Posts Tagged ‘Tom Jones’

Harriet: “And all this is Mr Knightley’s?”
Emma: “Of course. There is Donwell Abbey — and all these farms belong to the Donwell Estate, and everyone who lives here is a tenant of Mr Knightley’s or his servant.”
Harriet: “I should never have thought one man could own so much.”
[The birds are twittering over head, and Harriet comes as near as she ever will to making a joke]
Harriet: “The sparrows and the skylarks don’t belong to Mr Knightley, do they?”
Emma: “Perhaps not, but the woodcock and the pheasant certainly do.”
— from Andrew Davies’s screenplay for the 1996 BBC Emma)

Partridge, Jacobite, schoolmaster, brought before Allworthy as Tom’s father (Jack MacGowran)

Black George, gamekeeper, defending himself to Allworthy as magistrate (Wilfrid Lawson, 1963 Tom Jones)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve decided to devote this third blog on teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones at the OLLI at AU to a third linked group of topics I find the class and I spent time on: first, how poaching was practiced and regarded, as well as the role of gamekeepers who were there to stop poaching but could and did make a good deal of money off the trade; the criminal justice system. How class and where you lived (country or London) enters into this and (in the novel) religion (I think satirized by Fielding) and stoicism embodied in Thwackum and Square. Second, the immediate political history the novel is embedded in, e.g., the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and conflicts between those somewhat supporting the Hanoverians and those somewhat supporting the Stuarts, contemporary acceptance and castigation of corruption and bribery by all, scorn for superstitions (especially those which upheld the Stuart claim).

In this blog I go into the early and last parts of the book and essays related on poaching, gamekeepers, the court system (class war, gaming the system); then Jacobitism and the 1745 civil wars as they relate to superstition and ghosts in the middle and last part of novel. I link in the stunning film Culloden by Peter Watkins (an enactment of the 1745 battle done as a modern documentary, complete with interviews of participants); I suggest Culloden should be part of one teaches for Tom Jones. Fielding’s narrator’s comments are hard-hitting subversive scepticism through the metaphor of the world as a theater.


To begin with we discussed the incidents of Tom’s “innocent” poaching (so it’s presented in the novel as a young boy’s high spirits), Black George’s trade in birds, Mr Allworthy’s wrath at Black George for allowing Tom to lie on his behalf and firing of him after Tom is mercilessly whipped (as a powerless bastard by Thwackum with Square doing nothing) — when it is Mr Allworthy who allows these men full reign over the two boys under their care. As plot-design and for central themes, one of the uses or purposes of Thwackum and Square is to contrast the characters of Blifil and Tom and to show how unfairly Tom is treated again and again – each time Tom does an act of kindness it must be justified and he is blamed and beaten. (No good deed goes unpunished in this book.) Tom protects Black George and is selling horse, bible, all he has to get food to the man and his family, and Blifil snitches. As they are children, so they become adults.

Sweetly mischievous Tom as boy (Stuart Neal, 1997 Tom Jones)

Cagey, hard-eyed Blifil as young man (David Warner, 1963 Tom Jones)

I suggested if it looks like a sharp hard hitting satire on a cleric and the way religion works, then it’s a hard-hitting satire; Fielding detests the hypocrisies of religion, the repressions and bigotry; he wrote deeply secular plays, in his arguments he argues from experience and nature. He’s tired of offending and wants people to buy his book. He has Square as the pagan of the book, cannot say he’s atheistic but comes close. He is satirizing the stoic point of view especially: Samuel Johnson also had no use for the stoics; life is too much of a complicated emotional agony. (Allworthy, the narrator says, hired Blifil because a friend/connection who owed something to Thwackum’s family recommended him; Square, the narrator insinuates, has some sexual relationship with Mrs Blifil, so at first assumes she would want the bastard whipped, then when he sees she favors Tom, is jealous so allows whipping to proceed.) Who does Fielding as narrator quote: Epictetus. Claudian was among Fielding’s favorite reading.

We read J. A. Stevenson’s “Black Acts” in his Real History of Tom Jones; I also drew on Albion’s Fatal Tree and Munsche’s Gentlemen and Poachers. It was a subsistence world where huge numbers of people lived on a level not that far from starvation if their income fell at all: their ability to grow food or work for others. When Partridge is driven from the community, he turns vagabond, and must sell himself as best he can. So it was natural to poach, and it could be, and often was ignored, but it was allowed to make examples of powerless people to shore up private property. In the Poldark novels poaching is presented in ways similar to Jean Valjean stealing a piece of bread so as not to starve and being put to hard labor for 20 years. Fielding brings out how the gamekeeper could function like someone put in charge of chicken coop who proceeds to make money off chickens. So George eeks out a precarious living, cruelly wires hares and sells them on “the black market.” It’s worth noting that elsewhere Fielding doesn’t seem particularly exercised on behalf of being kind to animals. Fielding’s identification with the upper class comes out here.

The poaching and gaming laws were egregiously unfair and like many or even most laws in the UK at the time administered unfairly, unevenly; defendants were not allowed to take the stand in their own defense; as the century wore on, it became practice and then custom to hire lawyers to defend people, and in lieu of immediate punishment in the form of “judicial violence” (flogging, hanging, burning people to death in the case of treason), punishments like prison sentences and/or transportation. J. M. Beattie’s Crime and the Courts of England describes a system of private prosecution; individuals initiated cases. Very important was the indictment: before someone could be tried, there was a pre-trial where it was asserted that “true bill” was rendered – sufficient evidence to go to trial. Much that is known about trials comes from these cases and depositions later in the century. Beattie says that “men of all condition” are to be found “going to a great deal of trouble to pursue thieves and bring them to justice, ” and for murder people did bring private prosecutions too. Of course you needed to be a respected man of a middle to upper class family. Partridge is treated egregiously unfairly and linked to Black George as Tom’s surrogate fathers.

Our first sight of Patridge when accused by his wife (Ron Cook)

Partridge before Mr Allworthy hearing his sentence

Partridge driven out, ejected, exiled with the narrator looking on (John Sessions, 1997 Tom Jones

The magistrates and other officers had a custodial function where they brought the case to court and in the case of murder, if body was found. Even murder was still regarded partly as a private offense and if people seem to care more about property than life, and people were executed for what we think trivial offenses, they were not indifferent to murder. In the last part of the novel Blifil is working hard to bring charges against Tom as either a murderer or someone who attempted to murder Mr Fitzgerald, having Dowling suborn people to lie.

Tom attacked by Fitzgerald (Albert Finney, George A Cooper)

To return to poaching, propertied people wanted the exclusive right to hunt game in England because they wanted to own all the animals on their property. That’s reductive but that’s it. People in a subsistence world, corn prices artificially high; of course they poach. It’s also fun to poach. They are not protecting the animal but their ownership of it, particularly tenacious over pheasants and deer. What could happen was poaching gangs arose – a kind of class war over property rights under the guise of food.

Black George fleeing the scene where Tom is caught poaching

fired (1)

fired (2)
Biting on a coin to test its value (actor playing George no longer cited in imdb, 1997 Tom Jones)

Now in response to these gangs and also fear of revolution the Black Act was enacted; no combinations of people allowed. It’s like anti-union legislation before the 1930s, because everyone knew this was egregious, the administration of the law was sometimes harsh and sometimes you could be let off. People today might say, who cares about poaching and game laws? We don’t have a problem about such issues any more: but we do have centrally class wars and who controls and owns property; and the conflicts in the 18th century over gaming (smuggling too – which was ubiquitous all over the coasts of the UK until the middle 19th century when armed forces began to be larger and more effective) and the poaching laws express the class war over property at the time in (to the period itself) transparent disguise. Partridge is named after partridges. He is a helpless kind of individual: good heart but likely to be wired if he does not watch out.

Stevenson argues we are to see Black George as site of complex attitudes and feelings (I added Partridge is too). Does Black George steals the 500 when he “finds” and doesn’t return it? He’s certainly ungrateful. He almost keeps the guineas Sophia sends to Tom but he decides this could get back to Tom. Fielding does not work up our indignation over the question, which Stevenson is inclined to do, until he offers the idea that Black George’s poaching, finding and attempts to invest are just another form of business or commerce in the novel. At the end of the whole novel Allworthy himself becomes incensed at George again, but finds that he would have a difficult time prosecuting Black George. And has he not been as guilty towards Tom when he listened to Blifil present Tom’s courting of Sophia as egregiously breaking rank. Partridge interrupts the man on the hill’s history to tell the story of a man hung by a judge who laughed at him after the man tried to argue he did not steal a horse but merely found it; the person who brought the prosecution was ever after haunted by this man’s ghost. Partridge takes the judge’s behavior to be egregiously cruel and the judgement grossly harsh. Black George’s poaching is another form of business in the novel.

Hogarth’s depiction of a laughing audience

Fielding (who alludes to Hogarth at key points in the book) has his narrator present a picture of the the world as a theater, (Book 7:1, pp. 289-92) in the Penguin, ed Keymer & Wakely) and calls the audience who would castigate George hypocrites, in reality utterly indifferent to, laughing at the scene they pretend to care about:

But as Nature often exhibits some of her best Performances to a very full House; so will the behaviour of her Spectators no less admit the above mentioned Comparison than that of her Actors. In this vast Theatre of Time are seated the Friend and the Critic; here are Claps and Shouts, Hisses and Groans; in short, every Thing which was ever seen or heard at the Theatre-Royal.
Let us examine this in one Example: For Instance, in the Behaviour of the great Audience on that Scene which Nature was pleased to exhibit in the 12th Chapter of the preceding Book, where she introduced Black George running away with the 500£ from his Friend and Benefactor.
    Those who sat in the World’s upper Gallery, treated that Incident, I am well convinced, with their usual Vociferation; and every Term of scurrilous Reproach was most probably vented on that Occasion.
    If we had descended to the next Order of Spectators, we should have found an equal Degree of Abhorrence, tho’ less of Noise and Scurrility; yet here the good Women gave Black George to the Devil, and many of them expected every Minute that the cloven footed Gentleman would fetch his own.
    The Pit, as usual, was no doubt divided: Those who delight in heroic Virtue and perfect Character, objected to the producing such Instances of Villainy, without punishing them very severely for the Sake of Example. Some of the Author’s Friends cry’d ‘Look’e, Gentlemen, the Man is a Villain; but it is Nature for all that.’ And all the young Critics of the Age, the Clerks, Apprentices, &c. called it low, and fell a groaning.
    As for the Boxes, they behaved with their accustomed Politeness. Most of them were attending to something else. Some of those few who regarded the Scene at all, declared he was a bad Kind of Man; while others refused to give their Opinion, ’till they had heard that of the best Judges.
    Now we, who are admitted behind the Scenes of this great Theatre of Nature, (and no Author ought to write any Thing besides Dictionaries and Spelling Books who hath not this Privilege) can censure the Action, without conceiving any absolute Detestation of the Person, whom perhaps Nature may not have designed to act an ill Part in all her Dramas: For in this Instance, Life most exactly resembles the Stage, since it is often the same Person who represents the Villain and the Heroe; and he who engages your admiration today, will probably attract your Contempt To-morrow. As Garrick, whom I regard in Tragedy to be the greatest Genius the World hath ever produced, sometimes condescends to play the Fool; so did Scipio the Great and Laelius the Wise, according to Horace, many Years ago: nay, Cicero reports them to have been ‘incredibly childish.’– These, it is true, played the Fool, like my Friend Garrick, in Jest only; but several eminent Characters have, in numberless Instances of their Lives, played the Fool egregiously in Earnest; so far as to render it a Matter of some Doubt, whether their Wisdom or Folly was predominant; or whether they were better intitled to the Applause or Censure, the Admiration or Contempt, the Love or Hatred of Mankind.
    Those Persons, indeed, who have passed any Time behind the Scenes of this great Theatre, and are thoroughly acquainted not only with the several Disguises which are there put on, but also with the fantastic and capricious Behaviour of the Passions, who are the Managers and Directors of this Theatre, (for as to Reason the Patentee/ he is known to be a very idle Fellow, and seldom to exert himself) may most probably have learned to understand the famous Nil admirari of Horace, or in the English Phrase, To stare at nothing.’
    A single bad act no more constitutes a Villain in Life, than a single bad Part on the Stage. The Passions, like the Managers of a Playhouse, often force Men upon Parts, without consulting their Judgment, and sometimes without any Regard to their Talents. Thus the Man, as well as the Player, may condemn what he himself acts.nay, it is common to see Vice sit as awkwardly on some Men, as the Character of Jago would on the honest Face of Mr. William Mills.
    Upon the whole, then, the Man of Candour and of true Understanding is never hasty to condemn. He can censure an Imperfection, or even a Vice, without Rage against the guilty Party. In a Word, they are the same Folly, the same Childishness, the same Ill-breeding, and the same Ill-nature, which raise all the Clamours and Uproars both in Life and on the Stage. The worst of Men generally have the Words Rogue and Villain most in their Mouths, as the lowest of all Wretches are the aptest to cry out low in the Pit.

Lady Bellaston as we first see her, enacting a one-on-one orgy in classical painting style


At the masquerade, linked to the theatre metaphors of the novel (Lindsay Duncan, 1997 Tom Jones)


I agreed with John Allen Stevenson’s “Stuart Ghosts” that Jacobitism is important in the novel, and we went over the middle part of the book, the road journey and looked at how the readings he offers help us understand the man on the hill, the political heated arguments between Squire Western and his sister (though these also include women’s rights which, stigmatized as she is for her egoism, tyranny over niece, her own mercenary and rank-ridden vanity, and a number of ugly stereotypes associated with spinters, she is a bad defender for). I linked Jacobitism in the novel to Fielding’s dramatizations of superstition, his satire on military men and their lives (though he sympathizes with half-pay officers as well as those unfairly not promoted because they won’t sell their wives). I disagreed on an association of Tom with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Fielding knew what this man was, understood the clan system as part of the rent-tax-subordination system as another tyranny, might have seen Charles Stuart for an egregious ancien regime drone. (I’ll in a separate blog go over the gypsy sequence where some of Fielding’s sympathy for waifs, and for Jacobitite kind of thought versus “common sense” Hanoverism, arguments above tyranny, monarchy, and who was Jennie Cameron connect. I don’t want this blog to be overlong.)

From Tom’s military career: the amoral fierce Northerton, Tom as terrified ghost, Mrs Walters as frightened naked woman, aka Jenny Jones, Tom’s mother (Albert Finny, Julian Glover, Joyce Redman, 1963 Tom Jones)

I used Peter Watkins’s ironically instructive Culloden, and urge my reader to take the time to watch it. I did my best to convey to the people in my class what Culloden was. If you teach Tom Jones, I recommend showing at least parts of this film. Watkins enacts a simulacrum of what mid-18th century battle was; the slaughter; the narrator will say “this is grapeshot” (bags of nails and deadly projectiles hit through a cannon); this is what it does.” The battle is enacted as if 20th century reporters were on the scene, making a documentary: they interview the actors, a biographer comes forth. The tone is utterly prosaic, everyone speaks as they might have done, the effect is chilling and unforgettable

Culloden 1964 BBC docudrama (written and directed by Peter Watkins)

The rebellion of the Scots under Bonnie Prince Charlie was the third attempt of the Stuarts to disrupt the Anglican and Hanoverian order, and this time when the English put the rebellion down, they behaved ferociously to all the Scots during and after Culloden: a great diaspora occurred. In summer 1685 – Monmouth’s rebellion (which comes up in the story of the Man on the Hill) produced savage reprisals and executions. It was a serious attempt to overthrow the gov’t but like Essex’s rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601 it was swiftly (though not so easily) put down. In the 1690s there was a rebellion in Ireland whose spearhead was James II; in 1715 another headed by James III. Walter Scott has novels about these Scots wars. Indeed the English civil war is now called the war of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland, Ireland). These were dynasty wars, ethnic and religious, and they were civil wars, and they were finally suppressed after 1745 by ruthless action on the part of the English in Scotland. Within the Scots world, the clans were themselves subject to harsh master chiefs; there was in effect a civil war in Scotland itself, with the lowland Scots siding with England and some of the clans of lower Scotland fighting with the Highlanders.

I offered a potted brief history:

Jacobitism and Jacobites – not to be confused with Jacobins. Jacobins take their name from Jacques: working men, men sans culottes, not wearing elegant fancy breeches and wigs but trousers down to the floor because they worked all day and needed protection . Jacobitism or Jacobites take their name from James II, the brother of Charles II, both of them sons of Charles I who went down in history as having been beheaded by the parliamentarians in 1649 after he lost the civil war and (like Louis XVI) kept fomenting rebellion. I recommended Frank McLynn’s The Jacobites. There’s an international or European wide dimension too, by the later 18th century it moves into the Western hemisphere as the English and British become settler colonlialists, as the Scots themselves travel abroad to exploit and destroy the native peoples there. The religious dimension: Jacobites are Catholics and they attract to them Catholics suffering under the penal laws; Hanoverians are Germans and Walpole’s corrupt bribery system alienates people.
    There is no hard and fast easy formula for saying this sort of person will be for the Hanover family (Germans) and this for the Stuart family. It all begins with Elizabeth I had no son and her heir was James VI of Scotland who became James I. Many Scottish people came down to London with him. He was sufficiently intelligent to practice politics sanely; was brought up Protestant and superintended the first and still classic translation of the Bible: King James bible. His son, Charles I, not so wise; marries a Catholic French princess, takes up his father’s idea of an absolute monarch. Tries not only to rule without parliament, but move the church towards Catholicism. He imposes taxes which were by then Parliament’s perogative. The rallying cry for the war was Ship Money (taxes) and Bishops (high church). Class, ethnicity, religion, personal family politics played a role but generally the new merchant and banking class joined with more egalitarian thinking and formed the Parliamentarian party; they won and beheaded Charles. Oliver Cromwell their army head.
    In the 17th century Scotland was a bad place to be: repression by the English again and again, after the return of Charles II (a Stuart) to England, violent civil conflicts between Scots’ groups, religious fanaticism, poverty. A group of Scots did crown Charles II King of Great Britain; Montrose’s rebellion against Cromwell savagely put down; General Monck no better. Religious fantaticism agai of “God’s covenanted people.” Scott dramatizes some of this history in Old Mortality. Charles is able to take power in England 1660 and he is cunning enough not “to go on his travels again,” and dies in his bed, but his brother, James had become Catholic. He tried the same kind of tricks, more mild as Charles I but liberty had been experienced and the interregnum was a tremendously fertile time for new ideas (communists called Levellers emerged). When he tried self-rule and to override laws against Catholics claiming this was toleration, rebellion emerged – in Scotland too where they were Presbyterians. He has a nervous breakdown, flees, throne said to be empty and he is replaced by his daughter, Mary, and her husband William – a Stadholder from the Netherlands. They die childless, and Anne, brought up Protestant takes over. Poor woman gives birth 15 times, no one survives. She was a Stuart and Protestant.
    Parliament used to picking its kings asks the ruler of Brunswick-Luneburg to come and be king – but with many hedges. Here begins Parliament’s power. Incomparably richer more powerful position. The present Windsors are descendents of these Hanovers even if not directly. As long as James II was alive none of these people were seen as legitimate by Catholics – that is your international dimension. The Catholic countries harbored the Stuarts. Under Louis XIV they set up an alternate king. I worked long and hard on a laer 17th and early 18th century poet, Anne Finch, who was a maid of honor to Mary of Modena, James II’s Spanish catholic wife. Her husband, Heneage, fled with James II, and until the mid 1690s refused to take the oath of allegiance when what happened was everyone in the family had died and he was to be heir. He must be a protestant, they must get positions from court. I know as a reality that in the 1690s through 1710s there was a lot of Jacobite feeling – even among high church anglicans. There are those who argue Samuel Johnson who detested Whigs and was a radical thinking Tory had feeling for the Jacobite cause or nexus. He went to Scotland. Wrote a remarkable travel book about Scots Hebrides. Boswell would be one of the lowland pro-British capitalist Scots.
     Economic interests of the powerful among the English at odds with economic interests of Scots capitalists. Some famous disasters. The Union forced on the Scots. The Hanovers are protestant, they are the creatures to some extent of Parliament, they are supported by thinking which is sceptical about divine right. Locke is their great philosopher. They are supported by merchants, moneyed people, city people – and Mrs Western who fancies herself the sophisticate. These are not good guys: whigs are pro-war; they are ferocious colonialists; they are gangs and coteries of upper class individuals where much money is also made in trade.
    Stuarts are Catholic, they believe in divine right, they are often found among the landowners because the landowners don’t gain much from war; they are far high corn, artificially high bread prices. It fits that Squire Western might be a quiet Jacobite – you didn’t admit it openly. Strong penal laws against Catholics, treason to be a Jacobite.
    There were a number of complex complicated rebellions at this point. The first does not quite fit my paradigm – because it’s too simple – in 1688 Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles II, rebelled on behalf of Protestantism (and himself) against James II. He was savagely put down. Scots came to his aid, more rural people, those disaffected for all sorts of reasons. At the same time there was a rebellion up in Scotland in the 1679-1680s ferociously put down – Walter Scott has novels on this ;a great place to learn this history is his Old Mortality; I recommend the novel for itself too. Scots fighting Scots: Presbyters versus high church. Cavalier versus puritan. A couple of DuMaurier’s novels use this material: King’s General, Jamaica Inn which takes place in the southwest in the 18th to 19th century.
    1715 James III invades and it takes an effort to put it down.
    Final crash in 1745 with Bonny Prince Charly, James III’s son at the head of an army. They never got close to London at all. Watch Watkins’s Culloden. The question that people argue over until today is how much strength had these Jacobites in England? It used to be denied but then the regime that ruled had it in its interest to make everyone think there were few Jacobites. In fact it felt to be a present and real danger, a site where discontent could rally round to the point that after England won they went into Scotland practices ethnic cleansing in all its varieties, started a wide diaspora of the Scots out of the Highlands especially. It was the clan system which had given the Stuarts wha chance they had to return.

Battestin maintains Henry Fielding was unalterably opposed to Jacobitism; Stevenson disagrees. What in the novel supports Battestin’s view? Tom. The narrator at times who links belief in the Jacobite cause with tyranny and superstition (worshipping objects). Outside Fielding in some strident downright statements by Fielding. But wait? The novel is filled with Jacobites – because Fielding wanted to mirror the reality or because he sympathized. Everyone in the novel but Tom seems to believe in ghosts, and Tom turns into one after he is almost killed by Norterton. Sophia is mistaken for Jenny Cameron. Our man on the hill originally rebelled. Mrs Western, Lady Bellaston and the whole London crew are no advertisement for the Hanoverian regime. It’s important if you are trying to understand the vision of this book – trying to understand what it’s about and where Fielding is. Is Tom’s story an analogy for Monmouth and after him Bonny Prince Charlie? Was Fielding seduced or repelled by Charles Stuart’s story and personality?

If we look at one dialogue between the Westerns (Bk 6. Ch 2, pp 246-347), we find that Western associates the Hanoverian regime as filled with bribery and corruption. But not much else – it is true that the way gov’t was run then was wholly patronage and what is that but bribery and corruption?. Mrs Western’s ridiculous vanity makes her want to think she is part of this world.

Another (Bk 6, Ch 14, p 287): Mrs Western associates Hanoverians with liberty of the subject and it was in the 1690s that a bill of rights was passed which the French knew of in 1789 and influenced our own bills of rights (p 287). Tom associates King George with liberty. Bottom of the page he is angry because he suspects the Hanovers are not for keeping the price of bread artificially high: he’d make less money and wars would be cheaper. Hanovers are rats eating his stores. It was the Tories who were strongest for the Black Act – keep people down in the country, but the Hanovers who were strongest against smuggling (free trade going on everywhere)

What we see of the soldiers shows us they know little of what they are fighting about – much like soldiers today perhaps.

Outside of Tom Jones can be found trains of thought and ironies that could show Fielding to be antagonistic at least to present regime. Ronald Paulson offers a nuanced reading of Fielding’s ironic Jacobites Journal. In A Jacobites Journal Fielding writes “what is loyalty in one reign, is treason in another” Turncoat an utter hypocrite, not to be trusted nor trimmers. To be a character named John Trott-Plaid is very plausible –- is Fielding ironic or not exaggerating enough? He published it in 1748; by calling himself a Jacobite he gets readership, by being ironic he is safe from accusation –- plus he is so strident in public about how pro-Hanoverian he is. He shows much of the two side’s propaganda is so much slander. Paulson says that Fielding exposes bogus history and bogus myth (again watch the BBC docudrama). The chronic fabrications that surround Allworthy could be called the equivalent of the Stuarts mythologizing, all piety. Blifil an ultimate Jacobite. He does allude to some Jacobite historians in Tom Jones.

A boy caught up in the system at Culloden

The actors playing Charles Stuart — the actual man had had 10 days experience of fighting as a boy from afar; Stuart left the field and did nothing for those he had brought there

The Hanoverian side

Far shot of battle

To ask these questions and look into what Culloden was, what Jacobitism, makes the book more interesting, and fits a perspective on it as deeply sceptical, pessimistic, with a cynical understanding of what makes the world tick and how so many wander about. Battestin talks about the people who came to Fielding’s court as a bunch of low life unworthy people – from the height of his tenured privileged environment he castigates these idle disorderly desperate thieves, prostitutes, smugglers, gamblers, domestic violence – but Fielding didn’t. He set up a surveillance office in guise of an employment agency perhaps but he did help people to jobs if they had “characters.”

In Book 16, Chapter 5, when Tom is nearing his nadir, Fielding takes time out to show Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge watching Hamlet. People did go to the theater a lot; in all ranks that could. It was a popular art form. So off go Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge.

What’s really strange or wants explanation here is that Fielding goes through the whole play step by step. He really touches upon each of the phases of Hamlet. If you ‘ve read and remember it, it’s uncanny. Even Hamlet with his mother. Critics have expended much ink on this one. On one level obviously it’s making fun of the belief in ghosts we see in Partridge. Partridge is also the naïve audience member who believes the people in front of him are real and gets intensely excited. Don’t knock this as not done anymore: actors have to be careful who they enact, viewers treat repeating characters as real people.

Stevenson sees a political application, and that the political application links up with the other politics of the book – that is that Partridge is a Jacobite Hamlet is a revenge play about a usurper – Claudius is usurping the throne having killed Hamlet’s father. Cause of George is cause of common sense? Great play not about common sense. I wonder if it’s meant to fill out Partridge. Make us like him. Does Fielding really mind superstition? He looks kindly at people’s foibles which do no harm, though belief in ghosts does harm and elsewhere he observes this. If Fielding not so anti-Jacobite, then maybe he feels affection for this man. He loves how Partridge is totally involved with the characters from moment to moment. Partridge is a truer father to Tom than Mr Allworthy.

1963 Tom clutches Partridge to him and kisses him

1997 Partridge kisses Jones (Max Beasley is Jones)

(A link to Black George here who carries letters back and forth between Sophia and Tom in London, which letters form an epistolary kind of story.)

We could say the chapter on Hamlet is a tribute to the actors and Garrick as Hamlet, to the theater itself which is part of the skein of metaphor in the book

And the idea we are actors and audience both takes us back to the narrator’s disquisition (quoted at end of section 1 of the blog). Another response of the audience is utter delusion, self-identification, misreading — this coheres with some of what David Hume thought. These people, the audience Fielding knows are his customers, us his readers; he was their/our playwright is now the host of a tavern in which they and we cavort.

Fielding as narrator (John Sessions, 1997 Tom Jones)


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Wordsworth Classics edition of Tom Jones

Penguin edition of Tom Jones, ed. Keymer and Wakeley

Dear friends and readers,

There are many editions available of Fielding’s Tom Jones, including translations (I know about the Italian and French). The film by Richardson and especially the scene where Tom eats at Mrs Walters and she eats back remains famous. And in this institute famous respected older masterpieces are what’s wanted. So when I offered a course in this book at American University’s Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning, a full room of people showed up, and most stayed on I was not surprised. I think many of the students were surprised at my approach to the text, and was told later by several the whole thing began to make sense say 6 weeks into the semester (so that’s some 600 pages in). I was surprised by my approach too.

You see in the summer I had been genuinely worried whether they would like it. After more than 25 years rereading it, I wasn’t sure I liked it. In an effort to help myself along I listened to a different dramatic reading aloud of the text than the one I had listened to years before by David Case (a great favorite with me). In this new one, by Ken Danziger, a reader who I had hitherto real respect for (as I had enjoyed listening to his renditions of other books), he enacted Fielding’s narrator as if he were slow-speaking (foolish) comic character in an eighteenth-century play — and as a consequence made the book excruciatingly tedious. I tried a couple others, including one by Edward Fox (a fine actor) but none worked so well as Case’s where he just moved through the text with a continual changing tonal irony, sort of opportunistically and unemphatically yet dramatic when doing the characters enabling the narrator then to vanish for a bit.


Well the 11 weeks turned out to be a journey of discovery for myself as I tried to help a group of adults truly understand and appreciate what this book had to say to its contemporaries and could say to us today. As an undergraduate I did realize that the Battestin neo-Protestant hagiographic account of Fielding and reading of Tom Jones as consistently Hanoverian-ethical and conservative was fundamentally unreal and obtuse, and when I watched the films, that it was neither an innocent sexual romp (that is how Richardson’s film is commonly misunderstood) or ethical sermon (the Reithian BBC people, meaning to educate, inform, and entertain us), but had not before tried myself to work out some other framing, some way to close read the text that took into account all its inconsistencies, sexual misogyny, and different kinds of discourses and details. Now I began to feel the way I had read the book and understood it was wholly inadequate. Each paragraph seems to require a close reading as if it were a poem.

I began therefore by talking about all the obstacles in the way of understanding the narrator, and those aspects of Fielding’s early life and life in the theater and private life apart from his remunerative activities after the Licensing Act which are clearly reflected in the book. I began to chose essays to share with the class as week by week I found we needed different lenses to close read the text together, each one providing slightly different framings by which to understand that part of the book and by extension the whole text in front of us. I used very recent ones starting with more historical background topics, say (from Stevenson’s book), to sociology and law (Simpson on rape cases and attitudes towards sex and women in the courts), and others reading the novel thematically, psychoanalytically, or as an attempt to put together from a new genre that conformed to the evolving conventions of naturalistic probability. Or just essays disagreeing on what was alluded to in an inset history or story or encounter and why.

Nonetheless, I’ve come to think the book when read adequately transcends its eighteenth-century features and to treat of its issues and problems comparably to our own can make us question or have to re-think our own norms today. I’m going to use this blog to tell some of this here. If you need reminding about Fielding’s story or characters, you can find other sites on the Net for this. I suggest anyone who does not know book, and wants to read on, set aside enough time for 100 pages a week, or watch the 1997 5 hour mini-series and then find time to read the book. I’m not sure I can tell about reading together over 11 weeks, turning pages of the novel. But I can tell about a few of the essays that helped me and the class understand the content of the book. So to begin with, three very different essays from across the term.

Wm Hogarth, Morning (alluded to by Fielding, as suggestive of what Mrs Bridget Allworthy looks like)

I’ll go backwards, beginning with the one that I read in the 10th week which gave a holistic account of the book through a history of what has been written and said about Fielding and his writing in the last 300 years by Robert Hume (Fielding at 300: Elusive, Confusing, Misappropriated, or (Perhaps) Obvious?”, Modern Philology). It took me the best part of a day to read (and I’ve no idea how many others in the class read it); I’d never read it before and think the sense it makes can be appreciated only after a hard slog through the book’s details. This essay made me feel better because Hume can be summed up as telling the reader how difficult it is to reach Fielding in Tom Jones. He feels that only recently have people been willing to describe the text frankly. We have admitted it’s a work of genius, one said to be so popular at one time, and as widely-read as the state of literacy and the ability of any group of people to pay for or reach a copy of the text, and called immoral, amoral, felt to be disquieting at the time and yet a serious book. But we have not admitted it is inconsistent, at core evasive, works by association, was written spontaneously as it came to Fielding within the confines or discipline of this carefully-plotted story line.

Despite all Fielding’s efforts at construction (chapters within books, neatly set off inset histories), at calendared time, keeping to announcing probable space covered on foot, by horse, coach, with all characters mostly accounted for against probable diurnal fates, Tom Jones is chaotic, autobiographical (an author blind to himself), obsessive (all these carping critics attacking him), endlessly repetitive (how many times does he go over the arguments against and cruelties of coerced marriage?). The narrator is by turns deeply sceptical, subversive in all sorts of ways (as his contemporaries, among them Arthur Murphy who wrote a “Life and Genius” saw) — and then again sexually really so conventional. Hume says rather than see Fielding as a swaggering frat boy we should recognize he’s an sexually insecure male hitting out at supposedly powerful women –- as when Lady Bellaston keeps Tom as a sexual plaything. Hume talks of how the character of Amelia is an attempt to get beyond the Sophia emblematic presentations. Hume mentions the attribution problem where still texts by Sarah Fielding are in part or whole attributed to her brother (Ophelia is by some given to him) or text by him attributed to her (the Anna Boleyn narrative). Hume ends on the idea that we might regard Fielding’s most common impulse that the teacher. Fielding is teaching us, his mask teacherlyness.


So that’s for the book as a whole. Two other topics will do for tonight. Sex and money. Money first. We read James Thompson’s essay on how money worked in the 18th century, how it was created, its basis, how what was considered money (a medium of exchange) was changing (Patterns of Property and Possession,” Eighteenth Century Fiction). In this era there was a transition and jockeying between bullion, actual coins, gold and silver and paper money as well as paper credit. What he shows is that Fielding is a social and economic conservative when it comes to money: a bill of money is worth so much at the opening of the novel and it is still worth that at the end; objects do not lose and gain their value by circumstances. Black George does not grew rich on the funds after he gave found and secreted away the £500 Mr Allworthy meant for Tom; he gives the bill to Mr Nightingale (Tom’s friend’s father) who has not yet invested it when Mr Allworthy comes to visit him and sees it.

Thompson also shows how attitudes toward property, personal property and money reveals Fielding’s attitudes towards fundamental issues of all sorts. We see that money is a kind of instrument people use against one another and we do see how life itself, bodies, much else are subject to money. Thompson takes Battestin’s traditional view that at the close of the novel all is well as we return to Paradise Hall; a providential pattern is asserted, but in the notes he quotes other critics’ view that Fortune (or chance) is what rules this world, and there is much in the novel to critique what property has become: in class I read aloud Pope’s great lines:

Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!
That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly!
Gold imp’d by thee, can compass hardest things,
Can pocket States, can fetch or carry Kings;
A single leaf shall waft an Army o’er,
Or ship off Senates to a distant Shore;
A leaf, like Sibyl’s, scattered to and fro
Our fates and fortunes, as the winds shall blow, (lines 69-76)

We then zeroed in on one aspect of this early history of money: bank bills and the bill of exchange. A bank bill is a note which can be traded and exchanged. In the case of a bill of exchange there is a co-signer and the person it'[s made out to gets money from a bank. The co-signer is the person responsible for paying a bill. Why? since the money goes to the person who made up the bill. Bills of exchange were a way of borrowing money personally when you had no security, nothing the bank could take in lieu of the money borrowed – before credit cards. (it’s not good to think of it as a check because when we write a check we are supposed to have money in our bank to back it up). It’s a piece of paper, a note to a money-lender and get the specified amount of money from that lender minus that man’s profit, called a discounted. The phrase is the bill is discounted. The borrower without security has to get someone to ”accept” the bill before the money-lender will give him the money; it’s understood that accepter acts as collateral (something pledged as security, a car, a house, an expensive object worth money).

When Mr Allworthy signs the bank bill that he has agreed to supply the money for Mr Jones. Why did third co-signers do that? In a world where patronage, coteries, family networks supplied all jobs and promotion, pressure could be put on people outside these magic circles. You as acceptor – signer – have no control over who has it unless you have the money to buy it back. Mr Allworthy does. There was a business in buying such bills by people prepared to send in bailiffs and have the household and goods of the person who accepted the bill sold. By the 19th century. You may have co-signed for a son or daughter? So as the bill exchanges hands it is signed and Mr Allworthy can trace where it’s been and who is it comes from.

Thompson suggests Fielding distrusts and detests the way money had begun to be used. He uses the example of Jonathan Wild (an earlier novel) and what happens in Amelia — after Tom Jones. Wild is a successful exploiter: as the narrator puts it, “a prig [thief to steal with the hands of other people”] (p. 168). Fielding also plays with the increasing dimensions of capital, its capacity to make money from money, so that Wild cheats a whole series of people one after another, profiting from each of them. Theft serves Fielding as a kind of laboratory economy, a miniaturization of an exchange system. It also serves as the ironic frustration of capitalist exchange, for theft is a zero-sum game, one in which money moves around, through various forms of thieving, cheating, and pick-pocketing, but the value remains constant (as in the card-sharking scenes in the man on the hill’s history). In microeconomic system, thieves prey upon one another in daisy-chain fashion, all cheating one another and negating each other’s effects. In Tom Jones we watch the movement of bills, but in Amelia we trace the journey of debts.

Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood) and Lord Fellamar (David Tomlinson) (1963 Tom Jones)

Then sex. Over half the articles I sent to the people in the class were about some aspect of sex so this will be the first of a few. We read a chapter from Laura Rosenthal’s Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in 18th century Literature and Culture on Tom as a prostitute (or kept man). Most of Rosenthal’s chapters concern female prostitution; she asks the question why does prostitution figure so centrally in restoration through 18th century literature, either literally or as metaphor? She says we can answer that question by substituting looking at prostitutes simply from the sexual degradation and status perspective; they are people employed in one of those businesses you didn’t need patronage to enter into. Prostitutes formed part of the changeover from a feudal hierarchical society to a commercial one. The body was a commodity, as something to be sold. Since marriage was coerced for money, it could be gathered up into this perspective: Mr Nightingale wants his son to sell himself to gain aggrandizement for the family.

She writes on Richardson’s Clarissa in Chapter 5; her piece on Tom Jones comes from chapter 6. She uses the word rogue in the 18th century sense (low born scoundrel), and says if we compare Tom’s stories to what we find in realities and in other stories, he is not at all a rake (usually elegant) but a paid stallion, and in the exchange with Lady Bellaston once he takes her money he is honor bound to have sex with her –- because she paid for it. Neither his gender nor privileged upbringing can protect his most intimate person from becoming a commodity, up for sale.

Key chapter and passages are several places, but most strongly in Book 13, chapter 9 where Tom is at Lady Bellaston’s beck and call. We watch Tom carrying on having sex with Lady Bellaston: she commands him to perform. Salient points I found valuable is the comparison between Molly, who is as low and smelly as they come; she wants sex with him for what she can get out of it, and in the end she gets a good deal of the £500 Black George tried to steal. Tom’s interaction with Mrs Walters is a woman who has come to survive by becoming a kept woman herself – we see its danger in her total lack of a safety net from Northerton. She enjoys sex with Tom as an interlude. In his third relationship Tom is supported by Lady Bellaston and his gorge really rises at it when it’s Nightingale who looks at him while he’s preaching and points out to him he’s fucking for wages himself. Who is he to talk? Nightingale’s solution is Tom should present himself as a fortune-hunter – in the book we have that type in Mr Fitzpatrick. Not very comforting. Tom writes her a letter asking her to marry him and she drops him.

Looking at the book from the standpoint of sex, commerce and power – Tom Jones is about sex, no doubt about it, but sex intelligently seen. The city may harbor Lady Bellaston but it gives Mrs Miller her opportunity to support herself; Mrs. Fitzpatrick escapes imprisonment and spousal abuse through cosmopolitan keeping. She is desperate for her aunt and uncle to forgive and take her in and give her respectability and safety but when they will not she finds an alternative. While Mrs Walters appears to be downwardly mobile, Mrs Fitzpatrick and Mrs Miller are going up – as long as Nancy remains off the market. Mrs Miller is intensely concerned lest her house be known as a “house of ill repute:” there is a fine line between boarding houses and brothels. And the way Tom is behaving with Lady Bellaston is allowing her house to be used as a brothel.

But before we dismiss Mrs Walters the one contract that holds in the book is between her and the spinster Mrs Bridget Allworthy. The outcome of the book depended on their promise and contract whereby a woman offers to present herself as having become pregnant outside marriage to enable the other to keep her illegitimate baby under her blind and rigid brother’s nose. Mr Allworthy continually scolds lower class people (Partridge) and women for having sex outside marriage: he predicts dire things; he says it dehumanizes them, they become animals. Only through having sex secretly or for money can they survive. Blifil is able to get Mr Allworthy to throw Tom out because one of the accusations is he is after Sophia; it’s okay for Tom, the foundling, to be after Molly, but not Sophia. (We see farcical sympathetic versions of stallionhood.) Rosenthal suggests a close correspondence between a novella of the period called The Matchless Rogue and Tom Jones. Tom works his way out and up because he is the bastard nephew of Mr Allworthy; the result of a fragile sexual contract kept by Mrs Walters and Mrs Allworthy. Rosenthal makes sense of Mrs Miller too. Sexual contracts are the basis of this society just as much as money and property but you have to be on the right side of the sexual contract if you are low in class.

Marx analyzed the relationships of people for the first time to show how it’s dependent on property, who owns what controls who can do what; well there are equally important books about the sexual contract: until 1870s or so men related directly to the cash and property nexus, women only through their relationship with men; the core of their lives is still a sexual contract with the man having a great advantage.

I added that Carole Pateman’s way of seeing society’s basis as a sexual contract with men connecting directly to the state and one another and society and women connecting only through men can enable us to see women’s position in all this. Fielding’s text shows us men do not have the big advantage they may think not even sexually.

John Sessions as Henry Fielding, counting his characters off on his fingers (1997 Tom Jones)

I’ll end this second blog on Tom Jones by saying I told this group of people I took a post-modern approach to Tom Jones – as I try to do to most of what I reach or teach. Post-modern may be defined as a set of ideas or practices that reject conventional mainstream values as having much effect on what happens in the world or what people do; that also eschew conventional means of presenting stories and films, any kind of art. An important facet is a questioning, sometimes disavowal of Enlightenment assertions about what is progress and the rightness of European ideas of civilization. These mainstream values are to stand here and preach about say vanity or pride or whatever is the lesson supposedly taught. What’s the reality of the way the world operates and how does this author or his art work relate to it.

Accordingly, here is one of the great moral lessons of the book. The narrator enunciates it directly upon Tom’s ejection from his (adopted) father’s house

    Wisdom, in short, whose Lessons have been represented as so hard to learn by those who never were at her School, only teaches us to extend a simple Maxim universally known and followed even in the lowest Life, a little farther than that Life carries it. And this not to buy at too dear a price.
Now, whoever takes this Maxim abroad with him into the grand Market of the World, and constantly applies it to Honours, to Riches, to Pleasures, and to every other Commodity which that Market affords, is, I will venture to affirm, a wise Man; and must be .so acknowledged in the worldly Sense of the Word: For he makes the best of Bargains; since in Reality he purchases every Thing at the Price only of a little Trouble, and carries home all the good Things I have mentioned, while he keeps his Health, his Innocence, and his Reputation, the common Prices which are paid for them by others, entire and to himself.
From this Moderation, likewise, he learns two other Lessons, which complete his Character. First, never to be intoxicated when he hath made the best Bargain, nor dejected when the Market is empty, or when its Commodities are too dear for his Purchase (Penguin TJ, ed Keymer, Bk 6, Ch 3, pp 251-52.

Don’t pay more than you can afford for that ticket; when negotiating do not come near collapse from drink, and don’t get depressed because you will often be powerless.


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

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

Eugene Atget (1857-1927), The Petit Trianon

Dear friends and readers,

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


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

Anne Finch when young

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

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

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

Charlotte Smith by George Romney (1792)

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

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

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

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

Jean-Antoine Watteau, unnamed shepherdess

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovelace attacking Clarisssa (Simon Brett again)

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

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

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

Final duel (Brett)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piranesi, I Carceri (opaque)

Piranesci, I Carceri (clarified)

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

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


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Jenny Uglow in her study, recent photo

William Hogarth (1697-1764) Shrimp Girl

Dear friends and readers,

About two weeks ago now I finished reading Jenny Uglow’s marvelous biography, Hogarth: A life and a world. The pleasures of this book come from Uglow’s genuine gift for travel writing, and analysis of art, her thorough knowledge of Hogarth’s era, skillful individual character sketches and a portrait of Hogarth himself as a deeply humane man of genius.

Hogarth by Louis Francis Roubiliac (1695-1762)

Her book’s core, its method is to read sympathetically and partly against the grain from a psychological and social standpoint Hogarth’s popular engravings which at the time (and largely today too) would be read by the common observer as didactic and harsh (hypocritically a satirist like Pope would say). She persistently reads Hogarth’s prints and paintings in close loving detail, and shows that Hogarth elicits empathy for the central figure.

As with my review of David Nokes’s Samuel Johnson and before that William McCarthy’s Anna Barbauld, I read this great book over a number of weeks, and wrote about the chapters I had read from week to week, and seek here to share some of Uglow’s insights, recreation of the 18th century world and humane perspective. I hope paradoxically to cheer and uplift others as Uglow did me. I say paradoxically for this is a book which looks steadily at the harsh realities of life then and connects these to now.


Bartholomew Close, photo taken from across the street, 1990s

She begins with imagining herself in the Bartholomew Close where Hogarth grew up at the same time as she describes the present area today — one well known to me. Jim and I have rented a flat on Cloth Fair in a building that goes back to the early 18th century at least 10 times. I have walked the streets and crannies she describes. I know the hospital, the square. Indeed I know where the emergency door is because for a few years Jim was in danger of diverticulitis attacks and I made it my business to have the phone number of the people in there now. Two (much remodelled) buildings stand from before the fire on Cloth Fair still (or so it’s said, well the door and overhang look old enough in shape and type).

Inside Cloth Fair apartment, said to be in a later 17th century building

I know that meat market in the vast steel building and have seen it loaded with meat and noise and hectic people 5 days a week and then silence on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve walked to Dr Johnson’s house (Gough Square) from there, drunk in those pubs, walked over to the Strand, up the block to see St. Paul’s. Holborn is one of the Tube stations I’ve used repeatedly.

In some non-physical way England is my roots too. (When I first arrived by boat, a 12 day trip on a small boat laden with students) and saw the cliffs of Dover I knew I wasn’t going home as this was not my literal home. But it was home in another way, my dream place since reading Mary Poppins in the Park as a child in the South east Bronx at age 8. (It’s by an Australian women by-the-bye and as I recall written in the 40s, a dark war-ridden time.)

Her perspective of Hogarth’s father as the disappointed man outside who never had a chance to get where his gifts could be used is moving. The perspective seems accurate: “the great imaginary heroes of this age are not epic figures. They are outsiders, castaways, servants, rogues or wandered, orphans, and illegitimate children.

She wants to read the pictures, fill in the gaps, name what we see. And I like that she’s going to show Hogarth’s strong French connections to.

She makes a strong case for seeing Richard Hogarth as a worldly failure. The second part of chapter 1 continues to depict the world of Smithfield, moving to Barthlomew Fair as depicted in Elkanah Settle’s “droll,” The Seige of Troy, Ned Ward’s A London Spy, Hogarth’s later prints. Anne Hogarth endured the death of all but three of her children when young, and we have people living in kinship groups (in their imaginaries) among the streets of the ara. Meanwhile Richard floundered and he ended in debtor’s prison. Uglow gives us a harsh but real depiction of what a life in such a place was: horrible, yes you had to pay to have the irons off, pay for everything, people starved, were destitute, ruined by this. Hogarth’s uncle, the father’s brother did not rescue him; there is evidence Richard paid a fee for lodging; within the rules, he taught and began work on a dictionary (which has disappeared). (This reminds me of Anthony Trollope’s father who when his business was ruined, and his returned to him from the US, began a dictionary of ecclesiastical offices; he got only up to an early letter, but it was published because the wife had contacts; the man had gone half-mad with grief and illness and humiliation and despair.)

By 1713 the father was free, but Hogarth writes these years and watching the father affected him for the rest of his life. It seems to me that this is what counts. Whether abstractly considered Richard Hogarth was relatively not that much of a failure (to us and even then to some others) doesn’t matter. What matters is how he perceived it, and how his son did. (Ditto by the way for Trollope: his early years made him the novelist he became.) I like that Richard Hogarth was “obsessional” as this helped free his brother-in-law Williams Gibbons from Ludgate. I imagine William identifying with this father and loving him, at the same time (from the passage quoted on p. 28) determined not to be drawn into non-moneymaking pursuits, determined to make others pay for his services (gifts). Am I right that later William Hogarth fought hard for copyright protection from the booksellers and printers? Johnson: “slow rises worth, by poverty depressed.” Uglow says this was Richard Hogarth’s story: “hard work, fading hopes, greedy booksellers, and family hardship wore him down.” He died 1718.

In Chapters 3 and 4, there’s a great deal about the art world Hogarth belonged to. Uglow discusses the nitty-gritty (ugly, disgusting, soiled, hard, arduous, time consuming) procedures that made up the engraving business. She made me understand what the processes are literally, and most of the time when I read about them, I don’t or can’t. (See p. 61 especially.) I could see how someone might chose to do this kind of art work rather than that because one mistake and you lose all you’ve done. She brought home the individual’s experience. I’ve never seen this in print this way. She set Hogarth among his family and its bad hardships and this time showed how much self-esteem and high regard for himself Hogarth had. I dislike using the word “aspiration” as it’s been so exploited for obfuscation lately; I’ll put it he aspires despite the manifest economic and political and social structures of his day which marginalized or contained and controlled him and his fellows

She is superb at setting his art in context, not only among his fellows – the social life, the experience, the patronage or not and how this affected individuals — but the themes and content of Hogarth’s art and how it relates to that of others: I felt chuffed she spoke of Hayman so highly (pp. 68-69) as I’ve often liked his pictures and remember them, and when she described Hogarth’s portrayal of acting as “the frozen instant of the modern photograph and the essentialism of caricature: impression and judgement in one” I thought to myself this is why Fielding in Tom Jones to characterize his character’s inward life and doings refers us to this or that specific picture by Hogarth. Fielding uses the essentialism of caricature as core technique for building a character’s presence in his book.

Brian Blessed as Squire Western, bellowing for “his Sophie (from the 1997 BBC Tom Jones: see my “Affectionately Dedicated to Mr Fielding”)

People do fear caricature as she says; perhaps today we no longer believe in witchcraft (which Fielding says Partridge did, that Jacobite you see), but it hurts us, and makes us see ourselves in lights it’s hard to drive from your mind and thus it weakens and debilitates you if you take it seriously. And there is a wild nightmare quality to “Royalty, Episcopacy and Law” — some readers are interested in Hogarth for the connection of his art to the most famous of Dickens’s illustrators: their comic grotesque art has this same fantastical nightmare quality if you really look at what you are seeing and take it in.

To keep up the parallel with Fielding, Fielding contains the nightmare by his strong adherence to form, from shapely chapters with reasoned headings to irony and the narrator’s stance of apparent benevolence; well so too the allegorizing of Hogarth and his moralizing; it makes us take in what we see with calm and as something everyday and therefore okay.

John Sessions as Fielding benignly keeping count of his characters, directing their traffic in the film (97 BBC TJ)

Chapters 5 through 7 center on a level of art or kind I usually don’t read and don’t know much about: burlesque satires, lampoons, the kind of popular prints that sell because they have what the public goes after as scurrilous (be it because there are scatalogical images in them or because they attack someone). Darnton’s thesis that this latter is radical stuff is born out by Uglow’s analysis of Hogarth’s prints as exposing the horrific cruelties of the time in the way prisoners were treated — almost hard to read (see pp. 140-47 especially), so bestial was the behavior of the people in charge of these prisons that what I’ve read say of Micheal Vick’s treatment of dogs (tortured them viciously) that it’s easy to see why Swift called The Beggar’s Opera a Newgate Pastoral without getting sophisticated about the term at all. Gay softened the terrible things done to people.

She tells the story of Robert Castell, scholarly debtor and architect (p. 144) whose book was The villa of the ancients illustrated. No wonder Johnson waxed savage in his Ramblers against these creditors as inhumane monsters. Lockit is no exaggeration in The Beggar’s Opera

One of the sets of verbal texts Uglow deals with how the aftermath of the revolution brought nasty and utterly condemnatory texts about the commonwealth into popularity. Among these was Hudibras, a doggerel poem where the mad crude Don Quixote figure, Hudibras is a presbyterian and Ralph, his Sancho Panza sidekick, is a mad deluded Independent. This complete farce was apparently popular — William St. Clair says it’s not coincidence what is sold cheap and circulates easily so in Scott (a hard Tory) did so in the 1820s and this poem in the later 17th century. It gave rise to many imitations, and as Uglow says, the type of art it represents influenced Fielding: “the cast of mind behind the broad sexiness and pointed sketches of Fielding’s novel’ (p. 128). In fact the picture in these 3 chapters show how far from the mark we are today when we watch emotional film adaptations of Tom Jones from what the contemporary might have imagined as he or she read. (It puts me in mind of how startled I was when I first saw part 1 of the recent epic movie of Lord of the Rings; when I read it in the 1960s I did put imagine boy’s adventure story or Dantesque pictures but medieval romance pictures like those found in older Arthurian books, viz, When Knighthood was in Flower and myself think these new pictures misrepresent and distort the book’s real nexus sweepingly.)

Not altogether for soon after Tom Jones came out there were sentimental pictures of the type which appeared soon after with Pamela so Fielding could be read another way and probably was.

The famous painting of The Beggar’s Opera, with all the real individuals precisely pictured

Uglow includes a lot on The Beggar’s Opera, also of enormous importance for the era. For Hogath too: he is turned Gay into his own pictures and circulated these (p 136). Now I’ve taught this one again and again, and shown Jonathan Miller’s movie and read Gay so here I am familiar, but I learned a lot. Uglow’s close reading of Hogarth’s paintings made me see things in the pictures I had not noticed. I often shy away from looking at pictures which present women and men in the way much of the pictures on these three chapters do: when not presented nastily sexily or misogynistically, they are presented as so abject. Of course that’s the point. I thought (Uglow missed this) the Falstaff picture (p. 131) ought to be connected with Farquhar’s Recruiting Officer (which is performed in the UK now and again)

Not that I disagree with what is being said about human nature; I agree with it. Uglow connects the Beggar’s Opera to the satires of the time showing how the world was governed “by competition,greed, factions,” all “delusion” and so on. We see the particulars of the satire and how it led to Polly too. Further I think to myself how in our time it would be if such kinds of satires were written and presented. Probably there would be a huge uproar, intense protest, and some of the writers end up in prison for endangering national security. To compare out time to this early 18th century one we see how tame our writers and artists really are. The last thing I remember of this type was Macbird — how many years ago was that? Imagine some satire presenting the torture US people indulge in at Guantanemo?

There is the story of The Craftsman and Pulteny and Bolingbroke: later Fielding again wrote such a journal (p. 116)

And of course it’s about rising in a career, and how Hogarth is working at that, not too successfully as he is himself not a sycophant quite enough. We see the freuds, the nepotism; Uglow has found out a level of reality not that often in books — see p. 124 on how the artists had to sue for their fees. Hogarth manages to make money and then (no surprise really) the big break comes when he marries the daughter of one of the prominent painters of the time: Thornhill. Richardson married his master’s daughters twice (first and second wife). I’ve mentioned how few women are presented as actors here, but here is one you see. We see them in the pictures but not as they would present themselves at all. Uglow does notice them decently now and again: Maria Skerrit as the plain mistress of Walpole “installed” in a nearby house, and the decency of Henrietta Howard so often presented nastily and unfairly by the male writers of the era (p. 126) is noticed as “charming, funny and sensible.” And there are Hogarth’s sisters hard at work in their shop (p. 153).

It’s remarkable how much Uglow gets out of her readings of pictures.

Chapters 8 and 9 unearth from Hogarth’s art his mindset, to read the pictures inwardly — and that’s not easy given the nature of the subjects, the necessary enigmatic stance one must take in critiquing one’s very customers. Uglow showed how Hogarth’s painting series emerged from a blending of his earlier satiric impulses, what he learned by painting conversation pieces, and his experience of life.

One can see where Uglow gets her information too; her quest is part of the story. Hogarth shows up in Vertue when he marries the boss’s daughter — and thus enables Uglow to follow him, sleuth-like. He wanted to go into painting because it would “give him greater freedom” especially from relying on printsellers (p. 155). We are told who commissions him and then how they are related to one another (p. 156). Hogarth would not let his servants nag vistors for tips; he kept the practice of having a room apart from his painting for customers to come too once he could afford it, but before that he let customers into his studio. His canvasses grew and so did his reputation (p. 157). Showing how sharp Walpole was (and perhaps not so sharp or willing to speak out the other customers), Robert Walpole looks at some of the paintings and sees how they don’t flatter and he doesn’t like it: “nor his talent adapted to look on vanity without a sneer” (p. 174). But other people didn’t mind it so much or didn’t see quite what was in front of them.

Lord Hervey and his Friends (1738)

Uglow’s readings of these conversation pieces bring home to us real customs of the day, real behaviors. She is also alive to the qualities of the paint and beauties as well as the stinging social satire and insight. She sees the two sets of “before” and “after” sex in terms sympathetic to the woman who has allowed herself to have sexual intercourse with this man and all he wants to do is escape any committment. (Times have not changed: Bridget Jones calls such men emotional fuckwits.)

Fielding now duly comes on stage as Hogarth’s friend and companion and congenial artist. The painting satires do seem to me close to Fielding’s art — I just read the conversation between the Upton landlady and her maid about Mrs Walter’s and Tom Jones; Fielding tells us she is different from his earlier landlady: she is, more alive to higher status and thus more absurd 🙂 I didn’t realize Hogarth was under 5 feet. That’s a hardship for a men especially in this brutal period; Fielding tall. We see the different milieus they come from.

But we do not see their home life nor the women they lived with or any of that.

On Fielding’s art — especially Thwackum and Square — Uglow reminds us to take deism and atheism seriously. We live in such conservative times that modern scholars don’t talk of the strong increase in secularism much. In fact probably Fielding has periods of strong doubt (as did Johnson) and the continual baiting through these two types in Tom Jones comes from the importance of this area of ethics and religion in the day (pp. 184-86). Uglow thinks Hogarth shared Fielding’s strong sceptical bent. She calls Fielding’s willingness to see goodness in human nature as dominant generous. Hmmm. He wants to see this or it gets too hard to live — Jane Bennet (Austen heroine) presents this as her argument for what was called “candour” in the era.

I just loved art history in college; I took several courses in Queens (they were 2 credits each so you could take more) and two included the 18th century; that started me off and I have a couple of art books in my house just filled with these conservation pieces — most of them not satiric but nostalgic, picturesque in the Gainsborough-rococo way. It’s against these conversation pieces and rococo art that one should also see Hogarth’s satire.

Death of the Earl, a good instance of Hogarth combining the psychological, satiric, moral, and compassionate

Chapter 10 places Hogarth in a world of lower middle people and a print culture. He belongs to the world pictured in Fielding’s plays.

It opens with an apt quotation of Henry Fielding’s Modern Glossary: Nobody: All the People in Great Britain, except about 1200 Worth: Power. Rank. Wealth.
Wisom: The Art of Acquiring All three.
World: Your own acquaintance.

Uglow then relives a record of a long excursion Hogarth took with several friends, a "grand tour" of Kent: he, with five interesting men, John Thornhill, his brother-in-law, Sergeant Painter in the court; William Tothall, businessman with global trade; Samuel Scott, a land- and seascape painter (whose work we have in our albums), and lawyer, Ebeneezer Eliot: it’s a full account because they left a record of it.

Here she does say how frustrating it is that no accounts are left of the women in Hogarth’s life; she thinks that’s because the women seen in public were not respectable. How boring life must have been for the average middle class and lower woman who wanted to be respectable, how restrictive. Wealthy women could get round this by going to theater and high culture places, salons, &c

It’s also on the story of Sarah Malcolm. Uglow tells us Sarah Malcolm was hung for murdering an 80 year woman she was companion to, and the 17 year old maid who lived with them. Well look at her (not included in Uglow’s book):

Take a look at her. No one bothered to take down testimony of why she did it. (They didn’t have Betty Rizzo on Companions Without Vows.) Uglow doesn’t have much time to speculate apparently either.

Hogarth made a engraving of her that was popular, but not reprinted in her book. It appears in a recent TLS issue; it’s the “poster girl” image for a new online archive which includes 18th century sources like trial records, petitions, parish accounts, and workhouse registers. It does give access to the real private lives of “small” vulernable people now and again — insofar as the questions asked and answers put down allows.

Malcom here is described as “the Irish laundress” who had taken part in a robbery. She said she was innocent of any violent crime, explaining that the bloodstains on her clothes were menstrual blood. This defense made her notorious.

Uglow writes that the print shows a powerful intense woman on guard, crow-like her eyes. I see a woman on her guard, soft flesh about her face — with powerful arms. She probably did a lot of hard work. She knows talking truth is hopeless and her expression is flat.

This chapter on Hogarth being refused access to a picture of the Royal Family as a group. The negotiations were done, and Hogarth was having trouble getting real access to the people and their world, when he was suddenly shut out. Kent had beat him, probably because his mode of satire and realism of depiction (with critical undercutting of what we see) roused suspicions and dislike somewhere. So Hogarth stays with "nobodies" rather than "somebodies."

In the next chapter we see Hogarth not making it with the big patrons turn to the public at large and his art reflect what one must do to sell there.

Chapter 12 empathizes with the male reprobate: Uglow reads the prints in close detail, eliciting the sympathy for the central figure many viewers overlook.

Then there's "liberty, property, clubs and cabals. We are in the male world of clubs at the level and of the professional type open to Hogarth. We have Hogarth working hard for copyright — then (as not so much now) a way to create property rights and protect them for the relatively powerless; he works at the Academy and plays at the Beafsteaks club where the outlook is subversive, conspiratorial — maybe often this kind of thing is. But Hogarth was for king and country (as was Fielding) and he disjoined himself; he just didn’t like the experience of subordination (as Johnson would call it)

It’s remarkable what a roll call of famous artists are here, and these are the
people Hogarth walked and eat and lived among. The pictures remind us how he remained undeluded by titles and his walking among the somebodies — for which he was not liked.

Hogarth’s A Taste of High Life

Heads of six of Hogarth’s servants, whom he accords full dignity and respect

Chapter 14 is on Hogarth’s truthful depiction of the ravages of physical sickness in this era, one where there is no modern science at all for real. It’s called "Allegories of Healing" but I know editors are ever on at the writer to be more upbeat.

As the chapter opens we are told that Hogarth’s house was devastated by fire and his mother died — probably of having had too much. And he turned to a tradition of depicting distress on behalf of charity. Distress at fellow suffering was seen as demonstration of our humanity, and we see disease become secularized. No longer sent by God. Hospitals couldn't relieve the sufferers of cancer or offer solace, and many patients just turned away.

But beyond forming the first places where large enough people having the same disease could come together and allow doctors to study a disease for the first time, they fostered the profession, and provided occasions for commemorative art works.

Uglow works to make a baroque allegory Pool of Bethesda meaningful — no mean feat in our non-allegorical non-rank based numinous classical gods era. Again we see this resolute moving away from Christian eschatology.

Beyond the satires on lectures and people attending these places, Hogarth’s painting moves into a sublime Satan, Sin and Death which anticipates the art of say Fuseli, Martin and Blake — or so Uglow says. Here I don’t see it quite – except for that figure of death as a skeleton. That is outside the pantheon of neoclassicism.

Nowadays of course death is a young male technician (strong and able) who stands by you in your intensive care unit room and dares you to try anything,

Uglow uses the aesthetics of Analysis of Beauty in a newly revealing way: it justifies these tortured depictions of muscles, bones, fibres, the very marrow of intense life from within. We have the artists as knowing doctors here.

Hogarth’s magnificent portrait of James Quinn, the comic actor; but for this we would not appreciate the depths of feeling and thought in this famous actor (aptly if less insightfully described in Smollett’s Humphry Clinker too)


Hogarth, Night (from Four Times of Day)

City Spaces: the first half of this chapter is taken up with Uglow’s reading of a set of prints in which he gives us at once a visual moral map of London and a depiction of activities, types of people, and paraphernalia appropriate to occasions, times of day, and times of year, a “topography,” as Uglow says, with “an allegorical value as clear as Bunyan’s hills and valleys and sloughs … it is also vividly accurate; in many cases still recognizable today” (p. 299). Hogarth now had his Engravers’ Act so to engrave such pictures makes money; she also says the painting versions of these are a lot more lyrical and beautiful, but alas has reprinted none. Had she reproduced any I’d scan one at least in for us.

She begins with another description of city places in London then and now which I recognize, not having lived there precisely, but Cloth Fair is not far and Jim and I when in London would wander about a lot. She’s a delightful travel writer — for this is travel writing too. She is clever in reminding the reader of Trafalgar Square today and then saying imagine the area without … she names big buildings or a configuration of streets and one can yes just about see what she sees was once there. Imaginative geologizing.

The satires again have broad appeal. Again she tries to read them more empathetically than I’ve ever seen done, though she acknowledged the harsh didactic point of view is Hogarth’s too. She covers six prints. “The Enraged Musicians” gives her a chance to give us a feel of the noise and sounds of London streets. Who was there, the “professional poor” and she quotes well. She just luxuriates in the set of “Times of Day:” Morning, Noon, Evening, Night.” Each is reprinted and she reads every detail, alerting our eyes with hers. Bridget Allworthy, the woman at the center of “Morning” is a hypocritical prude who while disdaining charity (but Bridget does not anywhere I can remember disdain charity) and expressing dismay, is herself secretly on the hunt for a lover.

Uglow stops to comment on Bridget that “she is full of desire, but will not admit it openly and her ‘prudence’ and desperate care for appearances almost ruins the life of her unacknowledged son, as well as her own” (p. 305). True, and Bilfil is born before the end of 9 months too. Bad woman you see.

Tessa Peake Jones as Bridget Allworthy in the 97 BBC TJ (a proto-feminist film in its sympathetic depiction of Bridget, Honor and all the women but Lady Bellaston — still outside the pale)

It’s here I part company from Uglow. I would read the story against the grain and like the improvement of Bridget’s character in the 1997 film — as I wrote yesterday, partly provided by Anne Pivcevic. Two of the prints show men aggressively intruding on women’s bosoms (so to speak) with their hands. The women are pictured as enjoying it, falling into reveries. The reality might really have been they’d have been humiliated to be so handled in public. I remember one such passage in the autobiography of Christine de Pizan about a court lady to whom a man behaves that way triumphing over her; Pizan says that’s what she gets for preening with his sleeve pinned to her dress’s fancy sleeves. Discomfort and jeering.

I do like the snow in “Morning” and the darkness and danger of “NIght” which Uglow tells us is about May 29th, anniversary of the restoration of Charles II, “Patron of brothels” and we see quite a number of grotesque versions of prositutes being taken away in an arresting cart

Hogarth, Morning (Four Times of Day): Fielding says he had the central female figure in mind when he created Bridget Allworthy

The satirical prints of “City spaces” slides into an account (Chapters 15-16) of the creation fo the foundling hospital, where Uglow goes over the realities of infanticide in this era. Madelyn Gutwirth’s Twilight of the Goddesses goes over the same material: people on a subsistence level who have no access to effective contraception and can’t do abortion safely, will do away with neonates (to give new born babies their technical term — a euphemism I know).

Hogarth’s Captain Thomas Coram (1740)

Hogarth’s famous painting of the benefactor Captain Thomas Coram is beautifully expatiated upon in this context. Uglow also quotes as her epigraph the cruel utterance of Deborah when she finds the baby Tom in Mr Allworthy’s bed: people may remember she offers to put it out in the streets by the warden’s door where “it is two to one but it lives … but if it should not we have discharged our duty in taking proper care of it …” This sentence is repeated verbatim in the 1997 movie — you’ll hear it, and also see Allworthy’s immediate rejection of such advice (Benjamin Whitlow, he who was Mr Bennet in the 1995 P&P – he gets the best older male parts). Hogarth also designed the seal for the place and was all for it, worked for it.

Little baby Tom rescued by the kind Allworthy, note a male benefactor (97 BBC TJ)

Between the portraits of the strolling actresses and an awareness of the women desperate driven to take their child to these hospital (where however the mortality rate was not low nor did the child have access to real opportunity or equality, just a better chance to survive), the different people who agreed to this hospital and helped it along, Uglow does also bring alive another set of existences and types of people, mostly women as seen in these pictures.

The first part of Chapter 17 is taken up with discussing Hogarth in the context of his rivals, and especially Van Loo. I’ve put four of Van Loo’s typical paintings in our Hogarth album: you can see his flattery of children, of aristocrats, the semi-salacious tone, and the kind of rococo style that made money. This is the closest Hogarth comes to this kind of thing:

Hogarth’s A Fishing Party

Then we learn of Hogarth’s friends who made money this way as well as how he was still excluded from court because he limited his flattery.

The strength of the chapter is in the last two-thirds: detailed readings of Hogarth’s portraiture and conversation pieces where Uglow puts to work an extraordinary detailed knowledge of individuals of the era at the same time as she reads every gesture in each painting to the point she has written little novels and biographies about each group of people and the singletons too.

I can’t repeat the detail as it just has to be read, but have a look at his Western Family carefully and you will see so many gestures and expressions that call out for “reading” and interpretation:

The Western Family

I learned a lot about the individuals in these genre paintings, and occasionally was glad to learn what this or that person I’ve read elsewhere about really looked.

Her political and social perspective is congenial with mine, and with her I rejoiced in the tale of Mary Edwards, a super rich heiress, who fooled and pushed into a quick marriage by a man who then proceeded to impregnate, bully and spend her money, had the courage to attack the documents and by law get herself unmarried to him, and bastardize the child so as to remain free and independent. She then lived her own life uncompromisingly — the figure is seen in the painting which is reprinted in color.

Mary Edwards

For the individual portraits she points out how Hogarth combined the popularity of busts with portraiture so his paintings are often at core a bust of the person turned into a painting. She also includes a remarkable bust of Hogarth himself: we see the pugnacious fleshy emotional man before us — as well as his dog by Roubilac:

Hogarth’s dog by Roubiliac

Apparently the Hogarths had no children – at least Jane had none, and Uglow attributes to some of the paintings of children an intense fondness and affection which accompanies an unsentimental eye a longing for children in Hogarth. There’s no proof.

How hard he worked too. She shows how hard each detail and how much effort went into the painting especially. For this painting Uglow lavished attention and content:

The Graham Children

I thought to myself her affection for children was what is being read here, or over-read a bit. I did like her analysis even of a cat about to leap on the bird and all the dogs.


Having a Good Time (from Marriage a La Mode)

Chapter 18 centers on Marriage a La Mode. Until I began to read this book thoroughly, I have not been one to like these moral allegory pictures. They have seemed to me dull, mostly because what leaps out to my eyes is didacticism, and didacticism of a obvious type. I could see that the faces in Hogarth’s pictures are individualized, and certainly I had nothing against the general moral, one I think could be reinforced today, with a little bit of tinkering perfectly a propos: people who marry in ceremonies costing oodles of money with all their emphasis on the what they are going to get to start life out with (what apartment or house), which job, which set of friends, are just asking for a probable result: not only an expensive divorce but years of paying debts on wedding, honeymoon and whatever else. Princess for a night. Right.

By the time Uglow finishes reading one of Hogarth’s pictures though I have seen life’s tragedy and Hogarth’s own ironic takes on it: as Uglow puts it, “there is no happy resolution for Moll Hackabout or Tom Rakewell, or for the new Earl or his Countess. Instead, after an illusory whirl of excitement, they slide down a bleak declining curve. This is what we would have seen in the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire except (like Plantagenet Palliser in Trollope’s novels), the Duke was so fabulously rich — on the backs of everyone else.

On the picture called “The Death of the Earl (see above),” Uglow remarks: “his young wife kneels like a Magdalen, clasping her hands in penitence. Part of the shock comes from a sense of blasphemous travestry, yet this too is a la mode — from the restoration onwards grand ladies of the Court had, as Pope said, enjoyed being painted as Magdalens. Yet beneath the double irony there is that familiar, ironic Hogarthian insistence that real life can be a cruxifixion without a mythic promise of redemption.

In the “Death of the Countess,” yes “shockingly, the comedy of life goes on.” Auden said dogs carry on their doggie lives, but here we see how much fun the others continue to have (irony intended).

And throughout the chapter (serendipity this) Uglow connects Hogarth’s work to Fielding’s, their lives, and their attitudes towards one other; good friends, real congeniality. Here is Fielding as editor of The Champion .. in the guise of Captain Hercules Vinegar of Hockley in the Hole:

‘”to attack all hypo­crites, slanderers, false scholars and ambitious politicians. In June 1740, to explain the teaching power of satire, he used the same motto that Hogarth had placed above his final version of The Beggar’s Opera, ‘tamquam in speculum’­’even as in a mirror’. Visual examples beat verbal argument hollow, declared Fielding – ‘our eyes convey the idea more briskly to our understanding than our ears’ – but a guide was still needed, and who better than ‘the ingenious Mr Hogarth … one of the most useful satirists any age hath produced’:
‘In his excellent works you see the delusive scene exposed with all the force of humour, and on casting your eyes on another picture you behold the dreadful and fatal consequence. I almost dare affirm that those two works of his, which he calls the Rake’s and the Harlot’s Progress, are calculated more to serve the cause of virtue, and for the preservation of mankind, than all the folios of morality which were ever written; and a sober family should no more be without them, than without the Whole Duty of Man in their house.’

‘Hogarth as Moralist’ would be stressed by solemn commentators in just this way in the late eighteenth century. But critics who cite Fielding as the instigator of this view always quote out of context; he never wrote without irony and it is fatal to read him straight – this is ‘Captain Hercules Vinegar’ speaking and Captain Vinegar likes extremes. Immediately before his accolade to Hogarth, he gives a ‘personal’ example:

‘I have heard of an old gentleman, who, to preserve his son from conversing with prostitutes, took him, when very young, to the most abandoned brothels in this town, and to so good purpose, that the young man carried a sound body into his wife’s arms at eight and twenty … ‘
Perhaps, he admits drily, such scenes may not always have the same effect: this is why a man needs a ‘monitor’. With the ludicrous example in mind, conjuring up Hogarth’s rowdy brothel scenes, few people could read the line about ‘a sober family’ needing his prints as much as the Whole Duty of Man without a chuckle” (Uglow, p. 367).

Maybe I should reread The Whole of Duty of Man. That’s another one I thought deadly dull — what I need to do is approach it as camp in the way Vinegar manages …

“The Marriage Contract” (phase 1 of Marriage a La Mode)


Hogarth’s Assembly Party

I recommend this book with but one complaint or exception. It’s filled with vivid life. It’s a treat to read for Uglow’s sensibility as well as a brilliant work in art criticism and biography. You also learn a good deal about the era in specifics of all kinds; the foundling hospital, subsistence living, and infanticide — and thus attitudes which shaped sexuality in the era.

But nothing about women’s lives is told by themselves. It’s true that we have few documents of the private lives of women, and this would go for the lower middle class milieu around Hogarth. But there were some women artists even if not connected to Hogarth; and there are books recounting probabilities of women’s lives in Hogarth’s milieu. Finally, Uglow could have at least not taken Fielding’s views of women unqualified as acceptable. Her lack of interest and real sympathy for Sarah Malcolm is but one case in point.

This is a book about the professional worlds of men.

This is not to say Uglow usually does this: e.g., her George Eliot may be the best of the literary biographies in terms of perspective. After telling Eliot’s life up to the time Eliot became a settled writer of essays and Lewes’s partner, Uglow makes sense of Eliot’s politics (feminist, religious, humanist, socialist) in the context of Eliot’s ideas about how social life works and how necessary and difficult it is for most to survive. Then she places this against the novels which are often (irritatingly) far more conservative in thrust, and attempts to read the novels in this dual register. Her magisterial literary biography Elizabeth Stevenson’s Gaskell’s life and art, A Habit of Stories, needs no more than a citation from me. She has has written one of the frankest accounts of simple rape I’ve ever come across, showing it in its full banal cruelty (in a diary enter for the London Review of Books).

For the last third of Uglow’s Hogarth, see the comments: how he revealed the corrupt elections, then what he endured as reprisals: harsh caricatures and satires on his art, some painfully insightful (by among others Charles Churchill and Paul Sandby); his get-away existence in a suburban house (still standing), later friend; what we can gather about his wife and sister’s lives, and finally the last ill and understandably (what Uglow [herself perhaps too successful at this point] calls) paranoid and embittered life’s close.

Paul Sandy, Windsor Terrace at Night — he was one of those who most persistently caricatured Hogarth


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Tom Jones (Max Beesley), Sophia (Samantha Morton) and Mr Western (Brian Blessed) making music together

Dear Friends and readers,

About 8 months ago, I wrote a blog review comparing Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones and Stanley Kubrick’s 1977 Barry Lyndon, vowing to myself that I would follow this up with a blog review on the 1997 Tom Jones by Simon Burke, Metin Huseyin, and Suzanne Harrison.

Many things got in the way, including rereading all Richardson’s Clarissa for a second year in a row and adding to writing about the 1991 BBC Clarissa, a paper on rape in the novel. It was when in the course of this I read a paper on rape in Fielding’s Tom Jones that I remember my original impulse.

Well, I watched the movie and just loved it. It was a intelligent entertaining thoughtful film rightly declared (at its close) “affectionately dedicated to Mr Fielding:”

When we first see him in the meadow

Our last sight, a tracking shot

Actually I didn’t just watch it once. I watched it three times — the third taking down some of the screenplay and capturing lots of shots as I went along, like this one of Patridge (Ron Cook) joining up with Tom. The good feeling behind the kiss is characteristic of this film in its fleeting joyful moments:

This is the fourth or fifth in a series of shots where the two stand in profile, Tom so much taller than Partridge, their faces though seeming to make up two halves of one face

But before I wrote, I wanted to reread all of Fielding’s Tom Jones. Not having the time, I found for $16 a set of audiotapes of the complete novel read aloud inimitably by David Case. Alas, alas, my tape deck broke half-way through.

And then I conceived a desire to write a few blogs about film adaptations from 18th versus 19th century sources to see the differences. This I thought would help me make sense of Huyesin, Burke and Harrison’s Tom Jones. But then I became wrapped up in these, Thomas Hardy films; the 2008 The Duchess (from Amanda Foreman’s book); the wondrous 1975-77 mini-series Poldark (I’ve fallen in love with Robin Ellis); not to omit reviews of Turn of the Screws; and Golden Bowls; 48 years of Jane Eyre, and S&S and Miss Austen Regrets and Young Victoria .

I began to feel awful silly — all this preparation or prologue for what after all would be a (I hoped) a fun blog, not too long or overwritten. Well, here it is, another night in many many where I can’t read and am too tired even to watch a film attentively, and so let me at last turn to this delightful tribute.

My theme is while this new Tom Jones is much indebted to Tony Richardson’s, it is also much superior. I’m led to be so upfront and strong on this point because I’ve learned there is almost nothing serious written about it, and the one article I came across (Martin Battestin) sneers at it because (forsooth) it’s a Telly one, is a mini-series, and is at once less “robust” (a telling word) and more faithful (this is a bad thing in some reverse snobbery circles of late). To the contrary, this film offers a reading and insight into Fielding’s book that to some extent undercuts the complacency theses and shows how his art carries different kinds of depths.

The new film certainly imitates the earlier one. Max Beesley as Tom acts out the part in much the way Finney did, for example, and the new film similarly insists on the artifice of the story and the medium. We have an imitation of the famous hunt sequence too. Samantha Morton is dressed to recall Susannah York. Perhaps I should say alludes to the earlier film, for the idea is intertextuality, with continual comparisons invited.

Mr Allworthy (Benjamin Whitlow’s hands are entwined in the baby’s and the opening sequences show him again and again fondling, attached to, bringing up the child, for all the world mothering it (this regendered dimension is nowhere in Richardson’s film)

As with Andrew Davies’s redo of the famous David Lean Dr Zhivago (with an non-English relatively unknown director who did art films like this one), it’s better than Richardson’s in a number of ways (and not just from length). Richardson’s is discussed as ever so jolly, and we get a reinforcement of the benevolism attributed to Fielding; in fact his book is dark, a satire on humanity is going on that is at moments Swiftian. The frenetic madness of the depictions get this across — and this is true to the book’s frenetic caricatures. The people are genuinely violent, proud, irritable, resentful in a careening way. I’ve never seen this pulled out of the art of Tom Jones before.

Daringly, we have a continual narrator coming in, reinforcing the brilliance of the plot-pattern and how it’s all put together. John Sessions is Fielding and we get drawings interspersed with scenes. This is not just frames, intertitles, with a voice-over unattahed to anyone.

John Sessions as Fielding is made to appear each time one set of characters (set A say) enters the scene and a set (set B) leaves. We watch one set go one way (A) and another the way (B); or they go in the same direction (C); or they pass one another by just missing one another (D). The characters are conceived of as groups in parallel (all on horses) or contrast (this one staying put in London here, say E, or there, F, and G, another place). And then we get interludes, as when in the inn two men put on a puppet show, and Patridge (Ron Cook) makes remarks, and during this scene more than one group collides (so to speak) with one another. Sessions as Fielding then appears, or is standing there, makes a remark, as if directing traffic, and then gets off stage and we are with the new set of characters. The effect is a visualization of the multiplot Fielding created which has been so admired and written about several times astutely.

He keeps count of where we are and who is going where:

He begins to function as a sign not only for new characters and changes in direction, but changes in mood and tone from scene to scene. When he turns up, we know we are going into a new phase:

Harriet, Mrs Fitzpatrick and her Irish lord lover arrive

Another is the more in-depth characterization of the characters surrounding Tom. Sophie is made to have a real character; for example, and at the close of the film, she does not just melt into Tom’s arms; they have a conversation where she tells him time must go by before she can forgive him. Time goes pretty swift, for the next scene seems to be about 8 years later since Tom and she have a little Tom (looks around 6) and Sophie (say 3). The actors are also has more superior than those in the surrounding roles. I find this true of BBC and other English mini-series. There seems to be so many more secondary great actors supported by the system than the US cut-throat profit one.

Another element which goes along with this is the real new feminism of the film. Something Fielding leaves room for but does not develop himself. We are shown how vulnerable these women are, particularly Samantha Morton, who Clarissa-like, is seriously threatened with a coerced marriage, with rape, and genuinely terrified by her father who rages against her mother in such a way that we see this man made the mother’s life a misery, nay probably raped her as part of his right:

Crying for her mother’s kindness just after her father curses the mother and boasted how he ignored her false sensitivities over sex

The production follows Fielding in not allowing sex to be a vexed difficult area personally for Tom at least — and later his friend with Nancy Miller. This is a way of trivializing what is central to women’s issues but the production does not follow Tom in marginalizing women in their reactions to their lives, and boy are they pro-active.

Tom’s kindness to Mrs and Nancy Miller (who he works to make sure Nightingale marries her) is repaid by their activity on his behalf

They are “put back” into narratives Fielding has elided over with all their force and this is part of what makes this film so superior to the 1966 production (which reminds me at times of the 1960s Moll Flanders with Kim Novak).

It’s really touching when Western throws Mrs Honour out and we see her desperate, homeless, terrified:

Honor (Kathy Burke) stranded with no one to turn to who can take her in

Very touching. When we see Sophie dragged away and Honor comes out and looks so desolate and turns around and the door is shut, how we feel for her. It’s the way she holds her hands, her hair done up in ties. When Squire Western turns her out, she has no where to go. We see her knock on closed doors; she has her hands hanging down in a thin dress, and her hair in those tight curlers. This kind of sympathy is not in Fielding. So one can see how the film is a recreation from a modern standpoint of the original book.

The actress playing Jenny Jones (Camille Corduri) contributes to the strong real women of the film in her scenes with Mr Allworthy.

In the opening scene Mr Allworthy (wrongly) lectures (and shames) Jenny; mid-stream, she goes to bed with Tom; end-game, she produces the truth at last and Mr Allworthy is ashamed

Burke, Huseyin and Harrizon make Mrs Bridget Allworthy genuinely affectionate towards Tom; we see her grieve over having to leave him, and on her death bed advise him gently (worriedly) to be prudent. She is presented as fooled by a cruel Blifil who ignores, humiliates and tries to exploit her. Happily he falls off a cliff while reading a book on how to siphon off her money. Late in the movie we get a flashback showing her when young and in love with the curate who was Tom’s father (played by Beesley again):

There is feminism in the book — of a sort. It does not require reading against the grain as much as I expected — though Lord Fellaston’s idea he is raping Sophia for her own good appears to be understood, and rape is treated as something of a joke or usually something women fake happened. No understanding or empathy which will help women much, rather simply an appreciation of their lack of power and what this means for good women — first and foremost Fielding is a satirist and so takes a harsh view of humanity altogether — and it’s not that far from Swift.

The film-makers built on this and woven memories of, in effect allusions to the perspectives in Clarissa on women and brutality. They added the social satire of women’s antagonism. The scene where Tom saves Molly from the other women though is not accented against women or about Molly looking particularly naked, but Tom’s fondness for her:

There (by contrast, and making us like Tom) is also much brutality between men, and thus the non-violence kindliness of Ron Cook as Partridge is deeply appealing. The film speaks to our world today in the corruption, hypocrisy, and snobbery of people Tom meets: the film has him meet so many, which is part of the point, life’s journey you know. And Sessions as narrator by a little less than mid-way begins to be traffic director, explainer (in lieu of voice-voice, a bold use of the narrator coming in), ironist.

The film also makes an astute use of letters and documents. The producer is someone who was involved in the 1991 Clarissa which used film epistolary scenes too. Characters are seen writing them, sending them, juxtaposed scenes of characters using them to try to reach one another bring the characters and events together. Tom’s false letter asking Lady Bellaston to marry him is made much of visually. We get voice-over cleverly done as the characters work to reunite at the close of the film, especially Samantha Morton as Sophia — this actress is effective in whatever part she plays and here does remind me of Clarissa reaching out.

A not atypical sequence from the film; the character is reading (through voice-voice) a letter and about to write one

The movie communicates a lot through silences and sheer faces. The long early sequences of Sophia and Tom falling in love are done through gesture and action.

A comic conspiring moment — also from the generic archetype falling in love

James D’Arcy is powerful as the mean Blifil again and again; early in the film it’s his triumph at Sophie after she agrees to see him and she looks and we see in her eyes awareness of how nasty he is. She had decided to give him a chance but looking into his face she knows better. We know how miserable he’d make her.

They didn’t want to add too many words to Fielding and Fielding did not go down to this level. His one comment shows he will be as his father was to Bridget: I shall soon have quite enough of your company madame echoes his father’s phrase after marriage.

Blifil pretends Mr Allworthy is throwing Tom out over love for Sophie; he hides the lies he told Mr Allworthy — all the while we see the savagery of Western and Sophie’s real misery. Done very well and we feel it. No narrator intervening here. Bell of church rings at crucial moments of drama. Then thunder as Blifil says banish you from his sight forever.

Yet Blifil, appropriately is seen with a grim expression on his face, through barred windows.

Dark colors, bleak landscape, poverty with Black George in his wagon completes this desolating moment.

Close up of Tom at the moment of ejection, looking up at the house and Blifil

And then archetypal rain — on Mr Allworthy grieving at altar for his loss of Tom, Sophie grieving at window, on Tom leaving

Once again Lindsay Duncan is the sex-crazed unscrupulous vengeful villainous — perhaps I should not say once again, perhaps this was the first time she did this. She makes her character luxurious, worldly and tough and more sensual than sexual:

Our first sight of her, fed luscious fruit by her paid young male lover

This is not part of the feminist thread of the film, though certainly it shows a strong woman.

When young I would pass quickly over the Lady Bellaston parts of the novel. They disquieted me. Tom allows himself to be a male concubine; the woman induces Lord Fellamar to rape another women. Well this film reinforces these uses of sex with no trouble by the powerful acting of Lindsay Duncan. This is one of many roles I’ve seen her forceful in in these costume dramas (another was recently in Lost in Austen as Lady Catherine de Bourgh).

The film does stay true to 18th century films in that what is delved is sexuality and gender much more than family life — we are not interested in inward family life and its pathologies, but family members as representatives of sordid ruthless aggrandizement and inhumanity at large.

Sophia’s Aunt (Frances de La Tour) as representative of the perversions of social arrangements

I’ve left out some performances. Brian Blessed gets the right tone of madness and half-crazed bullying.

Blessed as Squire Western, genuinely distraught (bellowing) for his Sophie who has run away

Thwackum, Square (especially) and Supple are more sheer comic figures than memories of Fielding’s serious concern with hypocritical and pernicious uses of religion, fanaticism, false learning, sycophancy. But they are there.

As a scholar I’ve done reception studies.and know how hard it is to counter an original reception. I mentioned Andrew Davies’s films and have been writing about these. He is a bold person who several times now has deliberately chosen a film that was super-praised originally, that he thinks is not that good, and done a successful new one, on a couple of occasions really batted the older one off the court. In the case of the 1979 P&P I think unfairly; not only is Judy Parfitt’s performance exquisitely good (as a straight interpretation of Austen’s character the subtlest and most persuasive), but so too Elizabeth Garvey. The script is superb, the outlook feminist — the movie includes a sympathetic rereading and presentation of Mary Bennet and Anne de Bourgh. In the case of Dr Zhivago and Room with a View, Davies has done as well if not erased the previous at all; he gave an interesting interview on his and Campiotti (the Italian director) and Anne Pivcevic (the producer): they couldn’t get an English director to take it on; they couldn’t get one to say over lunch what were the faults and flaws of the earlier film. Criticize David Lean? He has friends too. Films can be of their times. I’d say Lean’s Zhivago is one, turning the book into an anti-communist event (in the film too). Richardson’s Tom Jones is I think another.

I wrote (I know) provocatively on my blog comparing Richardson’s TJ and Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, and my argument was BL is still thoroughly persuasive on its own terms, this told TJ not.

I have a copy of and have read Battestin’s essay praising Richardson’s film; it was that one I was referring to when I said the way the film was regarded was from the benevolist standpoint; I didn’t say that Battestin was also an original proponent of this view. As I wrote I don’t see Tom Jones this way; in a nutshell, I place the book against the scrim of all Fielding’s work (which includes dark satire indeed, and his non-fiction essays).

One of the liberating aspects of the Net is that one can say on a blog what might not get through to a print publication. Tony Richardson told the same joke over and over: see how sweet, good, innocent, chivalrous, generous is Tom even though he is in bed with this and that and the other women. It’s that all these women want him so; they are the aggressor again and again. Then he is extricated by highjinks and we are to laugh again as he escapes — until near the end he is almost hung. I tired of it, over and over. Endless exposure of women’s breasts was part of the treat. Not much for Susannah York to do but look loving and accepting, and the sexy women to slither and slide and look CHFM.

This doesn’t deny the sterling qualities of Richardson’s film. It comes down to naturalistic (highly) camera work, the scenes not being puffed up and made pompous, but left to be there quietly. For lack of a better term I’d say it’s anti-hierarchical, anti-artifice. Much more is on location than the 97 film, many more extras hired. The close-ups to the faces pick up depths of feeling close and the famous eating scene must’ve startled. And there is an eating scene leading to sex (between Tom and Jenny Jones) in this film too. Filmically brilliant, delivering what it has to say through images.

The movie can develop at length ideas from the 66 film too: we again have a magnificent hunt, no long tracking shots in quite the same angle (so they are not imitated), but much more intimacy with animals and Tom’s hurt (and a scene with Sophia) again thorough — few words and much gesture, eye contact, pantomime.

Sophia concerned over Tom’s fall (she has not yet seen he has broken his arm or why)

I was happy when the film ended happily for not only Tom, Sophia, Mr Allworthy and the two children (a little Tom and Sophia) but the comic coupling of Partridge and Honor too — it reminded me of Tamino and Tamina and Pamino and Pamina in The Magic Flute.  It’s a sentimental departure from the book where Honor ends up staying in London with Lady Bellaston and Sophia marries Partridge off to Molly (to keep Tom away?)

I just had so many favorite moments in the film I can’t put all of them in.

Sophia tells Honor that she, Sophia, will protect Honor. Never fear.

I think the enjoyment, pleasure and real instruction the film gives is the proof the film-makers lived up to their desire to recreate Mr Fielding’s work in a new medium.


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The slow motion duel from Barry Lyndon

Dear Friends,

I’ve been meaning to make a blog on Stanley Kubrick’s remarkable film adaptation of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon (1975). I was so charmed by it when I watched it last year that I made a huge album of stills from the movie and put it in an album on Eighteenth Century Worlds. This week on Trollope19CStudies @ Yahoo we somehow began to discuss it, and I put a little of my original thoughts on the list and people liked it, so I put them here too.

The curious power of this film lies in its insistence on the importance of the slow-moving pictures:

The men gambling

It’s a highly original landmark film for its aesthetics. It’s beautiful. There are continual frames of scenes that are picturesque and evocation of the 18tn century as it’s often imagined in high art. The allure of this includes the salacious and lurid and in context the ironic narrative undercuts and works well with them.

The crowd gambling

Kubrick has the insight and daring to make a central part of his film his instinct that to see this earlier world set up as a neoclassic symmetrical dream vision and the visual pleasure of this is a very real part of the art of such films.


Marisa Berenson looks like a Gainsborough portrait and her hats
make my mouth water: this is a throw back to the Gainsborough studio costume drama films of the 40s, so Kubrick took what he could of the older modes of costume drama too.


The way to view is is to savour it in slow motion — as it is filmed. slow motion and that’s saying something since it moves so slowly.

Of course a film must have thematic meaning and this one has a hard one appropriate to Thackeray’s book. The ending said it all: a devastating bitter close whose final ethical point is close to Thackeray’s (indictment of a corrupt society, the product of human nature generally or its worst aspects for power, its coldness and egoistic appetite for where else can it come from?), though the means and methods are utterly disparate.

Thackeray’s novel (which I looked and dipped into after watching the film) has a narrator like that of Henry Fielding’s Jonathan Wilde: like Fielding’s hard satire, Thackeray’s Lyndon is a crude amoral presence and would be a dangerous sociopath if we read the book realistically. We don’t. We know it’s satire. By contrast, Kubrick’s Barry is a noble young man, with a good heart and many illusions about honor and love, just about all of which are utterly out of kilter which the society which professes them (so he’s more like Fielding’s Tom Jones). The movie is not a satire on upward mobility in the Victorian era) but rather an elegy for the destruction of the low-born hero and a poignant evocation of a beautiful world, the ancien regime which paradoxically arose on the miseries and backs of the many. A comment on the 19th century here too. The continual bad things everyone is doing to everyone else amid the domesticity of the later part of the film, how so many end up crippled.

So the underlying meaning is alive; but not brought out by the acting which we could scarcely appreciate as long shots were preferred and iconic and archetypal moments. The best and most memorable moments have little to do with the original story or plot-design or even moral. It moves so slowly, and Kubrick recreates idyllic art of the 18th century — not the real one, and not even the typical, but of a subgenre of picture that after this film many of these costume dramas picked up.

This picnic was recently repeated in the BBC (later 1990s) mini-series, Aristocrats (based on Stella Tillyard’s book, film by David Caffrey and Harriet O’Carroll; it’s a domestic variant, appropriate for the age of sensibility we might say:


Tom Jones and Barry Lyndon are set in the earlier part of the century.

Sumptuous romance had been the key in the 1930s and 40s but no attempt at surface realisms (like old fashioned light), no attention to surface historical accuracies. Kubrick was apparently the first to do this consistently, even manically. Conversation pieces and genre scenes abound:

The musical Lyndon family

Kubrick’s scenes sometimes are shot for more than 90 seconds. It’s as if he asked himself how much strangeness will the audience tolerate? and dared them to complain 🙂 We love to watch the gambling — that holds us. The second duel between the step-son and Lydnon is a masterpiece of nerve, especially when Barry’s nobility boomerangs back on him and he loses his lower leg and all his money.

The excess of the costume and scenes exceeds all else. Really this show that Brideshead Revisited is simply a repeat, a televisual bringing to mini-series what Kubrick did several years before in the moviehouse.

I read about Kubrick’s career too. While he is famous for a couple I couldn’t stand (the pornographic Lolita, and another frighteningly lurid one whose title I mercifully have blocked out), he also made Dr Strangelove. He is one of these directors who knows how to present himself as sole auteur — as in this film. But you have to look for in some cases another person has written the script or produced and it’s someone who does does the cinematography even if directed by Kubrick.

The next night I watched Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones to compare. While the earlier film is still charming, amusing, and yes offers a variety of filmic techniques which succeed in conveying the tone and attitudes of the book towards the characters, somehow it is also more dated than Barry Lyndon.

I think for me it was partly the movie’s content or thematizing of Fielding’s novel: Richardson told the same joke over and over: see how sweet, good, innocent, chivalrous, generous is Tom even though he is in bed with this and that and the other women. It’s that all these women want him so; they are the aggressor again and again. Then he is extricated by highjinks and we are to laugh again as he escapes — until near the end he is almost hung. I tired of it, over and over. Endless exposure of women’s breasts was part of the treat. Not much for Susannah York to do but look loving and accepting, and the sexy women to slither and slide and look CHFM.

Tom and Molly

Sophia and her Aunt Western

That’s what is the film’s repeating incident. I don’t find this all that amusing (at least on the third time and yet more of this to come) nor am I inclined to revel in this sort of “innocence” in the first place.

A pastoral

Like Kubrick, Richardson used a narrator throughout (defying what I gather still is the wisdom of film people and their scorn against non-cinematic techniques like spoken words). This provided the soft comforting ironies. Instead of a slow pace, we had speed, and the stylization kept us at a distance too.

Like Kubrick too, a genuine attempt is made to recreate something of the 18th century world: here it’s rough and ready, rural. The actor doing Mr Weston was superb, as also Partridge.

Finney as Tom setting out in the world, just before he’s diverted into the hunt

The famous long hunt is well done and its coda in a sweet chivalric scene punctuates and turns it into something conventional. Indeed as the man who gave a paper on the music of the film at the ASECS argued, it quickly repeatedly became a conventional complacent film.

Paradoxically because of its aesthetics Barry Lyndon is the graver film and Tom Jones froth in comparison. I don’t say I didn’t enjoy it in a way, but it was very mild enjoyment. A landmark film because it refuses to invite us to be snobs and uses costume drama differently for farcical comedy. It gives us something of Fielding’s quality but (as is not uncommon) leaves us the bite and what is hard about the book.

It’s my view that only is fidelity not a useful criteria, it’s impossible. What is important is to look into and at the movie as a work of art in its own right (as we do an opera many of which are adaptations from stories and novels), with many precursor texts and allusions, only one of which (if major) is its literary
source text. A movie (or opera) is not a window through which we see another text though it may interpret it. One looks at the major source to compare and understand and then appreciate the art and meaning of the new text or film (or opera)


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