The Italian, Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) was most famously the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and she was if not the founder then the popularizer of the sensationalist school of writing known as Gothic Fiction. Udolpho was the fourth of her six novels and The Italian (1797) was her fifth. It is notable that as a teenager Jane Austen was making fun of Gothic Fiction as early as 1794 (Love and Freindship) and more particularly in Northanger Abbey (1818) which was first sold (as ‘Susan‘), though not published, in 1796. This may have been directed at Radcliffe, though I suspect there was a body of Gothic fiction out there before Radcliffe began writing at the end of the 1780s.

Walter Scott, in his first Introduction to Waverley (1814) was more specific, stating that the reader would find in his work neither Udolpho, nor “mysterious associations of Rosycrucians and Illuminati”.

My Oxford University Press World’s Classics edition (1968) has an Introduction by Frederick Garber in which he states –

[With] the sensationally successful Mysteries of Udolpho Mrs Radcliffe established for herself a position which few other novelists, Gothic or otherwise, could seriously challenge until the appearance of the Waverley novels..

Some of her popularity, and certainly much of her genius, rested in her ability to blend various themes and modes of eighteenth century literature into a distinctive style. It would be a mistake to think of her books primarily as terror fiction, though they have a good deal of the potentially ghastly in them. More accurately, they are basically novels of sensibility with heroes and heroines straight out of the tradition of Richardson, Prévost, and especially Rousseau… Mrs Radcliffe’s novels demonstrate her wide reading in the popular literature of the eighteenth century, not only in sentimental fiction but in the novels of terror like Walpole’s, the poetry of landscape like Thomson’s, and a wide variety of melancholics like Young and the elegaic Gray. Most of all though, she read Shakespeare.

Some notes following on from Garber:
Walpole. Horace Walpole (1717-1797) wrote what is generally accepted as the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Richardson. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) wrote three epistolary novels including Jane Austen’s favourite, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753).
Prévost. Antoine Francois Prévost d’Exiles (1697-1763) was a French monk and writer who spent some time in England and wrote a number of works, including translations into French of Richardson’s three novels.
Rousseau. Presumably Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) French philosopher and inventor of the autobiography. He wrote at least one novel, the sentimental/romantic Julie, or the New Heloise (1761).

I am really, really trying to get a handle on the novel pre-Austen and Scott. The more I look the more I see the C18th stuffed with significant, and not so significant, writers and now I’m being directed towards French fiction as well!

The Italian is set in Naples and in the heavily wooded mountains behind Naples and to the south. I see no evidence that Radcliffe was ever there, or ever left England, but I’m sure she had plenty of accounts of grand tours to draw on. The story is that a young man, Vivaldi while wandering above Naples hears a young woman singing from her balcony (of course!) and falls in love with her. The young woman, Ellena is poor but of gentle birth and lives with her aged aunt. Vivaldi and his faithful servant Paulo (I think here of Don Quixote, first published in English in 1612-1620) in making their way up the road to hear Elena, are stopped in a darkened doorway by a shadowy figure and warned not to proceed. They pursue the figure, who continually eludes them, and one night lures them into a dungeon where they are seemingly trapped.

Vivaldi’s parents, the Marchese and Marchesa, are opposed to Vivaldi marrying a woman without a fortune. Vivaldi however, wins over Ellena’s aunt and she persuades her niece to follow her heart and accept Vivaldi’s suit.

Vincentio di Vilvaldi was the only son of the Marchese di Vivaldi, a nobleman of one of the most ancient families of the kingdom of Naples, a favourite possessing an uncommon share of influence at Court, and a man still higher in power than in rank. His pride in birth was equal to either, but it was mingled with the justifiable pride of a principled mind …

The mother of Vivaldi, descended from a family as ancient as that of his father, was equally jealous of her importance; but her pride was that of birth and distinction, without extending to morals. She was of violent passions, haughty, vindictive, yet crafty and deceitful …

The villain of the piece, and by some accounts the central character, is Schedoni, the Marchesa’s confessor, with whom she conspires to prevent the young couple marrying.

We then go on with all the heartstopping ups and downs for which Gothic is famous. The aunt dies mysteriously. Ellena is kidnapped by monks and carried off to a nunnery before Vivaldi can rescue her. He spends weeks in torment until he receives accounts of a mysterious carriage leaving town that night. Ellena is offered the choice of becoming a nun or perpetual imprisonment. Vivaldi and Paulo insinuate themselves into a group of pilgrims, make their way to the nunnery, and with inside assistance and miles of gloomy underground passages spirit Ellena to safety.

Without a chaperone to be seen, Ellena is taken down the mountains and through the woods to a lakeside convent where she should be safe. Vivaldi resides nearby and attempts to break down her resistance to marrying him when his parents are so violently opposed.

Ellena immediately admitted the sacredness of the promise which she had formerly given, and assured Vivaldi that she considered herself as indissolubly bound to wed him as if it had been given at the altar; but she objected to confirmation of it, till his family should seem willing to receive her for their daughter; when, forgetting the injuries she had received from them, she would no longer refuse their alliance.

Nevertheless, Vivaldi wears her down. But, at the very altar, the young couple are arrested by the Inquisition …

And so it goes on. You can see, the obscurity of the language is impossible, but the sense of adventure is palpable. Radcliffe builds the tension very well and it is clear why she was so popular. The animus towards the Catholic church is harder to explain. England had been officially Protestant for more than a century but Catholics, I think, still made a convenient ‘other’ and racism towards Catholics was prevalent in the Anglosphere until the 1950s (partly of course as something to beat the Irish with).

Should you read it? No! Did I enjoy it? The story was fun but the language was too much work, so no. Does it have a happy ending? I’m not letting on.

.

Ann Radcliffe, The Italian: Or the Confessional of the Black Penitents, A Romance, first pub. 1797. My edition Oxford University Press World’s Classics, 1968, with Introduction by Frederick Garber, Professor of English at the State University of New York, Binghampton

How We Are Translated, Jessica Gaitán Johannesson

Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) is hard work! Each infintessimal advance in the plot takes soo many words. I needed a break. Grandson Dingo needed books for his first birthday. And once inside the bookshop I couldn’t really not check out new releases. So now I own How We Are Translated and John Kinsella’s short story collection, Pushing Back.

Johannesson “grew up speaking Spanish and Swedish and currently lives primarily in English”. She lives in Bath and the book is set in Edinburgh, about which she writes as though she had lived there too.

I was attracted to the book because it seemed to be in the first place a book about words, about language, about languages, about playing with the way words and meanings change as they slip from one language to another. It is turning out to be a very difficult work to write about, so I will start by answering Melanie’s question up front. Did I like it? Yes I did, Very much.

My question, Is it Literature? is more difficult to answer. At one level, How We Are Translated is ‘just’ a whimsical novel about a bi-lingual young woman dealing with her boyfriend/partner (no one says de facto anymore, though that is the relationship they are in. Is that maybe because ‘living together’ is no longer intended/expected to be permanent?) and with her (odd) job. But at another level the author clearly expects us to look at her writing as well as at her story. In particular the way she counterposes Swedish and English. So, yes, Literature.

After reading the whole book I find I don’t know the protagonists’ names. The author/narrator refers to them as I and you. She I think is Kirsten or Kristin, a Swede five years in Edinburgh, who found her odd employment to see her through uni, but is now two years graduated and still in the same job. He is Brazillian, brown, adopted young by a Scotswoman, who in the last couple of years has trained as a nurse and works for the council as a carer, visiting old people. They live in a flat, on the second or third floor. I see much/all of this in the text, but it bothers me that I look out for it because of the blurb I necessarily read to make the purchase. I hate blurbs. They spoil the reading experience. But how else can you choose?

As the book begins, they have not so much stopped talking, as stopped communicating. It is a difficult time, The Project has commenced, and ‘he’ has responded by insisting on communicating only in Swedish, which he has only just begun to learn. The Project? An unplanned and as yet unconfirmed pregnancy which they may or may not terminate, and about which, the pregnancy and the termination, they both speak obliquely, fearing to bring it out into the open.

I’m looking for quotes. The word Ciarin pops up from time to time. I’ve been ignoring it but perhaps it’s ‘his’ name. I wonder if I’d thought that earlier, some passages would have made more/different sense.

You said you wanted to ‘immerse’ yourself in ‘my language’ to ‘prepare’. ‘For both our sakes,’ you said, which is NOT an answer to why you’re JUST NOT HERE ANYMORE…

By the way, Swedish isn’t going to help you much if your future is within the NHS. And anyway, didn’t you say there was no future?

‘Jag är ledsen,’ you said.

This means ‘I am sad’, though he means it as ‘I am sorry’ which, as we Australians already know from (former Prime Minister) John Howard’s refusal to say ‘I am sorry’ to Aboriginal Australians, can express both sorrow and an acceptance of guilt.

Her ‘odd’ employment is as a Norse woman, Solveig, in an ongoing historical diorama about immigrants to Scotland, in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle. There are 3 or 4 ‘Norse’ – Ida, Solveig’s mother in law played by an Icelandic woman, and Sigurd/Niklas, a Norweigan. At work, they may only speak their ‘home’ language, so Solveig and Ida must communicate via Sigurd who luckily understands both Swedish and Icelandic. Their supervisor, and each ethnic group has a bureaucrat to enforce the rules and advance their interests over the others, Joanne Tarbuck, speaks only English (and schoolgirl French it later transpires) so must communicate with them by gestures, or hold them back for meetings after work.

The other ethnic groups are Lithuanian coal miners, farmers waylaid on their way to America, and Irish dock workers. Towards the end I may have noticed some emigrés from the French Revolution.

The elements of the plot are that the Lithuanians are plotting a rebellion and K won’t go to the doctor to confirm her pregnancy, but increasingly stays up all night worrying and walking the streets. ‘She’ ignores ‘his’ texts, in increasingly good Swedish, but wallows in the emails from their early days.

Mitt nya favoritord:

sköldpadda

Sköld-padda


My new favourite word:

turtle

Shield-toad

K does this quite often, As he tries out a new word she looks at its literal meaning. [I’ve used ‘columns’ for the first time – Emma, how do you do it? – but the Swedish and English won’t line up and I’ve had to switch to Classic block to trick the columns into ending].

The truth of the matter is that you haven’t told me what you think is the right thing to do either, and you think I haven’t noticed that you’re as far from knowing what you want as I am.

From that point of view it’s a touching story, and it comes to a head, sort of, as the Lithuanians mount their rebellion. There are other elements, the use of language of course, K’s relationship with Joanne Tarbuck is a mild satire on bureaucratism, and there’s ‘his’ status as an overseas adoptee which she is more interested than he is, or than he is willing to talk about.

Give it a try. It’s an innovative work, not quite but nearly up to the standard of Normal People, and I hope it features in next year’s awards.

.

Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, How We Are Translated, Scribe, London/Melbourne, 2021. 229pp

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Until I read or re-read Jane Eyre last year all my memories were from the 1943 Orson Welles movie with a young Elizabeth Taylor (above right) as Helen Burns. I didn’t write a review straight away because I was going to discuss it with my family who all seemed to be holding strong views. But then, Covid.

So, I’ve been listening to it again. Unfortunately when my last trip ended I was only up to Jane lying starving at the door of Moor House. But I’ve made some notes, which my family can discuss at our various do’s over the next two weekends – which of course have now passed if you’re reading this.

If you’re reading this, isn’t that a famous way to begin. If you’re reading this, they’ve come to get me, as a concerned friend wrote privately to warn me after I expressed the wish that Kirribili House be bombed. I didn’t mean with the Prime Minister’s family in it, but just as a reaction when I learned it was Scotty from Marketing’s official residence though we pay him to live in and govern from Canberra. I really must learn to be more temperate (in the last few years left to me).

So as I was saying before I chose to interrupt myself, if you’re reading this then Gee, Milly, I and anyone else who joined in, have if not reached a conclusion, then at least have had a say. Here are my notes:


Jane Eyre is apparently the first novel ever to follow the consciousness of a first-person protagonist.

My interest is in the way that Brontë regards employment for young middle class women as natural, and posits that they may prefer to be employed than to be married, or may continue their employment after marriage (see also, The Professor).

Gateshead Hall

JE aged 5-10 is bullied by her 14 yo old cousin John and by her Aunt Reed, whose daughters, Eliza and Georgiana, about Jane’s age, generally follow her (their mother’s) lead. I got the feeling, though it was never anywhere stated, that the danger from John would soon be sexual, and that she was well out of there.

Bessie the nursemaid is short tempered and this obscures from Jane the real affection Bessie has for her.

Jane demonstrates her inner strength (and surprising command of language) by speaking out to her aunt about the unfairness of the way she has been treated.

Lowood Institution

Brocklehurst, the head of Lowood, is a bully and a misogynist (eg. his hatred of curled hair which inflames his lust, which otherwise seems to have had little outlet if he has been restricted to just two offspring, now grown). But after two years at Lowood, he is the last bully Jane has to contend with.

Jane is loved by Helen Burns and by the Superintendent, Miss Temple, although they both leave her. But over the next 8 years, lightly passed over, 6 as star pupil and 2 as teacher, she seems to have gained a healthy (ie. normal) self esteem. Jane already has another friend by the time Helen Burns dies and we may therefore assume she had friends throughout her time at school; but it is still good that Bessie calls on her before she leaves to remind her that she has friends in the wider world.

Thornfield Hall

Jane slots in easily to her role as governess to Adele; and slowly falls in love with her master, Edward Rochester. Brontë the vicar’s daughter seems quite comfortable writing about Rochester’s mistress, the mistress’s various lovers, and Rochester’s subsequent mistresses.

A theme comes to its head here which draws comparison with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and that is Jane’s susceptibility to ghost stories. The shrieks which she assigns to Grace Poole in the room above hers of course don’t help.

Gateshead Hall

Jane comfortably deals with her cousins as their equal, indeed their superior in intellect and moral development. The spoilt and selfish Georgiana goes on to a socially successful marriage (Brontë doesn’t bother drawing a moral from her behaviour); Eliza eschews marriage for the nunnery and a life of contemplation and there too Brontë comments on neither the ‘goodness’ nor the sterility of her choice.

What I am trying to say is that Jane is growing into a self-assured young woman, and that the comparisons with Georgiana and Eliza demonstrate she is probably taking the path that suits her best.

Thornfield Hall

Rochester proposes, Jane accepts, and the marriage is aborted at the altar by the revelation of Rochester’s youthful marriage to the mad Bertha.

There are elements of racism here, in references to Bertha’s mother being ‘Creole’ and also in an earlier instance where Jane unnecessarily refers to ‘Jewish usury’. The madness is portrayed as a moral and perhaps even a racial failing and not as an illness.

Interestingly, Brontë has Jane give serious consideration to becoming Rochester’s mistress and then has her feeling guilty about the pain she is causing R by fleeing.


Spoilers. As I said, my trip ended with Jane prostrate at the door of Moor House. Leaving aside the ‘Gothic’ coincidence of the occupants of the house being her cousins, and this is to some extent a gothic novel, this chapter of Jane’s life is characterised by her ability to support herself as a teacher, and the pressure her cousin St John Rivers puts her under to accompany him to India as his wife and assistant (more bullying?). But Brontë clearly doesn’t intend Jane to be a martyr. She inherits and shares with her cousins a fortune (which as she was a minor, should have been impossible) and returns to Thornfield Hall.

Gee wrote back as soon as she had my notes to say that she thought Brontë lost her nerve in this final section, that Jane Eyre was a potentially great Independent Woman brought down by an inconstant author:

The idea that a young poor friendless woman would be enough for a rich handsome man, simply because he likes her personality is unacceptable to the writer.

My own first thoughts were to compare Brontë and Jane Austen. Snippy Elizabeth Bennet was never going to be other than a rich man’s wife, whereas Jane Eyre, like JA (and almost Ch. Brontë) may well have stayed unmarried. The best comparison for Jane Eyre is Uncle Gardiner. They are both plain, reliable and self-sufficient. Jane is slightly above him in birth and he of course is well above her in wealth.

I am not so unhappy as Gee that Jane chose marriage – I’m a sucker for love stories – though I agree it was unnecessary to make her and Rochester more equal. I envisage Jane going on to a productive life improving the villages around Thornfield and of course, funding and supervising schools.

.

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, first pub. 1847.

As you can see, none of us, over the course of two long weekends, looked up from our food and drink long enough to engage in bookish discussions.

The Professor, Charlotte Brontë

In 1846 and 1854 respectively, two women, both aged about 30, one, English, from Yorkshire, and one, Australian, from Scotland, submitted their first novels for publication. The former, an immature work, was rejected and was only published, posthumously, a decade later. The latter was published immediately and was for a long time regarded as the finest work written in Australia. The two novels, both portraits of and by young, educated women, without money or family support, forced to seek positions abroad as teachers, and which I just happen to be reading simultaneously, are The Professor and Catherine Helen Spence’s Clara Morrison.

Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre a year after The Professor was rejected and has been famous ever since. Spence was a fine writer, tireless reformer, the mother of Suffragism in Australia, and a champion of women’s rights throughout the Anglosphere, but her writing, being Australian, remains in obscurity.

I implied otherwise above, but Brontë’s protagonist is a young man, William Crimsworth. Though when this novel is later re-written as Villette (1853), the protagonist, a teacher at an academy for young ladies in fictional Villette (Brussels), is once more a woman, Lucy Snowe.

The Professor begins with a letter from Crimsworth to a former Eton schoolmate, never subsequently mentioned, setting the scene for what follows. Basically, Crimsworth is parentless, in the care of two upper class uncles, who offer him, one, a living (that is as a clergyman) and the other, “one of my six cousins, his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike. I declined both the Church and matrimony.”

Instead he takes a position with his older brother Edward, a wealthy mill-owner, as a clerk, in order to learn about Trade, in the town of X— in —-shire (which is annoying enough to read, but far worse to have repeatedly read to you). The brothers don’t get on; another mill owner, Hunsden takes an interest in William; basically gets him the sack; and recommends that he seek employment in Brussels where he, Hunsden often has business.

The date is nowhere specified except as before railways –

This is Belgium, reader. Look! don’t call the picture a flat or a dull one–it was neither flat nor dull to me when I first beheld it. When I left Ostend on a mild February morning, and found myself on the road to Brussels, nothing could look vapid to me…

I gazed often, and always with delight, from the window of the diligence (these, be it remembered, were not the days of trains and railroads).

Charlotte and Emily Brontë, then aged 26 and 24, went to Brussels as teachers in 1842. Going by what railway history I can discover, Charlotte’s novel must be set in the 1820s. I’m guessing she did this so that she could take her protagonist through a decade or two without ending up in the future.

William Crimsworth, then aged about 20, is recommended to a live-in position in a boys school by a friend of Hunsden’s, and after some months is offered an extra couple of hours teaching per day at the girls school next door. And so, finally, Charlotte can begin to write from her own experience.

..shone on by the full light of the large window, were the occupants of the benches just before me, of whom some were girls of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, some young women from eighteen (as it appeared to me) up to twenty; the most modest attire, the simplest fashion of wearing the hair, were apparent in all; and good features, ruddy, blooming complexions, large and brilliant eyes, forms full, even to solidity, seemed to abound. I did not bear the first view like a stoic; I was dazzled, my eyes fell, and in a voice somewhat too low I murmured, “Prenez vos cahiers de dictee, mesdemoiselles.”

The principal of the girls school, Mlle Reuter, a good looking woman maybe 10 years older than Crimsworth, begins to pay him a lot of attention and he finds himself falling under her spell, a spell which is broken when he overhears her discussing with the principal of the boys school, M. Pelet, their planned marriage. Until he gets on his high horse with Pelet, and he gets on his high horse with nearly everyone eventually, he really is a very immature boy, Crimsworth is often teased by Pelet about Mlle Reuter and asked to compare her attractions with those of the young women in his classes. In fact the author spends a great deal of time (or ink) on the appearance of the girls, while the boys school is quite forgotten.

Crimsworth doesn’t mix much with the female teachers, but is one day asked by Mlle Reuter to include as a pupil in his English classes a young Swiss woman, Mlle Henri, well educated but who due to poverty is forced to teach lace mending – a situation quite analogous as it happens to that of Clara Morison. From this point Mlle Henri gradually takes over the novel. Crimsworth begins to take an interest in her. The aunt who is her only support dies. She’s fired and it is some months before Crimsworth can locate her again. And so we have made our way over the course of a year to Chapter XXV, the last.

Frances Henri is of course likeable, but more importantly she is independent. Charlotte Brontë was 38 before she consented to marry her father’s curate and within 10 months was dead, of complications arising out of her pregnancy. On her return from Brussels she had attempted to open a school with her sisters, but it failed to attract any pupils.

In this last chapter Mlle Henri and Crimsworth marry. They both continue to teach. He earns rather more than she, through his private pupils, so she determines to open a school. With his support. It is successful. After three years she delivers him a son, but just one. And she continues to teach and run the school! Brontë is upending every stereotype of Victorian-era women. Eventually they sell up and return to England and live happily ever after in a big house in —shire, 30 miles from X— and within walking distance of the estate of their good friend Hunsden.

I have Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, which I will try and read this year, and also I will listen to Jane Eyre again and carry out my plan for a family review – a sort of symposium I guess – which Milly and the kids were keen to do before Covid-19 intervened.

.

Charlotte Brontë, The Professor, first pub. 1857. My version: Isis, 2019, read by David Thorpe. 10 hrs 40 min.

The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer

I am probably pinching one of WG’s future Monday Musings here but my subject today is What do we do about racial stereotypes in old novels? Theresa Smith who reviews extensively in the area of Australian women’s fiction, recently challenged my liking for Georgette Heyer romances and said that the consensus was that Heyer was a right-wing anti-semite, citing The Grand Sophy as a particular example.

Any excuse to slack off and read another Georgette Heyer. The Grand Sophy wasn’t on my shelves so I dropped in at (daughter) Gee’s, waved and smiled through the door at my waving and smiling six month old grandson whom, due to Covid and over-cautious governments, I have seen only twice before, and borrowed her battered 1952 2nd edition hardback.

And then I began searching on ‘Georgette Heyer anti-semitism’. The most prominent results were blogs like Smart Bitches Trashy Books (which looks like a fun site) –

So then Sophy takes it upon herself to go confront said Jewish moneylender [Mr Goldhanger]. And then the whole book went to hell.

“…the door was slowly opened to reveal a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer…. His hooded eyes rapidly took in every detail of Sophy’s appearance.”

GOLDHANGER? With a “semitic nose” and the “instinct of his RACE?” Really?! That’s the BEST HEYER could come up with?! A stock character embodying every possible negative stereotype of Jewish people? It was so badly done it was multiply offensive. Not only was I offended personally as, you know, a Jewish person, but I was more offended as a reader as well because IT WAS SO BADLY DONE.

SB Sarah of SBTB, Aug 15, 2011

Biographer Brenda Niall in her review in the SMH of GEORGETTE HEYER: BIOGRAPHY OF A BESTSELLER, by Jennifer Kloester says the same thing, though more temperately –

No one faulted Heyer’s research on Regency manners and idiom, snuffboxes, staging posts, pantaloons and Hessian boots. Although, as Kloester concedes, her characters are essentially 20th-century people in costume, their world of illusion is wittily sustained.

Heyer is not an easy subject for biography, nor an endearing one. She was ferocious about maintaining her privacy and because so much of her life was consumed in her work, there is not a great deal to say. Kloester’s use of family papers reveals a loyal daughter and a generous sister, wife and mother.

The papers also reveal Heyer’s snobbishness about people ”not out of quite one’s own drawer”, and her racism and anti-Semitism.

SMH January 7, 2012

I meant to start this discussion at another place, so let’s go there now. As a radical socialist (syndicalist) I am totally anti-Zionist. Zionism as presently practiced by the government of Israel is Apartheid by another name, a fig leaf to justify the illegal occupation and subjugation of Palestine. Zionists of course conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which is dishonest and a nonsense, but then so are most arguments on the Right.

The problem which I am willing to own is that I am going to argue that money lending and being Jewish were so often regarded as synonymous in the past that their conflation must be unremarkable. Which is not to say that Heyer (1902-1974) is that far in the past, and her depiction of Goldhanger in 1950 – so after the War and after the Holocaust – was probably almost as offensive then as it is now, though far less likely of course to have been contested.

Because Jewishness and Moneylending are so often paired in literature, I looked into it a little and it seems that from the beginning of the Christian Era educated Jews had the advantage of a world-wide (the “world” being you know, Persia say to Gibraltar) system of enforceable law which made banking and trade both profitable and relatively safe (more here). Which is not to say that come the Middle Ages the Church in particular did not also engage in moneylending and perhaps for the same reasons.

But of course the Middle Ages were also famous for the murder and eviction of Jews to enable Christians to avoid paying their debts. And even now, as we too often see, it is always useful to have an Other to blame and vilify for our own mistakes and weaknesses.

A quick read and a quick review: The eponymous ‘Grand Sophy’ is a fine heroine, tall, independent after years travelling Europe with her diplomat father, following Wellington through the Spanish campaign and on to Waterloo. Still only 19, she is foisted onto her aunt while her father goes on a diplomatic mission to Brazil. And there with unfettered access to her father’s money she wreaks havoc amongst her half a dozen cousins.

Heyer’s plots are too complicated to simplify down to a few words, but they always begin with the heroine running into a guy whom she could not possibly like and end with the heroine and the guy heading off to the altar, and so it is here. The incident at the top of this post takes up only a few pages about half-way through as Sophy rescues the second son of the family, actually slightly older than she, from the trap he has fallen into by borrowing to cover gambling debts and being unable to face his father, himself a serious gambler, or his straight-laced older brother.

Heyer was attempting to paint a villain, engaged in fencing stolen goods and lending illegally to minors. By resorting to a stereotype 100 years out of date she was probably giving voice to her own prejudices. But I’m afraid it wasn’t enough for me to find the book unenjoyable. I would have been far more annoyed to encounter caricatures of Black people. Why? I wonder. Perhaps because the Jewish battle, in Australia anyway, seems to me to be just about won.

A wider debate than I have space for here would consider the cases of TS Elliott, and of say Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone With the Wind. I guess my short answer to the question I asked at the beginning is be aware of the author’s prejudices, but if they are not central to the story, keep going. Reading doesn’t make the author’s prejudices yours. Though not recognising them might.

.

Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy, first pub. 1950.

Exchange, Paul Magrs

1089294.jpg

Paul Magrs (1969 – ) is an English author who writes prolifically across a number of genres. I would not know of him at all but he is a favourite of Liz Dexter (Adventures in Reading, Running etc). At the beginning of her 2020 #Magrsathon, she held a giveaway which I won and so Exchange slowly wended it’s way across the oceans from England to Australia, it’s arrival eagerly anticipated by us both.

This morning I had the unenviable task of writing to Liz to say that I found the book a disappointment. She replied graciously, of course. Before writing to her I thought for some time about writing a neutral review but I didn’t have it in me. Exchange (2006) is YA but Magrs has written quite a bit of SF including some Dr Who novels, so if I can locate it online the least I can do is give his Mars trilogy a try.

YA is a genre to which I am not usually attracted. And yet there are some brilliant YA books. My Brilliant Career and Pink Mountain on Locust Island are books written by and about teenagers which are complex enough to appeal to adults. Sense and Sensibility, a novel about the loves of 16 and 19 year old sisters, is universally treated as adult. Little Women, the story of a family of sisters preparing for marriage, while mystifyingly treated as a book for children, is still an excellent read.

And then there is Exchange, the story of a 16 year old boy in an English country town which reads like a book for ten year olds.

There he was: down the cheap supermarket, after school, making himself useful and picking up a few bits and bobs for his gran… He was all buttoned up and mortified in his anorak. He looked like a daft lad, he knew. And that’s how all the kids hanging around the town marketplace saw him.

Simon’s parents have been killed in a car accident and he has come to live with his grandparents. He and his gran are readers, the house is filling up with second hand books, as they take regular excursions on the bus to surrounding towns to buy more. Granddad is not so keen on having his house all cluttered up with dusty books, nor on Gran neglecting the housework in favour of reading, and spends more and more time down the pub or out in the garage (with his secret cache of 1950s girlie mags).

Simon and Gran on one of their excursions discover a second hand bookshop whose central purpose is to persuade readers to bring their books back for others to read (all such shops used to be ‘exchanges’ once but perhaps that was an Australian thing). The owner’s assistant is a girl, Kelly, a little older and a lot more mature than Simon, who wears goth makeup and makes the unilateral decision that she will be Simon’s girlfriend and teach him to do normal things like kiss girls.

Kelly starts telephoning and taking the bus to visit Simon, she even punches out the town hooligan who hangs around the town bus stop and public telephone and shouts stuff at Simon as he slinks past. They kiss. They inevitably clash teeth. He tries again, gets a mouthful of gelled hair as she turns away. The usual stuff and soon got over. By everyone except Simon.

Kelly hatches a plan to sell Granddad’s girlie mags to finance taking Gran to a book signing/dinner for an author who writes about her and Gran’s childhood in the slums. There’s other stuff. Gran and Granddad grow apart. Granddad makes a bonfire of Gran’s books. Kelly and Simon get on the wine at the author-dinner and end up in a private swimming pool in their underwear

Then he was aware that she was pushing up rather closely. He didn’t dare look down at her black lacy bra… ‘Simon?’ she asked and, very gently, moved in to kiss him. He responded and they kissed gently and then with a little more heat… They kissed again and there was an awkward fumbling moment, to do with whose arms went where. Kelly moved back a bit … ‘It isn’t really working, is it?’

Two tipsy teenagers, up close and personal in wet underwear, choose that as the time to decide to be best friends!

There’s a bit more, but Simon is by some distance the wettest teenager I have ever read.

Paul Magrs, Exchange, Simon & Schuster, London, 2006

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford

Cranford (1853) was first published as a series of sketches of life in Knutsford  near Manchester (fictionalised respectively as’Cranford’ and ‘Drumble’), where Eliz. Gaskell (1810-1865) had spent some of her childhood and where she returned, in 1832, on marrying the local Unitarian minister, though they soon moved to Manchester. The sketches, published between 1851 and 1853 in Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words, were not originally conceived as a novel and in fact Gaskell was at that time concentrating on Ruth (1853) a much more important though probably less popular work.

The book overall is reminiscent of Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1836) in its loosely connected stories and the gentle wit of its narrator. Gaskell’s narrator is a youngish single woman, and the period is some time after the end of the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815). Queen Adelaide is mentioned which would make it 1831-37. I don’t mean to say that Mary Smith the narrator is Mrs Gaskell, just that the setting and times were well known to her.

The first two chapters are particularly rambling, and it would be interesting to know if Dickens commissioned them first, and then pressured Gaskell to keep providing more, and if that is how Gaskell ended up writing two books at once. In any case it takes her a while to gain focus but all the little sub-plots are more or less tied together by the end.

The premise of the book is that Mary goes down to Cranford from time to time to stay with Miss Jenkyns and her sister Matty (Mathilda), spinster daughters of the late rector – I was going to use the adjective elderly, but they are in fact in their 50s (late in the novel Matty is 58) – and through them mixes with the genteely poor ladies who make up the bulk of the village’s ‘society’.

Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man .. or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship ..

Most of the women have just one servant and their little economies are explained in some detail. Unlike Jane Austen, the servants are named and given parts to play, in fact the rough and ready Martha who is employed by the Jenkyns’s comes by the end to assume some importance (in the plot). Gaskell’s protagonists in the main are all one stratum down from Austen’s wealthy upper middle class, and she is also more inclined to dip one stratum further, to the upper levels of the trades – the doctor, farmers and so on.

Miss Deborah Jenkyns dies and Miss Matty becomes the central character. Early on she mentions in passing a brother who had joined the navy and of whom the narrator had been unaware.

“And Peter?” asked I

“Oh there was some great war in India – I forget what they call it – and we have never heard of Peter since then.

I made a note that I thought EG had made a mistake, as the information Matty claims she lacks was readily available and widely disseminated in the Navy Lists. Jane Austen, and her characters, used them a decade or two earlier (here). And MST I’m sure must have pored over them for the movements of John Macarthur (a lieutenant in the RN Marines).

It is probably significant that EG’s own brother, John was in the merchant navy, ie. not on the Navy List, with the East India Co. and was lost in 1827.

As I said, there are lots of little plots, the farmer who offered for Miss Matty, but whom she was persuaded by her sister to turn down for being insufficiently genteel; Peter’s loss in India; a travelling magician; a plague of burglars (though nothing actually goes missing); the widow of a Lord who marries beneath her and incurs the wrath of her former sister in law; a banking failure which leaves Miss Matty ruined. But it all comes right in the end.

It’s beyond me to explain Gaskell’s gentle wit, but like Austen she is quite capable of appearing to praise while actually crticising, and that adds to the enjoyment of this peaceful little slice of English village life.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford, first pub. 1851-53 in Household Words. My copy Wordsworth Classics, not the Penguin pictured.

see also:
Elizabeth Gaskell, Cousin Phillis (here)

Emma, 2020 movie

EMMA. - Official Trailer [HD] - Now On Demand and In Theaters

No, I haven’t provided a link. The message: “YouTube (owned by Google) does not let you watch videos anonymously. As such, watching YouTube videos here will be tracked by YouTube/Google,” got up my nose.

Milly and I went to the movies on Sunday. I’m not sure if it was the first day cinemas were open in Western Australia, but I think so – the Premier was in the newspapers having a pint in a pub to illustrate lifted restrictions. Of course most punters regard reduced restrictions as the end of the virus, so stage 2 will be upon us soon. I’ve stocked up on masks, I can’t imagine they’ll shut down the economy a second time.

Unfortunately, our art-house cinema chain, Luna, had not yet re-opened so our choices were restricted to Emma and the NZ film Boy which was apparently a hit at Sundance. Emma suited us better timewise so Emma it was.

“Directed by Autumn de Wilde. With Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Angus Imrie.” Those are names I do not know, but they’re an odd looking lot. Very few of the cast looked as I imagined them, though Bill Nighy made an excellent, very frail, Mr Woodhouse; and the director had Robert Martin, the farmer, as an awkward young country boy which worked quite well. Harriet was well done, looking exactly like a 16 year old school girl. Mr Knightley, frankly, looked like a yokel in fancy dress, leading to a serious disconnect between his appearance and his speech, far too young and frisky for the stern corrector of Emma’s speech and behaviour JA envisaged.

For some reason all the actors leapt and capered, not to mention undressing, and dressing at the drop of a hat, all a bit disconcerting.

So, to get to the meat. The screenplay was by Eleanor Catton whose The Luminaries was probably the first work of historical fiction to be reviewed, negatively, in these pages. She appears to have done no more than select Austen’s words and string them together. There was no attempt at interpretation. The movie, long enough at two hours, concentrates on Emma and Harriet’s friendship and the tangles Emma’s matchmaking gets both of them into.

The settings as you would expect, are gorgeous. I didn’t look to see which stately homes were used.

Spoiler coming up. The Westons, Miss Bates, the vicar and his new wife, Frank and Jane play their expected parts but very much in the background. Emma’s concerns are her father and Harriet. About half-way through, Emma dances with Mr Knightley and they make eyes at each other. We are meant to realise that they have feelings (for each other). Consequently, the denoument, when it is announced that Frank and Jane have all along been secretly engaged, falls flat.

I gave it 3/5

To the extent that I remember it, and I do own a copy, I think the Gwyneth Paltrow version is better. In fact, I remember only bits and pieces from the book as well. Lets hope WG posts a review. Her scintillating analysis of Emma, in three parts, made her the inaugural wadholloway blogger of the year in 2015, and I can well imagine her applying the same gimlet eye to this curate’s egg of a movie.

 

 

The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf: Harcourt Brace & Company ...

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an important early English modernist and first wave feminist, and The Voyage Out (1915) is her first novel. I have said before this is not a period I have studied, though I am well enough read in a general sense. My general intention is to make my way through all the best books, and my particular intention here is to achieve a better understanding of Australian women’s works of the same period, ie. Gen 3. The Australian modernists we have looked at to date, Christina Stead, Eleanor Dark, Dymphna Cusack with Jungfrau are all a bit later than Woolf and no doubt influenced by her (after 1922 all modernists are influenced by James Joyce, but it is harder – for a layman – to tell who was influenced by Woolf or DH Lawrence, let alone lesser figures like Vita Sackville-West). Interestingly one important Australian modernist work predates The Voyage Out and that is HH Richardson’s Maurice Guest (1908) which I am interested now to go back and read in this context.

The Voyage Out tells the story of Rachel Vinrace, 24 and never been kissed, set during a holiday of just a few months, undated but in one of those last few years before the Great War, on Rachel’s father’s steamship from London, and then in a grand hotel and nearby villa in an unnamed French possession in South America.

Rachel is travelling with the Ambroses, her Aunt Helen, beautiful, 40, her children left behind, and her uncle, an academic. She has no formal education but is a brilliant pianist, and is forthright and intelligent. It quickly becomes clear to Helen that Rachel, brought up by maiden aunts after the death of her mother, knows absolutely nothing about relations between the sexes, and she determines to take her in hand.

For a while on the voyage out Rachel spends time with the MP Richard Dalloway being (willingly) lectured to about politics and foreign affairs. Eventually he gets her alone in her cabin and of course kisses her. Which she finds interesting and not particularly disagreeable. But the Dalloways are put off at an earlier stop and disappear into another novel altogether.

Rather than travel on to the Amazon with her father, Rachel is persuaded to stay with her aunt, and so the second phase of the novel begins, in some ways a very familiar story, a dozen or so upper middle class English people, with a wide range of ages, say 20 to 80, bound in one place for a fixed period.

Two of the younger set, Susan and Ambrose, are soon engaged and are then set aside to be used from time to time by the author as an example of stock-standard unreflective coupledom. Another young woman, Evelyn, is much more interesting, maybe even standing in for the author herself. She wishes there was a Garibaldi she might attach herself to; there are always things to do, places to see; later she exclaims, “I’d give all I have in the world to help on a revolution against the Russian government, and it’s bound to come.” She is open about having been born out of wedlock, has an undeserved reputation for looseness, is for ever being proposed to, but is never sure that she wants to be married.

Two young men, friends in their late twenties, Hewet and Hirst attach themselves to Rachel and Helen, Mr Ambrose being locked away in his study translating a Greek poet. Hirst is ugly and hugely intelligent, on his way to being one of the great men of his generation. Hewet is a budding novelist. Hirst attempts to forward Rachel’s education, but without much success. He is interested more in Helen and you keep expecting something to come of it though it never does.

Slowly, through a sea of talk and philosophising, Hewet and Rachel find themselves in love.

Evelyn had not spoken, but she had been looking from Susan to Rachel. Well – they had both made up their minds very easily, they had done in a very few weeks what it sometimes seemed to her that she would never be able to do. Although they were so different, she thought that she could see in each the same look of satisfaction and completion, the same calmness of manner, and the same slowness of movement. It was that slowness, that confidence, that content which she hated, she thought to herself. They moved so slowly because they were not single but double … Love was all very well, and those snug domestic houses with the kitchen below and the nursery above, which were so secluded and self-contained, like little islands in the torrents of the world; but the real things were surely the things that happened, the causes, the wars, the ideals, that happened in the great world outside, and went on independently of these women, turning so quietly and beautifully towards the men.

See how Woolf jumps from outside Evelyn to ‘inside’. Without, yet, being stream of consciousness, her writing follows the trains of thought of each of her protagonists, and is elsewhere wonderfully descriptive of the people, the scenery, the weather. The author’s feminism is quietly evident, in Evelyn for instance, but more often, as I discussed with Sackville-West (here), in putting up the conventional view and allowing us space to form our own criticisms. One of the women in the hotel, Miss Allan is employed, a teacher, writing an Eng Lit textbook, but generally all the characters would be at home in Jane Austen, independently well-off, at leisure for months at a time to work through their relationships. It is only after the War, I think, that young middle class women more or less automatically went into jobs – a fact obscured by the mythologizing around ‘homemakers’ in the 1950s.

The last 50 pages – of 380 – are shocking. Beautifully written, as is the whole novel, but completely unexpected. I can’t say why Woolf chose the ending she did, you will have to see for yourselves.

 

 

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, first pub. The Hogarth Press, London, 1915. Edition pictured, Harcourt Brace, 1948. My edition Granada, 1981

All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West

All Passion Spent

I have eight or 10 Viragos I bought in a job lot years ago and never got round to reading, well not until this week when one of you, Karen (Booker Talk) talked me into making a start. As you can tell from the excerpt I put up this morning (as I write)  this is wonderful writing, the very epitome of English modernism.

Twentieth century English Lit. is not my area of expertise, so I’ve been looking stuff up. One article (locked unfortunately) has modernism beginning with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) ” … experiments with linguistic ambiguity opening the door for many interpretations… explores the corruption of imperialism”. Though the big break with the past was World War I, followed by James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses (1922).

Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West (1892-1962) began writing, and began taking women as lovers, while still at school. In 1913 she married diplomat and politician Harold Nicholson, though both continued to take (same-sex) lovers. They had two children and she followed him to some overseas postings, most notably Persia (Iran) which was the scene for the excerpt. I can’t help adding that Sackville-West had a passionate affair with another married woman and the two husbands felt obliged to hire a light plane to pursue them to France.

In 1922 Sackville-West began a long relationship with Virginia Woolf, documented by VSW’s son Nigel Nicholson in Portrait of a Marriage (1973), during which time it is felt both women did their best work, surrounded by the artists and thinkers of the Bloomsbury Set. Woolf reportedly based Orlando (which I have read but don’t remember) on her friend. Sackville-West had a considerable output in fiction, poetry and non-fiction – I should have remembered she wrote The Incomparable Astrea (1927) about Aphra Benn, who pops up as well in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929). All Passion Spent (1931) is the eighth of Sackville-West’s sixteen or so novels.

After 6 decades of marriage and a long and storied career in English politics and diplomacy, Henry Holland first Earl of Slane has died. Freed at last of the constraints of being a political wife, Lady Slane allows her mind to wander. Lady Slane – and only late in the novel do we learn her given name – is in her late eighties, her six surviving children are in their sixties, her grandchildren are grown up and so are her oldest great-grandchildren. For nearly 70 years she has shut down her mind, resisted all thoughts of her early ambition of being a painter, stood by her ambitious husband, and has been the calm if occasionally vague centre of a large and pushy family most of whom she finds she mildly dislikes.

This is not a feminist novel. Sackville-West said so. This is an investigation of how an intelligent and artistic woman was willingly subsumed into the straight-jacket of political wife, written by a woman of the same class but half her age who married a diplomat/politician and wasn’t (subsumed), in fact who married ‘badly’ so she wouldn’t be. Nevertheless, by allowing Lady Slane to reflect on how her life had got her to where she was, Sackville-West intentionally gives us enough information to draw our own conclusions.

The book doesn’t have any chapters but is divided into three sections. In the first, Lady Slane comes downstairs from viewing for the last time the body of her husband to find her four horrible older children have determined that mother is too vague to live on her own and that they will do their duty, and they may need to be recompensed, by letting her live with each of them a few months at a time. For a short while we view this scene through the eyes of Edith, the youngest, who may have been an interesting character in her own right, but this is almost the last we see of her.

Lady Slane however has already been in touch with an agent – in fact the elderly owner, Mr Bucktrout – of a house in Hampstead (which feels separate from London and a bit rural, but which I understand is quite close to the City) in which she will see out her days with her servant Genoux, who was 16 when she married at 18 Slane, then plain Mr Holland (though probably an Hon.). It is telling that it is only in these last days that Lady Slane learns that Genoux was a farm girl with seven siblings, who had been sent from Paris by an agent, to never seen them again.

In Part Two Lady Slane reflects on her married life:

Sitting there in the sun at Hampstead, in the late summer, under the south wall and the ripened peaches, doing nothing with her hands, she remembered the day she had become engaged to Henry. She had plenty of leisure now, day in, day out, to survey her life as a tract of country traversed, and at last become a landscape instead of separate fields or separate years and days …

Henry had treated her well and given her a fine life, she had been Vicereine of India and the wife of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, but every time she had expressed an idea he had paused to listen then passed on, unmoved – “Henry need make no bones about his creed, she must protect hers from shame and ridicule”.

Part Three, the last hundred pages (of 295), contains what little there is of plot. An old millionaire miser, FitzGeorge, a man entirely without family, calls on her, and callers, including her family are discouraged, makes enough of an impression to continue calling; he was one of the hundreds she had met in India; he had remembered and she had not. They talk and take little walks together. When he dies he leaves her his fortune, and she is able to discommode her family once again.

Right at the end, and it’s a bit neat, her great grand-daughter Deborah, engaged to a Duke, bursts in, lays her head on Lady Slane’s knee and sobs that she has broken the engagement and is going to be a pianist.

 

 

Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent, first pub. 1931. Virago Modern Classics, London, 1983

For another perspective see Karen/BookerTalk (here)