Wednesday, 31 October 2012

George Frederick Handel - Documentary

The Novels of Jane Austen

For nearly half a century England has possessed an artist of the highest rank, whose works have been extensively circulated, whose merits have been keenly relished, and whose name is still unfamiliar in men's mouths. One would suppose that great excellence and real success would inevitably produce a loud reputation. Yet in this particular case such a supposition would be singularly mistaken. So far from the name of Miss Austen being constantly cited among the glories of our literature, there are many well-informed persons who will be surprised to hear it mentioned among the best writers. If we look at Hazlitt's account of the English novelists, in his Lectures on the Comic Writers, we find Mrs. Radcliff, Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Opie, Miss Burney, and Miss Edgeworth receiving due honor, and more than is due; but no hint that Miss Austen has written a line. If we cast a glance over the list of english authors republicshed by Baudry, Galignani, and Tauchnitz, we find there writers of the very smallest pretensions, but not the author of Emma, and Mansfield Park. Mention the name of Miss Austen to a cultivate dreader, and it is probable that the sparkle in his eye will at once flash forth sympathetic admiration, and he will perhaps relate how Scott, Whately, and Macaulay prize this gifted woman, and how the English public has bought her works; but beyond this literary circle we find the name almost entirely unknown; and not simply unknown in the sense of having no acknowledged place among the remarkable writers, but unremembered even in connections with the very works which are themselves remembered. We have met with many persons who remembered to have read Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park, but who had altogether forgotten by whom they were written. 'Miss Austen? Oh, yes; she translates from the German, doesn't she?' is not an uncommon question—a vague familiarity with the name of Mrs. Austin being uppermost. from time to time also the tiresome twaddle of lady novelists is praised by certain critics, as exhibiting the 'quiet truthfulness of Miss Austin.'

That Miss Austen is an artist of high rank, in the most rigorous sense of the word, is an opinion which in the present article we shall endeavor to substantiate. That her novels are very extensively read, is not an opinion, but a demonstracted fact; and with this fact we couple the paradoxical fact, of a fine artist, whose works are widely known and enjoyed, being all but unknown to the English public, and quite unknown abroad. The causes which have kept her name in comparative obscurity all the time that her works have ben extensively read, and her reputation every year has been settling itself more firmly in the minds of the better critics, may well be worth an inquiry. It is intelligible how the blaze of Scott should have thrown her into the shade, at first: beside his frescoes her works are but miniatures; exquisite as miniatures, yet incapable of ever filling that space in the public eye which was filled by his massive and masterly pictures. But although it is intelligible why Soctt should have eclipsed her, it is not at first so easy to understand why Miss Edgeworth should have done so. Miss Austen, indeed, ahs taken her revenge with posterity. She will doubtless be read as long as English novels find readers; whereas Miss Edgeworth is already little more than a name, and only finds a public for her children's books. But contemporaries, for the most part judged otherwise; and in consequence Miss Edgeworth's name has become familiar all over the three kingdoms. Scott, indeed, and Archbishop Whately, at once perceived the superiority of Miss Austen to her more fortunate rival;1 but the Quarterly tells us that 'her fame has grown fastest since she died: there was no éclat about her first appearance: the public took time to make up its mind; and she, not having staked her hopes of happiness on success or failure, was content to wati for the dcision of her claims. Those claims have been long established beyond a question; but the meri tof first recognizing them belongs less to the reviewers than to the general readers.' There is comfort in this for authors who see the applause of reviewers lavished on works of garish effect. Nothing that is really good can fail, at last, in securing its audience; and it is evident that Miss Austen's work smust possess elements of indestructible excellence, since, although never 'popular,' she survives writers who were very popular; and forty years after her death, gains more recognition than she gained when alive. Those who, like ourselves, ahve read and re-read her works several times, can understand this duration, and this increase of her fame. But the fact that her name is not even now a household word proves that her excellence must be of an unobtrusive kind, shunning the glare of popularity, not appealing to temporary tastes and vulgar sympathies, but demanding culture in its admirers. Johnson wittily says of somebody, 'Sir, he managed to make himself public without making himself known.' Miss Austen has made herself known without making herself public. There is no portrait of her in the shop windows; indeed, no portrait of her at all. But she is cherished in the memories of those whose memory is fame.

As one symptom of neglect we have to notice the scantiness of all biographical details about her. Of Miss Burney, who is no longer read, nor much worth reading, we have biography, and to spare. Of Miss Bronte, who, we fear, will soon cease to find readers, there is also ample biography; but of Miss Austen we have little information. In the first volume of the eidtion published by Mr. Bentley (five charming volumes, to be had for fifteen shillings) there is a meagre notice, from which we draw the following details.

Jane Austen was born on the 16th December 1775, at Steventon in Hampshire. Her father was rector of the parish during forty years, and then quitted it for Bath. He was a scholar, and fond of general literature, and probably paid special attention to his daughter's culture. In bath, Jane only lived four years; but that was enough, and more than enough, for her observing humor, as we see in Northanger Abbey. After the death of her father, she removed with her mother and sister to Southampton; and finally, in 1809, settled in the pleasant village of Chawton, in Hampshire, from whence she issued her novels. Some of these had been written long before, but were withheld, probably because of her great diffidence. She had a high standard of excellence, and knew how prone self-love is to sophiticate. So great was this distrust, that the charming novel, Northanger Abbey, although the first in point of time, did not appear in print until after her death; and this work, which the Quarterly Review pronounces the weakest of the series (a verdict only intelligible to us because in the same breath Persuasion is called the best!), is not only written with unflagging vivacity, but contains two characters no one else could have equalled—Henry Tilney and John Thorpe. Sense and Sensibility was the first to appear, and that was in 1811. She had laid aside a sum of money to meet what she expected would be her loss on that publication, and "could scarcely believe her great good fortune when it produced a clear profit of £150." Between 1811 and 1816 appeared her three chefs-d'œuvre—Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. The applause these met with, gratified her, of course; but she steadily resisted every attempt to "make a lion of her," and never publicly avowed her authorship, although she spoke freely of it in private. Soon after the publication of Emma, symptoms of an incurable decline apepared. In the month of May, 1817, she was removed to Winchester, in order that constant medical advice might be secured. She seems to have suffered much, but suffered it with resignation. Her last words were, "I want nothing but death." This was on Friday, the 18th July, 1817; presently after she expired in the arms of her sister. Her body lies in Winchester Cathedral.

The Novels of Jane Austen by George Henry Lewes

Lady Gordon (née Julia Isabella Levina Bennet): Cottage at Wigmore, Kent, 1803

Lady Gordon (née Julia Isabella Levina Bennet), ‘Cottage at Wigmore, Kent’ 1803

Lady Gordon is remembered as one of J.M.W.Turner's few known pupils. It was Paul Oppé who first speculated, correctly, that she may also have taken lessons from Thomas Girtin (no.77). For this watercolour she has selected Girtin's favourite paper, a coarse laid cartridge of a warmish tint containing slight flecks which give a subtle variety to the surface. Girtin enjoyed a reputation for making sketches in the open air, a practice he seems to have instilled in his pupils, for this watercolour is described by Lady Gordon on the mount as a 'Sketch from Nature'. The mount also bears her initials, Julia Bennet. Two years later she married General Sir James Willoughby Gordon. The latter was Quartermaster General during the Peninsular Wars.

John Keats To Fanny Brawne

Ambrotype of Fanny Brawne, lover of John Keats, taken circa 1850 

My sweet girl,

Your Letter gave me more delight, than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my Fancy was affraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures. You mention 'horrid people' and ask me whether it depend upon them whether I see you again. Do understand me, my love, in this. I have so much of you in my heart that I must turn Mentor when I see a chance of harm befalling you. I would never see any thing but Pleasure in your eyes, love on your lips, and Happiness in your steps. I would wish to see you among those amusements suitable to your inclinations and spirits; so that our loves might be a delight in the midst of Pleasures agreeable enough, rather than a resource from vexations and cares. But I doubt much, in case of the worst, whether I shall be philosopher enough to follow my own Lessons: if I saw my resolution give you a pain I could not. Why may I not speak of your Beauty, since without that I could never have lov'd you. I cannot conceive any beginning of such love as I have for you but Beauty. There may be a sort of love for which, without the least sneer at it, I have the highest respect and can admire it in others: but it has not the richness, the bloom, the full form, the enchantment of love after my own heart. So let me speak of your Beauty, though to my own endangering; if you could be so cruel to me as to try elsewhere its Power. You say you are afraid I shall think you do not love me - in saying this you make me ache the more to be near you. I am at the diligent use of my faculties here, I do not pass a day without sprawling some blank verse or tagging some rhymes; and here I must confess, that, (since I am on that subject,) I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel. I have seen your Comet, and only wish it was a sign that poor Rice would get well whose illness makes him rather a melancholy companion: and the more so as so to conquer his feelings and hide them from me, with a forc'd Pun. I kiss'd your Writing over in the hope you had indulg'd me by leaving a trace of honey - What was your dream? Tell it me and I will tell you the interpretation threreof.

Ever yours, my love!

John Keats.

Do not accuse me of delay - we have not here any opportunity of sending letters every day. Write speedily.

July 8th, 1819

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

William Holman Hunt: The Lady of Shalott

Hunt's first Lady of Shalott was a drawing finished in May 1850. Whereas his final version bears the considerable burden of representing his complex conception of 'eternal truth', understandably his first has a less ambitious and more specific function: to illustrate Tennyson's poem 'truly'. In this case truth equates with completeness of illustration, since primarily it is an attempt to show as many important episodes from the poem as possible on one page. As Hunt reports having told Rossetti: the drawing 'was only put aside when the paper was so worn that it would not bear a single new correction' (cited in Bronkhurst, 1984, p.249).

Hunt's anxiety to compress as much of 'The Lady of Shalott' as he could into this drawing can perhaps be deduced from the fact that the shawl which is tied around the lady's waist as she faces the viewer has mysteriously disappeared from her mirror image. This highly uncharacteristic oversight suggests that Hunt was more concerned about the total effect of his illustration than with a relatively minor — perhaps even a decorative — detail of dress. Certainly, compared with its much larger 1905 counterpart, this drawing imports little extratextual material, and its implications are, therefore, correspondingly comparatively limited.

What the 1850 drawing does do, however, is to mark Hunt's debut as a literary illustrator, showing itself to be [315/316] the first attempt of a young artist to do justice to one of the best-known works of England's foremost poet, and also to come to terms with the hallowed tradition of 'ut pictura poesis'. The terms of the debate about the sister arts in which this version of The Lady of Shalott is engaged were subsequently eloquently set out by Matthew Arnold in his 'Epilogue to Lessing's Laocoön', which was probably written in 1864-65. Arnold's poem restates., in Victorian Neoclassical terms, the central thesis of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's seminal contribution to the eighteenth-century debate about the sister arts, which was entitled Laocoön (1766), and provided with the explanatory subtitle: An Essay Upon the Limitations of Poetry and Painting.

More here.

Elizabeth Siddal: The Passing of Love

 "Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal , 1860 ". Rossetti, Dante 

O God, forgive me that I ranged
My live into a dream of love!
Will tears of anguish never wash
The passion from my blood?

Love kept my heart in a song of joy,
My pulses quivered to the tune;
The coldest blasts of winter blew
Upon me like sweet airs in June.

Love floated on the mists of morn
And rested on the sunset’s rays;
He calmed the thunder of the storm
And lighted all my ways.

Love held me joyful through the day
And dreaming ever through the night;
No evil thing could come to me,
My spirit was so light.

O Heaven help my foolish heart
Which heeded not the passing time
That dragged my idol from its place
And shattered all its shrine

The James cult - On the work of Henry James, and his loyal following.

I am a member of a cult. Jamesians we call ourselves, less frequently Jacobites, and we are dedicated to the propagation and sanctification of the works of Henry James (1843–1916), a writer who is, to put it gently, not everybody’s notion of a rollicking good time. Many are the criticisms against James, none of them entirely invalid. Some claim that in his fiction he chewed much more than he bit off; others argue that a great deal of what is at the heart of meritorious fiction—the struggle for survival, the drama of ambition, physical love—is absent from his. Those of us in the cult allow all this, though we view it as quite beside the point. Our condition is put best by James himself in “The Next Time,” a story about an author named Ray Limbert who struggled to produce bestsellers but, unable to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear, could only create masterpieces. In that story, James wrote:
We are a numerous band, partakers of the same repose, who sit together in the shade of the tree, by the plash of the fountain, with the glare of the desert all around us and no great vice that I know of but the habit perhaps of estimating people a little too much by what they think of a certain style.

That certain style, the Jamesian style, is at the crux of the cult. Either one gets it or one doesn’t, and many people, even highly cultivated and well-read people, do not. It is a style in which each heavily nuanced sentence can sometimes seem a veritable barcarole. At other times the Jamesian sentence resembles a hawk, circling, circling, circling before plunging downward to strike off a penetrating observation or startling aperçu. As subordinate clause piles upon subordinate clause—especially in his late style when James took to dictating his prose to a typist—one occasionally forgets that the sentence under investigation has a subject and predicate. And yet, James’s style, for all its rococo circumlocution, did exactly what he wanted it to do, which was to capture consciousness in all its complexity.

Within this elaborate syntax, there is Jamesian irony to consider. Irony is the art of obliquity, of saying one thing yet meaning another, richer, often comical thing. Entire stories of James’s were written in ironic mode. Only James could have described a minor character, in his novel The Europeans, as “inconvenienced with intelligence.” The narrator of “The Next Time,” a critic, remarks of his contribution to a magazine that “I supply the most delicious irony,” to which his publisher replies, “that’s not in the least a public want. No one can make out what you’re talking about and no one would care if he could.” But when it comes to Henry James, we cultists do care, care awfully. A nineteenth-century critic in The Nation remarked of James’s style that “the reader feels irresistibly flattered at the homage paid to his perceptive powers.” This homage is part of what attracted us to the cult in the first place.

Michael Gorra, a professor of English at Smith College, a fellow Jamesian cultist, has found a new and interesting approach to writing about Henry James.1 In the preface to his Portrait of a Novel, Gorra declares that he has written “the tale not of a life but of a work.” The work is The Portrait of a Lady, and Gorra’s book shows how

Henry James created Isabel Archer’s portrait, and to what end: tells not only what happens in the book itself but also the story of how James came to write it and what happened to him while he was doing so; of the book’s relation to the major fiction of the decades around it, and of how it was published and received and then, many years later, revised.

The Portrait of a Lady is an excellent choice for this exercise. The novel was published in 1881, then reworked in 1906 by James for the New York Edition of his collected fiction. The Portrait of a Lady is from James’s so-called middle period; after it he wrote The Bostonians (1886) and The Princess Casamassima (1886). The novel was commercially successful, selling some five thousand copies; the two novels following it were harshly reviewed and sold poorly, plunging James into the doldrums. More important, as Gorra skillfully demonstrates, in The Portrait of a Lady Henry James greatly advanced his art, becoming the great novelist of consciousness that he remains in our time. By novelist of consciousness, Gorra means not only that “he learned to stage consciousness itself” but he was able to compose his novels so that “psychological reasons may stand as subjects in themselves, that the life within has a drama of its own . . .”

The Portrait of a Lady is the story of Isabel Archer, a young American woman taken up and swept off, first to England and thence to Italy, by a wealthy aunt, herself long expatriated and currently living in Florence. Europe introduces Isabel to a wider canvas of prospects and possibilities than America allowed. In America she had been proposed to by a well-to-do businessman named Caspar Goodwood. In England, another marriage proposal presents itself in the person of a Lord Warburton, a man of great wealth and political promise. Isabel turns down both, not wishing to run the standard track of life for women of having no greater meaning than making a conventionally good marriage.

More here.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Thomas De Quincey: Charles Lamb

It sounds paradoxical, but is not so in a bad sense, to say, that in every literature of large compass some authors will be found to rest much of the interest which surrounds them on their essential non-popularity. They are good for the very reason that they are not in conformity to the current taste. They interest because to the world they are not interesting. They attract by means of their repulsion. Not as though it could separately furnish a reason for loving a book, that the majority of men had found it repulsive. Prima facie, it must suggest some presumption against a book, that it has failed to gain public attention. To have roused hostility indeed, to have kindled a feud against its own principles or its temper, may happen to be a good sign. That argues power. Hatred may be promising. The deepest revolutions of mind sometimes begin in hatred. But simply to have left a reader unimpressed, is in itself a neutral result, from which the inference is doubtful. Yet even that, even simple failure to impress, may happen at times to be a result from positive powers in a writer, from special originalities, such as rarely reflect themselves in the mirror of the ordinary understanding. It seems little to be perceived, how much the great scriptural [Endnote: 1] idea of the worldly and the unworldly is found to emerge in literature as well as in life. In reality the very same combinations of moral qualities, infinitely varied, which compose the harsh physiognomy of what we call worldliness in the living groups of life, must unavoidably present themselves in books. A library divides into sections of worldly and unworldly, even as a crowd of men divides into that same majority and minority. The world has an instinct for recognizing its own; and recoils from certain qualities when exemplified in books, with the same disgust or defective sympathy as would have governed it in real life. From qualities for instance of childlike simplicity, of shy profundity, or of inspired self-communion, the world does and must turn away its face towards grosser, bolder, more determined, or more intelligible expressions of character and intellect; and not otherwise in literature, nor at all less in literature, than it does in the realities of life.

Charles Lamb, if any ever was is amongst the class here contemplated; he, if any ever has, ranks amongst writers whose works are destined to be forever unpopular, and yet forever interesting; interesting, moreover, by means of those very qualities which guarantee their non-popularity. The same qualities which will be found forbidding to the worldly and the thoughtless, which will be found insipid to many even amongst robust and powerful minds, are exactly those which will continue to command a select audience in every generation. The prose essays, under the signature of Elia, form the most delightful section amongst Lamb's works. They traverse a peculiar field of observation, sequestered from general interest; and they are composed in a spirit too delicate and unobtrusive to catch the ear of the noisy crowd, clamoring for strong sensations. But this retiring delicacy itself, the pensiveness chequered by gleams of the fanciful, and the humor that is touched with cross-lights of pathos, together with the picturesque quaintness of the objects casually described, whether men, or things, or usages, and, in the rear of all this, the constant recurrence to ancient recollections and to decaying forms of household life, as things retiring before the tumult of new and revolutionary generations; these traits in combination communicate to the papers a grace and strength of originality which nothing in any literature approaches, whether for degree or kind of excellence, except the most felicitous papers of Addison, such as those on Sir Roger de Coverly, and some others in the same vein of composition. They resemble Addison's papers also in the diction, which is natural and idiomatic, even to carelessness. They are equally faithful to the truth of nature; and in this only they differ remarkably—that the sketches of Elia reflect the stamp and impress of the writer's own character, whereas in all those of Addison the personal peculiarities of the delineator (though known to the reader from the beginning through the account of the club) are nearly quiescent. Now and then they are recalled into a momentary notice, but they do not act, or at all modify his pictures of Sir Roger or Will Wimble. They are slightly and amiably eccentric; but the Spectator him-self, in describing them, takes the station of an ordinary observer.

Everywhere, indeed, in the writings of Lamb, and not merely in his Elia, the character of the writer cooperates in an under current to the effect of the thing written. To understand in the fullest sense either the gaiety or the tenderness of a particular passage, you must have some insight into the peculiar bias of the writer's mind, whether native and original, or impressed gradually by the accidents of situation; whether simply developed out of predispositions by the action of life, or violently scorched into the constitution by some fierce fever of calamity. There is in modern literature a whole class of writers, though not a large one, standing within the same category; some marked originality of character in the writer become a coefficient with what he says to a common result; you must sympathize with this personality in the author before you can appreciate the most significant parts of his views. In most books the writer figures as a mere abstraction, without sex or age or local station, whom the reader banishes from his thoughts. What is written seems to proceed from a blank intellect, not from a man clothed with fleshly peculiarities and differences. These peculiarities and differences neither do, nor (generally speaking)could intermingle with the texture of the thoughts so as to modify their force or their direction. In such books, and they form the vast majority, there is nothing to be found or to be looked for beyond the direct objective. (Sit venia verbo!) But, in a small section of books, the objective in the thought becomes confluent with the subjective in the thinker—the two forces unite for a joint product; and fully to enjoy that product, or fully to apprehend either element, both must be known. It is singular, and worth inquiring into, for the reason that the Greek and Roman literature had no such books. Timon of Athens, or Diogenes, one may conceive qualified for this mode of authorship, had journalism existed to rouse them in those days; their "articles" would no doubt have been fearfully caustic. But, as they failed to produce anything, and Lucian in an after age is scarcely characteristic enough for the purpose, perhaps we may pronounce Rabelais and Montaigne the earliest of writers in the class described. In the century following theirs, came Sir Thomas Brown, and immediately after him La Fontaine. Then came Swift, Sterne, with others less distinguished; in Germany, Hippel, the friend of Kant, Harmann, the obscure; and the greatest of the whole body—John Paul Fr. Richter. In him, from the strength and determinateness of his nature as well as from the great extent of his writing, the philosophy of this interaction between the author as a human agency and his theme as an intellectual reagency, might best be studied. From him might be derived the largest number of cases, illustrating boldly this absorption of the universal into the concrete—of the pure intellect into the human nature of the author. But nowhere could illustrations be found more interesting—shy, delicate, evanescent—shy as lightning, delicate and evanescent as the colored pencillings on a frosty night from the northern lights, than in the better parts of Lamb.

To appreciate Lamb, therefore, it is requisite that his character and temperament should be understood in their coyest and most wayward features. A capital defect it would be if these could not be gathered silently from Lamb's works themselves. It would be a fatal mode of dependency upon an alien and separable accident if they needed an external commentary. But they do not. The syllables lurk up and down the writings of Lamb which decipher his eccentric nature. His character lies there dispersed in anagram; and to any attentive reader the regathering and restoration of the total word from its scattered parts is inevitable without an effort. Still it is always a satisfaction in knowing a result, to know also its why and how; and in so far as every character is likely to be modified by the particular experience, sad or joyous, through which the life has travelled, it is a good contribution towards the knowledge of that resulting character as a whole to have a sketch of that particular experience. What trials did it impose? What energies did it task? What temptations did it unfold? These calls upon the moral powers, which in music so stormy, many a life is doomed to hear, how were they faced? The character in a capital degree moulds oftentimes the life, but the life always in a subordinate degree moulds the character. And the character being in this case of Lamb so much of a key to the writings, it becomes important that the life should be traced, however briefly, as a key to the character.

That is one reason for detaining the reader with some slight record of Lamb's career. Such a record by preference and of right belongs to a case where the intellectual display, which is the sole ground of any public interest at all in the man, has been intensely modified by the humanities and moral personalities distinguishing the subject. We read a Physiology, and need no information as to the life and conversation of its author; a meditative poem becomes far better understood by the light of such information; but a work of genial and at the same time eccentric sentiment, wandering upon untrodden paths, is barely intelligible without it. There is a good reason for arresting judgment on the writer, that the court may receive evidence on the life of the man. But there is another reason, and, in any other place, a better; which reason lies in the extraordinary value of the life considered separately for itself. Logically, it is not allowable to say that here; and, considering the principal purpose of this paper, any possible independent value of the life must rank as a better reason for reporting it. Since, in a case where the original object is professedly to estimate the writings of a man, whatever promises to further that object must, merely by that tendency, have, in relation to that place, a momentary advantage which it would lose if valued upon a more abstract scale. Liberated from this casual office of throwing light upon a book—raised to its grander station of a solemn deposition to the moral capacities of man in conflict with calamity—viewed as a return made into the chanceries of heaven—upon an issue directed from that court to try the amount of power lodged in a poor desolate pair of human creatures for facing the very anarchy of storms—this obscure life of the two Lambs, brother and sister, (for the two lives were one life,) rises into a grandeur that is not paralleled once in a generation.

Rich, indeed, in moral instruction was the life of Charles Lamb; and perhaps in one chief result it offers to the thoughtful observer a lesson of consolation that is awful, and of hope that ought to be immortal, viz., in the record which it furnishes, that by meekness of submission, and by earnest conflict with evil, in the spirit of cheerfulness, it is possible ultimately to disarm or to blunt the very heaviest of curses—even the curse of lunacy. Had it been whispered, in hours of infancy, to Lamb, by the angel who stood by his cradle—"Thou, and the sister that walks by ten years before thee, shall be through life, each to each, the solitary fountain of comfort; and except it be from this fountain of mutual love, except it be as brother and sister, ye shall not taste the cup of peace on earth!"—here, if there was sorrow in reversion, there was also consolation.

But what funeral swamps would have instantly ingulfed this consolation, had some meddling fiend prolonged the revelation, and, holding up the curtain from the sad future a little longer, had said scornfully—"Peace on earth! Peace for you two, Charles and Mary Lamb! What peace is possible under the curse which even now is gathering against your heads? Is there peace on earth for the lunatic—peace for the parenticide—peace for the girl that, without warning, and without time granted for a penitential cry to heaven, sends her mother to the last audit?" And then, without treachery, speaking bare truth, this prophet of woe might have added—"Thou also, thyself, Charles Lamb, thou in thy proper person, shalt enter the skirts of this dreadful hail-storm; even thou shalt taste the secrets of lunacy, and enter as a captive its house of bondage; whilst over thy sister the accursed scorpion shall hang suspended through life, like Death hanging over the beds of hospitals, striking at times, but more often threatening to strike; or withdrawing its instant menaces only to lay bare her mind more bitterly to the persecutions of a haunted memory!" Considering the nature of the calamity, in the first place; considering, in the second place, its life-long duration; and, in the last place, considering the quality of the resistance by which it was met, and under what circumstances of humble resources in money or friends—we have come to the deliberate judgment, that the whole range of history scarcely presents a more affecting spectacle of perpetual sorrow, humiliation, or conflict, and that was supported to the end, (that is, through forty years,) with more resignation, or with more absolute victory.

Charles Lamb was born in February of the year 1775. His immediate descent was humble; for his father, though on one particular occasion civilly described as a "scrivener," was in reality a domestic servant to Mr. Salt—a bencher (and therefore a barrister of some standing) in the Inner Temple. John Lamb the father belonged by birth to Lincoln; from which city, being transferred to London whilst yet a boy, he entered the service of Mr. Salt without delay; and apparently from this period throughout his life continued in this good man's household to support the honorable relation of a Roman client to his patronus, much more than that of a mercenary servant to a transient and capricious master. The terms on which he seems to live with the family of the Lambs, argue a kindness and a liberality of nature on both sides. John Lamb recommended himself as an attendant by the versatility of his accomplishments; and Mr. Salt, being a widower without children, which means in effect an old bachelor, naturally valued that encyclopaedic range of dexterity which made his house independent of external aid for every mode of service. To kill one's own mutton is but an operose way of arriving at a dinner, and often a more costly way; whereas to combine one's own carpenter, locksmith, hair-dresser, groom, &c., all in one man's person,—to have a Robinson Crusoe, up to all emergencies of life, always in waiting, —is a luxury of the highest class for one who values his ease.

A consultation is held more freely with a man familiar to one's eye, and more profitably with a man aware of one's peculiar habits. And another advantage from such an arrangement is, that one gets any little alteration or repair executed on the spot. To hear is to obey, and by an inversion of Pope's rule—

"One always is, and never to be, blest."

People of one sole accomplishment, like the homo unius libri, are usually within that narrow circle disagreeably perfect, and therefore apt to be arrogant. People who can do all things, usually do every one of them ill; and living in a constant effort to deny this too palpable fact, they become irritably vain. But Mr. Lamb the elder seems to have been bent on perfection. He did all things; he did them all well; and yet was neither gloomily arrogant, nor testily vain. And being conscious apparently that all mechanic excellencies tend to illiberal results, unless counteracted by perpetual sacrifices to the muses, he went so far as to cultivate poetry; he even printed his poems, and were we possessed of a copy, (which we are not, nor probably is the Vatican,) it would give us pleasure at this point to digress for a moment, and to cut them up, purely on considerations of respect to the author's memory. It is hardly to be supposed that they did not really merit castigation; and we should best show the sincerity of our respect for Mr. Lamb, senior, in all those cases where we could conscientiously profess respect by an unlimited application of the knout in the cases where we could not.

More here.

George Price Boyce: Profile Portrait of Ellen Smith

Profile Portrait of Ellen Smith

Described in a rather old-fashioned manner by Virginia Surtees as 'a laundry girl of uncertain virtue', Ellen Smith was a popular model in the 1860s, sitting not only to Boyce but Rossetti and Burne-Jones amongst many others. George Boyce noted in his diary on November 21st 1865: 'Nelly Smith called. She was not looking well. Has been sitting to Simeon Solomon, Poynter, Stanhope, Jones, Pinwell, and a man of the name of Linton.' Perhaps her most famous appearance is as the bridesmaid in the left foreground of Rossetti's The Beloved, 1865-6 (Tate Gallery). Boyce, who owned several of Rossetti's studies of her and in addition to the present picture, painted her in two watercolours of 1866-7 (George Price Boyce exhibition, Tate Gallery, 1987, numbers 5-6, reproduced in the catalogue). She also appears many times in his diaries. 

Boyce first mentions her in his diary on April 13th 1863 when 'He [Rossetti] made me a present of a lovely study in pencil of the head of the girl who is now sitting to him.'On 5th May 1863 Rossetti asked for it back. 'Rossetti sent for the study he gave me, a pencil head of Ellen Smith, said it was by inadvertence he had parted with it, as he particularly wished to dispose of it with other studies of the same picture (Bride in Song of Solomon) to the purchasers of the picture. He promised me "good measure" in exchange.'

In May 1868 Boyce gave her an alpaca dress,'thinking it might be useful', and the following year he lent her £ 15 when she was trying to acquire a laundry business in Keppel Street (now Sloane Avenue). She was still sitting for him in November 1870, but it was perhaps shortly after this that she lost her good looks in unfortunate circumstances. According to Rossetti's assistant, Henry Treffry Dunn, 'Ellen Smith sat for several of his sweetest pictures until the poor girl got her face sadly cut about and disfigured by a brute of a soldier and then of course she was of no more use as a model' (Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1984, page 32).

She makes her last appearance in Boyce's diary on 17th February 1873: 'Ellen Smith, now Mrs Elson, called on me to tell me she had been married about 3 weeks ago to an old acquaintance and suitor, a cabman. She wishes to do some laundry work on her own account, as her husband's earnings are small'.

The present study is unusual in Boyce's work in being an oil. Only one other oil by Boyce is known today, a landscape in the Tate Gallery dated 1857, although two more are known to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858.

Commentary by Bil Waters

*** GEORGE PRICE BOYCE was the elder brother of the brilliant, and tragic Joanna Boyce, the great woman painter who died in her early thirties with her potential unfulfilled. This remains one of the great losses to English art of the nineteenth century.

George Boyce was initially training as an architect. Following a meeting with the artist David Cox, he decided that his real interest was in painting, and resolved to train as an artist. His father supported him in this change, as he also supported the artistic aspirations of his talented daughter. David Cox, whom Boyce met in 1849, was also instrumental in this new direction, and seems to have been his artistic mentor. He became a close friend of Rossetti, and member of his circle. He and had a close friendship with Fanny Cornforth, with whom I think he had a sexual relationship. He remembered her cheerful personality with warmth and affection in his diaries, not denying her existence like William Rossetti. Boyce’s diaries, published in the 1940s are a valuable source of information about the Pre-Raphaelites. He became an Associate of the Royal Water Colour Society in 1864, and a full member in 1877, which was felt by many people to be extremely late recognition of his considerable talent as a landscape painter. His watercolour landscapes are accomplished and beautiful. George Boyce was unmarried.

G.K. Chesterton: Charlotte Bronte as a Romantic

The genius of Charlotte Bronte is unique in the only valuable sense in which the word can be applied; the only sense which separates the rarity of some gift in a poet from the rarity of some delusion in an ayslum. However complex or even grotesque an artistic power may be, it must be as these qualities exist in a key, which is one of the most complex and grotesque of human objects, but which has for its object the opening of doors and the entrance into wider things. Charlotte Bronte's art was something more or less than complex; and it was not to be described as grotesque; except rarely - and unintentionally. But it was temperamental and, like all things depending on temperament, unequal; and it was so personal as to be perverse. It is in connection with power of this kind, however creative, that we have to discover and define what distinguished it from the uncreative intensity of the insane. I cannot understand what it was that made the Philistines of a former generation regard Jane Eyre as morally unsound; probably it was its almost exaggerated morality. But if they had regarded it as mentally unsound, I could have understood their prejudice, while perceiving the nature of their error.

Jane Eyre is, among other things, one of the finest detective stories in the world; and for any one artistically attuned to that rather electric atmosphere, the discovery of the mad wife of Rochester is, as that type of sensation should always be, at once startling and suitable. But a stolid reader, trained in a tamer school of fiction, might be excused if he came to the conclusion that the wife was not very much madder than her husband, and that even the governess herself was a little queer. Such a critic, however, would be ill-taught, as people often are in tame schools; for the mildest school is anything but the most moral. The distinction between the liberating violence that belongs to virtue, as distinct from the merely burrowing and self-burying violence that belongs to vice, is something that can only be conveyed by metaphors; such as that I have used about the key. Some may feel disposed to say that the Bronte spirit was not so much a key as a battering ram. She had indeed some command of both instruments, and could use the more domestic one quietly enough at times; but the vital point is that they opened the doors. Or it might be said that Jane Eyre and the mad woman lived in the same dark and rambling house of mystery, but for the maniac all doors opened continually inwards, while for the heroine all doors, one after the other, opened outwards towards the sun.

One of these universal values in the case of Charlotte Bronte is the light she throws on a very fashionable aesthetic fallacy: the over-iterated contrast between realism and romance. They are spoken of as if they were two alternative types of art, and sometimes even as if they were two antagonistic directions of spiritual obligation. But in truth they are things in two different categories; and, like all such things, can exist together, or apart, or in any degree of combination. Romance is a spirit; and as for realism, it is a convention. To say that some literary work is realistic, not romantic, is to be as inconsequent as the man who said to me once, "The Irish are warm-hearted, not logical." He, at any rate, was not logical, or he would have seen that his statement was like saying that somebody was red-haired rather than athletic. There is no reason why a man with strong reasoning power should not have strong affections; and it is my experience, if anything, that the man who can argue clearly in the abstract generally does have a generosity of blood and instincts. But he may not have it, for the things are in different categories. This case of an error about the Irish has some application to the individual case of Charlotte Bronte, who was Irish by blood, and in a sense, all the more Irish for being brought up in Yorkshire. An Irish friend of mine, who suffers the same exile in the same environment, once made to me the suggestive remark that the towering and over-masculine barbarians and lunatics who dominate the Bronte novels, simply represent the impression produced by the rather boastful Yorkshire manners upon the more civilized and sensitive Irish temperament. But the wider application is that romance is an atmosphere, as distinct as a separate dimension, which co-exists with and penetrates the whole work of Charlotte Bronte; and is equally present in all her considerable triumphs of realism, and in her even greater triumphs of unreality.

Realism is a convention, as I have said; it is generally a matter of external artistic form, when it is not a matter of mere fashion or convenience, how far the details of life are given, or how far they are the details of the life we know best. It may be rather more difficult to describe a winged horse than a war horse; but after all it is as easy to count feathers as to count hairs; it is as easy and as dull. The story about a hero in which the hairs of his horse were all numbered would not be a story at all; the line must be drawn a long while before we come to anything like literal reality; and the question of whether we give the horse his wings, or even trouble to mention his colour, is merely a question of the artistic form we have chosen. It is the question between casting a horse in bronze or carving him in marble; not the question of describing a horse for the purposes of a zoologist or for the purposes of a bookie. But the spirit of the work is quite another thing. Works of the wildest fantasticality in form can be filled with a rationalistic and even a sober spirit; as are some works of Lucian, of Swift and of Voltaire. On the other hand, descriptions of the most humdrum environments, told with the most homely intimacy, can be shot through and through with the richest intensity, not only of the spirit of sentiment but of the spirit of adventure.

Few will be impelled to call the household of Mr. Rochester a humdrum environment, but it is none the less true that Charlotte Bronte can fill the quietest rooms and corners with a psychological romance which is rather a matter of temperature than of time or place. After all, the sympathetic treatment of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre is not more intrinsically romantic and even exaggerative than the sympathetic treatment of Mr. Paul Emanuel in Villette; though the first may be superficially a sort of demon and the second more in the nature of an imp. To present Mr. Emanuel sympathetically at all was something of an arduous and chivalric adventure. And Charlotte Bronte was chivalric in this perfectly serious sense; perhaps in too serious a sense, for she paid for the red-hot reality of her romance in a certain insufficiency of humour. She was adventurous, but in an intensely individualistic and therefore an intensely womanly way.

It is the most feminine thing about her that we can think of her as a knight-errant, but hardly as one of an order or round table of knights-errant. Thackeray said that she reminded him of Joan of Arc. But it is one of the fascinating elements in the long romance of Christendom that figures like Joan of Arc have an existence in reality. This vision of the solitary virgin, adventurous and in arms, is very old in European literature and mythology; and the spirit of it went with the little governess along the roads to the dark mansion of madness as if to the castle of an ogre. The same rule had run like a silver thread through the purple tapestries of Ariosto; and we may willingly salute in our great country-woman, especially amid the greatest epic of our country, something of that nobility which is in the very name of Britomart. ...

George Eliot: Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

Silly Novels by Lady Novelists are a genus with many species, determined by the particular quality of silliness that predominates in them — the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic. But it is a mixture of all these — a composite order of feminine fatuity — that produces the largest class of such novels, which we shall distinguish as the mind-and-millinery species. The heroine is usually an heiress, probably a peeress in her own right, with perhaps a vicious baronet, an amiable duke, and an irresistible younger son of a marquis as lovers in the foreground, a clergyman and a poet sighing for her in the middle distance, and a crowd of undefined adorers dimly indicated beyond. Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues. Or it may be that the heroine is not an heiress — that rank and wealth are the only things in which she is deficient; but she infallibly gets into high society, she has the triumph of refusing many matches and securing the best, and she wears some family jewels or other as a sort of crown of righteousness at the end. Rakish men either bite their lips in impotent confusion at her repartees, or are touched to penitence by her reproofs, which, on appropriate occasions, rise to a lofty strain of rhetoric; indeed, there is a general propensity in her to make speeches, and to rhapsodize at some length when she retires to her bedroom. In her recorded conversations she is amazingly eloquent, and in her unrecorded conversations amazingly witty. She is understood to have a depth of insight that looks through and through the shallow theories of philosophers, and her superior instincts are a sort of dial by which men have only to set their clocks and watches, and all will go well. The men play a very subordinate part by her side. You are consoled now and then by a hint that they have affairs, which keeps you in mind that the working-day business of the world is somehow being carried on, but ostensibly the final cause of their existence is that they may accompany the heroine on her “starring” expedition through life. They see her at a ball, and they are dazzled; at a flower-show, and they are fascinated; on a riding excursion, and they are witched by her noble horsemanship; at church, and they are awed by the sweet solemnity of her demeanor. She is the ideal woman in feelings, faculties, and flounces. For all this she as often as not marries the wrong person to begin with, and she suffers terribly from the plots and intrigues of the vicious baronet; but even death has a soft place in his heart for such a paragon, and remedies all mistakes for her just at the right moment. The vicious baronet is sure to be killed in a duel, and the tedious husband dies in his bed requesting his wife, as a particular favor to him, to marry the man she loves best, and having already dispatched a note to the lover informing him of the comfortable arrangement. Before matters arrive at this desirable issue our feelings are tried by seeing the noble, lovely, and gifted heroine pass through many mauvais moments , but we have the satisfaction of knowing that her sorrows are wept into embroidered pocket-handkerchiefs, that her fainting form reclines on the very best upholstery, and that whatever vicissitudes she may undergo, from being dashed out of her carriage to having her head shaved in a fever, she comes out of them all with a complexion more blooming and locks more redundant than ever. 

We may remark, by the way, that we have been relieved from a serious scruple by discovering that silly novels by lady novelists rarely introduce us into any other than very lofty and fashionable society. We had imagined that destitute women turned novelists, as they turned governesses, because they had no other “ladylike” means of getting their bread. On this supposition, vacillating syntax, and improbable incident had a certain pathos for us, like the extremely supererogatory pincushions and ill-devised nightcaps that are offered for sale by a blind man. We felt the commodity to be a nuisance, but we were glad to think that the money went to relieve the necessitous, and we pictured to ourselves lonely women struggling for a maintenance, or wives and daughters devoting themselves to the production of “copy” out of pure heroism — perhaps to pay their husband’s debts or to purchase luxuries for a sick father. Under these impressions we shrank from criticising a lady’s novel: her English might be faulty, but we said to ourselves her motives are irreproachable; her imagination may be uninventive, but her patience is untiring. Empty writing was excused by an empty stomach, and twaddle was consecrated by tears. But no! This theory of ours, like many other pretty theories, has had to give way before observation. Women’s silly novels, we are now convinced, are written under totally different circumstances. The fair writers have evidently never talked to a tradesman except from a carriage window; they have no notion of the working-classes except as “dependents;” they think five hundred a year a miserable pittance; Belgravia and “baronial halls” are their primary truths; and they have no idea of feeling interest in any man who is not at least a great landed proprietor, if not a prime minister. It is clear that they write in elegant boudoirs, with violet-colored ink and a ruby pen; that they must be entirely indifferent to publishers’ accounts, and inexperienced in every form of poverty except poverty of brains. It is true that we are constantly struck with the want of verisimilitude in their representations of the high society in which they seem to live; but then they betray no closer acquaintance with any other form of life. If their peers and peeresses are improbable, their literary men, tradespeople, and cottagers are impossible; and their intellect seems to have the peculiar impartiality of reproducing both what they have seen and heard, and what they have not seen and heard, with equal unfaithfulness. ...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Christina Rossetti: Remember

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

The Birth of British Music - Mendelssohn, The Prophet

Ford Madox Brown: Cromwell on His Farm

The lengthy description of the painting in Ford Madox Ford's biography of Brown is quoted from someone identified as Mr Forbes Robertson , senior, but is described as having been conveyed by Brown himself:

On a white horse, which grazes leisurely by the roadside before us, sits a stalwart man of saturnine visage, in the prime of lusty manhood.
He is attired in the sober costume worn by thoughtful men in the early part of Charles I's reign, is booted in buff, and his beaver is slouched. His coat is dark brown, and his cloak is sage green in colour. On his brow there is a palpable wart, and on the scant white bands which adorn his neck is a red spot as of blood. Before him burns a heap of weeds and stubble, which those two labourers have grubbed from the hedges they have been trimming, and it is the flames thereof that have arrested the attention of their master, and on which he now gazes so earnestly yet so absently.
In vain may the buxom wench, sent by her mistress, who stands with her two children by the garden terrace in front of the goodly manor-house yonder to the right, raise her voice above the lowing of cattle, the grunting of pigs, and the quacking duck which she holds in her lusty grasp, to tell the master that dinner waits.
He hears, and heeds her no more than the little lamb does that nibbles contentedly the herbage by the horse's nose, or than the pig that fancies something good is going on in her neighbourhood, and comes scampering up, with her squeaking litter, among the very horse's feet.
By the consenting fall of the lines of the mouth and the weird speculation in those eyes, he of the white horse sits evidently spell-bound; and that which fixes him is no fairy dance, no pleasing phantasy, but the soul-sobering vision of the prophet or seer.
We have seen where we are in time: but where are we in place, and who is he?
The level landscape, then, which lies so sunny before us, with its dog-roses, chamomile, and marsh-mallow, with its pollard willows throwing their stumpy shadows on the luxuriant pasturage, with its flat, Dutch-like horizon, is the Fen country of Old England.
We are in Huntingdonshire, and yonder in the distance rises the famous tower of its capital. That is the Black Ouse beyond the meadows, which, with winding equivocation, loiters lazily towards the Wash.

More here

Ford Madox Brown, born April 16, 1821, Calais, France, died October 6, 1893, London, England

English painter whose work is associated with that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, although he was never a member.

Brown studied art from 1837 to 1839 inBruges and Antwerp, Belgium. His early work is characterized by sombre colour and dramatic feeling suited to the Byronic subjects that he painted in Paris during 1840–43, such as Manfred on the Jungfrau (c. 1840) and Parisina's Sleep (1842). Already concerned with the accuratere presentation of natural phenomena, he drew from corpses in University College Hospital in London when painting his Prisoner of Chillon (1843). During a visit to Italy in 1845, he met Peter von Cornelius, a member of the former Lukasbund, or Nazarenes. This meeting undoubtedly influenced both Brown's palette and his style. His interest in brilliant, clear colour and neomedievalism first appears in Wyclif Reading His Translation of the Scriptures to John of Gaunt (1847). In 1848 Brown briefly accepted Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a pupil, and in 1850 Brown contributed to the Pre-Raphaelites' magazine, Germ. Like William Holman Hunt, Brown painted in the open air to obtain naturalistic accuracy.

His most famous picture, Work (1852–63), which can be seen as a Victorian social document, was first exhibited at a retrospective exhibition held in London (1865), for which he wrote the catalog. He also worked as a book illustrator with William Morris; produced stained glass, at, among other sites, St. Oswald's, Durham (1864–65); and between 1879 and 1893 completed a series of 12 murals for the Manchestertown hall, depicting scenes from the city's history.

Waugh and Brideshead

Excerpted from Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, by Paula Byrne, to be published this month by HarperCollins; © 2010 by the author.

It is early 1944, and Captain Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh has fallen out of love with the army. He has just turned 40 and is considering his options. To become a screenwriter? An overture to Alexander Korda comes to nothing. To join M.I.5, the intelligence service? He is turned down without an interview. Only one possibility remains: to revert to his pre-war occupation as a novelist.

On January 24 he writes a letter to Colonel Ferguson, officer commanding, Household Cavalry Training Regiment. “I have the honour to request,” the letter begins, “that, for the understated reasons I may be granted leave of absence from duty without pay for three months.” The understated reasons are various—for instance, that his previous service in the Royal Marines, the Commandos, the Special Services, and the Special Air Service Regiment does not qualify him for his current position in a mechanized unit of the cavalry. The necessity of immediate action is stressed. There is a book he needs to write: “It is a peculiarity of the literary profession that, once an idea becomes fully formed in the author’s mind, it cannot be left unexploited without deterioration. If, in fact, the book is not written now it will never be written.”

By the end of January he has been granted his three months’ leave. On the morning of Tuesday, February 1, 1944, he is settled in a hotel, deep in the West Country: Easton Court, Chagford, Devon—a thatch-roofed 14th-century farmhouse with low, dark rooms and small windows. He has been there before: in the late autumn of one of the most momentous years of his life, 1931. It is a place that in his memory he cannot separate from a house and a family with which he had fallen in love that year.

In London he had regularly lain in till midmorning. At Chagford he is up at 8:30 and at work by 10. By dinnertime on that first Tuesday, he has written and re-written 1,300 words. By “close of play” on Wednesday the score is “3,000 words odd.” Through the ensuing weeks he works steadily at the rate of up to 2,000 words a day, occasionally more. He revises arduously as he goes. In the end it takes him closer to five months than three, but the book that he knows in his heart he has to write is completed.

The book’s original working title was The Household of the Faith. The story of a family. A journey shaped by religious faith. These are its key themes. The setting is an English manor house, the home of the Flytes—Lord and Lady Marchmain and their children. There is a sad and alluring son—an Oxford contemporary of the narrator. Scandal, drink, God, love, exile, forgiveness—all of this will be stirred in. But the working title does not find its way into print. When the book is published the following year, its title page reads Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder: A Novel. On the reverse side of that title page there is a mysterious author’s note, signed with Waugh’s initials. It reads: “I am not I: thou art not he or she: they are not they.”

Yet Charles Ryder manifestly is Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited contains as large a dose of autobiography as Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield or Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. So who, then, was the “thou” who was and was not “he or she”? The “they” who were and were not “they”? What was the household that was and was not Brideshead?

Nineteen thirty-one was a year that marked the end of one epoch and the beginning of another. It was the banking crisis of that year, more than the Wall Street crash of 1929, which ushered in the Great Depression. The frivolous age of the Bright Young Things had come to a sudden end.

Evelyn Waugh was also in a period of transition. He was a recent convert to Catholicism; he had divorced his wife; and he was fêted as one of the most accomplished young novelists of his age. But he had no fixed abode. Nineteen thirty-one was the year when he would meet and befriend the Lygon girls—Lady Sibell, Lady Mary (known as Maimie), and Lady Dorothy (known as Coote). Their brother Hugh had been an intimate friend of Waugh’s at Oxford. Hugh would die young, but Waugh’s friendship with the Lygon sisters would endure for the rest of his life. In 1931 he became part of the Lygon family as a whole, making their magnificent ancestral seat—Madresfield Court, in Malvern—the nearest place to a home at a time when he owned “no possessions which could not conveniently go on a porter’s barrow.”

He had just returned from five months in Africa as a special correspondent for The Graphic magazine. Eventually, he would get two books out of his experiences there, a comic novel, Black Mischief, and a work of witty reportage, Remote People, which covered the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie. For much of the year, he continued to drift among the houses of different friends. While staying with his brother, Alec, in the South of France he read the news of the scandal involving William Lygon, the Earl of Beauchamp, Hugh Lygon’s father, but he could hardly have suspected that his life was about to become closely entwined with that of the Lygon family.

Lord Beauchamp was the perfect aristocrat—tall, handsome, intelligent, cultured. He was an energetic and highly successful public servant, driven by progressive instincts and a sense of noblesse oblige. His children called him “Boom,” because of his loud, booming voice, which resembled a foghorn. Lord Beauchamp was also an artist and a craftsman. He was keenly interested in embroidery. He kept a studio at Madresfield Court, devoted mainly to sculpture. It was there that he produced his finest piece, The Golfer, which was displayed in the Paris Exhibition of 1920. It depicts a naked golfer, raising his club as he concentrates on his shot.

It was not just golfers. Lord Beauchamp was said to also have “exquisite taste in footmen.” When interviewing male staff he would pass his hands over their buttocks, making a hissing noise similar to that made by stable lads when rubbing their horses down. The diplomat and diarist Harold Nicolson recalled a dinner at Madresfield when he was asked by an astonished fellow guest, “Did I hear Beauchamp whisper to the butler, ‘Je t’adore’?” “Nonsense,” Nicolson replied. “He said ‘Shut the door.’” But Nicolson knew that the other guest had indeed heard correctly. At a certain exalted level of society, Lord Beauchamp’s homosexuality had been an open secret for years. Although homosexual acts were a criminal offense, it was not thought gentlemanly to make them a subject for public attack. Beauchamp felt confident that he could continue his double life without being exposed by his colleagues or the press.

And so he might have, had it not been for the jealousy and hatred of his brother-in-law Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster. The precipitating events are difficult to unravel, but in the end Westminster employed private detectives to spy on his brother-in-law. Early in 1931, when he had accrued enough incriminating evidence, he arranged a meeting with King George V. Westminster told the King that he had conferred the highest honor of Knight of the Garter on a licentious homosexual. The rumored response of King George, often repeated when the story circulated in aristocratic circles, may or may not be apocryphal: “Why, I thought people like that always shot themselves.” Another version had the King saying that he was under the impression that people only did such things abroad.

Whatever the truth, the King decided that a scandal of this nature must not taint the court, where Beauchamp had once been Lord Steward of the Household. Beauchamp was eventually given an ultimatum—either remove himself from Britain, agreeing never to return, or face trial and public scandal. Urged on by her brother, Lady Beauchamp filed for divorce and moved out of Madresfield. The children would never forgive her for what they saw as disloyalty to the father they deeply loved. In June of 1931, Beauchamp crossed the Channel. A few days later a notice appeared in The Times: “Earl Beauchamp, accompanied by his son, the Honourable Hugh Lygon, left for Nauheim yesterday to take a cure. His daughters will join him later.”

More here.

Willa Cather, Ivan Turgenev, and the Novel of Character

As David Stouck points out in his essay "Willa Cather and the Russians" (in this volume), Cather read the fiction of Ivan Turgenev early in her literary career and reflected upon it often throughout her life. She called Turgenev an exception among the Russian novelists, whose books, she said, possessed "amazing fecundity" but were often marred by an "unfortunate disregard of perfect finish" (Kingdom 72). Her comment on the "perfect finish" of Turgenev's fiction, which her literary mentor Henry James had also praised, clearly indicates Cather's early interest in fictional style and technique. More important, an examination of Turgenev's fiction and critical comments, of James's discussions of his work, and of Cather's own fiction and criticism reveals interesting parallels between the fictional theories and techniques of Cather and Turgenev.[1] Such a study suggests, in particular, that Willa Cather's approach to characterization may well have been significantly influenced by that of Turgenev.

Cather must certainly have been interested in Turgenev's heroines. As D. S. Mirsky observes in his discussion of Turgenev: "The, strong, pure, passionate, and virtuous woman, opposed to the weak, potentially generous, but ineffective and ultimately shallow man, was introduced into literature by Pushkin, and recurs again and again in the work of the realists, but nowhere more insistently than in Turgenev's" (192-93). Cather's own heroines, especially those of the earlier novels, obviously share the dominant qualities of Turgenev's women. However, Turgenev's most significant influence on Cather may well have involved not the kinds of characters she created but rather her sense of the role of character and its relationship to fictional structure and theme.

The novels of Willa Cather constitute some of the most obvious examples in American literature of narratives of character.[2] The depiction of characters was clearly the primary aim of her mature work, the business of devising the action secondary. If we look at the "germs" for her twelve novels, we find that for almost all of them the story began with an actual person or persons. The genesis and development of Cather's characters was strikingly similar to that described by Turgenev in his famous article "Apropos of Fathers and Sons": "For my part, I must confess that I never attempted to 'create a character' unless I had for my departing point not an idea but a living person to whom the appropriate elements were later gradually attached and added" (195).

Henry James's comments on this process echo and expand upon Turgenev's own and likewise indicate a way of examining Cather's fiction:

The first form in which a tale appeared to him [Turgenev] was as the figure of one individual, or a combination of individuals, whom he wished to see in action, being sure that such people must do something very special and interesting. They stood before him definite, vivid, and he wished to know, and to show, as much as possible of their nature. . . . the story all lay in the question, What shall I make them do? . . . If one reads Turgénieff's stories with the knowledge that they were composed-or rather that they came into being-in this way, one can trace the process in every line. ("Ivan Turgénieff" 51-52)[3]

The extent to which character, or a character, came to dominate Cather's creative and artistic conceptions is perhaps best exemplified in an incident recalled by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant. In 1916, dissatisfied with the most "furnished" of her novels, The Song of the Lark, Cather attempted to explain her artistic aims in the new novel on which she was then working.

She then suddenly leaned over-and this is something I remembered clearly when My Ántonia came into my hands, at last, in 1918-and set an old Sicilian apothecary jar of mine, filled with orange-brown flowers of scented stock, in the middle of a bare, round, antique table.

"I want my new heroine to be like this-like a rare object in the middle of a table, which one may examine from all sides."

She moved the lamp so that light streamed brightly down on my Taormina jar, with its glazed orange and blue design.

"I want her to stand out—like this—like this—because she is the story."

(Sergeant 139)

And stand out Ántonia does. Her energy, joy, and courage pervade the novel, in direct contrast to Jim Burden's sense of loss and disappointment in life. In the climactic scene when Jim visits her, he finds that unlike so many of the pioneers before her, Ántonia has not lost "the fire of life"; in her the "inner glow" has never faded (379). She is finally to Jim, and to the reader, a heroic figure in American history. She is the apotheosis of the pioneer woman, one who "lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true" (398). Henry James's description of Turgenev's Elena, of On the Eve, is thus a very apt description of Cather's Ántonia: both are "figures about whom admiring legend clusters"; both are "elevated conception" ("lwan Turgéniew" 336).

By the time she came to write My Ántonia, Cather had for some time conceived of her fiction in terms of character, and in writing the book she learned how to make a character the artistic and thematic center of a work of fiction. Acutely aware of the artistic pitfalls of overwriting, Cather declared in her 1920 essay "On the Art of Fiction" that "nearly the whole of the higher artistic process [is] finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole" (102). The true writer's gift, Turgenev had argued in various places, lay in the ability to eliminate all unnecessary or extraneous matter so as to allow what was most significant-the presentation of character-the reader's full attention.

Cather's desire to let the characters tell their own stories is clearly analogous to Turgenev's own, as he described it: "Life happened to be like that, my experience told me more than once, perhaps mistakenly, but I repeat, not dishonestly. There was no need for me to be too clever about it; I just had to depict his [Bazarov's] character like that" (196). A statement of Cather's about her intentions in writing A Lost Lady reflects again an attitude strikingly similar to that of Turgenev: "Now the problem was to get her [Marian Forrester] not like the standardized heroine in fiction, but as she really was, and not to care about anything else in the story except that one character. And there is nothing but the portrait. Everything else is subordinate" (Bennett 69).

For Willa Cather as for Ivan Turgenev, characterization-more specifically, a character-was at the heart of the creative process. While it may be argued that Cather's tendency to see a novel initially in terms of a major character may simply have been the result of her own particular temperament and artistic imagination, it is clear that her conception of characterization was consciously and carefully developed. Cather's statements on Turgenev and other writers during the period of her literary apprenticeship show her to have been a very perceptive young critic. In addition, her own early fiction reveals a very conscious and conscientious if not yet highly accomplished writer.[4] Cather's reading of Turgenev and her almost certain familiarity with Henry James's comments on Turgenev may well have provided her with a model for her approach to the writing of fiction, an approach that she continued to develop throughout her career.

A second distinctive characteristic of Turgenev's ficton that Cather seems to have noted is juxtaposition. James, who greatly admired Turgenev's use of this device, declared that Turgenev's fiction most simply involved "the motions of a group of selected creatures" around a central character ("Ivan Turgenieff" 51-52). Cather's interest in and use of this technique is clearly indicated in the 1921 interview: 

In this new novel One of Ours I'm trying to cut out all analysis, observation, description, even the picture-making quality, in order to make things and people tell their own story simply by juxtaposition, without any persuasion or explanation on my part. Just as if I were to put here on this table a green vase, and beside it a yellow orange. Now, these two things affect each other. Side by side, they produce a reaction which neither of them will produce alone. Why should I try to say anything clever, or by any colorful rhetoric detract attention from these two objects, the relation they have to each other and the effect they have upon each other? I want the reader to see the orange and the vase—beyond that, I am out of it. Mere cleverness must go. (Carroll 216)

Juxtaposition of characters was clearly, in fact, the fundamental organizing principle of Willa Cather's novelistic fiction. While this element is perhaps most obvious in the contrasting personalities of the two priests, Father Latour and Father Vaillant, of Death Comes for the Archbishop, it is a key structural device in all Cather's novels. A study of her juxtaposition of characters supports Bernice Slote's hypothesis that the "'telling element of contrast' might be equally important in all of her work, both as a deliberate technique and as a natural, perhaps unconscious embodiment of other dualities" (Kingdom 80). The importance of both Turgenev's and Cather's characters generally depends not on their development as psychologically complex personalities but rather on the representation of qualities they possess relative to other characters, both major and minor. It is by means of the juxtaposition of characters that much of the thematic material in the fiction of both authors is presented. Moreover, an understanding of the central role of character and character juxtaposition in Cather's novels allows us to understand the artistic and thematic functions of various other fictional elements: for example, the apparent overemphasis on Lena Lingard in Book III of My Ántonia, which might otherwise seem extraneous or artistically inappropriate.

More here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

William Morris: Love Is Enough

Love is enough: though the world be a-waning, 
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,
And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter:
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.

Sir John Everett Millais, 'Mariana' 1851

When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 this picture was accompanied by the following lines from Tennyson's Mariana (1830):

She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'

Tennyson's poem was inspired by the character of Mariana in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Rejected by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck, she leads a lonely existence in a moated grange. She is still in love with Angelo - now Deputy to the Duke of Vienna - and longs to be reunited with him.

In the picture the autumn leaves scattered on the ground mark the passage of time. Mariana has been working at some embroidery and pauses to stretch her back. Her longing for Angelo is suggested by her pose and the needle thrust fiercely into her embroidery. The stained-glass windows in front of her show the Annunciation, contrasting the Virgin's fulfilment with Mariana's frustration and longing. Millais copied the scene from the window of the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. However, the heraldic design appears to have been his own invention. The motto 'In coelo quies' means 'In Heaven there is rest' and clearly refers to Mariana's desire to be dead...

More here.

Of the three principal members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in 1848 John Millais certainly had the greatest natural facility as a painter. He was born in St. Helier, Jersey. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools where he met William Holman Hunt, whose ideas about painting Millais found very exciting. Together with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hunt and Millais set out to paint with a simplicity and ingenuousness which they took to be the spirit in which mediaeval art was practised. They believed implicitly inaccurate realism and bright colour. Millais particularly used a technique whereby he painted in colour on a wet white ground to achieve greater effects of luminosity. His Pre-Raphaelite picture Christ in the House of His Parents brought upon him a storm of criticism.

His greatest paintings were perhaps his subjectless figurative pictures, The Blind Girl and Autumn Leaves, of the mid 1850s. Later he reverted to a more anecdotal style of subject picture and gave way to a tendency to paint winsome children in a style which, while it derives from Velazquez, is still over-sweet and sometimes coy. Millais was a remarkable draughtsman and illustrator; the series of drawings of modern life subjects which he did in 1853-4 reflect the moral crisis in which he found himself when he and Ruskin's wife Effie fell in love.

In his later career Millais gained a great popular reputation and became very rich largely as a result of the lucrative sale of copyrights of his pictures to print publishers. He was made President of the Royal Academy after Leighton's death in 1896, but died the same year.