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William Hogarth, “Signing the Settlement,” showing that the powerful people in the room were doing all they could to curtail the liberty of one another, Marriage a la Mode

Dear friends and readers,

A week ago tonight, a Thursday, Nov 3rd, the EC/ASECS conference began. The theme that was to unite the papers was that of liberty, and it had turned out that this was a popular compelling theme for eighteenth century scholars. Many of the papers could be summarized under the aegis of a pursuit of liberty: authors, characters, books, seeking and being frequently thwarted in their quest for liberty.


The conference emblem by Cruikshank: we see Liberty trying to protect herself amid the ferocity of various authors determined to make their books prevail

This is the first of three blog reports (see the second and the third).

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On the last night of the conference, a Saturday (Nov 5th), I was out in a restaurant in Penn State with a friend; on the final evening of the last day of our Eastern Region eighteenth-century conference, we had treated ourselves to a yummy meal in a nearby restaurant to Nittany Lion Inn. When we returned to the Nittany, a friend took this photo of us:


Caroline and me

As chance — and luck — had had it, on the first evening (Nov 3rd), we had both played together in the comic half of John Dryden’s Marriage a La Mode, performed without the heroic tragic stuff. We had been the married couple of several years, a couple writhing over their lack of freedom from one another: Caroline Doralice, and me, Rhodophil. The conference began with a reception with drinks and snacks at 6 or so, and the evening was given over to Peter Staffel’s Aural/Oral experience. First Peter had us read poetry aloud and then we turned to the play.

The play was piquant and somewhat hard to do (without rehearsals), even to practice alone, because the characters’ speeches and action are so intertwined, salacious in innuendo, and mine (at least) bitter with disillusion from the experience of an arranged marriage for money. Its opening song (to be sung by Doralice) is famous:

Why should a foolish marriage vow,
Which long ago was made,
Oblige us to each other now,
When passion is decayed?
We loved, and we loved, as long as we could,
‘Till our love was loved out in us both;
But our marriage is dead, when the pleasure is fled:
‘Twas pleasure first made it an oath.

II.
If I have pleasures for a friend,
And further love in store,
What wrong has he, whose joys did end,
And who could give no more?
‘Tis a madness that he
Should be jealous of me,
Or that I should bar him of another:
For all we can gain,
Is to give ourselves pain,
When neither can hinder the other.

And here is one of Doralice’s disillusioned dialogues with the bitter Rhodophil:

Dor. What should you talk of a peace a-bed, when you can give no security for performance of articles?

Rho. Then, since we must live together, and both of us stand upon our terms, as to matters of dying first, let us make ourselves as merry as we can with our misfortunes. Why, there’s the devil on’t! if thou could’st make my enjoying thee but a little easy, or a little more unlawful, thou should’st see what a termagant lover I would prove. I have taken such pains to enjoy thee, Doralice, that I have fancied thee all the fine women of the town–to help me out: But now there’s none left for me to think on, my imagination is quite jaded. Thou art a wife, and thou wilt be a wife, and I can make thee another no longer. [Exit_ RHO.]

Altogether 7 of us went through the lines as best we could, and there were still some people left in the audience when we ended! It was fun and an instructive experience to go through. My respect for Dryden went up.

Beforehand we read some poetry aloud to one another, and afterward more drinks at the bar — or bed. I learned that night that Peter had seen the same version of Marriage a la Mode I saw in the 1980s: Giles Havergal took the comic part of the play and interwove it with an abridged version of Dryden’s All for Love (Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra rewritten). He had the characters, Doralice and Rhodophil, and Melantha and Palamede (the largest part, played wonderfully by Robert Mayerovich) become actors who were putting on the tragic play. The action takes place in the rehearsing room. Peter had loved it — he saw it in Toronto and I saw it at the Folger Shakespeare library. There is a good review of it: Judith Milhous, “The Poetics of Theater,” Theatre Journal, 35:3, (Oct1983):416-418.

And so the conference had begun.

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Friday: I heard three sessions, one of which was “my own” (I chaired it), then a plenary lecture, and later in the evening another reception with drinks and dinner sitting down together.


statue of John Wilkes (1725-97)

I began with Panel 1, “Wilkes and Liberty,” and heard three fine papers. Jack Fruchtman’s in his Radicalism and Reform: the Case of John Sawbridge, M.P., asked “what did radicalism mean in the 18th century, and how did it fit into the Wilkes and Liberty movement? These were contentious times, and no organization was considered legal outside parliament; from 1780 to 1792 people became radicalized within such organizations. Tradesmen and artisans joined them. Among the new demands were shorter parliaments, small electoral districts, prevent bribery, exclude place men, a smaller standing army, lower taxes, better infrastructure. Most people were whigs, and words like “virtue” and “corruption” catchwords. In 1768 Wilkes had fought for his seat successfully; he was a supporter of the Bill of Rights and his election was overthrown as corrupt. This was seen as quite unjust and Wilkes’s cause became intertwined with that of principled liberties.

John Sawbridge (1732-35) was Catherine Macauley’s younger brother. She wrote her history of England to counter Hume’s: in Hume liberty is an important empowering concept, but in Sawbridge it’s only more menial work at the same pay for employees. Sawbridge left a body of writing unsigned. Among legislation he proposed was annual parliament which would obviate corruption; for who would spend such money on a short stay in Parliament. He supported the impeachment of North, associated with Fox, views like John Horne Took. Prof Fruchtman said Sawbridge was clever and polished politician who successfully cultivated his constituency.

Corey Andrews’ paper was on Scottophobia in Charles Churchill’s poetry and prose. Where did it come from and why now (18th century) so virulent. Churchill edited Wilkes’s North Briton; he was attacked by his own countrymen, and ever after did not forget who was responsible for the recalls and the mob. Churchill was caustic, bleak and bitter towards Swift, competitive towards Smollett (who edited an important review which published anti-Scottish reviews). Corey read aloud from Churchill’s “Apology” (1761), “Night” (1761) and “The Prophecy of Famine” (1763). It seems that Churchill held grudges for a long time; he conflated private feelings with public displays of anger and ill feeling. He did not forget his boyhood in Scotland and as an adult wanted to live for pleasure. He wrote strong poetry and yet by Southey’s time could be pronounced as forgotten. Corey ended by quoting Byron on how Churchill had become “nothing but a name.” The implication seemed to be that by being so personally antagonistic, Churchill never built a big enough constituency for valuing his poetry past his lifetime.


Hogarth’s caricature of Churchill as “the bruiser.”

Brijraj Singh’s paper on “The Radicals, General Warrants, and Press Freedom” described what was meant by radicals in the 1760s: someone who wanted to curb the prerogatives of the crown, widen the franchise to include artisans, craftsmen, tradesmen, freedom of the press &c. A general warrant could be issued against someone accused of libel. Neither party wanted to pass this bill. Brijraj described two important judges, Lord Mansfield, an originally impecunious Scots lawyer who rose to the top by talent and Pratt who supported the opposition to Fox and Pitt.

I know I am not doing justice to the subtleties and ironies, let alone vivid concrete information in the papers and during the lively political talk afterward. What I especially liked was for once people made connections with today — and yet there was no controversy stemming from people’s allegiances to modern parties.

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Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821)

At 10:30 I went to the first of three sessions on actresses, professional women, their memoirs, the theater, publishing as such and the public.

Linda Troost’s paper, “Publicity that Money Cannot Buy: The Syren of Covent Garden and The Duenna.” After “Love in a Village,” Sheridan’s Duenna was performed more frequently than any other play across the century. Sheridan’s father-in-law (Linden) revised the music. In our time the play is helped to an audience through advertising the parallels in Sheridan’s life and marriage and that of his wife, Elizabeth Linley, and the characters in his play who elope to escaped an arranged materialistic merciless match. The action of the play concerns the heroine’s continued attempts to escape an unwanted marriage by eloping. At the time Anne Brown was given the lead, and she too kept running away, eloping, and there seems little doubt this outside play real-life activity kept the staging of plays indoors.

Linda was very amusing on the real life stories of Anne Brown who it seems eloped once too often, and died drowned off a ship on its way home (with, so the sentimental stories said, her newborn baby in her arms). For my part, I felt for Ann Brown and wondered why she was so determined to escape her father and was so susceptible to seduction.

Melissa Wehler spoke of Dorothy Jordan’s cross-dressing. Her argument was the importance of the body politic and real natural body of a woman, how the latter is confused and confounded with. Like Linda, she talked a lot about the real woman, including such matters as the manipulation of tickets that goes on to get a seat. She gave us the following handout and spoke from it about attitudes towards cross-dressing:

In Dramatic Essays, Hunt specifies Jordan’s “wearing the breeches” as antithetical to what he refers to as the “proper style of the actress” calling it “one of the most barbarous, injurious, and unnatural customs of the stage,” arguing: “In all cases it is injurious to the probability of the author and to the proper style of the actress, for if she succeeds in her study of male representation she will never entirely get rid of her manhood with its attire; she is like the Iphis of Ovid, and changes her sex unalterably. There is required, in fact, a breadth of manners and demeanour in a woman’s imitation of men, which no female, who had not got over a certain feminine reserve of limb, could ever maintain or endure; and when the imitation becomes frequent and the limbs bent to their purpose, it is impowwigl3 to return to that delicacy of behaviour, which exists merely as it is incapable of forgetting itself. Vivacity does nothing but strengthen the tendency to broadness by allowing a greater freedom of action; it merely helps the female to depart more from her former chaste coldness of character, from the simplicity of her former mental shape [ … ] . (“Mrs. Jordan,” 83)
[ … ]

Hunt offers a note to all of his “serious reviewers” and “female readers”: “Serious Reviewer, interrupting. But, my good sir, suppose some of your female readers should take it into their heads to be Mrs. Jordan? Author. Oh, my good sir, don’t be alarmed. My female readers are not persons to be so much afraid for, as you seem to think yours are. The stage itself has taught them large measures both of charity and discernment. They have not been so locked up in restraint, as to burst out of bounds the moment they see a door open for consideration.) (Autobiography, 149) (for “Works cited” see comment)

Afterward the group did talk of Jordan’s later life, how the prince dumped her after she bore him so many children, made her life apart from them (she died young), and Claire Tomalin’s biography, Mrs Jordan’s Profession, which recounts all this frankly. (I remembered that Trollope spoke similarly of any female character in his novel: it seems once a woman gives up her modesty in some ways, she is mentally tainted forever. This might not be a strongly common Victorian male point of view so much as the cant one finds published to control women.)

Sharmain van Blommenstein was one of the surprising and most unusual papers for the conference. She discussed the history of ballerinas, from the time of the first depictions of women dancing (as comic shrews) to our own time (when they have become tragic central heroines). She began in the medieval era, and moved quickly through the Renaissance, 18th, 19th centuries and then early modern times. I couldn’t begin to take down what she included. It was a power-point presentation with texts put up in front of us.

Suffice to say that originally the men were the central dancers. Then in 1720 when skirts were shortened, ballerinas began to proliferate and eventually displaced men as the central figures in ballet. She talked about how story ballets came in. In the 19th century the age-old connection of actors with prostitutes came to dominate the discourse (stories) and ballerinas were stigmatized because of their working class origins and (assumed) sexual impropriety.

Along the way she explained a great deal that we see in ballet until today. She said it was simply true that the less fortunate ballerinas did fall into prostitution; they were followed about by the declasse rich men who hung about the theaters (called abonnes). I wish I could convey the excitement and interest of hearing so much I never knew before. At the close Sharmain put up a photo of 4 homosexual men in ballet drag, and showed how they stand parallel to earlier ballerinas.

Laura Engel is most interested in actress’s memoirs and her discussion was about Elizabeth Inchbald’s relationship with Mary Wells. It seems that while at first the two were very close, gradually Mary began to crack up, and when she did Inchbald distanced herself from her once old friend. To me the way Inchbald dropped her friend was off-putting; she was protecting her reputation and apparently did the same vis-a-vis Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s very hard to know why Inchbald did what she did since she destroyed her 2 or 3 volume memoirs and all that is left are tiny diaries where the barest annotations are found.

Well, Laura found the same paradigms of posture, dress, and self-presentation in their very different memoirs. From the diaries Laura suspects that Inchbald also separated herslf perhaps because Wells had become too difficult for Inchbald to deal with. Inchbald did give Wells an annuity for the rest of Wells’s life.

The problem for such women’s reputation is these actresses’s memoirs are rarely read, and then usually through pre-conceived (prejudiced) eyes and only to use them for purposes outside any interest in them or their theater. Laura also described Boaden’s biographies, one of Inchbald and one of Sarah Siddons, and how Boaden’s narrow attitudes shaped the evidence that was left. When I got home, I bought a copy of Laura’s book on actresses’memoirs, Fashioning Celebrity.


Dorothy Jordan as Viola in Twelfth Night by John Hoppner

What struck me here (once again) is how women scholars want to celebrate and present very positively what were tragic and/or hard lives in many ways.

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My own panel was scheduled after lunch, and alas, as has happened before, because I was so nervous before giving my paper I didn’t take adequate notes on the papers of the others. The subject I had proposed was historical, post-colonial and rewritten fiction and liberty: I wanted to see explored the different uses to which historical fiction (very popular in our time and also in the 19th century after Scott) can be put.


Kosciuszko at Raclawice, a painting by Jan Matejko (1888).

Talissa Ford’s paper, “Jack Mansong and West-Indian Liberty” was about William Earle’s epistolary novel Obi, or, the History of Three-Fingered Jack published in 1800. In 1780 Jamaican hero, “Three-fingered Jack” Mansong escaped from slavery and led a maroon band in acts of terror; by August of 1800, Toussaint L’Ouverture controlled all of Saint Domingue, and a nation of liberated slaves was a real possibility. Talissa “seized on the decade between Jack’s story and its publication, in order to read Earle’s novel in the context of the 1791 slave uprisings in Saint Domingue.” She argued that, “in the midst of the Haitian Revolution, Earle uses the narrative of a small, short-lived band of rebels in Jamaica to raise the broader possibility of an independent black nation in the West Indies.”

What I found most interesting was her characterization of the hero as a violent terrorist who is at the same time patterned on classical heroes; the novel delves into and creates a complicated argument about how slavery is set up, enforced, what it is, but what she said was most revealing in it was its exposure of the sources of revolution in the anger of the central figures. The real Jack Mansong died terribly, was killed in the most brutal and horrible of ways.

Sylvia Marks’s paper, “Another Jane, A Foreign Grandison,” was on Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) Thaddeus is modeled on the famous Polish war and Enlightenment hero, Kosciuszko. In Porter’s preface she “recalls” “the moving sight of a “gaunt” and “melancholy” figure among the many “hapless refugees wandering about St. James’s Park. They had sad companions in the like miseries, though from different enemies, in the emigrants from France” (1861 New York edition, v-vi). Sylvia wanted to remind us that British writers felt sympathy for the Poles fighting for their liberty after 1794. Porter creates in her good hero another Charles Grandison, with the difference that the accent is now on magnanimity; the novel is really a kind of conduct book and it appealed greatly to Kosciuiszko himself and Carlyle and went through 8 editions. We see Thaddeus experience joy in benevolent action, as an exile he is fine, gentle scholar, a Christian, an honorable warrior.


From the 1997 mini-series Tom Jones: Partridge, the tutor, kisses Tom as if Tom were his son (Ron Cook and Max Beesley)

Geoff Sills’s “Col. Jack, Tom Jones, and The Sot-Weed Factor: A Trans-national, Trans-atlantic Dialogue” showed that while John Barth had Fielding’s Tom Jones in mind for the underlying paradigmatic plot-design of the 20th century novel, Defoe’s definition of liberty was the one that controlled Barth’s novel, not Fielding’s. The Sot-Weed Factor is supposed to be a book published in 1708 while it is set in 1694. The poet, Ebeneezer Cook is the hero, who travels with his beloved tutor, Henry Burlingame; they discover that European values do not translate into American settings. Instead of an idealistic or philosophical definition of liberty, liberty is defined as what people experience when they trade as equals; it is in establishing a relationship of exchange that effective liberty emerges and is operative. Geoff quoted from Defoe’s Colonel Jack to show us the parallels. His was a really intriguing paper, and he made me really want to read The Sot-Weed Factor.

Then came my turn: I had proposed “I have a right to choose my own life:’ Liberty in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels,” and I delivered the paper I’ve put on on my website, which I invite interested readers to read at their leisure.

Here is its first paragraph:

It is the argument of this paper that Winston Graham’s historical fiction brings into focus areas and perspectives on experience essential to understanding the nature of civil liberty. In Graham’s treatment of women’s lack of rights, he centers their stories on their experience of rape, how class works to prevent them coping with abrasive sexual encounters, and on sexual discord, dissatisfaction and abuse within marriage from the woman’s angle. In Graham’s Poldark novels what gets in the way of liberty for women is they are answerable with their bodies in situations where they have inadequate or no control (Pateman; Vickery 24). A main heroine, Elizabeth Chynoweth defends her life and her son Valentine’s, from destructive assault by her husband, George Warleggan, by swearing “I have never, never given my body to any man except my first husband, Francis, and to you, George. Is that enough?” (FS, II:9, 390). Her body is the issue and her problem that she had sexual intercourse with Graham’s hero, Ross Poldark, and Valentine is Ross’s son. She did not “give her body” since Ross raped her.

Here is what I think is important about Graham’s handling of liberty in these Poldark novels:

Liberty. How is it, as it sometimes undoubtedly is, taken from us? If we feel we have it to exercise, in what situations do we actually manifest it and what can such exercise bring? The franchise is but one manifestation of liberty. What I missed in reading most of the famous voices on liberty (Constant, Berlin, Carol Pateman though not Mill and Vickery), was some adequate accounting for an inward self-prompting sense of right and capability and the resulting courage that exercising a right to liberty demands before any negotiation can be opened. This is the crucial psychological area the Poldark novels explore.

There were about 6 people in the audience, of whom three were real friends, and a fourth someone I’ve been getting to know. All asked good questions, not about historical fiction, but directed at each paper. Someone asked for more on Defoe; someone appreciated Sylvia’s work on Grandison.

I tried to be a good panel chair and bring papers together, and remember that I compared Sylvia’s use of magnanimity to the concept of the hero in the magnificent Indian film, Lagaan and said it was a lot easier for most or many people to identify with and like the peaceful kind orderly hero who plays so strictly by the rules than the man of violence, who resents and hates (as Jack Mansong rightly was), but that it was this anger that fuelled revolution. I remembered how I was all aquiver with anxiety for the Indian hero of Lagaan because he insisted on playing cricket by the rules and was depending on the British to keep their word if the Indians won the game. I doubted they would; I thought that some treachery at the last moment would be played on the Indians. It was not. But then it’s an idealistic film. The worst (ruthless, violent) people get into and stay in power much of the time. I asked Geoff who said he had assigned the book to his students, how they had liked it. He said it was very long for them, but he hoped that a second time at it, after they had read (or he at least assigned) Tom Jones, might make them have a more favorable response.


Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark (1975-76 season)

So, now, gentle reader, I go off to bed.

Ellen

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