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77-78Part7Ep2VisitingMorwennaRealizing
Elizabeth — she was not one to take risks

Dear friends and readers,

Would you believe this time I have had to cancel my second class? I was summoned by the City of Alexandria Court system, then called, and then left standing for jury duty. Two days gone.

So as I did last week, I am again putting my lecture notes on line and hoping to meet with my class on the following Monday and asking the class to read on through the second third of the novel. I preface this blog with one of my favorite shots of Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, by this time Warleggan (second season, 1977-78). Perhaps it will help my class envision her. The expression on the actress’s face is in a less-guarded moment. When I was on the Graham message board, Elizabeth’s name was my pseudonym (though I never hid behind it), this image my gravatar. Her character is a complex central presence in all 12 books even after she vanishes from its stage (The Angry Tide, Book 7).

Last week I covered Graham’s life, career, and three perspectives one could use to understand how Winston Graham came to write the Poldark novels in the way he did:  he was an outsider to the elite establishment of England when he was young, he identified with the underdog, the vulnerable, ordinary people, and he developed a deep attachment to Cornwall and interest in the past. I presented A Forgotten Story as a twin to Ross Poldark, a kind of dark mirror in which we see the same landscape, movement into the past, type characters (Patricia as a Verity-cum-Demelza), patterns of analogous events and trope (interest in rape, here boyhood), with both books still having an undertow of conventionality.

I thought before starting to discuss Ross Poldark together I’d ask if anyone else has read any of these books or others by Graham? Then say how I came to read and to love these books and ask how you found the first third of Ross Poldark.

The fantastic success of the first mini-series in the mid-1970s had made me to want to watch it by the 2000s. I had begun to publish on films, especially film adaptations of great books, and so bought a digitalized DVD and watched the first episodes – maybe 1-4. While I was charmed (especially with Robin Ellis), I felt that the series was somehow leaving out so much, particularly the background history, and had more depths to the characters (especially Francis Poldark). I felt something come through from the mini-series which I was missing.

So I bought the 1970s little volume with the picture of the coast and left-over mine shaft, all in green) as the cheapest I could get, not thinking I would really like them. I looked at a first edition and saw it was presented as see this past place through a window:

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This has become a collector’s item

The Poldark novels still don’t have a high reputation – as most historical fiction and romance today still doesn’t even if it gets prizes like the Booker (Mantel’s Wolf Hall). When they are not the target of prestigious coteries, they may be derided as swashbuckling or boys’ adventure stories or bodice rippers and “romance” (use as a term of contempt). Far from this, I found Ross Poldark to have real depths of perception for the characters, an author who wanted to delve a usable past to show us where we come from and talk to us about our present through this guise or framing. Politically and economically and socially serious books — in the Victorian-Edwardian tradition.

I kept reading them almost addictively – as I once did Trollope’s Palliser novels while I was watching the 1970s Palliser series on PBS on a black-and-white TV. I had read Trollope before, he had a high reputation, as one of the Victorian great novelists. I read through to Book 10 (The Loving Cup) and then turned back to the 1970s mini-series.

As I re-watched and went on, I saw the differences, some flaws, but also how well the film-makers had done it, that some of the decisions they made though they weakened and made stereotypical the characters were great dramatically, particularly the sequence in the film where Demelza seeks an abortion; the whole sequence in the film unlikely but appealing to people in the 1970s, and the ending of the first season, the 15th hour where the people of the district rise in rebellion against ruthless enclosure, destruction of their property – the 1790s in England mirrored the revolution in America and France, only it was savagely put down by Pitt. And that through their use of Cornwall itself, where they filmed, what they filmed, the opening and closing credits, the music, plus the scripts for nuanced scenes and actors who fit the roles as people imagined them they had reached the level of a mythic product.

This is a little different from most people who love the Poldark books recently – since the 1970s my experience is most people watch the series first and then read the novels. They thus read the novels through the series and they don’t think of the real immediate context of World War Two, nor do they look at the historical context of 1780s and 90s. They are willing to admit to a romance of Cornwall, and treat the novels almost as a invitation to a tourist and to be sure they are redolent of Cornwall – but about the particulars, the mining, the fishing, the land, the politics, and later in Demelza the smuggling and riots over abysmal poverty and exploitations, and then again in Jeremy Poldark, the politics, courts, and all sorts of things that are historically accurate and I find wonderfully well done are not much discussed. Our four essays (one by me) include one on Cornwall (point to it on the syllabus), two on the history (mine and Nickianne Moody – no relation though she also writes on popular books about medicine and medical films and I do too), and one on a novel theme connected to today: rape in the Poldark novels.

So my idea as I said in my blurb is to cover the novels of course but also go into these contexts. We’ll watch a little of the mini-series which closely mirrors parts of Demelza, and one rousing piece mirroring Jeremy Poldark – the scavenger riot, how it came about, the smuggling and why– but as ways of visualizing the books and enjoying film adaptation and its pleasures. I do long to go to Cornwall, to visit it for a couple of weeks because the series is spot on with the ways the film-makers film it.

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Historical Fiction

In Poldark’s Cornwall (I’ll bring next time to share the pictures), when he turns to his novels, Graham presents strongly the reality that a historical novel is the vision of the writer (p. 148). “If there is no personal view, there is no art.” He knows that historians downgrade the historical novel because it colors or shapes history. He does not himself go on to say historians do the same.

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Launceston Jail which figures in the novels: a 20th century photograph

Briefly, the downgrading happened at the turn of the century – early twentieth. In the Victorian period historical novels were valued more than novels set in present time. They were thought harder; they were seen as richly political books about serious issues, and were written mostly by men. That’s part of what happened. Women began to write historical novels and being women they did change the genre to have a strong element of love, subjective life and these books began to be derided. Daphne DuMaurier, another Cornish addict, is not really respected today, but she has had such a strong success that at least she is not erased from histories of historical fiction. Then when men wrote them – like Patrick O’Brien, these came to be seen as boys adventure stories; politics were omitted and all you had it was said was scenes like that where Ross Poldark beats out the Carne father and brothers in the first third of Ross Poldark. Boys’ magazines featured these kinds of stories, and to make them palatable to families buying magazines sex was presented somewhat childishly, not with real adult depth and understanding.

It is also true that the sceptical disillusioned philosophies of the early 20th century deeply distrusted the idea that we can know the past or put together a narrative which at all reflects this. Ironically Graham’s fiction shares this disillusion, but he does not work it into his story’s action and writes historical fiction in an old-fashioned coherent narrative, depth psychological-biographical memories way. The past is another country; they did things differently there, and books that are respected take this relativithy and unknowingness and subjecivity strongly into account and use it.

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A drawing from the 17th century of this Renaissance castle-fortress on the shores of Cornwall

To turn to the specific types of historical fiction, Graham described and his defense.

Graham says: “if he [the historical novelist] is good enough he creates a world of his own which the reader comes to inhabit and finds it comparable with life rather than identical with it.” He also works as hard as he can to make his fiction accurate enough without making it a wooden historical school survey in disguise. He says that in his autobiography – I quoted it in my first lecture.
Graham divides the kind into three types: those which use actual historical personages as chief characters (I Claudius); second where historical personages are substantial figures but main characters are fictional (Scott); third where the characters are “entirely, or almost entirely fictitious” (Stevenson, and of course his own; so too Margaret Mitchell I’d say). He says in the literature there is a tendency to rate the first and second types much higher than the third and this is “pretentious rubbish.” Fine novels, works of art, and truths about history occur in all three.

There is nowadays a fourth type: the historical novel which features a marquee character. The use of famous fictional characters out of copyright. Sometimes an author becomes a famous fictional character. So Sherlock Holmes might show up in a fiction set in the 1890s; Jane Austen becomes a fictional character in mystery stories.

What I really like are the final paragraphs in this section (p. 149). Human beings have not changed “but their reactions to life patterns” have and do, and the writer must understand and try to transmit these to the reader. There must be geographical truth too as setting is often essential to the art of the historical novel.

Of enormous importance is to “select” what historical fact you use. I paraphrase him here (quoting some of his words too): You must do a lot of intense homework and reading. It’s” tedious to enumerate all the sources” of the Poldark books, long hours of research to illuminate this or that event, into “old newspapers, travel books at the time, parochial history, manuals, autobiographies,” contemporary fictions. He then goes over a whole slew of events in the first few novels which are rooted in history and business and economics and politics and geology (p. 149). We’ll come back to this bit by bit as the novels call for it.

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The Bastille before it was taken down as depicted in an 18th century illustration: it looms over

He says there is “the opposite risk, that of becoming too preoccupied with history. One can so easily detect the midnight oil, the desire to instruct. But novels are about life.” So even if you are “reluctant,” once you have “discovered something at great trouble, not to make the most of it, resist that. Writing historical novels are a recurrent discipline where you use only what is relevant to the moment of the living fiction.” What is not relevant is irrelevant. (p. 150). Here is the key to difference of writing wooden stilted books and living breathing ones.

Do people here like historical novels? Anyone? Do you like films set in historical times? Can you say why?

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Ross Poldark.

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18th century gentry family playing checkers — Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845)

For today you were to read the first third; a brief outline-summary which assumes the reader has read the first third of Ross Poldark:

Elizabeth Chynoweth is important here, in this opening part and over the arc of all twelve books she is significant though she literally drops out at the end of book 7 (The Angry Tide); the taking in of Demelza, the first phase of Verity’s relationship with Captain Blarney (later renamed Blamey) so maybe Graham had ambivalent feelings about Blamey as wife beater, destroyer, and ex-alcoholic; Ross’s first attempts to secure a place and way of life once again on his land, the relationship with the Martins and Carters and his workers in general and with the gentry of which he is one. Personally he is much more comfortable with his tenants and mine workers, but he does have some deep friendships with gentry and members of his family. For my first online blog about this book I called Ross, the Revenant, and later, the abiding Renegade. Politically speaking he’s in French terms, a Girondist, a moderate reformer who wants a truly constitutional monarchy and representation in parliament in England and France.

That’s more liberal than the usual Whig: it is very much Fox’s position. Charles James Fox, famous head of the Whigs, never became prime minister but had power almost like it. Fox and Pitt are referred to: arch rivals with Pitt the Tory reactionary and Fox your liberal Whig. I’ve a review of a biography of Fox: David Powell‘s a man of the people: Fox as a man of genuine open-mindedness, real toleration and liberalism – Fox too (like Ross) was very unstereotypical in some parts of his lifestyle; Fox even married a woman who had been a prostitute, Ross is not as daring in next week’s chapters but he is doing something similar when he takes Demelza in

Prologue: Joshua and Charles Poldark and Joshua’s death.

Why is it effective to begin this way? Pp 1-10. Read the first paragraph or so.

I like the book for its tone and characters and outlook.  What kinds of things in the chapter help immerse us in the earlier time? Details of the setting which are not overdone. How about the relationship of Charles and Joshua? What is it? Who is Charles? Note how Graham slips in the history of the family, Ross’s boyhood so naturally. Of course the old man would remember back. You can work out the ages of all the major characters precisely. Ross was 10 when his mother died; he was the younger son, and he is 23 when he comes home.

Details come at opening of Chapter 4, p 66; we can begin to work out a family tree.

The level of people in the community and individuals who are interesting and believable emerge quickly. Note that Verity is the only one that has visited. Note Charles is embarrassed to talk about what has been happening.

What is troubling Joshua at this point? What does Charles hope for? What does Joshua count on?

There is a dark level to this that appeals deeply to me — as well as the kinds of ethical statements that naturally arise in the character’s thinking for he is a sound ethical man in his way. The younger man dies before the older; sense is he has lived richly and used himself up. But he has hurt others – world uttelry interdependent. When one man dies, it changes everyone, they may seem to be enacting the same roles but they are not. That’s one them of A Forgotten Story when Joe Veal dies – certainly wnen the boy, Anthony, loses his mother. (For those who have read the whole book, Ross, a revenant everyone thought dead.)

Opening chapters the carriage ride, pp 11-17 – again why is this a good device in a fiction? Note attention paid to weather, to the feel of the air, to all the objects around us. Why does Graham bring in a narrow mean character like Rev. Halse? There are people who don’t have a strong sense of self-esteem against this man.

What is his attitude towards Ross. He was insubordinate. How does Halse treat the American war? As a game.

What are some of the details we are told immediately about Ross? Taciturn, withdrawn, does not give himself away. He is lame.

Ross does not go home directly, but stops off first at a notary, a lawyer, very important man in the time, Nathaniel Pearce, pp 14-17 — he kept documents, if Ross wants to assert his reality, his place in the community, he’s got to have documents that give him legitimacy as well as property. Now this relationship is pleasant, not hostile, but Pearce like many people doesn’t work hard and does not take seriously what does not directly concern him. Pearce’s loyalty as we will eventually learn is not strong to his clients, but himself first. Nothing was left but the land and house and one non-working mine – the wondrous thing about Cornwall is people found they were walking on rising (neolithic stones and cliffs and waterways) and payable ground. Mining goes back to pre-history; we find trade routs from Cornwall to the Mediterranean. We’ll come back to this. I’ll have another short lecture like the one on historical fiction for each of our topics as well as books to recommend and online sites if anyone interested.

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Chavenage House as Trenwith

He comes to Trenwith and discovers he happens upon the engagement party of Elizabeth and Francis Poldark, the heir to the best property ? Pp 18-20. A powerful realization of these people – we believe in them all – or I do. Graham is big on aphorisms which capture ideas that are pungent; “Ill usage makes the sweetest of us vicious,” p 16. We might remember that ourselves today in reading about what others do in the news.

He discovers he had been presumed dead, the young woman he loved, was engaged to, is now engaged to the family heir, Francis. The Choakes, doctor and foolish wife. The Chynoweths, Mrs is eager to link her daughter to the safe heir of the family. After all this guy has gone off. What is Francis and Ross’s relationship to start off with – it was good and meaningful – the incident of Francis falling into the water anticipates and foreshadows much that is to come. What happens? Pp 40-46.

What do we learn about Elizabeth? I suggest that she is weak, swayed by a desire for security, not liking violence, not liking risk – she was portrayed very negatively in comparison to the character in the book as developed. She is a stickler for convention herself – how dare you speak about my mother this way? p. 12 at the wedding. Elizabeth is the type who will lie because it’s her mother; the book stands up for people who prefer to tell the truth or act according to it. She would not have taken a beaten waif in; she’d care more about her own troubles; she’d not have seen Jim Carter as a person with rights like herself.

And then home again home again, p 26: at last. Ross feels deeply the satisfaction pp 27-29 and yet so sick. What has happened? His house and land have been let go horribly. Very important characters in the early novels: Jud and Prudie Paynter. Who are they?

It may seem as if Jud treated with utter contempt and his derisory view of the world not accepted; but as book progresses Jud shows deeper loyalties than caring for a house when the chips are down, and his view of the world is partly strongly validated. The world; Taint fair, taint just, taint right.

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Aidan Turner as Ross just returned home

Chapter three, the world of Elizabeth and local aristocracy contrasted to working people – Jud and Prudie one type, a woman seen, his heart leaps: it’s Verity. P 34. What kind of person is Verity? Her relationship with Ross. My college students called her a female Ross. Does that seem right in some way?

I love the scene of them walking along on the hill, pp. 35-37. “They reached the edge of the cliff … “ It would help more than anything if she were to come and be with him, befriend him – 37. What counts in life is before us beautifully.

He uses the phrase “rising ground,” each of the Martins are shown in their social and economic roles . P 39 .What is Mrs Martin worried over? Reuben Clemmov is in effect beginning to stalk Jinny, spaller – she works on the surface lighter work separately out ore from junk, washing it, shaping it to some extent

Then Francis apologetic, wants to make Ross understand — but Ross can’t, p 44 – too fierce. But also knows deep pain, p 53 – it’s the death in his heart he feels. Engagements were understood to include a certain level of sex and we are left to guess what that level was. The word “virginal” is used of Elizabeth’s looks, but it’s not clear because they both know they went farther in emotion and physical life than that. Ross is partly responsible for this foreshadowing of Francis’s fate

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Ross rescuing Clive Francis as Francis who comes near drowning

Pp. 45-54- the wedding, the types there. What do they do? A cock fight. We see how carelessly cruel people can be – Warleggan’s cock gets a claw in its head and he does not allow it to die but to suffer agonies p 52. Aunt Agatha unexpectedly shows appreciation of this.

Our first look at the Warleggans, p 53 – what a name.

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Robin Ellis as Ross dancing with Ruth Teague

Chapter 5, pp 55-68 – the importance of this assembly is that here Ross hits rock bottom for the first time, a nadir in which he looks out at the world deeply bitterly and asks himself in effect if this is where he wants to be. He comes up with no, and he’ll give life alone as a farmer at first a go, and goes out to market and there meets Demelza – phase two — she is like a stray kitten rescued.

The mini-series did try to show this but they didn’t show the woman Margaret properly – they romanticized her and Ross. She is what she is, surviving as best she can and hangs on to Ross as she knows he is in need of something

Verity has become central to his existence for now and she asks a favor, she needs someone to take her, he drifts into old ways, what else is there? We see his deep camaraderie with men of lower class origins, with physical world, pp 57-58. What’s good about this is again it gives Graham a chance to make this world vivid, fleshly, full of water, sand, fish, people – the lower orders.

Then courteous fun – or dancing – the surface. The troubles people have is just ours: Verity can’t think what to talk of, she hasn’t got small talk – so her pigs and poultry are no more available than Blarney’s sailing or talk of mines –, p 61. The details are from historical research but they have been used as if the people were here and now.

Again Ross means to be nice to a girl who appeals to him because not so full of herself, seems sweet, but what he is not thinking of is how he will be grabbed – marriage is a woman’s career. He cannot see that in fact Ruth is tenacious and has an aggressive nasty streak – that’s why she stands out in part, pp 63-65

The same goes for Margaret’s coming up to Ross. He was not going to go with her until Elizabeth arrives, and it’s with Francis and Warleggans from their fancy house. Ross can’t cope with seeing this. He deserts poor Verity but luckily she was planning to stay with a local woman friend. P 67

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Ross’s first sight of Demelza (Angharad Rees in the role) trying to rescue her dog, and being beaten

Second phase: the coming of Demelza: extraordinary: how he saves her out of decent feeling, and how she almost loses out because she won’t desert her dog. In fact she was involved in the physical mayhem because she was protecting Garrick.

Garrick was the name of a beloved dog owned by the Grahams who had part of its tail missing. Very hard to film before computer enhancement. I’m just bowled over by the truthful depction of humanity from pp 70-84 – the best, the worst, what we often see.

How they organize themselves into different levels of sale. What people do to entertain themselves – it includes cruel freak shows.

The core the meeting with the child and his behavior to her – she has never had such disinterested kindness before. Now we get a second consciousness. Up to now we have had Ross and Graham our narrator, now we begin to see the world out of Demelza’s eyes. A child but a child who is smart and has known the worst, pp 82-84

Ross needs to buy animals to work his farm and goes to a monthly large fair in Truro. Such fairs were held and we get a remarkably lively description of such a place. But there is no sense of feeding information or the kind of sentence which so often introduces this sort of thing. Instead we are wholly in his mind with his troubles and his reactions and see only those parts of the fair that are of interest to him, where he goes. Graham writes these details in a suggestive way which gives us suggestions of the larger place: there are three areas to the fair, a heavy-duty expensive one for animal purchase, feed, implements; another for smaller goods, pots and pans, household stuff, scattered everywhere stuff for fishing, mining, crafts and so on. He does his business and is tired and goes on to a third area where drink, food and entertainment is to be found. More sordid stuff goes on here, and among other things he sees cock-fighting (which we witness at his cousin Poldark’s wedding to his ex-beloved Elizabeth) and then two animals, a dog and cat tied to together with something to hurt them and tease them and all the people around enjoying this.

Well of course yuk. We are told Ross likes children and so when a young girl hurls herself against these animals to free the dog, becuase it’s her dog, and for her pains is the victim of stones and kicks and curses and mockery, he rescues her. What a mess she is — not unrealistic, half starved, filthy and has been beaten by her father and/or brothers recently. He gives her a good meal and is going to dismiss her but remembers he needs a maid of all and hard work. As yet he has but three servants to help him bring his house back to order. So he offers to take her. He likes her and she him — but they half-quarrel over her dog who she wants to bring. He almost gets rid of her at one point because he knows this will bring him trouble, but then she will come cheap and clearly wants and needs to escape an awful home. Bringing her home, he puts her in a big bed of the kind she never usually gets. It’s here the abilty of the novelist comes out. No sense of us being taught what a box bed was but rather we enter Demelza’s mind as she goes to sleep in this half-built house.

He tries to contact a lawyer over what to do about her, but is thwarted and her father and brother show up two mornings later. A fight ensues — yes swash bucklnig for our hero beats three men with the help of his servant, but it’s realistic too. Reminded me of scenes of Billy Booth duelling in Amelia. The same male stupidities are presented (Graham thought knows they are and does not enter into them quite the way Fielding does). Really the old man is willing to sell the girl for 50 guineas. They bargain in the end and Ross offers to give the old man her salary and he will himself provide food and clothes and whatever education she might want.

Elizabeth is characterized as inadequate in deep way: no you must put the child back, you don’t want trouble. Right .A wonderful aphorism later by Ross is if you allow the world’s prudence to control you you won’t live right – Elizabeth again and again will make these sort sof choices. Are they so bad?
When he fights the Carnes, he is fighting this world, the foul beating man but also getting out his anger – kraken wrath at Elizabeth having said she does not love him. Well she doesn’t. Much later – in Warleggan he tells Demelza she is incapable of much love of anyone – she will love her son by Francis. She does not have the depths to help Francis become the man he could have been – his father despised and controlled him, and she sits at a distance, accepting him on the surface qualities, appreciating his kindness and understanding but not loving it and reciprocating.

The motif which binds these segments in the film visually and archetypally is that of the revenant. Again and again Ross leaves to go to a war, to rescue someone, he is driven away, missing, believed dead, and then returns — from the time of the marriage welcomed joyfully by his (often pregnant) wife. There are a cornucopia of shots in this vein. In the books I discover he is a wanderer again and again, restless, dissatisfied. Not the same as a revenant at all.

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Full length still: Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza growing up

This last part of Book One tells of Demelza growing up, slowly educating herself in Ross’s library, becoming part of the working household; how he does begin to buy her pretty girl things (like a cape and pelisse) but as yet sees her as a child. At the same time ugly rumors fly about how he’s keeping her. That he ignores this shows his character — a real arrogance some would call it; he just won’t listen to cant or let it control his existence. He will pay for this. Demelza will of course probably too – and she does. But her nature and time and Ross’s eventual business success – -begins in Warleggan win out.
Chapters 8-10 bring us Demelza growing up, a depictions of Jim Carter whose good and true nature wins Ross over too much, and his attempt to help them. This comes out of a slow build up of a depiction of mining which I’ll give a lecture on next week or the one after.

He visits Treneglos to see if he can work the mine that is on property lines they share, p 102. His one hope is to find copper or tin in a mine:

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1814 picturesque illustrations of a mining site in St. Agnes, Cornwall

Demelza growing up, p 104-5 –- we see this not from her point of view because Graham wants us to see things she cannot as yet. She is gifted intellectually and musically; she is optimistc, she throws herself into the lives of others and makes all better for all.

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The 1970s Jinny and Jim Carter marrying upon Ross offering them a cottage rent-free

What is the story of Jim Carter’s life – father died young and because of this he could not go to school, and now he is getting a bad disease. Pp 106-7: future was fearful – he knew death could come, but now without help he cannot afford to marry. He would be a protection against Clemmow

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Norma Streader as Verity asking Ross to come and talk and then she asks him to help her meet Blamey at Nampara

Ends on the beginning of Verity’s tragic years: We will see Verity, the sister of Francis, Ross’s beloved cousin and friend (she visits him regularly) deprived of the man she loves: Captain Blarny (Blamey in the film and Blamey as of Demelza). Blamey is feared by Verity’s father and brother because he was responsible for his wife’s death; he did beat or kick her once when she was pregnant and she went into a miscarriage and died, and for this he went to prison for two years. He has paid for the crime, sworn off drink (and keeps off it), and she loves him and we see he is decent and congenial.

If it were that Graham is urging us not to keep punishing people, I’d sympathize but in each case where this is the moral we shall see it is often a case of a man raping, beating, somehow badly abusing a woman. And it’s always justified by her bad behavior which never seems to emerge in violence on her side. We are told Mrs Blamey did not keep a good home for the Captain, nagged him &c

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For anyone interested here is my first blog essay on the whole book: Ross Poldark, Revenant

Ellen

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Jonny Lee Miller as the creature desperately trying to bring an exhausted Bernard Cumberbatch as Frankenstein back to life on the ice

Dear friends and readers,

Yes, I’ve just returned from watching the version of Nick Dear and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein where Miller is the creature and Cumberbatch Frankenstein. The moviehouse had the version where Cumberbatch is the creature and Miller Frankenstein on Monday night. I didn’t know. Next year if my local HD theater repeats this duo, I’ll be sure and see Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as Dr Frankenstein.

Not that I was at all disappointed: I have known since watching Miller in an episode of Prime Suspect (and in the difficult roles of Edmund Bertram in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 MP and Mr Knightley in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma) what a versatile, effective, deeply feeling compelling actor he is. In this intelligent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel (and the novel is kept in mind throughout), the creature is far more central to the action and consciousness of the play than his creator. We see his birth from his point of view,

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Jonny Lee Miller as the monster being born

how he moves bewilder through a landscape of powerful machines and cruel people, to happening on the French family escaped from injustice and the kindness of the blind old scholar, De Lacey (Karl Johnson gets some comedy out of this role) to him, in succouring him, teaching him,

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so (except for Frankenstein’s horrified rejection of his creature and abandonment of him) it is a long time before before Cumberbatch returns to the stage. And Frankenstein is the far less astonishing presence, even if central to the emotional action-reaction at play’s center

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein pushing away from him what he has done

I’d just like to see how different would be the feel and meaning in the reversal; according to Michael Billington of The Guardian, considerable.

What Dear and Boyle did was pare down the novel to its doppelganger, and in their characters, their talk, their relationship all the themes of Mary Shelley are drawn out. Some of the matter is lost: the depiction of larger social injustice is not there and so the instinctive fears and savagery of human beings to one another is not outweighed; much of Frankenstein’s life and relationships: the depiction of education (critiqued), how Frankenstein began to try to recreate life partly in reaction to his mother’s death; his arrogance and lack of responsible behavior to others, the intense distrust of science. Frankenstein is someone not social (of course a no no), going off on his own. The emphasis of this twist is so 21st century. The role of Elizabeth is made to enact socialableness (a new word), responsibility, an attempt at kindness towards the creature, and that natural ways trump egoistic artifice. Naomi Harris is effective in the hard role in both versions (a side note, she played the black heroine to Cumberbatch’s white anti-hero in Small Island). ElizabethCreature

I suppose what is so compelling is the dialogue between the two, what’s said, but one is exhilarated even in a movie version by the staging, the use of machinery, the pivotal stage, the symbolic way each phase of the story is presented — matching the fantasy aspects of the story (for it is fantasy). I’ve been to the National Theater in London (with Jim) and seen a number of these creative productions: Aeschylus trilogy comes to mind, Henry IV part 2 (Michael Gambon as Falstaff), and at home on Bravo, the Yorkshire Mystery Plays. The material from Shelley is gothic, but the conventions here eschew anything like film noir or horror/slash movies. it’s really an intimate one-on-one play (not so different in this from say the Fly episode of Breaking Bad where we get a similar intense interaction for an hour between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Mr White and Jesse respectively, with bodies entangled eventually too).

One of the best reviews is that of Paul Taylor of the Independent, only he is wrong to say the play ends so differently from the novel. Yes at the close of Shelley’s novel it seems the creature immolates himself on a pyre on a slab of ice, while Frankenstein expires in Walton’s ship but it seems to me this dying is not what is important: it is the the pursuit and the insight (emphasized by Shelley in her text) that the two creatures to live on are forever intertwined in their hatred and (due to Frankenstein) thwarted love.

He lives for my destruction. I live to lead him on

I haven’t any shots of Frankenstein pulling his sled after the creature (nor of Andrea Padurariu as the Female Creature Frankenstein is drawn to himself, but destroys), but I do of the creature’s desperation when he thinks Frankenstein may have died, and his loving attempt to bring Frankenstein back to life so they can up and move on again (see still at top). In this one the director had Michelangelo’s famous image of God and Adam in mind:

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Ice is central to the gothic and among the additions to Shelley’s vision, is that of body snatchers: the uses of corpses, poor people’s remains is brought out in comic pragmaticism when in Scotland Dr Frankenstein pays two Scots peasants to bring him materials. I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher.

Perhaps Dear congratulated himself too much on having given the creature back his voice, for Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 production of Frankenstein (screenplay Steph Lady, and Frank Darabout, producer Francis Ford Coppola) with Robert De Niro as the monster and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and a bride-monster of Frankenstein, had an equally articulate poignant presence for the monster. Dear and Boyle learned from Branagh and De Niro.

It was a production and is now a film which shows how transcendent and variable the gothic can be. The New York Times critic made fun of it — a paradoxical measure of its transcendence (the monster is alive and peeved!) It’s very effective in this film production – – where they do intersperse some stills from the 1931 Whale Frankenstein (with Boris Karloff), but for once I will concede that I was aware how much more charged it must be to have been in the theater. I don’t often feel this in the HD operas which are directed for film; this is a play taking advantage of all the techniques and stagings possible nowadays of a theater in the round and live stage.

It’s worth while to listen to Dear’s description of a many year project and the book as providing a contemporary creation myth:

Ellen

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There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall … Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising … I was a stage rebel, Orwell a true one — Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise

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Isaac Cruickshank, Royal Extinguisher or Gulliver Putting out Patriots

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Dear Friends and Readers,

This is the second half of my summary and commentary on Johnston’s Unusual Suspects (see Parts 1-4). This part of Johnston’s book will probably be more familiar territory to those who have read novels of the romantic and regency period, as well as their milieu and development (say in Gary Kelly’s survey). As women who wrote on behalf of radical ideas, 18th century versions of feminism, or reform were given a much rawer response than men, and there were automatically suspect nations (Chapters 7 & 8 of Part 4), so the novel was a suspect genre (Chapter 9). Johnston treats the novel from a political angle to suggest that the novel was not allowed to develop in ways that contextualize what is happening with a real understanding of social forces: publishers were prosecuted; what you wrote affected your career. In Scott’s attack on Bage we see female liberation allowed no play whatsoever. Johnston then moves into the silencing at the end of the 1790s: the destruction of Gilbert Wakefield was at the time understood as an example of what happens when a writer practices liberty of speech, freedom of the press. He uses Mackintosh to show what a man did who wanted to carry on; to see Mackintosh crudely as an apostate is not to see what happened.

We then follow a trail beginning with a man spying on Coleridge and Wordsworth and see how suspicion, the manufacturing of alarm, class and ethnic disdain operated on known individuals. I found these short biographies contained surprises: these were lives reseen by looking at the evidence used in previous studies from a new angle; that of how justified paranoia (they did have enemies) and ostracism shaped these peoples’ lives and a genuine humane sympathy with their politics. Johnston makes these people’s lives and choices make sense: the people are Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey (he is especially insightful on Southey’s earlier radicalism), Lamb (on his brands of irony), Burns and Blake (how class disdain operates in both cases). The individual chapters are much longer and I include and link to some readings of the works (e.g., Wordsworth’s Borderers, Southey’s Letters from England, Lamb’s “Praise of Chimney Sweeps”) that Johnston just mentioned without going into.

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Chapter 9: Suspect Genres, the Novelist who was not: Robert Bage (1728-1801)

Johnston looks at the traditional genres, poetry, plays and the new one, novels for general effects from the political conflicts of the era. Story-lines were not allowed development, attitudes were castigated and ridiculed. Among the periodical set up to monitor the literature of the age the most important was the Anti-Jacobin (1798-99) which was very successful in achieving its aims of stopping people from writing clear protest poetry, and when they did, framing what they wrote as absurd, unacceptable, unpatriotic. Keats was hurt, Southey changed course; Coleridge and Wordsworth moderated themselves; others fled to Italy. Thomas Holcroft was a major victim. Plays were shouted off stage, censored in publications (the author not named); publishers arrested and made wary. Johnston sees this process as a destruction of what genres could have been like, one which marginalized potentially great practitioners. In the area of the novel the anti-jacobin novels won, Austen & Scott produce the respected paradigms; Bronte kind of rebellion romantic in feeling is not political or economic in ideology; Byron was silenced.

Robert Bage was a man rare for providing any ideological content, and one of those attacked by the Anti-Jacobin.

Godwin visits in June 1797; Bage was self-educated, admires Holbach, has friendships with Priestley and dissenting people; author of Man As He Is (a jaded aristocrat), and Hermsprong, Man As He Is Not (an American republican). Bage was a businessman running paper and flour mills who found war got in his way, he did have a long term contract but raw materials hard to get; long term contract supplying Hutton, in Birminghan, a friend and dissenter with paper. Long time association with Birmingham, Priestley crowd.

Johnston makes it clear Bage a reformer not a revolutionary in his first four novels. But what he did present was harangued against by Scott. Bage had departed from middle class novel norms by in one novel allowing a young woman who has made a romantic/sexual mistake to be rehabilitated into society. Scott explicitly wrote that ruined women must be stigmatized; in another a heroine prefers the harem to death; one heroine defends herself with a pair of scissors. Man as He Is expands out particular criticisms to suggest wider changes by gov’t policy. Johnston quotes Bage’s books to great effect and we get the dry witty quality of Bage’s strong critiques of corruption, war. Bage published anonymously; he was not interested in a writing career. Johnson argues that Bage’s revealing his last hero a aristocrat shows reader that such a title and money allows tiny minority of people to escape punishment, grow rich.

The gov’t of the day harassed him by excise taxes (directed to war); overcharged he gets his materials back only to have them seized again; he feels the effects of this constant harassment and interruption of his business; at one point he wrote he would like hanging himself. In reprints of his works Barbauld takes him to task for going against received notions and norms; Scott reprints worst Bage’s novels. We know that Austen had a copy of Hermsprong in 1796, in time for some influence. Johnston remarks how critics, and film makers today try to bring to bear in her novels positions only mentioned minimally by her and centrally by Bage. Conservative paradigms, Austen’s and Scott’s predominate by the end of the era; the effect of Barbauld’s collection.

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A University of Victoria theater production of Endgame

Part 5: End-games. Endgame as a title is an allusion to Beckett’s play; its literal meaning refers to when the game is called to a half, the last of the chess pieces so this is exemplified by the prosecution of Wakefield for daring to argue with the Bishop of Llandaff; his incarceration utterly unjust. Mackintosh stands in as the representative of radical disillusionment.

Chapter 10: The End of Controversy: Gilbert Wakefield (1756-1801). Wakefield exemplifies the book’s thesis: he died as a result of absolutely unjust incarceration after acareer as a controversialist who made the mistake of rising to broad principles in his attack on complacent bishop of Llandaff, Richard Watson, a bland, condescending sycophant (the David Brook of his day?). Before this, Wakefield had done battle with several people and used religious language. Wakefield did things like attack the war, Pitt and Grenville, and show how false is the idea that sedition in the UK is everywhere.

Wakefield had had a career among the dissenters, as a controversialist; would attack notion it was sinful not to go to church (thus exposing worship is social worship); he went further than his 6 central theses (includes idea that alliance of church and state is a fraud). He argued that the prosecution of the reform movement was meant to silence opposition to foreign and domestic policies. His defense was his peaceable scholarly character, his friends in high places, that the trial itself is wrong – irony he was visited by known and famous people and yet they could do nothing for him.

He was forced to be in jail for a long time before trial; put in Dorchester way outside where he came from and notorious for bad conditions; then put into solitary confinement for 16 hours day. All sorts of famous friends visited him. His great Juvenilian poem in appendix; most imitations are conservative in thrust, not his.

Wordsworth has him partly in mind in his planned Recluse, the “Solitary” figure: that outline of Wordsworth’s early career resembles that of Wakefield only Wordsworth didn’t publish (only is too weak a word).

Chapter 11: The Great Apostate: Judas, Brutus, or Thomas? James Mackintosh (1765-1832). I did not find this chapter as convincing: Mackintosh did not hurt as much and was following his own character and tendencies throughout. He did not change all that much. Mackintosh was always currying favor, trying to to build a career; e.g., when he left Scotland as a doctor; first he tries to make connections with all the main liberal editors, reformers, he failed. His original fame came from a polemic against Burke defending French revolution, Vindiciae Gallicae, strong but not as available linguistically as Paine’s. Hazlitt is quoted, but Hazlitt’s sketch shows Mackintosh to have been an academic intellectual at heart (eg. Discourse on Study of Law and Nations). He had attacked Pitt for abandoning reform in A letter to R.Hon. Wm Pitt, on his Apostacy. Pitt turned this around to be against reform itself. Pitt’s target and legislation a “free form vigilantism against anyone who wrote, or sol, liberal material of any stripe.” Mackintosh wrote that Pitt’s aim was to subsidize European monarcihes to overthrow the French, evoking from French our country is in danger (a levee en masse).

But after the execution of Louis XVI, Mackintosh found his name was used as a bad associate to have. Johnston himself resorts to a kind of coy arch talk about careerism as explanation for why Mackintosh’s Discourses offended; Hazlitt said Mackintosh was too much an academic at heart. He retired to study. Discourses was a moderate book, gov’ts are there to protect us with “security against wrong.” His prose appealing because of its personal and religious quality. He was attacked by his friends as a trimmer, but he had been that way all along. It was hard for people to see he was consistent. When he was awarded a judgeship in India, his record in India unimpeachably progressive: reform penal law, the police, against death penalty. He came home and has an honorable liberal record in his voting habit (p 222) plans an unwritten History of England from the time of the Glorious revolution (one was written in the 1790s and had been suppressed).

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In Letters to England, Southey has two long sections exposing and inveighing against the treatment of horses, especially the new techniques in breeding and training racing horses

Mackintosh was at the last active in founding The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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Part VI: The Romantic Poets, the Police and the State of Alarm: Johnston uses a cartoon by Gillray, “New morality,” or “The promised Installment of the High Priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the Homage of Leviathan and his suite” (August 1798) and calls it “The Last Line-up,” to identify the individuals he’s now proceeds to draw portraits of.

Chapter 12: “A Gang of disaffected Englishmen: Spy Nozy and the Somerset Gang.” Johnston retells Coleridge’s famous half-mocking account of a spy sent to listen in on his, the Wordsworths’, and various dissenting and potential and real unusual suspects. The spies report is retold by Coleridge in a way that makes him sound like an innocent and the whole thing hilarious, but the spying was serious. What saved them was they were recognized (according to Johnston) as “disaffected Englishmen.” I admit this does not make much sense to me – the other people the gov’t went after were disaffected Englishmen. If they were discussing some serious issues, the man could have reported it by word of mouth. My guess is the gov’t saw they were poets and not organizers and would not attract followers or organize themselves. Spy nozy was the man’s interpretation of Spinoza: the incident shows class disdain – Johnston does not mention this. It does show the group were spied upon, monitored.

Chapter 13: “Whispering Tongues can poison truth: Coleridge and Thelwall, 1796-1798. This chapter is about a thwarted friendship and stunted growth of a group of people. Coleridge corresponds with and seems to be eager to have Thelwall and his family come and live there – it’s so cheap and they will spend their lives in this retreat. Thelwall so harassed and destroyed seemed eager to reciprocate but when he left Coleridge wrote letters discouraging him to come after all. What happened? Was Coleridge somehow pressured lest he involve the Wordsworths, himself chickened out?

We see that he thought the better of it – rightly feared the results for all concerned, that in fact that spy system was operating to disseminate any grouping, silence them all – but he comes out very badly in these letters as he writhes and turns. Thelwall and Wordsworth truer to themselves than Coleridge. Johnston produces a letter by Coleridge to a magistrate Chubb where instead of really persuading Chubb to help Thelwall live there, Coleridge insinuates Thelwall will be a risk. Johnston seems to me to misread a bit of Coleridge’s letter to Chubb: Johnston says Coleridge is promising to tame Thelwall by having Thelwall live near them; Coleridge’s words suggestthey will teach Thelwall to submit. There is a difference even if the outcome is the same.

This chapter has new material: Johnston directs the reader to Wordsworth’s dramatic poem or play (done in the 1950s), The Borderers, which Johnston characterizes as “one of the most searching examinations of post-revolutionary disillusionment and despair ever written, with insights worthy of Stendhal, and Tolstoy, many of them distilled from Wordsworth’s main source, Schiller’s Robbers.” It was read aloud by the group. Johnston goes over Coleridge’s ode “Fire, Famine, Slaughter” and shows it to be a startlingly brave revolutionary poem.

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Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, by Thomas Girtin, circa 1797-9 “I think I see a second range of towers”: The Borderers (1797-99) (Mortimer to Rivers as they approach the ruined castle, Act II, scene iii)

My reading of this play: I first read some articles on The Borderers because it is more than a little incoherent and unreadable and exists in two slightly different versions with the characters renamed. To be played (at an American university) it had to be revised once again. I see in the play (which is called gothic by some) a number of the motifs that powerfully resonate today. The play’s villain wants to fool or drive this hero into killing someone — so as to make him share in some blood guilt and join this band of revolutionaries. The villain does believe the old man guilty of being part of the ancien regime and holding it up. In Wordsworth’s play the old man starves and freezes to death because the hero lives him on a heath to die since the hero hasn’t got the stomach or whatever it takes to kill him outright. So the play shows us an example of someone being murdered for his ideology. The 18th century parallels might be guillotined people, but the way Wordsworth writes has no specific reference. The characters do feel there is evidence against the old man, but there is no trial so the modern parallel is killing people using drones with nothing more than the evidence of surveillance, or captured people tortured or driven to “confess” The archetype is the blind Oedipus led by his daughter, Antigone. In Schiller’s play a villain drives the hero to stab his beloved (the heroine) through the heart.

In one of the Northanger novels, Horrid Mysteries, there’s a Rosicrucian scene of ritual introduction of a member to the sect, and one of the things the new member must promise is to kill whomever the group requires — whether the person is a relative or friend doesn’t matter. Unlike Wordsworth’s play, Horrid Mysteries does not bother to justify the demand at all — it’s not a serious book. Wordsworth’s play is. The use of the pathetic daughter makes the murder more abhorrent, but its justifications are spelled out too. Wordsworth has some characteristic gothic motifs, and understands why the outlaw might operate or feel this way, but he stands outside and condemns the outlaw who demands such an act and the act too. One problem with The Borderers than as political discourse is by using the fantasy elements of gothic, Wordsworth does not bring in the real French case — the allied armies massing in Europe to attack the new revolutionary group, the fomenting of counter-revolution in the countryside, some of the causes of the terror – which killed less people than the French 2nd republic did in 1870-71.

Johnson does persuade us of Thelwall’s tragic loss, how hurt he must have been, and how this sort of thing is done to people unanswerably. Excellent chapter hard to summarize to do it justice

Chapter 14: Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Prelude and Posterity. This chapter brings out the problem with the book: it depends upon assuming a counter-factual “what if:” Johnstone assumes Wordsworth’s Prelude would have made a big positive impact if it had been published at the time; he says at one point that all masterpieces do, and works exist in this ideal realm modifying one another – we are back in Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot’s probably dream world of a tiny intellectual elite which even they would disagree on.

He does show that the incident of the spy leading to the non-renewal of Wordsworths’s lease, despite all uncomfortable denials, made a great change in the Wordsworths lives: some good, they went to Germany, some probably bad, they lost a companion. He insists that Byron and Shelley would have been changed, their poetry different – for the better. And he brings out three different versions of a long passage in The Prelude showing Wordsworth was bitter and recognized justice and liberty killed insofar as powers could. The chapter also has excellent definition of hegemonic versus legal: the dangers to all these romantics come from the losses hegemonic pervasive control inflicts on them in all sorts of incalculable ways.

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PacoRibeira, 18th century Portugal

Chapter 15: More Radical than Thou, Robert Southey (1774-1843). This was an eye-opener for me. For the first time I felt I understood why Southey changed his outlook. It made sense of his satiric Letters from England: it fits into the trajectory. The chapter begins with how how originally Southey came to be radical beyond that it was in him to be “psychologically rebellious.” Johnston brings out how Southey was subject to adults and authority figures around him (more than such a person would be today); orphaned, lived with aunt and then uncle; buffeted by suspicion and discouragement. He was gotten into by his uncle, Herbert Hill, and then expelled from Westminster Schools for a a column in The Flagellant, a student periodical, where he exposed the viciousness of flogging. Headmaster sabotaged his admission to Christ Church, Oxford; uncle gets him into Balliol. Not keen on career choices. 1795 aunt kicks him out, uncle sends him to Lisbon. How from an American perspective the scheme for a Pantisocracy in eastern Penn is not outrageous unreal wild idea. Southey works hard to make it happen and in the process forges career as money-making writer; early work is readable and radical, Fall of Robespierre, Wat Tyler. Anti-Jacobin attacks him, but he did not organize and his poems also simply express unhappy emotional states. Others: “After Blenheim,” “Devil’s Thoughts,” and “History:”Southey wants to escape; Clio says the worse history gets, the more we should write about it; but Southey tired, Gilbert Wakefield case spells end of freedom of press (with Flower, on trial for sedition). Visits Wakefield & Flower, also attacked income tax. Now great relief when sent to Lisbon; departure for Lake District in 1803 a surrender.

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Chapter 16: Radical in Lamb’s Cloak: Charles Lamb (1775-1834). This chapter is enormously enjoyable because of the quotations and works referred to. Johnston opens with young Charles Lamb’s enthusiasm over Thelwall (accused of treason, acquitted and thereafter harassed and his career and livelihood and reputation destroyed) to Coleridge; identified viscerally, admired Thelwall’s bravery. Lamb’s reputation has suffered because of the spread of the adjective “gentle” and “gentle-hearted” beginning with Coleriage; Lamb asked him to blot the expression out of his “Lime Tree Bower my Prison;” sentimental obfuscation is a good disguise. Lamb was one of those attacked by Anti-Jacobin. His sonnets express emotion, are on friendship, which he needed. Johnston retells story of Mary’s murder of the mother and how Lamb taking on life-long responsibility for her limited his possibilities; 33 years as clerk for long hours in East India Company, endless moving. His early writing is virulently pro-French revolution found in extended runs of Albion, edited by John Fenwick (1801-2) – all anonymous. His signed self-presentation was highly self-protective; he shows how Jacobinism is used as a bad-mouthing word for people with humane decent agendas; Lamb in effect describes political profiling.

Lamb’s finest work though found in his later years in his essays. Thomas McFarland described these as in a style that manifests the politics of survival (p. 282), others called his ways “acquiescent protest” and “serious levity.”

I read “The Praise of Chimney Sweeps” and found it to be quietly savagely ironic; he seems to be celebrating what is horrific cruelty to these boys; a nightmare world which produces such creatures; “Modern Gallantry” explicit about how courtesy from males is only to limited group of upper class females; the rest are prey. You have to read the texts to get this.

Johnston argues that the idiosyncracy of Lamb’s style and perspective is another result of these decades of repression of all dissent, active republican politics. Lamb expresses outrage at social injustice rather than a considered political opinion. Thomas de Quincey writes of the tabooing of Holcroft, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt, there to offer up to hated and scorn, so Lamb’s way was to appear to care nothing for politics.

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Death of Robert Burns, engraving, Dumfries July 1796

Chapter 17: ‘A man for a’ that': Robert Burns (1759-96)

A moving chapter which presents Burns as having been far more politically and preciselyi radical and pro-French revolution than his works let on: Johnstone argues that the muddled feel of the texts is the result of a deliberate obfuscation Burns had to practice lest he lose his place or job, and a remarkable line by Burns: “for who can write and speak as thou and I – /My periods that deciphering defy (p. 303). Johnston says his views accord with Crawford’s but Crawford’s ODNB Life of Burns presents a far more complicated picture of a nationalistic poet as devoted to poetry as art and gathering texts and a human man with lots of failings. Here one can see that Johnston is skewing evidence by concentrating on a few years in the 1790s, and ignores Burns’s behavior towards women which was highly irresponsible (and surely callous and/or indifferent): Burns had sex sufficiently so often with so many women that he impregnated so many that it’s hard to keep count.

Burns is presented as someone writing sedition which he kept up even after authorities set upon him; he was far more vulnerable than English counterparts (more upper class): he would just have been fired, no need to stage a trial. The period covered is 1791-196: he quotes a contemporary explaining why Burns was isolated to some extent in his last years – after Edinburgh trip; “exiled from polite society on account of his radical opinions, he became sourer in temper & plunged more deeply into dissipations of the lower ranks…. “but this reads like bad-mouthing: Burn always drank & was promiscuous; he suffered depressions, he was ill; much of the argument depends on an analysis of select poems and how his enemies did what they could to ruin him: they could have been after him for his sexual misconduct, hatred of religious hypocrisy; that he gave some spoils due him as exciseman to the revolution is too much pressed; he followed what was happening abroad. Johnston tells of an incident where Burns tricked into exposure when he thinks all the men are going to aggressively assail a favorite woman – a dirty trick which reminds me of other accounts of upper class people humiliating lower class or vulnerable and sensitive people among them: Tom Branson tricked (Downton Abbey) or an incident in Dance to the Music of Time (where a bucket of urine is timed to spill over a door as the victim emerges), in Burney’s diaries at Streatham. Burns openly praised a theatrical epilogue praising Wollstonecraft and then worried because he knew he was monitored and at risk of losing job. The struggles “not quite ancient” which correspond to earlier are not French but local, Thomas Muir, later indicted, convicted, transported. A glued over piece of paper. The most effective parts of the argument come from the poems analysed, not well known – he identifying with someone imprisoned for debt, Esopus to Maria

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Frontispiece to America, A Prophecy (Blake was indeed prophetic — think of what is happening around the world today as a result of the present US’s oligarchy and military’s uses of power

Chapter 18: Blake’s America, the Prophecy that failed, William Blake (1757-1827). In this chapter again Johnston dwells on important personal kinds of experience others often overlook or don’t tell clearly.

Blake’s Jerusalem reminds me of Austen’s Plan of a Novel – actually the same use of private references, same pathetic lack of range, and same absolute rejection of mainstream cliches, tropes, values.

An incident in 1803 where Blake hustled a private out of his garden at Felpham for having insulted him (as Blake thought); for this Blake was arraigned and tried, with quotations that make him sound as ripe for hanging or transportation. Luckily, Hayley, Blake’s patron, was powerful in this area and got character witnesses, himself was a character witness, helped see Blake was arraigned as a “public nuisance” (though this reminds me of police moving into private people’s apartments and shooting them). Johnston says Blake was shocked into silence. Chicester assizes at time of Despard’s execution. Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond hostile to Blake, thought to make an example of Blake as a seditionist would be to shore himself up as unimpeachably patriotic after being part of groups advocating parliamentary reform. In later years Blake claimed someone had been sent to entrap him.

In London Blake completed 1st version of masterwork, Jerusalem: the people who were involved in this incident are immortalized in the poem – along with great names from European history, cultural history; reviewers didn’t like (or understand) poem or visionary art. Contrast to America, written 10 years earlier (1793), revolution anticipates French, weeping illustrations suggest Blake pessimistic about his prophecies; preface to Milton has clear version of poems prefacing chapters of Jerusalem. Johnston shows how America is a very odd sort of poem – not understood by most, combining revenge, private feelings, vast public allegory.

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An 18th century engraving of a debtor in the Marshalsea

Coda: Johnson answers the people who say, so what? and there is nothing unusual here, what did they expect, they deserved it. He begins with how Pitt was responsible for bad policy (Barrell in his review of Johnston’s book asks why Pitt is so respected and argues he was an awful prime minister; his early speeches on behalf of reform were political grandstanding). Johnston goes on to show how Pitt poked mean fun at writers he persecuted and stigmatized. He then reprints Liu’s heart-felt preface to a book on this period that these people matter: again he is discussing writing we could have had, are struggling to recover. Liu’s and other books include the writing we have that bears witness to the struggle and how it happened and so does Johnston’s. He urges us, let us recover what we can. It will show us how the people and their movements fail. Johnston calls this discouraging, but he is himself still a believer with Wordsworth and has faith in social man. We are to feel humanely for these people – multiply it out – recognize that such things do matter. He records and honor the ruined lives – we can see more deeply into what is half-there and into our own lives. He makes us see their works freshly in terms that connect to us.

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The US Occupy Movement in its early stages — still plus ça change, moins ça change; see my “No pretense of regard for life or humanity.”

Ellen

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It was a misfortune to any man to have been born in the latter end of the last century … The flame of liberty, the light of intellect, was to be extinguished with the sword — or with slander, whose edge is sharper than the sword — Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age (1825), quoted by Johnston

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Dear friends and readers,

Today I finished writing a review I’ve been reading and working towards for several weeks. I didn’t mean to take such time with it, but Kenneth Johnson’s Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm & the Lost Generation of the 1790s is so good and important that I wanted to be able to place it in its scholarly as well as contemporary context — and so read other texts and reread some primary materials. This blog is not that review; rather like other blog-reviews I’ve done it’s rather a summary and commentary on details of the book intended to let readers know something of its content and to tempt them into reading it themselves. I tell the arguments and describe the lives and works covered. There’s a lot of worthwhile material here; as with other books I’ve shared on my blogs I’ll divide the blog into two parts to keep the reading from becoming too long.

Johnston tells stories of the ruined lives – ruined careers, thwarted writers, artists, politicians innumerable of the 1790s in the UK. His argument is that There was a widespread and viable reform movement shared by countless people across Great Britain, which was ruthlessly repressed, decimated — by Pitt the Younger’s establishment through violence, by manufacturing adverse opinion, by punishing people legally and socially, by trials for treason & sedition (or being a public nuisance or whatever would do) in the 1790s. He discussed people not tried for treason but penalized in common ways we are used to do (from the McCarthy era on), people in artistic and academic walks of life. Why did Charles James Fox never become Prime Minister? Was was Paine’s style not influential? Pitt’s Reign of Alarm did the job. An oligarchic and militarist foreign political world was shaped by Waterloo and treaties signed by Allies, put in place, in the UK a domestic better world put off for more than 70 years.

What Johnston’s makes book especially worthwhile are nuanced words in which he conveys the humanity, decency, genuine need for reform, the gross ruthlessness of those doing the destroying – in small things not susceptible of documentation – a new historicism indeed.

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James Gillray; Caricature of John Thelwall supposed speaking at a Correspondence Society Meeting

Part I: The Red Decade

Chapter 1 is called “Before and After Lives”. Johnston opens with Hazlitt’s Spirit of the Age as about how England missed its inspiration, was prevented by official reactionary ruthless determination to stamp out reform of any kind, individual prejudice, and cowardice (hard term). Johnston suggests coupling the terms romantic period and age of revolution (1776-1832) as twin terms is odd. He singles out as a double defeat two sets of acts: Pitt’s Gagging Acts (1795) and Sidmouth and Castlereagh’s Six Acts (1819). In the 1790s people were asking for extension of franchise, equitable districts, frequent elections, rights of men; in 1732 Tories vote with Whigs to increase electorate by 200,000 property owning males. Foot’s joke was rarely has reform given so little to so few. Even with the suppression it remained more important what happened in Norwich, Bristol, Sheffield, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh (periodical publications, correspondence societies, meetings, even conventions) than in Paris; nonetheless, it was not inevitable that ideas, acts of poets & others would fail while France was having its revolution; why should lurching of France’s monarchy towards a republic be a bad time?

He divides the decade of 1790s divided into four parts.

Nov 4, 1789-May 1792, Price praising French Rev to Pitt proclamation against seditious writings: Burke’s answer to Price, Paine’s to Burke, destruction of Priestley’s home

Dec 1792-Oct/Dec 1794 – active legal repression: trial conviction of Paine in abstentia; of London 12; conviction and transportation to Botany Bay of Scottish martyrs

1795: gov’t lost treason trials of 12 so re-groups, secret services modernized; protests against Pitt’s war (ruinous domestic economic effects). Gagging acts after attack on king’s coach – no public meetings of more than 50 persons (despite mass protest), no publishing criticism. Two acts, 1795 – no one can speak in public without gov’t approval if there are more than 50 present (Grenville); no publications that bring King’s gov’t into disrepute or censure.

1796-1800: mopping up operation, of radicals left standing: Wm Stone, John Thelwall … includes 1798 trial and imprisonment of Gilbert Wakefield (died of it) for libeling Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff …; 1800 a bill of indemnity protecting Pitt and his cabinet from claims

Thus was a reform movement grindingly shut down: Johnston reviews the arguments among a group of older scholars (Veitch, Thompson, Dickinson): was it large, organized or serious enough to be considered the beginning of British socialism, a failed form of proto-revolutionary activity; new voices (Barrell, Philip, McKee, McCalman, Radical Underworld) argue they they were socialist precursors.

What happened to these people? Johnston lists names of people: Death by execution or from imprisonment, itself and transportation; abscond, flight, immigration, exile; arrest and long periods of detention; financial damage and career ruination; gov’t harassment; psychological damage, physical harm; effective silencing, stopping publishing; orchestrated ridicule and libel; anonymous publication; disappearance from publication; change in topic and style; revision and erasure as juvenilia; move to conservative positions; public recantation, informing on others; direct monetary reward for informing, changing views. All his subjects have entries in the old DNB & ODNB – repressive hegemony of state ideological apparatus plays upon thoughts, ideas, actions

He wants us to appreciating the non-development of English literature – what didn’t happen – and the small mean private ways by which hegemonic control work; the endless ripple effects. If they went on to do other things, biographers, historians ignore or apologize for “youthful errors.” The materials are ambiguous and Gillray’s cartoons a good example of the difficulty of “reading” them.

He takes Amelia Alderson Opie as opening example: she moved from radical reform politics, to careful revision, to pious Quakerism – we can see the effects of repression registering on her — a full reprint of her memory of treason trials shows how fearful she was, how she identified with those accused, the unfair accusations… dangerous punishments, and her lone and lonely life at 80.

Chapter 2 is about John Thelwall (1764-1834) and Wm Goodwin (1756-1836). Thelwall is a usual suspect – against Thelwall the state acted directly by arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, trial, conviction, punishment and later also unusual suspect; he found how difficult it was to get out of political catchment, how the distinction between personal and political is non-existent. Godwin had to turn to anonymity, become a non-person to survive in his later years. Thelwall arrested as one of the 12 and Godwin’s Cursory Strictures laid out argument defense counsel used. While Godwin supported Thelwall in treason trial, later he wrote arguments gaved ammunition to gov’t bills of gagging and no assembly.

Johnston reviews lightly the central points of some of Thelwall’s speeches – they are intended as speech in action. His occasional best. The absurdity of presenting superstitious practices, to send peasantry to be annihilated in a crusade to restore the fallen despotism of France. Treason now means telling the truth to the shame and confusion of ministers. Thelwall presented himself as a target – let him be prosecuted; but after the acquittal, the way he was kept from any success was through means like a petty illegal smashing of a hall, frightening others who welcomed him, beating him up – all he could get was laughter at his plight.

Godwin Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft for which modern scholars have castigated him was a form of “grief-work” based on the principle that you could understand her best by knowing how she came to have her views in Rights of Woman; what happened was the rest of the world wouldn’t listen; abuse then never let up – I wondered if the mockery of Radcliffe was part of this way of coping with anything unconventional and in her case at moments Girondist radical. As with Lilian Hellman, friends (Mackintosh) rehabilitated themselves by attacking Godwin; he experienced the pusillanimity and opportunism of his friends: Mackintosh refused to name Godwin and only when Parr did did Godwin have opportunity to refute – and he comes off well – why are you attacking me and why now? – he sees how they are attacking him because of pressure of events around them but he refuses to meet them on the low road of personal abuse and his sarcasms too subtle to reach readership – he still had the remarkable nerve to talk about the value of Napoleon’s life.

Mathus’s famous thesis meant as a refutation of Godwin type argument that would provide for more people – the only result could be more would end up starving. Mathus a man of the left, went to dissenting academies, his father friend of Rousseau, enthusiast for Condorcet and Godwin. Godwin realizes the advocates could not find a doctrine more pleasing to them. In preface to Caleb Williams Godwin writes about “the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism by which man becomes the destroyer of man” – hegemonic disciplining Johnston calls it. Are we condemned to despair things will never improve? – 4 pieces of controversial prose.

Thelwall had found it impossible to speak anywhere so now Godwin to publish. Now for Godwin publishing was his means of making a living. He marries Sarah Jane Clairmont, a widow with children of her own. Godwin publishes as William Scolfield Bible Stories, these sell well, but watchdog Sarah Trimmer seeing its liberal lessons of humane behavior says it has “very pernicious tendencies.” Fleetwood and Chaucer under his name don’t sell so he brings out juvenile library under pseudonyms – some sniff out – they are “creditable,” do not “pander to prejudice,” but educational and liberal presentations of stories and subject.He was destroyed as a writer; irony that he was denied a passport to join Holcroft in Germany; forced to remain in a country that couldn’t abide him.

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A painting of the riots aimed at Priestley

Part II: Forces of Public Opinion

Chapter 3 is titled Dr Phlogiston and is the story of Joseph Priestley (1733-1844). Everyone shocked, tut-tuts at destruction of home and lab of Priestley in Birmingham 1791 July; 5 day riot of king and country mob, more than 30 houses destroyed. Planned event from the start -– in effect an assassination attempt. He was at the time a famous scientist, discovered oxygen, nitrous oxide & 5 other elemental gases; a friend of Franklin, competitor to Lavoisier; also public intellectual – wrote 30 volumes. He was a dissenter; not popular because he’d speak his mind (so too Thomas Beddoes and Gilbert Wakefield). Spoke & wrote on behalf of American revolution. Identified Phlogiston, gaseous element produced by fire.

Johnston tells the history of the slowly evolving riot and its aftermath, showing it was gov’t encouraged, led, endorsed until it changed to proto-revolutionary and then only a few scapegoats punished. Attacked were 1) people at dinner 2) dissenters; 3) intellectuals and rich men. Riot against supposed revolutionaries, then Papist dissenters (!) and then on town’s economic and punitive elite. Priestly did preach a sermon of forgiveness, condescending and ironic, and much disliked by literature classes.

Riots enabled officials to bring Birmingham by customs and actions back into conservative fold. Birmingham independents and unitarians no longer found in positions of authority or publicly acting – how an alarmed reaction can be carefully orchestrated to end in Tory and Anglican party becoming strong. 1794 Priestley sees it is over for him in the UK and emigrates to the US where he refuses public position and carries on as private citizen; his sons join him; Cobbett ridiculed Priestley’s loss, later on he too found refuge in the US. Priestley rightly did not feel safe until Jefferson was elected.

Chapter 4, The Radical Moravian: James Montgomery (1771-1854). Born of Irish parents, in Scotland, his parents went to West Indies as missionaries when he was 8; precocious, wrote poetry, hired as counting house clerk by Joseph Gales in Sheffield; on staff of reform newspaper Register.

Sheffield was a radical place, base for societies and periodicals. There were riots in 1792, Montgomery writes essays on behalf of reform, religious poetry against war. When his employer was hounded out of England to Philadelphia where he founded a press; as the new editor in chief, Montgomery twice arrested: once for reprinting poem re-interpreted as offending. Sheffield Register now called Iris; he is arrested for reporting a troop behavior during a “riot”; 6 months, fined; had a bad time in prison, wrote poetry which shows his outlook and ill health; when he was released, his health was impaired. He goes on to write a series of periodical essays; 1795 The Whisperer or Hints and Speculations: these manifest the twisted kind of prose one writes when trying to say something and hide it at the same time; The Art of Shortening Life, and a 4 volume novel he destroyed. In his later years he devoted himself to good works, religious poetry, against slavery, on behalf of chimney sweeps. He writes a poem against Napoleon’s invasion of Switzerland; Byron preferred Montgomery’s Wanderer of Switzerland to Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads; the public agreed and bought it; he is respected and liked by Southey. Montgomery’s radicalism was not accidental but cut off.

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Part III: Keeping the University and Church Safe from Reform

Chapter 5: Friend of Jesus, friend of the devil: William Frend (1757-1841). Frend was drafted into army in American revolution; in 1775 he went to Cambridge, and began to agitate against Test Acts and exam system (these were sacrosant, they were the way egalitarianism was prevented, they kept these positions in the hands of an interlocking few coteries. Topics he debated debated included the rights of subjects to resist tyranny. Surprisingly perhaps Frend was successful in this milieu at first; he moves to teach poor children of the parish and mathematics for real. When he intensified his Hebrew studies, he no longer believed in the Trinity, and as an idealist began towork for a unitarian church to emerge.

Johnston claims thus Frend was surprised when the response to his arguments was to take away his teaching; he himself gave up two of his parishes as matter of conscience. He also wrote 3 works, each time widening his audience: Thoughts on .. Religious tests, to Rev. HHCoulthurst; then to Inhabitants of Cambridge and finally to Members of church of England. He was expelled; he could not understand why a constitutional critique and his goal of improving Christian knowledge no good.

At this point, Frend went to Germany and spends time with like-minded men, including Priestley’s son, Wm; in Belgium he is closer to events in France. Meanwhile at Cambridge Isaac Milner, Tory politican type takes over; they go after 5 faculty including Frend & 2 friends. The work prosecuted was his Peace and Union – a pamphlet arguing for compromise between republicans and anti-republicans and reform is pretending these things are acceptable. It’s the short appendices that matter: one where he imagines himself the women whose ¼ of salary suspended to pay for war that does them no good; the other remarkable argument that execution of Louis XVI none of UK’s business: they had cut a king’s head off for treason legally too. Startling. Some of the accusations were vague; he protested, his protests werer overridden; the existence of unproven alarm was grounds for prosecution; he is declared guilty and thrown out of university.

Frend then went to live in London and became member of LCS, wrote pamphlet on scarcity of bread and how to provide instead of gathering money for French aristocratic emigres. This is time of Thelwall’s speeches, exposure of exorbitant prices from war, monopoly. Frend would not disobey 1795 acts, though, and spent the rest of life teaching. His new career for money was a job working for actuarial assurance. He was befriended by Lord Byron’s wife, and continued to support good causes, against flogging, in support of reform bill 1832 and published Plan of Universal Education – tax income of Church of England to pay for it (forget that).

Chapter 6: No Laughing Matter: Thomas Beddoes, Sr (1760-1808). Beddoes was mentor to Humphry Davy, professor of chemistry, a forward-looking doctor of medicine who understood how it occurs and is shaped by its social context; he came from a politically liberal commercial family in Shropshire, was admitted to Pembroke, Oxford; studied on his own German, French, Italian; 1790s he wrote translations and reviews in the Monthly Review. 1792 A Letter to a Lady the way to reach the poor is to give them text to read that concerns them for real– private circulation. Prolonged geological researches in Wales; handbill against funding clergy escaping from French revolution – a kind spy system afoot ferrets it out – why he is not offered a salaried post. He was forced out of chemistry lectureship at Oxford; in Bristol later in decade his Pneumatic Institute suffered from conservative attacks. ODBN is misleading and sarcastic.By 1794 Beddoes needed help for this Pneumatic Institute for experiments with nitrous oxide, a therapy for TB; and did receive money from Wedgewood, help from Watt & Georgiana Spencer, Duchess. He was sufficiently well known to consider emigration of the sort envisaged by Coleridge and Southey (active with Coleridge in public meetings). Beddoes is an easy target by 1797-98; changes name of his institute, Preventative Medicine for Sick and Drooping Poor; then Hygiea addressing middle class in their style. He became a standard butt; died at 48 and his work lost to society for another 40 years

His 5 pamphlets exposed interwined issues of war, peace, political policies, economic scarcities and health of poor: A word in defense of the bills of rights; What would be the harm of a speedy peace?. He could not understand how people do nothing and wrote On means of relieving presence scarcity: this would be a system of soup kitchens. His Essay on Public merits of Mr Pitt was published by Joseph Johnson – how badly handled was the war; how much “human misery passes under medical inspection;” lastly, Alternatives Compared; or what shall the rich do to be safe?. These contained a remarkable series of questions that are utterly relevant to day: how far am I secure against false alarms, frauds, violence; do circumstances which I can control threaten deprivation of accommodation and necessities of life; unjust laws encroach on freedom. He makes it plain that real politics are quite mad if you were considering most people’s welfare; Pitt’s design to attack French revolution has made the crisis.

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Broadview edition

Part 4: Other Voices, Other Places: The suspect gender.

A prologue where he suggests women who worked for reform or revolution as writers had it much worse: Wollstonecraft chief target and then whip as a name; and he goes over the destruction of careers of Anna Barbauld (her 1811 poem), Mary Robinson (he emphasizes her later writing and crippled state), Charlotte Smith (her originality marginalized) and Mary Hays (mocked by men and friends).

Chapter 7: Our Paris Correspondent: Helen Maria Williams (1761-1827). Williams led a remarkable life: he praises her in career terms: see her contacts, see how her “consort” Stone was a successful businessman. How many people survive being imprisoned by Robespierre and Napoleon? She is the best example yet of an interrupted misunderstood career partly because she carried on (with Stone by her side which Johnston does not sufficiently acknowledge). Johnston shows how Williams was an “up and coming star” of the 1780s, how her Letters Written in France record the changes, first hope and principles of the French revolution, then dismay at turns it took, then horror at reaction and reactions to reactions, nevering loses sight of the root causes of the terror. This is intertwined with history of her life and her strengths as a writer.

Most effective is learning about those who first distanced and then attacked her (from Piozzi to Seward to Boswell). We see the meanness of Laetitia Hawkins; how others used Williams to forward themselves, “Twill then be infamy to seem your friend” is the motto here (Pope, Rape of Lock, 132) What is valuable here is how he quotes Williams to great effect making the reader want to read her. Her texts include an unflinching horrifying scene of massacres by mass drowning. He goes over her poetry too.

Chapter 8 takes us to Suspect Nations: Let Irish men remain sulky, grave, prudent and watchful, William Drennan (1754-1820).

Again a prologue: how the Continental congress terrified authorities: it showed people organizing and finding a voice without having official state-sanctioned offices! Without any law allowing or controlling them – this was enough to call it treason – they looked and acted like legislative body, would gain respect,so the five leaders were arrested, convicted and transported to Australia 1792-94 (these were called the Scottish Martyrs). Mass demonstrations were quelled. The gov’s went after effective writers too: Joseph Gerrard, son of Irish planter in West Indies, educated under Samuel Parr, worked in Philadelphia with Tom Paine; Welsh people intimidated (David William; Edward Williams aka Iolo Morganwg); William Orr hung in 1797 – administered oaths to members of United Irishmen, wrote in Northern Star – charges totally trumped up and shown to be by satire showing emptiness by rev James Porter also hung, June 1798

William Drennan follow the trajectory of politician-into-poet. The Drennan Letters (culled from 1400 and published Belfast 1931, ed. D.A Chart) survived and contain detailed information about daily events in Ireland, 1776-1807. As a talented literary person he took brunt of attack, wrote to sister, brother-in-law, mother. After he was tried for sedition, June 26, 1794, he withdrew from active politics, where his metier public or open letter, ended an obstetrician. He had written a series of letters on behalf of reform: Of Orellana, an Irish Helot, likening helots to native Irish population, as a fellow Helot haranguing, rolling climaxes with Paine like language. Drennan argued for volunteer rather than constitutional convention (object is constitutional), quietly sought to establish a secret society (favored at the time – think of the Masons) – goal was independence for Ireland, republicanism, united Irishmen his idea. His writing was too; the United Irishmen was declared illegal as an organization and he arrested for sedition. Johnston quotes Drennan in published papers and letters. Informer was Wm Carey but he testified on his behalf and judge told jury to return a guilty verdict for the good of the tranquillity of Ireland, they said Not Guilty. When Wolfe Tone indicted for treason, that ended much overt political activity and writing.

He lost friends when he did not come forward,plus his inheritance, his family & friends suffered humiliations. He married a rich wife, met William Roscoe of Liverpool, and founded a non-denominational academy in effort to free education, edited Belfast Monthly. His poems project a lyricism of loss. His later poetry shows him an “aristocratical Democrat:” he is for republic, not a particular religious group; looked on in 1798 horrified at Irish masses cut down by English and Protestant allies.

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Hubert Robert, Madame Geoffrin drawing (or perhaps writing) when she should be eating her lunch

To sum up this first half of the book, his opening section embodies the idea of book through Opie in old age, and two eloquent victims showing how one does not realize one can be destroyed by others means: Thelwall’s eloquence gives us central argumetns; Godwin exposes motivations for what was done to him by others. Thelwall destroyed in ways he could not foresee, Godwin betrayed and silenced; Johnston presents their thoughts to show their value and their works. Part 2 explains what is hegemonic control with Priestley and Montgomery as examples of what this means. We see this today through what is allowable on TV and how reporters do not tell the full story of an event, distort evidence to please the government and powerful who hire them. Part 3 is about keeping patronage in close-knit network; both Beddoes and Frend are destroyed university types: it’s a kind of ambiguous indirect destruction – and Beddoes still misrepresented, Frend not done justice to.

Part 4 allows us to see through the career Helen Maria Williams carried on with an achievement can be ignored as well as a picture of English views of revolution over its phases. Suspect nations include Scots, Welsh, Ireland – Johnston exposes real questions, real reasons these people were destroyed, imprisoned, silenced, intimidated (Porter’s anonymous articles on Orr who was executed) – in Johnston’s article he is showing how these people were not nationalists – that is somewhat lost sight of here – finding all sorts of individuals shows how wide spread these ideas – underlying is belief it’s continual repression that keeps better world from coming forth – that with power and arms and money you need only destroy leaders, frighten people, and then hegemonic control for mass – belief that change comes from individuals is central to this book.

I suddenly remembered Ann Radcliffe’s silence: was it more than her nervous nature? the liberal reform ideas underlying her book, especially open in her travel book. At any rate she becomes one of the women others.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

Hitherto I’ve put all my conference reports and news about my papers on this blog. Since the beginning of this year when I created a new blog just for Austen and 18th century studies and women writers, I decided that my reports of 18th century conferences, papers and Austen should logically go onto Reveries under the Sign of Austen. However, as I know I have a small audience for such reports here, I thought I’d cross post just the URLs to the reports of the SC/ASECS conference for which I read so much for an Ann Radcliffe paper and at which Jim and I had such a good time.

So, on the good time we had socially and what touring we did, and my paper:

South Central ASECS: The Nightmare of History in Ann Radcliffe’s Landscapes

The above photo is me giving the paper.

The first day and one half of sessions and papers:

South Central ASECS: Panoramas (gothic, animals in, the Biltmore), Scottish fidding, Rameau & Jane

The third day and evening, a panoply of papers, eating and drinking, ending in a dance:

South Central ASECS: Women writers, poets & actresses, and myths

Just today Jim confided in me that he took the above photo and this one of the central spa in the center of the hotel (whose three buildings formed a horseshoe surrounding the spa, which could be seen from anywhere in the building when you looked down:

Ellen

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The picture gracing the cover of Restless Spirits: Ghost Stories by American Women Writers, 1872-1926, edd. Catherine Lundie

Dear friends and readers,

I continue my tales of my time at this summer’s Sharp conference. I here cover three sessions, two on the first Friday afternoon and the first of four all day Saturday. My topics this time are book covers; the problem of really knowing or reflecting what people were reading during the romantic (or any period) and descriptions of searching among monthly periodicals, compiling lists of books; Mudie’s library, the “foreign division” (the part of Mudie’s which rented books not in English) and travel books: the origins of Murray’s formulaic travel books, and so Baedekers and on travel out of the UK in the 19th century in general. Among the surprising (though if you think about it, this should not be) finding are there are many more men writing gothics and romances than we think because they write anonymously.

In a nutshell: book covers as identity politics; women writers not so superabundant yet blamed, censored; Mudie’s “Foreign” Library mostly in French; and Murray’s and other delightful travel books.


Would you guess the subtitle of this book is “An Orphan Girl’s Struggles and Triumphs”?

Recent covers move even further & further away from book’s anti-machine mood and vulnerable heroine’s story

The first session, “Covering the Book in the Literature classroom” included three papers on experiences the speakers had had as teachers where they assigned books with an eye to making students aware of how the book’s packaging affected their experience, defined the book’s audience, and told something of its themes. Stacy Erickson told of student responses to reading texts and the kind of covers pictured in the Norton Anthology of English literature; Jennifer Nolan-Stinson discussed how the use of popular paperbacks changes the experience of teaching novels; and Heidi I.M. Jacobs suggested that it was possible that if a best-selling American novelist, Maria Susanna Cummins (1827-66) had had twitter, we might not have had her written letters to find today and reprint (as she, Ms Jacobs, has done.

This was the kind of session where the discussion afterward was as stimulating and informative as these informal talks. I remember we talked of how a book’s cover reflects the identity the publisher may think the book’s audience wants to have; how books issued by the government (the military during WW2) look strictly utilitarian; covers with stills from popular films; and the language used in blurbs. I answered Ms Jacobs’s “what if” scenario with the counter that while it may be true that if Cummins had put her letters on net, we’d have nothing to reprint if they had (as they might) disappear, but that she might have had the gratifying satisfaction of a broader audience at the time. The great poignancy of Emily Dickinson’s case is that no one but a very few people read her poems and the evidence we have suggests they were not appreciated or understood; if they had lain in shoeboxes until now we’d still not know of them. Had she had had the Net to put them on she’d have reached people, and why should one care if people after we are dead can read our stuff? The Net is filled with the communication of thousands of people who would have little or no access to conventional publication. So what if they never receive scholarly packaging?


An Illustration in The Ladies Repository: A Monthly Periodical, Devoted To Literature and Religion (1855, Cincinnati, Ohio)

The second session I managed, “Romantic Readers and Writers,” had two presentations from women who work for Chatto & Pickering and are involved in producing thick books of bibliography listing and briefly describing all the reviews they can find in the romantic era (say 1790-1825?). Basically they were describing the enormous effort of producing and obstacles in the way of producing Romantic Women Writers Reviewed. These will be a set of volumes that reprint and/or describe reviews and reception for hundreds of women writers and female-gendered pseudonyms along with references, all from 24 reviewing journals and miscellanies.

Stephanie Eckroth, “A Faithful Picture: Monthly Periodicals and Romantic Readers” told of the obstacles preventing a compiler from producing a selection of listings which genuinely reflect the typical kinds of books, numbers, types, reception in the romantic era. She has gone through monthly periodicals in her attempt to list books to be bought and read, and said we end up with over-, an under-representations; for example, men published romantic novels anonymously so we seem to have more women proportionately than there were.


Modern facsimile reprint of one of Ward’s literary works

Ann Hawkins told of how few studies today cite William Ward’s contemporary huge bibliography (The Index of Contemporary Reviewers) and yet she repeatedly traced citations back to his badly organized inconsistent book. (One must remember the man had no computer, no Internet). Ward included only poetry, fiction, and plays, no life writing, no essays, so Hester Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey doesn’t exist as far as Ward’s book is concerned. Piozzi’s book was enormously popular and influential, for example, she is among the few authors from all she read cited by Austen — and imitated: “I had some thoughts of writing the whole of my letter in her stile” (Tuesday, 11 June 1799). But modern anthologies equally don’t reflect who was important to readers at the time: Donald Reiman’s modern 9 volume edition of romantic writers contains only 1 woman (Mary Shelley) for the whole era; The Critical Heritage series contains only 6 from a couple of hundred writers. So Romantic Women Writers Reviewed aims to use and go well beyond these inadequate volumes (new attributions, new archival work).

Irene Lyistakis gave a close reading of hostile reviews of gothic novels supposed by and for women, “The Neurophysiology of Reading: The Female Brain and the Gothic Novel.” The most common idea is women read as creatures subject to sensibility and men not at all. The reviewers complained gothic novels encouraged women to abandon their social duties. Reviews of sensation novels in the Victorian period were especially anxiety-ridden over the books’ sexual transgressions. Among the comments Ms Lyistakis quoted was this perceptive one: Margaret Oliphant complained that ultimately gothic and romantic novels often projected an ugly portrait of women as amoral and egoistic in the extreme.

I was very tired by then, headachy, and my hands unsteady so I skipped the Ian Gadd’s plenary keynote, “Book History and the Organization of the Early Modern English Book Trade” at the Folger Shakespeare Library and reception (which would have been fun, for it was in the Elizabethan theater) and went home where I rested.

I have, however, since read on the Sharp listserv in a posting by Jonathan Rose that Ian Gadd suggested economic historians are now doing work that book historians ought to read, but usually don’t, and cited two good articles:

Jan Luiten van Zanden and Eltjo Buringh, ‘Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries’, The Journal of Economic History, 69:2 (June 2009)

Jeremiah Dittmar, ‘Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press’, forthcoming at The Quarterly Journal of Economics: download from http://www.jeremiahdittmar.com/research

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Saturday morning traffic coming into DC is light so Jim drove me there, and the trip took less than 15 minutes. I found the domed building quickly and discovered that it goes deep into the ground (two sets of winding stairs and then a long escalator). At the bottom was an art gallery show of fine paintings by the staff. The refreshment room had good coffee and decent cakes & breads, but of course the real treat was the four excellent sessions I participated in over the course of the day. Here’s just the first of that morning.


Victorian illustration of Mudie’s Library patrons

“Transnational Circulation of 19th Century Texts” covered my personal interests: French literature read in England, translation, and travel books too. Marie-Francoise Cachun’s “Books from France at Charles Mudie’s Select Library in Victorian England,” was based on her study of the foreign department catalogues of Mudie’s. She looked to see what foreign books were rented, how Mudie got them, and what readers rented them. Mudie bought 3 volume books which sold for a guinea and a half a volume (prohibitively expensive for most middle class readers). He began with one shop in Bloomsbury, by 1852 he had created his extensive lending library, by 1861 he had 180,000 volumes; he would sell the surplus books off regularly. His books reached as far as India. Only a limited number of catalogues survive, and she covered 1848-1936 of these. The Indexes are inconsistent: in 1857, 4 sections (Select library, 158 pgs; fiction 52 pgs; juvenile 18 pgs; foreign 55 of French, 21 of German and 3 of Italian books. Later catalogues divide the books into fiction and non-fiction, with some books offered as suitable for presents and prizes.


Typical catalogue cover for the era

What French books are present? still famous writers: Balzac, Sand, Hugo (Hunchback of Ntre Dame, 1848; Les Miserables, 1865); popular writers then like Eugene Sue. She mentioned that you could find English and Russian books in French tanslation (LeFanu’s Uncle Silas in French). Popular women writers then: a Countess whose name I couldn’t catch was enormously popular for her French silver fork type romances; another man for his historical fiction. There was much non-fiction; items include George Eliot’s translation of Renart’s Life of Christ. Expurgated versions of Zola. Foreign books in English translation were in the regular select or fiction sections. The firm acquired books from French publishers mostly. French was the primary language for Russian books (Turgenev, Tolstoi).

I asked about the later 18th century French woman because Prof Cachin had not mentioned Felicite de Genlis, and she assured me Genlis was there (5 items in 1868, 7 in 1899) as were some of the later 18th century French writers (Stael, Constant). (See Julia Kavanagh’s reading in my Julia Kavanagh: 19th century disabled woman of letters). She also said there were other language books rented (Swedish) but it was a tiny group; Chinese books appear with French titles in the catalogues. Her published book is Une Nation de Lecteurs: La Lecture en Angleterre (1815-1945).


John Murray (1808-92)

The second paper was just as germane to my favorite reading. Pieter Francois described “The Transnational Origin of British Travel Guides on the Continent (1815-36). His thesis was that the later travel guides (post-1836, the year John Murray published his first guide) were developments out of and imitations of travel guides from the later 18th century. These earlier books have not been studied much, and so we are attributing more originality to John Murray’s successful marketing of travel books. Early on Murray admitted that he derived his formula from these earlier books, but later on began to present himself as the founder of the type that led to the famous German Baedeker series. The books fell into types: the practical guide, the meditation which attempted to recreate the experience; they were strongly nationalistic (celebrating specific cultures).


The practical and economic: Murray’s Egypt

The success of such books was also dependent on the spread of travel to middle class people looking to go to places they knew nothing of but wanted to see what was said to be most enjoyable and worth while. This began in 1815 after the end of the Napoleonic wars. Who read these? Prince Albert represented one high culture type. People writing about such travelers often denigrated them as philistines, with no love of the natural world, no real understanding of the places they were visiting. They write against those who waste money abroad when they can spend it inside their country and help fellow citizens that way. It is very hard to reconstruct the numbers and exact purposes for which people traveled. He also described advertisement for these books where we can see the writers present themselves as relatively humble in origin and as having gone to and described the “important sites.” He told of individual remarkable books too (one in 1800 called Letters from Italy; an 1834 book which told you precisely what to say in given situations, where to stay.

The discussion afterward was lively and wide-ranging and there seemed to be people in the room up on general issues of nationalism, problems in traveling freely, translation studies. I again asked specific questions. In answer to what did he think of Francis Trollope’s travel books (one 2 volumer about France) and other Victorian travelers I knew of, Mr Francois said while travelers could combine purposes the way these people did (business, visiting family, escaping a narrow milieu) most were really unconnected people on brief holidays. I described Wilkie Collins’s Rambles Beyond Railways to ask if it wasn’t so that many books would combine several purposes and kinds of texts (historical, imaginative, playful, and practical too), but again he seemed to suggest such texts were more for an elite readership. Baedeker was what became wanted.


The book Lucy Honeycomb avails herself of in A Room with a View

Since then I’ve been reading Robert Southey’s 1807 partly ironic travel book, Letters from England, where he assumes the persona of a Spanish man in order to critique English society. Southey suggests that the market then was inundated by travel books written by English people), and came across this note by the 1951 editor: “The best known of the Road Books (more practical ones) were Daniel Paterson”s New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain (18 editions, 1771-1832) and Cary’s New Itinerary (11 editions, 1798-1828)

As again my report is long enough and my clock on my wall tells me it is getting near 2 a.m. and I want to write an essay on Jane Austen: Women and Food tomorrow, I had better end here. To come is a revealing series of papers on the realities of the prize culture, the transmission of Australian books to the US and UK and how books help form national culture in South Africa; the role of libraries in social life, children’s reading clubs and storyhour in libraries and illustrations to Dickens and Trollope’s novels as well as Charles Kingsley’s popular science books.


A modern “classic travelers’ logo (from Murray)

See Sharp 1, Sharp 3, and Sharp 4.

Ellen

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Lizzard Light, Cornwall


Robin Ellis as Poldark

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been several weeks now since I fell in love with a new (to me) season-long mini-series (previously it was the 1974 BBC Pallisers): I found just irresistible the first season (1975) of Poldark adapted from 4 novels by Winston Graham. I began it because I was exploring the differences between films based on 18th century and 19th century matter (novels, history, legends). I finished it, have begun to read Graham’s novels and will go on to watch the second season (1977) of the series because even with its older cinematography, occasionally too restrained or decorous acting style, and uninventive cinematography filmstyle, it’s story, characters, themes are riveting, and its on location shooting, individual performances, dramatic scripts and scenes brilliant and effective and its whole mise-en-scene poetic.

Yesterday I read Robin Ellis’s slender unpretentious volume, Making Poldark. in which Ellis offers insight into the filming of these series, the troubles and pressures and tensions they had (over script — the series changed the books somewhat and there were debates over what kinds of changes to make), Cornwall in the 18th century and 1970s, the characters and his own career (which the series made). He remarks of the Ross character that he’s a cross between Stewart Grainger (an actor who did a swash-buckler role repeatedly in the Gainsborough studio costume dramas of the 1940s) and an 18th century Cornish Che Guevara.


Ross and Demelza Carne Poldark (Angharad Rees)

Ellis sees Poldark as starting life “as an impoverished member of the gentry class with an instinctive contempt for their values, the way they conducted their lives, and their dealings with working people. To his social peers he was a rebel, an uncomfortably disruptive force agains the status qo that they would do their damndest to be rid of.”

This goes a long way to explaining to me why the character charms me, and how the story manages to present a critically intelligent perspective on Cornish history.

It is romantic: Ross is in love with two women: Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), who he returns home from the American wars to marry and who jilts him for his richer apparently more secure, safer-to-wed, cousin, Francis (played just marvelously by Clive Francis)


Elizabeth with the baby she has by


Francis who the actor of the same name endows with vulnerability, self-dismay, high self-awareness and articulateness and candour

and Demelza who he first meets as a waif he kindly rescues from a brutal father, impoverishment and ignorance and grows in his generous household to become an attractive, self-possessed, intelligent and effective woman


When first seen at a local fair


Grown up, and shortly after she and Ross marry

Morning, noon and night, drama is taken from the books. The Warleggen family, the relatives trying to ruin him, the head of which is George, an arch-enemy:


Ralph Bates did the part with great intensity

Demelza and he fighting as frequenty as loving, rivalry with his cousin, Francis and others — Ross is no compromiser. Great houses burnt down — and they really did burn a house down — or part of it; riots, smuggling, great dashes across the wild bleak landscapes of Cornwall against the wild waters:


Making a landing after a night’s attempt to evade the tax collectors

What more can one want?

I wrote a few postings to Eighteenth Century Worlds, each after watching a few more hours of the first 16, and share a few here.

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Cover of a 1980s edition: based on and enhancing a real cliff with mines in Cornwall

The 1970s dramaturgy includes the use of location symbolically — as waves crashing on rocks (anticipating the 2008 S&S?, not really, both are archetypal), and lovers embracing, fleeing, and struggling with one another against a sublimely it (and musically accompanied) seascape.


Bottallack Mine

A hero more different from Tom Jones cannot be imagined — somber, serious, a man whose troubles are those that might appeal to people today: home from the war after having been declared dead, he finds his relatives and friends may welcome him, but the woman he was engaged to marries his cousin (for her family wants his family’s money), his uncle calls in a debt from money he has worked hard to loan, he is driven by a man (monopolizer in the making) who wants his mine. He is presented as a strong courageous type but with depth of feeling and intelligence. His central feature is not his gay sexuality or innate integrity (though he has both); its rather a seriousness of stance towards life, generosity of spirit, and decent ethics.

The series has several groups of intertwining stories where you care about central characters, and then as the stories move on, they create anxiety for the character’s fate. You are made to feel that by no means will all end in a conventional happy ending because already you’ve seen a few fates where this was not so. For the women this is mostly about marriage and who she will end up with: she gets pregnant outside marriage; she is bored with a husband whose job is awful and keeps him away for long hours plus he’s dull; her family has made it impossible for her to marry someone she loves and now she is defying them (about to run off). For me this is about the public world: one man almost dies in a terrible prison where a wound is uncared for; our hero, Poldark defies the law in taking him out (but he is a landowing gentleman so may get away with it); another is getting deep into debt.

A third set of anxieties shows the second strength: it really engages with serious issues in Cornwall, later 17th century. It may be said superficially but no more so (perhaps less so) than say, The duchess. Who will control the mines? Will it be a monopoly? The money to work them comes from English investors and will it be put back into the community. Concluding a barbain in which our revenant (for that’s what he is) puts himself into debt:

Our hero, Poldark is trying to use laws to hide his manipulation to try to keep and work his own mine and make money by the new process of smelting. Colonialism, the conditions of prisons, the class system — each takes a turn within a story line.

I notice less anxiety about masculinity because the woman really do implicitly obey the males when it comes to public decisions. Sex is kept offstage and that made marginal makes this partriarchy easier to take for women (especially as the males do the right thing and are — the good ones — non-violent). At the same time there is no harridan female, though there are alluring ones. he types are older: the protective strong good male (good husband material in at least three heroes). A masculinistic (swash buckling ultimately) point of view shapes its soap opera and feminine aesthetic structure.

Finally the acting. The dramaturgy and cinematography is of the older stage scene kind; no montages, little voice-over, no mesmerizing computers and music. But the acting is often superb. I recognize a number of actors from other mini-series at the time, and find myself hard put not to love Robin Ellis.

It doesn’t hurt to have a real fondness for costume drama and it be piqued by interest in the long 18th century — from the 17th century wars to the Napoleonic ones to enjoy this or the O’Brian novels (the same sort of thing as I’ve said). And a love of rural unspoiled scenery, suc as St Ives Harbour (in 1970s an artists colony – cheap to live), Prussia cove and shots of Angharad Rees dressed in the feminized masculine style Vigee-Lebrun put Marie Antoinette, and more.


St Ives, 1970s photo

Among other things that compel me on are the moviing images. A good deal is shot on location — on cliff, near the edge of waters, on meadows. One noticeable difference from modern scenes of this type is the activity of women. They run free on these meadows; often they are running away from someone.

In one sequence when Demelza decides that after all she will have an abortion or else simply do away with herself, and flees the house of one of Ross Poldark’s servants, we see her crossing a wasteland; naturally around this moment he discovers he has caused this pregnancy and being the good man he is (and also having affection for her), he chases after her by horse. He easily catches up, and stops her, brings her down to the ground and insists on bringing her back and marrying her. Their conversation is both touching and realistic. He is going the right thing and after all she doesn’t want to die.

I cannot recall a similar sequence in more recent film adaptations. Either the woman is made unreal in her over-the-top challenges or aggression, or the man is made much less decent and to some extent feminized and sentimentalized.

In another Sue Karen Thomas (Sheila White), having an affair with the local Dr Ennys (Richard Morant)


Ennys and Sue

She leaves his home at dawn and wanders through the meadows. She comes to a bad end; also met by a man, this time her husband, Mark Daniels; he, Othello like, knowing of a real affair murders her. I’m afraid the series is too sympathetic over this murder and in a later sequence we see Poldark helping this man to escape by boat to France (chased by militia) but again this sequence is well done, not overdone is the key.

When Francis Poldark, the “bad” cousin goes wild with drink and rage and resentment at his failures in life the acting by Clive Francis is perfect, again just right, with persuasive words (in this hour Jack Pullman who wrote the 1972 Golden Bowl)

I have bought an old battered copy of Volume I of Winston Graham’s
series to see how much of the admirable characters come from the book.
In the 1970s too we have real sympathy with the poor and vulnerable. The way monopolies and the privileged are treated is from a mildly left-of-center standpoint. I know I’m liking the series for what is made admirable and so sympathetic in the chief character I like and feel sympathy for. There is for example nothing hypocritical about either Ross or Demelza. They are really decent people; one sees such characters still, but they are presented as total aliens having to refuge themselves from the larger environment. Here they fight and occasionally have wins, though at this point in the series Ross does contemplate suicide at one point. He has lost his investment, is hounded by creditors, has helped criminals against the police (see above), one man he tried to help went to prison for longer becuase of his efforts, his baby by Demelza has died (sickened). But we know in the end all will be well enough …

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Ross and Demelza, from an early moment in their relationship, she anxious, he determined

I’ve reached mid-point in the first season, the first episode of the Fourth of my sxi VHS Cassettes. In this one Poldark is acquitted of the crime he was accused of; we see him stubbornly refuse to manipulate and kowtow and almost ruin his own case. We also see that the loyalty he did engender in the servant the bribers depended upon won out — as well as the servant’s dislike and distrust of so much bullying. He speaks out in favor of helping the poor even if it means deprecating or taking off rich man’s property. Of customs that are communitarian. Where would we hear this today?


A fair

The courtroom scene is powerful in itself — they usually are.


Stubborn, uncompromising

The other story lines continue with Poldark and his cousin, Francis, now brought together — through Demelza who also by her quiet politicking helped her husband’s case along. She had met the judge (an honest man we are told) at the ball she went to and did all she could to make friends for Poldark and remind others of him.

At the close of the episode things are not going much better: he does not know Demelza is again pregnant; she hides it for it’s a burden he says he does not want (though apparently doing nothing to stop this); she has been badly hurt by overhearing a conversation between him and Elizabeth where it seems he still feels love for Elizabeth and a sense of having compromised in his marriage; it’s not clear — as in life things are not.

There are old-fashioned steretypes no longer seen in these film adaptations: simply good people who act out of kindly motives, affectionate and well meaning talk. There is also a kind of hold-over from 18th century fiction itself: the challenge and duel. One of my favorite women characters,Verity Poldark, in the novel chooses a man her relatives will not accept, and Ross, whom she befriends, befriends her by letting her meet this man in his house. For his pains, he is threatened by her relatives, and the man he tried to help almost kills her brother, his cousin, Francis.


Norman Streader as Verity Poldark

I like her for her kind good nature, strong ethical values (like Ross she disdains judging people by rank) and her time as a spinster in the series — not for who she chooses to marry (a man the series forgives for killing his wife too) nor her later complacencies. Hats tell a lot about characters in series; hers is not the fancy Gainsborough one, high, with feathers, but a plain pancake with a ribbon.

These flaws (or stereotypes) do not detract from the really strikingly good acting and complexity of a number of the major characters. The old dramaturgy which leaves time for acting is a joy. They make an effective use of landscape dynamics.


The unmarried life-loving sweet Demelza

I see this continuity: generic tropes in scenery and scenes. The recent 2008 S&S has crashing sea on the rocks and waves; so does this one only there are now computer technologies to enhance. Tropes of love romance (the physician is slowly forming a relationship with a woman from an aristocratic family) and others are found in the praised later films said to be subversive in this way and that; but these punctuating archetypes are there.

Beyond the character of Poldark I’d like to single out how what is emphasized and what is omitted is unusual. For example the verdict of not guilty is not dramatized. You’d think it would be, but in a way it’s a waste of time, for the characters would rejoice or sulk. Instead we see a quiet conversation between the father and son who were bribing everyone to destroy Poldark; now they’ll call in loans, and can try to eliminate his oppostion to them in other ways. Pullman did write teh 1972 Golden Bowl, and I note it’s Alexander Baron who wrote a number of the episodes in the second season (also a fine writer of these film adaptation in the 1980s).


Hero against cliff

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Smugglers Cove

At the conclusion of the Fifth of my VHS Cassettes Poldark is resorting to allow smugglers on his property to make ends meet, pay his creditors. Hanging is the punishment for this tax evasion (as some of the characters call it — this is a subversive mini-series). At last Demelza tells him she is pregnant for a third time (she has had the one miscarriage of the pregnancy that caused the marriage, and one baby dead from a disease caught ultimately from Francis Poldark whom she nursed). Since we are given warning signs she is endangering this one by going out fishing to get the family food, we stand warned for anxiety over this. Poldark takes it well – and we see them become affectionate again — though he says he would have been angry a few weeks ago; and did not want any more after the dead child; there is a truthfulness to this series which is seen in the fight sequences. Unable to control himself, he attacks his arch-enemy, George Warlegen — he’s the man who engineered the trumped up trial in the last episode, whose result could also have been hanging; Warlegon’s father is the man who wants a monology on copper and mining in the area and to destroy Poldark’s mines or take them over. This fight is unusually realistic. Probably stunt men did it, but no great feats of darnig-do or swordsmanship or anything graceful. They slam one another clumsily and there’s time for close-ups of hatred and intense resentment.


Jud Painter (Paul Curran), one of Ross’s two main servants

Comic interludes are provided Jud Painter, by the poor man who didn’t give evidence against Poldark when paid to do it. He is taken up by Warlegen’s men and beaten. He’s thought dead and put in a coffin; turns out he’s just so drunk and beaten. The funeral fun is interrupted when he gets up. Unrealistic since it would not have taken a couple of days for a man in a coma to awaken or he would not have, but this leaves room for an imitation Cornish wake and ghost sequence.


A promotional group photo

The scenes on location continue to be strong – as well (I hope anyone reading this will see) the genuinely left-of-center point of view in the series.

We have the militia represented again seeking out these people. But it turns on Demelza managing to put them off and flirting with the captain. So too the financing issue and debts are shown but not with much depth — enough to make us see the struggling pair but not the larger context which is colonialist — English power and wealth came from exploiting these people.

The spread of scurvy, and the desperate need for fresh fruit is brought in to by the story of our doctor (Ennys played by the man who did Bunter) and his growing romance with a rebellious aristocratic woman who I surmize is the one who has funded Ross’s mine. This is a male wet dream but she wears very pretty hats and would fit in well in 1940s Gainsborough (UK company) film costume movies. Pleasing archetype for women here too.

The riveting part of this episode is the death of Francis Poldark: he drowns himself, half an accident but one is led to surmize half-unconscious death wish. He imagines that he finds copper in the mine he now shares with his cousin, Ross. He wants so badly to find it. It would solve all their problems; it would make up for his betrayal of Ross to the capitalist monopolizer, old man Warlegan; he would gain self-respect and respect from others. He seems suddenly to forget he can’t swim — we see him almost drown early on in the series. We also have scenes where he articulates his knowledge of Elizabeth, his wife’s lack of love for him — or Ross Poldark — remember she married him for his money and rank over Ross to whom she was engaged, and she would have run off with Ross a few years later but that Demelza got pregnant and Ross did the right thing in marrying Demelza. He expresses the loneliness of life. Clive Francis is a high point in the series for me (his performance).

While the historical part of the novels do not come across sufficiently in the story line (though we do see a lot that’s suggestive):


Port Quinn, Cornwall;

What is probably the core issue of the novels autobiographically does: again when Francis dies, we see Ross willing to express to Elizabeth that his married life represents a compromise and maybe he’d have rather married her after all; he even for a moment seems to suggest that if he might just chuck the whole life he has, rejoin his regiment and pension Demelza off (in effect). But there are words he suddenly spouts — poetry where he speaks of what is his real commitment to Demelza for her character, his love for her has grown, and by the end of the episode, having been given money mysteriously, far from chucking it all, we see him rush home to Demelza with a gift and the good news and they go up to bed together.

A fun scene in the series is him changing their baby’s diapers. I mentioned yesterday that anxiety had been created over Demelza’s new pregnancy. She keeps it from Ross; he didn’t want it; she goes out fishing endangering herself. As the episode opens even though she has now told him, she goes fishing again and we are made to worry — as the camera watches her struggle in her boat, maybe it will capsize, maybe she will drown, maybe she will have another miscarriage or a stillborn (as she did the first pregnancy).


A seascape

We hear her breathing hard and struggling on land and we think she’s about to drop it, but cut to another scene and it’s been delivered safely, a boy. Jeremy Poldark — I see a later novel is named after him so he lives to grow up.

Now the diaper scene is wholly anachronistic as are the scenes of women refusing to obey absolute orders from the men — but it is fun for a 20th century woman to watch this.


Prude (Mary Wimbush), in the novel she helps the child Demelza orient herself into the household; in the novel, she is an ally, this part worried for Demelza over her pregnancy

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Zennor, Cornwall

Poldark, 1st Season ends in stunning defeat

I finished watching what IMDB tells me is the 16th episode (one hour) of the 1st season of the series. Each of the six parts my VHS cassettes ended with a “to be continued;” this is the first part to end with a “The End” full cast list and fade out shot with Ross and Demelza embracing, kissing against a bleak shore with quiet waves and spirited yet melancholy music.

The ending is remarkable: the series ends in utter defeat. Ross arrived from the US to try to build a life for himself out of his inheritance, specially his farm land and mines and fails. He is going to return to his regiment for a 6 (or ten) year bout, leaving Demelza behind. Her beloved dog, Garrick, is murdered, shot dead by Warleggen’s armed flunkies when she on her way to leave Ross for good takes him with and her makes the mistake of crossing a fence. Another of our chief heroes, albeit a murderer of his wife, Mark Daniels, is shot dead as he with a gang of angry marauders enters the Warleggen house (taken over from the Poldarks upon Francis, Ross’s cousin’s death and Francis’s widow, Elizabeth’s bad decision to marry George) Warleggen has been systemically throwing all tenants off the land to enclose it, firing most miners to replace them, imprisoning and/or killing and transporting all protesters because he has the judges in his hand. A riot has ensued and the house is burnt to the ground. We last see Warleggen saved by Ross (remember he’s our hero) from some tortured death by being put in his horse and Elizabeth on the other, and the two chased out of the area. This should please Elizabeth for in this last episode she has been at George to take her away from “here” to London as part of his promises when they wed, and he has refused, as the first of other promises he had no intention of keeping.

The great house destroyed — a major symbol of all these series: one is imported into the recent (2001) Dr Zhivago as where Zhivago and Lara run a hospital from; it’s standing as they part for Moscow and Yuritan, the symbol of lastingness in these series. Not at the close of Poldark 1.

Ross has not behaved well to Demelza to say the least of it. When he heard that Elizabeth is about to marry or has married George, he jumped on his horse and rode off to her house, climbed into her window (very hero like all this) and raped her. Not so hero like. This is 1980 and the scene is only implied — less is shown than the 1979 Tess by Polanski but the event is clear. No explanation given, nor is it discussed in terms of why do this to Elizabeth — who Warleggen nonethless married so if it was to stop him, it didn’t; if to humiliate him, he waived that (so to speak). No sense in the series of Elizabeth’s distress is given time for — this is like the murder of the wife who was adulterous with the doctor.

She is not photographed to show any real distress either. Her hair is overdone in the way of the early 1970s mini-series, and probably this shot is intended to evoke resentment as much as identification:


Jill Townsend as Elizabeth

Not just rape, but he has all long let Demelza know her status, and while he was gone that night she went off to a ball (naturally one is happening), a striking scene where the two men who had been after her almost get to go to bed with her. Since she is of course our chaste heroine, in the case of the more serious one, the military man who let Ross off, she changes her mind and simply throws him out. (Not likely or improbable, but a strong enough scene). The other is treated comically. But Ross believes she went to bed with at least one of them and is very angry. He wants her to confess and apologize — clearly though he’s not intending to end the marriage over this or even get brutal. She refuses and demands a separation. As with her pregnancy where she led thim to believe she had other lovers and the baby coming was someone else’s, so here she does not disabuse him at first. Only as time goes on and the quarrel grows worse and she sees him get up separation papers, an allowance for her and determine where to send the son to school, does she tell.

Still they fight because he won’t regret his actions to Elizabeth. Slowly though he melts to the extent of apologizing — because (now romance gets in) he is influenced by what he sees among the families of his miners, and even more the good Dr Ennys and his upper class Caroline compromising and engaging themselves at last. Ennys too is going off to wars — we are in the 1790s now and I imagine the wars of the French revolution are spilling over into the riots and chaos in Cornwall (as they did in Ireland). So the last scene by the beach is another chase one where he has come home to find her not gone but grieving over the dead dog and not wanting to give up the child. She flees him out of the house and he runs after her and they bound through the cliffs, past the destroyed mine and near to the shore. They reconcile sufficiently so that we know they will be making love soon and spend the next 10 days together.


Ross’s farmhouse, which he leaves to Demelza to care for while he’s gone

But this does not change his having failed, his leaving her to cope as he says he can’t.

The mood is (oddly) upbeat in its way with odd comic moments (Dr Ennys’s getting together with Caroline). The music is part of this; scenes of the ball; and the sheer energy of the riot scenes. Ross does also finally strike tin and there is a powerful scene of a miner dying — Ross blaming himself. Oh yes, his mine blows up too. I forgot that.

Recent movies — since the later 1990s are far more frank about emotions, show the full vulnerability of people they way these older ones didn’t and the full darkness of what happened would not be undermined, but in that the series stayed true to the failure ending has impressed, the determined grim depiction of compromises in love and sex, the depiction of class differences,the attempt to expose the upper class maneuvers through Warleggen are all strongly commendable.

In fact this series as a political romance is worthy of the 1980s British TV to come. I end on my favorite still, Ross as he appears in the beginning of the next season.


Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark, back from a 2nd set of wars, civil, revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, this time in Europe

When the first series opened, Ross was back from the American wars, “French and Indian” we call them, and I fancy were someone to adapt Charlotte Smith’s Old Manor House (and it would make a great adaptation), when the hero, Orlando comes back from the middle section of the book where he fought in the French and Indian wars, was captured by Indians and lived for a time as an Indian, the actor doing it could do no better than dress in such an outfit and take such a stance towards the world. Or the Fitzgerald who fought and lost in the Irish revolutionary wars (a Lennox grandson), from Tillyard’s Aristocrats (in fact the 1999 mini-series had a polished, cleaned up luxurious image rather than this).

Surely, the reader who has got this far will have seen I’ve fallen in love with Robin Ellis as Poldark (who I was drawn to as Edward Ferrars in the 1971 S&S) and identify, or recognize aspects of an ideal self I find deeply appealing in Angharad Rees as Demelza.

Ellen

P. S. Journalizing: 6/15/10. As someone has commented on Judy Geeson, I thought I’d add a still of her. Geeson’s character, the London-born rich orphan, Caroline Penvenen, seems to me the most unreconstructed of the transfers from 1940s Gainsborough costume drama romance (renamed using Graham’s fiction), as evidenced by her absurd hats, super-extravagant costumes for every day life, and providential interest in curing scurvy and giving of money to Ross (secretly yet). Perhaps she is part of what keeps the film popular; alas, she replaces the unfortunate murdered Sue (who I did put on the blog above) in Dr Ennys’s life — to his credit Dr Ennys remains guilty and grief-stricken for Sue, at first unwilling to accept this replacement.


Caroline Penvenen

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