
Till at length, like the Hero of Macedon, tir’d
Of the slow perseverance untwisting required,
We brandish our scissors, resolved on the spot,
Since we cannot unravel, to cut through the knot.

Blest vicars of England! how happy your wives!
Though devoted to pudding and plain work their lives,
Though quotations and homilies forced to endure,
While fumes of tobacco their graces obscure;
Though their quiet be disturb’d with the nursery’s noise,
Though their girls should be hoydens, or dunces their boys,
With the tangling of yarn they are never perplex’d,
More difficult to clear than his Reverence’s text.
While with labour incessant our toils we renew,
To furnish fine linen, and purple and blue,
Such a series of self-same minute occupation
Yields nothing, you’ll own, to enliven narration;
And as for the friend of all poets, Invention,
‘Tis a thing, of late years, I scarce think of or mention:

Or of useful inventions alone make my boast,
Such as saving potatoes and turnips from frost;
Or repulsing whole armies of mice from my cheese;
Or plucking the quills without paining the geese.

What a change on the scene and the actors appears?
‘Tis now but a dozen and odd of short years,
Since when we, and the season, and fancy were young,
flowery banks our gay whimsies we sung,
Regardless of profit, and hopeless of fame,
Yet heedless of censure, and fearless of blame,
We travers’d the vale, or we haunted the grove,
As free as the birds that were chanting above;
Where the fair face of Nature was bright with a smile.
Enraptur’d in silence we gaz’d for a while;
Then as clear and as artless resounded our lays,
As the sky or the stream we endeavour’d to praise;
While strains of delight the pure pleasures impart
That thrill’d through each bosom, and glow’d in each heart;
But when from the east, with dun vapours o’ercast,
Came horrors bestriding the bleak howling blast;
When rude echoing rocks with brown cataracts foam’d,
And bewilder’d in mist the sad traveller roam’d;
When to part us, loud storms and deep gullies conspir’d,
And sublime meditation to garrats retir’d;
To the workings of fancy to give a relief,
We sat ourselves down to imagine some grief,
Till we conjur’d up phantoms so solemn and sad,
As, if they had lasted, would make us half mad;
Then in strains so affecting we pour’d the soft ditty,
As mov’d both the rocks and their echoes to pity:
And to prove it, each note of the soul-moving strain
In more sonorous sounds was return’d back again;
And we, silly souls, were so proud of our parts,
When we thought that our pathos had reach’d their hard hearts!

But when grave looking Hymen had kindl’d his torch,
With a pure lambent flame that would glow but not scorch,
The Muses, who plain humble virtues revere,
Were affrighted to look on his brow so austere;
The cottage so humble, or sanctified dome,
For the revels of fancy afforded no room;
And the lyre and the garland, were forc’d to give place
To duties domestic, and records of grace:
Then farewell Illysus, adieu Hippocrene,
The vales of Arcadia and Tempe so green;
To the hills of Judea we now must draw near,
King Lemuel’s good mother’s wise maxims to hear,
And strive to leave none of the duties undone
Which the matron prescrib’d for the spouse of her son;
For my own part, I labour’d and strove with my might
To do all that the proverbs applauded as right:
Fine coverings I made that with tapestry vied,
And with heather and madder my fleeces I dy’d,
While the sun shone I still made the most of his light,
And my candle most faithfully burnt through the night;
And while that and large fires through the winter did glow,
Not a farthing my household would care for the snow:
Their plaids, hose, and garters, with scarlet adorn’d,
Chill December they braved, and its rigours they scorn’d;
Yet these were not all my pretensions to claim
Of a matron industrious and virtuous the name;
My mate (can you doubt it?) was known in the gates,
Among seniors, and elders, and men of estates:
I made him a coat of a grave solemn hue,
Two threads they were black, and the other two blue;
So warm, and so clerical, comely and cheap,
‘Twas a proof both of thrift and contrivance so deep;
His cravats of muslin were spun by my hands,
I knit all his stockings and stitch’d all his bands;
Till the neighbours all swore by St. Bridget herself,
Such a wife was worth titles, and beauty, and pelf.

Quite dead and extinct all poetical fire,
At the foot of the cradle conceal’d lay my lyre;
What witchcraft had alter’d its form I ne’er knew,
But by some means or other a whistle it grew;
The brats in succession all jingled its bells,
While its music to them the piano excels:
But when slowly and surely the cold hand of time
Had stole my complexion, and wither’d my prime,
Resolv’d for a while to respire at my ease,
In Clydesdale I courted the soft western breeze;
Whose fresh breathing whispers my languor could soothe,
With visions of fancy, and dreams of my youth.
While slowly retracing my dear native Clyde,
And reviewing my visage, so chang’d, in its tide,
As sad and reluctant I strove to retire,
To my grasp was presented my trusty old lyre,—
I snatch’d it, I strumm’d it, and thrumm’d it again,
But strove to awaken its music in vain;
So rusty the wire, so enfeebled my hand,
A while in suspence and dumb wonder I stand:
Thus it happen’d they say, to Ulysses of old,
When twenty long years of sad absence had roll’d,
To his Ithaca forc’d in disguise to resort,
When the suitors with uproar were filling his court;
He set his foot forward, and bending his brow,
With a dignified air he demanded his bow;

With joy-mingled sorrow review’d his old friend,
And three times essay’d the tough crescent to bend,
Till the string to his efforts resounded so sharp,
Some thought it a swallow and some an old harp.—
Thus awkward and faint were my efforts at first,
But I rais’d the note higher whenever I durst:
To Friendship and Truth I exalted the lay,
And homewards with music beguil’d the long way;
And now since beyond any doubt it appears,
From duties discharg’d through a series of years,
That nor peace nor industry are banish’d the cell
Where in ease and retirement the Muse loves to dwell;

Once more let us try to awaken the strain,
So friendly to sorrow, so sothing to pain!
The blessings we’ve tasted let’s carefully rate,
And be just to kind Nature, and grateful to Fate;
Thus wisely employing the last closing strain,
We shall not have liv’d or have warbled in vain.
Were the foot-path of life to be travell’d anew,
When we calmly look back with a serious review,
For noisy applause or for tinsel parade,
Would we part with sweet Peace that delights in the shade?
Or blame the kind harbour, remote and obscure,
Where our minds were kept tranquil, our hearts were kept pure?

While with streamers all flying, and wide-swelling sails,
Toss’d high on the billows, the sport of the gales,
The Muse’s fair daughters triumphant were borne
Till the public applause was converted to scorn;
For by vanity guided, so wildly they steer’d,
Or by caprice directed, so frequently veer’d;
Creation’s proud Masters observ’d with a sneer,
That like comets eccentric forsaking their sphere,
Their brightness so gaz’d at, would never produce,
Or pleasure, or profit, or comfort, or use.
[Anna Seward] and [Anne Hunter] thus shone for a day,
How prais’d was each period! how flatter’d each lay!
Till a crop so luxuriant arising of pride,
Affectation, and fifty new follies beside,
The duties and joys of the mother and wife,
The nameless soft comforts of calm private life,
Fell victims together at Vanity’s shrine,
For who could endure to exist and not shine!
Macaulay, of Stuarts had tore up the graves,
To prove half of them fools, and the other half knaves,
And sully’d the mitre and spatter’d the gown,
And flatter’d the mob and insulted the Crown;
Then insensibly shrunk to a faction’s blind tool,
And discover’d too late they had made her their fool.

With virtues, and graces, and beauties beside,
The delight of her friends, of her country the pride,

Say, who could to [Helen Maria Williams] their suffrage refuse,
Or who not be charm’d with her chaste classic Muse?
To the passion for liberty giving loose rein,
At length she flew off to carouse on the Seine;
And growing inebriate while quaffing the draught,
Equality’s new-fangled doctrines she taught;
And murder and sacrilege calmly survey’d;
In the new Pandemonium those demons had made;
Seine’s blood-crimson’d waters with apathy ey’d,
While the glories of old father Thames she decried.
Now with equals in misery hid in some hole,
Her body a prison confining her soul,
From the freedom of Gallia how fain would she fly,
To the freedom which genius shall taste in the sky!
No longer pursue those fond lovers of fame,
Nor envy the honours and trophies they claim;
No further excursive to speculate roam,
But fix our attention and pleasure at home:
Why regret, when celebrity proves such a curse,
he cares of the mother and toils of the nurse:
While the nurse finds delight in sweet infancy’s smiles,
And hope the fond mother’s long trouble beguiles.
“But why these quick feelings, or why this nice ear,
“Or musical accents, if no one must hear?
“Why blossoms of fancy all scatter’d to waste,
“The glow sympathetic, or pleasures of taste?—”

Ask why in the mountains the flow’ret should blow,
Which none but the hermit is destin’d to know?
Why the wild woods re-echo with melody clear,
Which none but the hunter is destin’d to hear?
When often enjoyed and but seldom they’re shewn,
Our riches and pleasures are truly our own:
The milk-maid that carols her wild native airs
To solace her labours, and lighten her cares,
Feels a pleasure more genuine and free from alloy,
Than Catley or Mara could ever enjoy:
Who, while their divisions they warbled aloud,
Depended for joy on the praise of the crowd;

Then blest be the lyre, ever sacred its strain,
In the regions of bliss let it waken again:
When the kind hand of Nature has fitted its strings,
And the dictates of truth and of virtue it sings,
As softly and sweetly it touches the mind,
As Æolus’ harp when ’tis mov’d by the wind;
Untainted by art were the notes it has sung,
It has cheer’d our decline, and has charm’d us when young;
And when useful employments demanded our prime,
Our leisure it soothed without wasting our time:
And when all our sorrows and toils shall be o’er,
Its music perhaps may delight us once more;
When swelling to concords more rich and sublime,
It may rise beyond earth, and may live beyond time.

The blossoms I once so admir’d and caress’d,
That cheer’d my fond heart till they dy’d on my breast,
Which my tears that fell frequent, like soft silent rain,
Could not waken to life and new fragrance again:
There, again, in new sweetness and beauty shall bloom,
And the evergreen plain with fresh odours perfume;
Perhaps while exalted their graces shall rise,
Again their dear verdure shall gladden my eyes!
When the season of fear and of sorrow is o’er,
And our tears and our songs are remember’d no more!

She wrote a poem on the death of Burns outlining his achievements (and misfortunes from her conservative ethical stance) whose best lines seem to me to be: “He wak’d the genuine Caledonian lyre,/Tweed’s severing flood exulting heard her tell …”

This is astute enough:

And Ramsay , once the Horace of the North,
Who charm’d with varied strains the listening Forth ,
Bequeath’d to him the shrewd peculiar art
To satire nameless graces to impart,
To wield her weapons with such sportive ease,
That, while they wound, they dazzle and they please …
The independent wish, the taste refin’d,
Bright energies of the superior mind,
And Feeling’s generous pangs, and Fancy’s glow,
And all that liberal Nature could bestow,
To him profusely given, yet given in vain;
Misfortune aids and points the stings of pain.


Born Anne MacVicar in Glasgow, Scotland, Anne grew up in New England. Her father was a Highland officer, and she crossed the Atlantic with her mother and lived in Albany, New York between 1757 and 1768. There she read a good deal, and from a friend-mentor, Catalina Schuyler, was introduced to Shakespeare, Pope, Addison and other writers. She was fourteen when the family came to live in Glasgow, without “accomplishments” but with a love of the natural world, and knowledge of books and travel.

She married an Army chaplain, Reverend James Grant, and ended up in Laggan, Scotland, a remote village 50 miles from Perth and Inverness. There she adopted Highland customs, learnt Gaelic, translated Gaelic verse. Her personal life was sad and hard because when her eight children were young, they died and her husband in 1801. In debt and with only a tiny pension due to her, she turned to writing.

She published volumes of verse. With the active patronage of the Duchess of Gordon, she began to publish verse; 1803, Poems on Various Subjects. Among these are translations of Gaelic songs, including Grant’s words to “Oh, Where, tell me, is your Highland Lassie Gone?” from which I quote one verse, clearly meant to be set to music:

Oh, where, tell me where, is your Highland laddie gone?
Oh, where, tell me where, is your Highland laddie gone?
He’s gone with streaming banners were noble deeds are done,
And my sad heart will tremble till he comes safely home;
He’s gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done,
And my sad heart will tremble, till he comes safely home

In 1802–3 she left Laggan for Woodend, near Stirling as her daughter, Mary was ill. When her son, Duncan, received a commission in the East India Company, she needed to find him uniform, weapons, and brought a manuscript to women friends and poets and writers, Joanne Baillie and Catherine Maria Fanshawe. Letters from the Mountains (1805): descriptions of scenery, customs, manners. But in April 1807 her daughter Charlotte died (age 17) and in July of the same year, Catherine (age 20).

It was then she wrote her memories of her time in the US before the revolution: Memoirs of an American Lady (1808) and published more poetry The Highlanders and Other Poems. Her book on her experience of the US is still cited in studies of early New England. Of “The Highlanders” Gottlieb writes it was the poem that clinched her reputation:

Subtitled “Sketches of Highland Scenery and Manners, with some Reflections on Emigration,” “The Highlanders” uses rhyming couplets, iambic pentameter, and discrete parts (each prefaced with a synoptic argument) to announce its epic intentions. Like other Romantic-era epics, moreover, it begins on a personal note, with a candid admission that it was written (apparently in the spring of 1795) as a form of convalescent therapy. Asking “How long must I in storms and sickness mourn? / Oh when will health, and light, and spring return?,” the narrator (apparently Grant herself) rises from her sickbed to view the countryside, only to realize that things are not as they once were (1.13). Expecting to have her spirits cheered by the sight of “social hamlet[s]” and “cluster’d cottages around / Where tranquil peace and rural joy were found,” Grant is upset to find only desolation and depopulation (1.54-56).

The poem has a deeply melancholy atmosphere, and is “initially … a ‘farewell’ to the ‘Genius,’ or spirit, of the Highlands, which has disappeared along with a sizeable portion of its population.

“emotional openness, the poet notes, has already been extended by many Britons to African slaves; now the time has come for the people of England and the Lowlands to recognize the importance of sympathizing with the northern inhabitants of their own island as well.

Accordingly, Grant uses the subsequent parts of “The Highlanders” to describe in great, almost anthropological, detail the quotidian customs and habits of Highland life as it existed in times past. Here, much of Grant’s work reads like a poetic attempt to illustrate the Scottish Enlightenment’s ideas regarding the Highlanders’ place in the stadial evolution of society . . . Grant’s greatest fear is that this traditional Highland culture will be destroyed by the onset of modernity.

To be brief, she fears and desires assimilation for these people; much of the latter part of the poem retells recent Scottish history (adventures of Bonnie Prince Charles) and is politically conservative (for church and monarchy, not for the principles of the French revolution). This helps explain Walter Scott’s later favoring of her, and her poem anticipates or is in line with his Lay of the Last Minstrel.

J.M.W. Turner, Ben Arthur, Scotland, an appropriate image

Two years later she had moved to Edinburgh, and had met Walter Scott. She started a small school and would entertain and it’s said (by several) her house became a gathering place for Scots writers of all political persuasions (despite her own Tory views). Henry Mackenzie, Felicia Hemans, Robert Southey, Scott, Hogg, Francis Jeffrey. She was known for her promotion of Gaelic and pro-Highlander stance, her wit, conversation. In 1811 a book on the “superstitions of the Highlands and more translations from gaelic verse, and in 1814 Eighteenth Hundred and Thirteen: A Poem in Two Parts).

Her later life (like that of many) was not easy: disabled by a fall in 1820, in 1825 Walter Scott obtained a small pension for her; there were the successive deaths of all her children but one, John-Peter Grant who in 1844 published her autobiography and letters, a record of literary life and society in Edinburgh in the 1st quarter of the 19th century. She died of flu on November 7, 1838 aged 84, and was buried in New Cemetery at Edinburgh’s St Cuthbert’s Cuthbert’s church.

Edinburgh, early 19th century, an engraving by William Miller after Turner

Walter Scott wrote of her: “Her literary works although composed amidst misfortune and privation, are written at once with simplicity and force, and uniformly bear the stamp of a virtuous and courageous mind.” She was for a time by a few thought to be the author of the Waverly novels. I would be surprised if Austen had not read some of her writing.

The poems and information come from Jennifer Breen’s Women Romantic Poets, 1785-1832 and the information about her occurs with a brief poem in Paula R. Friedman’s British Women Poets of the Romantic Era. See also Evan Gottliebe, Blameless Empires and Long-Forgotten Melodies: Anne Grant’s “The Highlanders,” Walter Scott’s “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” and the Poetry of Sympathetic Britishness, Journal of Narrative Theory, 40:3 (1983); and Pam Perkins, “Anne Grant and Late Eighteenth-Century Idealizations of America,” American Literature, 40:2 (2005):315-340.

Anne’s life and her work are best understood among her female peers (with whom we see she measured herself) and as one of large amorphous group of Scots women writers whom Kirsteen McCue in “Women and Song: 1750-1850)” writes about in a delightful (and very fat) book, A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, edd Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan, which I bought myself while researching the life of Anne Halkett, a 17th century Scots and English autobiographer when I discovered it also has long articles on Margaret Oliphant, modern Scots-descended writers (e.g., Alice Munro), memoirists (Elizabeth Grant Smith whose memoirs I read this year — superb and only published unabridged and uncensored in the last 20 years). I am now awaiting Catherine Kerrigan’s Anthology of Scottish Women Poets in order to do this. Eighteenth century women to be celebrated include Carolina Oliphant Nairne, Anne Lindsay Barnard, Anne Grant, Anne Hunter, Susanna Blamire, Alison Cockburn, Jean Elliot. Did you know Muriel Spark was an able Scots poet (who spent much of her life in Italy)?

there is a vast website which reprints her works with appropriate pictures. Anne Macivar Grant


Read Full Post »

Angelica Kauffman (171401807), The Muse of Composition

Dear Friends,

This is my fifth report on the smallish conference of 18th century scholars held at Bethelehem, Pennsylvania. It consists of reports on papers from three panels: on Saturday, “Bibliography, Textual Studies and Book History, Part I” (8:30-10:00 am), “Foreign Intelligences” (2:00-3:30 pm), and “Late 18th century writers” (3:45-5:15 pm). All were excellent; the women discussed are Anne Finch, Fanny Burney, Mary Brunton, Jane Cummings, Hester Thrale Piozzi, and Elizabeth Inchbald.

The 8:30 session on Saturday concerned the public image fostered by, and actual dissemination of texts by Anne Finch, Fanny Burney, and Mary Brunton. Michael Gavin’s paper, “From manuscript to Print: Criticism and the Poetry of Anne Finch” was about how Anne Finch attempted to rise above the detraction of writers by other writers in the local politics of the era.

Miniature of Anne Finch, at the court of Mary of Modena (1680s).

Mr Gavin argued that Anne Finch’s poems are “haunted by critics.” If we look at her prefaces in her unpublished books, we find a hyper-sensitive poet who invites her readers to share her feelings. For example, her “Introduction” justifies her authorship in the face of hostile male critics, and sensitive readers who read out of their own concern and psyche. She excluded polemical poems from her 1713 Miscellany by a Lady. His argument was the dynamics of literary factionalism got in the way of her writing good poetry.

Mr Gavin began by discussing some of Finch’s poems which were never attributed to her from the 1698 religious miscellany edited (or gathered) by Nahum Tate, and the 1701 Gilden Miscellany . It’s true her poems fit into Jacobitism, can be fit into religious polemic (even Whiggism — she is hailed by Nicolas Rowe in Gilden’s volume), and she is also a poetess of exile. Nonetheless, she wanted to stand outside the literary fields of battle. She was herself a translator as were numerous women in these eras when they began careers of writing. Finch’s prefatory fable for her 1713 volume, “Mercury and the Elephant,” was meant to symbolize this stance. If we want to understand the nature of her career as a poet, Paula Backscheider has described it in her book: dedicating one’s life to writing superior verse aesthetically. I’d add, ethically, as a therapy for herself.

The painted drawing room at Norbury Park (in whose environs Fanny first met Alexandre D’Arblay)

Catherine Parisian talked about “Frances Burney in America.” Although Burney never went to the US, her books were printed in American editions and attempts were made to distribute them. The talk was on the specifics of who published what in Philadelphia and NY. She was interested to show which edition (or text) was dependent on a previous one.

Big runs were 200-300 copies, and it did emerge that despite the high hopes of the publisher/bookseller in the US, no where near enough of Burney’s books sold to justify him continuing. There was a market for this kind of high-minded intelligent book by a woman which was not sexualized overtly (Camilla fits this bill perfectly) but they didn’t reach it.

Lady Anne Barnard, 18th century Scots painter, A landscape

Emily Friedman’s paper was on “Sacred Taboos: Mary Brunton’s Posthumous Packaging.” Ms. Friedman felt the titles of Brunton’s novels (Self-Control, Discipline) are meant as self-evident jokes, and that has been scanty attention given these complex works. Her first novel, Self-Control, is about a heroine who chases after a hero to American and sails down a dangerous river in a canoe. Discipline is a strongly Emma-like novel: a heroine’s mother dies and she has no one to teach her really properly; she is given a Miss Taylor as her governess (whom she bullies) and is left to fend for herself and her father.

Brunton’s last novel, Emmeline, a work not finished, now consists of a fragment published posthumously, together with a memoir of Brunton’s short life. (She died in childbirth at age 40.) This last story is of a woman who decides she no longer loves her husband, divorces him, remarries, but discovers she and her husband are not accepted by anyone around them, and remorse and guilt drive her to misery. What happens is the new husband leaves her. It’s only 100 pages, but reads like a novella in itself.

It’s a fascinating document; contemporary reviews are painful to read now if we recognize Mary Brunton in each of the novels and this one especially has painted herself and aspects or circumstances of her life under the guise of fiction.

Reviewers did excoriate the heroine and Mrs Brunton for writing such a fiction. (Having read Brunton’s Discipline I do know how she excoriates and moralizes over her heroine, and I wondered if this 100 pages is a better novel to us precisely because Brunton couldn’t finish it, and thus ruin her text.)

In the questions and talk afterwards Ms Friedman agreed that Brunton writes very much in a vein like that of Joanne Baillie, Susan Ferrier (Scots I mentioned earlier), and Jane Austen at one remove. I asked Ms Friedman about the value of Mary McKerrow’s biography, Mary Brunton, The forgotten Scottish novelist, 2000, and she said that its emphasis is on Brunton as a Scots writer but much is well-written and revealing. Ms Friedman said this biography is mostly taken from the memoir about his life that was published shortly.

I thought Mr Gavin wanted us to see that by analyzing Finch’s poetry from another stance than that of poetry, more of its greatness came out, and asked him what he thought of its melancholy and the aesthetics of the short romantic lyrics. As I’ve dedicated years of my life to putting her poems on the Net and writing about her his paper was of especial interest to me. I was glad to see him concentrate on the unattributed poems. Someone else pointed out how Finch was in a dependent powerless position, and one reason she decided to print only de-politicized poetry (fables mostly) in her 1713 volume was she could not do otherwise.

I didn’t say so but it continues to bother me that many of the papers and essays published nowadays take positions which enable the writer to avoid the topics of feminism, and the content of the writers’ depressions and troubles. Also this final publication of Brunton’s work by the husband consisting of unfinished works, a memoir and a shaping of the author’s life which moralizes it conventionally and slides under the rug anything that does not fit that moral reminds me of how Anne Radcliffe’s husband published a similar book about her: her posthumous (but finished) Gaston de Blandville, a memoir by the husband’s friend which includes large swatches of her poetic journals, and a moral portrait which erases a troubled solitary life.

Frances Singh told me about the paper she gave on a panel called “Foreign Intelligences” (at 2:00 pm on Saturday). The title of the paper was “Jane Cumming. missing in 1812.” I was not able to hear her deliver it, but would like to offer a summary of it here as it seems to me of real interest.

Jane Cumming was the illegimate daughter of an Indian officer who died and left a comment on her mother to the effect that she was an “evil woman.” At first Jane’s grandmother ignored her; then she had her picked up from school and sent to a training school. Someone said the teachers were lesbian and parents began to take their daughters from the school The school was ruined, and Frances brought out the terribleness of what people would say to one another is brought out.

Jane Cummings left a record of what happened, and it has not been lost to us because the story was picked up by Lillian Hellman for two film adaptations The Children’s Hour. Tellingly the first versions (on stage and in the movies) erased the possible lesbianism of the schoolteachers and the second (a 1960 movie) presented the two lesbians at the center very unsympathetically. The little girl who told is presented as a kind of spiteful fiend. Nowhere does the discourse allow for a discussion of the original blind egoism of Jane Cummings’s father (and erasure of her mother), narrow views of another human being of the grandmother, and then the realities of what would go on in a school and attempts at humane communication between people that say lesbian love might have been reaching for.

On my small list, Women Writers through the Ages at Yahoo, we spent a season reading women’s plays and discussing their films, and discovered that until very recently one group continually excoriated by the public and misrepresented with extreme hostility are lesbians. (The only group as much disliked are “bluestockings” whose stock has not gone up in the way of lesbians because they are not seen as wanting sex.)

The three papers read on the “Later 18th century writers” were all informative and perceptive. Lisa Berglund delivered hers in a lively way as well: it was on the marginal commentary in Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections of a Tour of France, Italy and Germany. Lisa first gave a brief resume of Piozzi’s life, ending on her last years as a widow, and her late-life “crush” on a young actor, Augustus Conway who at the end of his life committed suicide. One must remember how rich Piozzi was, and also how she said she was miserable during her many years married to Thrale and very happy during her years with Piozzi.

The Thrales’ West Street house in Brighton, photograph from 1865

In this commentary Piozzi is looking back on her life, and she is much franker, more personal, more concrete than in her published writing. She indirectly mirrors conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. Piozzi was treated viciously in the press when she married and when she published later in life. Lisa read aloud to us some touching daily passages she wrote out in both her earlier handbooks and this last one. Part of the point was to show us that the public presentation of Piozzie’s husband was bland and almost not there, but that in this commentary his personality comes across. The commentary in general then is in a way more valuable than the self-censored narratives in public. Lisa intends to published these for Valancourt Press.

The book is also a narrative of her life’s writing process, and Lisa gave out xeroxes of different stages of the writing from Piozzi’s diaries and papers and we looked at the changes Piozzi made as she wrote. It seemed often to be a process of crossing out, generalizing, alas, erasing.

Juniper Hall, where Fanny met her husband, Alexander

Lorna Clarke is working on Burney’s court journals, and her paper comes out of her study of these. What she showed us was how much fictionalizing and imagination went into this journal. Fanny’s process of writing her journals changed at various points of her life and each time her writing alters. Instead of a diary of her daily proceedings, in the 1780s, it became a memorandum which she can write up later. Her notes show she was often very belated so what we get is emotion recollected in tranquility. We could say of her years at court, they were not wasted but that she spent a good deal of the time writing and rewriting.

The major revealing point that Lorna made was Burnye’s texts are a record of a complex interaction of then and now in Fanny’s mind as well as of Fanny writing to someone and expecting a rely. The letters to Susan are a kind of realistic novel with many layers in them. Then very later in life (after her husband’s death), she is glad to keep a diary of retrospection all the while she kept to the epistolary technique. She had developed a mastery of these dramatic and epistolary techniques of writing to the moment. The product is then (in effect) a major novel since much is fictionalized by Fanny’s imagination at different stages of time: close to the event so and so most nearly like what happened, further off so elaborated, meant for Susan’s eyes so the perspective is shaped that way, and then later in life.

Lorna developed a chronology which seems to me to cover the ground and give insight into what we are reading. When you look at the different layers of what is there and how differently different parts were written, we have a fiction of great complexity as well as a rarely well-documents significant life. Hers was an extraordinarily good paper which if heeded could bring before us finally Burney’s journals in a light that would enable us to read them with modern techniques of literary analysis instead of as simply fodder for biographical papers.

Elizabeth Inchbald, frontispiece to British Theater, 1806

Beverly Schneller argued that we should regard Elizabeth Inchbald’s Catholicism seriously — as she does. Inchbald’s first biographer, lost his head (joke alert about superstition and fairy tale ritual here). Ms Schneller suggested that in Inchbald’s novels and prayers, she stays strickly orthodox. Inchbald was puzzled at the strong hatred Protestants for Catholics. She showed how in Inchbald’s life we have much evidence she went regularly to church and followed other Catholic practices, and then went over Inchbald’s fiction carefully, showing analogies with Catholic doctrine and practice. So that although Inchbald lived an unusually independent life for her era. she was at the same time conventional about religion and family.

Ms Schneller also emphasized the importance of Inchbald’s editing work for us today, how she was the mainstay of her family. One area that has been misunderstood is her brief relationship with her husband. He was not long-lived. Often it’s presented as something she was forced to do, the result of having to find a protector against sexual harassment. Ms Schneller wanted us to see the marriage as something Inchbald chose because the man was Roman Catholic.

Alas, there was not time for much talk afterwards. So I’d like to add this thought here perhaps the point of trying to argue for Inchbald’s serious adherence to Catholicism could be to aid us in interpreting Inchbald’s fictions, plays and some of her scholarship. In particular, for example, her Simple Story has a Dorriforth, a man who is a priest and characterized as severe and critical towards the frivolous social behavior of the heroine, Miss Milner. How are we to understand this? Perhaps Inchbald’s purpose was more than secular moralizing. I know when we read it on Janeites, I saw it as very much in the French tradition of manners of comedies only the insights into human nature were harsher and the dramatic narratives incisive and unusually powerful. The second half of the book occurs after the death of Miss Milner and swirls around his lack of a relationship with his and Miss Milner’s daughter, Matilda and himself, now a secular gentleman, Lord Elmwood. It’s a striking contrast to the first half as it’s a gothic novel usually justified as showing what are the results of bad education. Clearly this kind of rationale doesn’t begin to approach what is going on in this plangent — and half-crazy I should say — story of estrangement and despair. I never did get to putting up on my website the many postings a group of us wrote about this novel in 1998 and now I don’t know if I can because my files (wri files) often won’t open at all.

I end with another professional woman artist of this era:

Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), Le chat angora — threatened by that hair brush!


Read Full Post »