Interiority and Jane Porter’s Pocket Diary

Covers of Jane Porter's pocket diary.  Photograph by Sarah Werner.  Folger M.a.17

Cover of Jane Porter’s pocket diary. Photograph by Sarah Werner. Folger M.a.17

Julie Park, Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College, describes her fascinating recent research into the “written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives” at the Folger Shakespeare Library:

It’s been a critical commonplace after Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel to view the novel as the first literary form to represent psychological individuality in the context of everyday life. My research, however, examines how the spaces and objects of daily life in eighteenth-century England worked as vehicles of interior experiences in their own right. Working from this angle might change our conceptions of the novel, not only its historical relationship to how selfhood is defined, but also its relationship to the material culture of the greater society around it.

By using my Folger long-term fellowship to look at written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives, I thought I might complicate claims about the early novel’s method of representing interior or psychological experience through diurnal structures.1 One line of my exploration was how a form of portable interiority surfaced in the small books that were designed for carrying in one’s pocket. The novel itself, in its eighteenth-century print manifestation, was pocket-sized, conveying not only its affordability and portability, but also its ability to be held in the hand and worn against the body. Just as the novel conveyed its own interior worlds to readers, the experience of reading the physical book created an interior world between the novel and its reader, even when carried into exterior settings, from pleasure gardens to carriages for travel.2

Among the holdings of eighteenth-century pocket-sized books I found at the Folger is The Ladies Memorandum Book, for the Year 1796 (M.a.17), a green leather book with gold tooling around its edges. At 12×7.5 cm, it can easily be held in the palm of one’s hand. Its fore-edge is covered by a flap that extends from the front cover and is attached to the back by a gold clasp. Flipped to its back, with its diagonal seamed flap, the book resembles a modern day envelope. Yet its sides are left open, and there is a thickness to its body created by the stack of pages sewn into its spine. Further examination of the book will reveal it indeed functions as much of an envelope and a pocket as a book.

Read the rest of Julie Park’s account of this object at the Folger’s blog.

Seduction or Assault? Eliza Haywood and the Eighteenth-Century Rape Culture of Today

Jacob Gole's Susanne, surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards.  Mezzotint on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper.  Sheet: 10 7/16 x 7 11/16 inches (26.5 x 19.5 cm) Plate: 10 x 7 3/16 inches (25.4 x 18.2 cm) Image: 9 5/16 x 7 1/8 inches (23.6 x 18.1 cm).  Inscribed in graphite, on back, lower center: "405"; on back, lower right: "27431", Lettered in black ink, lower left: "Ces deux infames scelerats | Ne pouvant assouvir leurs impudiques flames;"; lower center: "Susanne surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards."; lower right: "Veulent faire perir la plus chaste des femmes; | Mais Dieu punit leur attentats. | J. Gole fec: et ecx: Amstelog: cum Privil."  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

Jacob Gole’s Susanne, surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards. Mezzotint on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper. Sheet: 10 7/16 x 7 11/16 inches (26.5 x 19.5 cm) Plate: 10 x 7 3/16 inches (25.4 x 18.2 cm) Image: 9 5/16 x 7 1/8 inches (23.6 x 18.1 cm). Inscribed in graphite, on back, lower center: “405”; on back, lower right: “27431”, Lettered in black ink, lower left: “Ces deux infames scelerats | Ne pouvant assouvir leurs impudiques flames;”; lower center: “Susanne surprise dans le bain par les deux vieillards.”; lower right: “Veulent faire perir la plus chaste des femmes; | Mais Dieu punit leur attentats. | J. Gole fec: et ecx: Amstelog: cum Privil.” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

How could some three-hundred-year-old author interest me?” modern students gasp with dismay.  But the century that coined the term “rape culture” has a lot to learn from eighteenth-century writers like Eliza Haywood because although we might have invented the term, we only inherited the concept.  Haywood would be dismayed to find just how much hasn’t changed in this century of female “equality.”  Consider this 2013 interview with tennis star Serena Williams in the wake of the Steubenville rape trial:  “[Those boys] did something stupid […] but why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? […] she shouldn’t have put herself in that position…”

 

This is rape culture at its finest:  Young victims accused of  “willingly behaving like a drunken whore,” while their rapists have only “[done] something stupid.”  It’s a modern problem, we say, because “back in the day,” men knew how to treat a lady, and ladies knew how to behave.  But Haywood teaches us that rape happens when we train women to value attracting men above independence, and more importantly, when we encourage men to devalue and sexualize women.

 

In the early-eighteenth century, Haywood quickly became known as the queen of romance, but her work encompassed more than today’s Danielle Steel.  An actress and author, she wrote in every existing genre—all as a single mother of two.  Throughout her work, she stresses the dangers of a society that encourages women to be sexually attractive, yet blames them for attracting sexual assault.  Her characters struggle against the label of ‘whore’ for saying “yes,” but ‘liar’ for saying “no;” they ‘bloom unseen’ at home, but ‘spoil’ themselves by leaving; they live in a world where sleeping can be an invitation for sex.  

 

Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze (1725) is perhaps Haywood’s most intriguing example of amatory fiction, and it provides a good case study for understanding the similarities between contemporary rape culture and the sexual conventions of the eighteenth century.  The protagonist of Fantomina is not unlike many contemporary victims of rape; she is an attractive young woman who finds herself on the brink of adulthood.  Fantomina is also uneducated in the ways of the world and is naturally vain and curious.  A social butterfly, Fantomina frequents the theatre and there observes prostitutes interacting freely with gentlemen.  Curious, Fantomina visits the theatre the next night dressed as a prostitute in order to try her hand at what she assumes is flirting.  The narrator indicates that Fantomina does not understand the gravity of a young gentlewoman playing at this game, and the night ends with her being solicited by a gentleman by the name of Beauplaisir.  

 

Though a gentleman, it is socially accepted that Beauplaisir might solicit the favors of prostitutes while also courting virginal young women for a potential wife.  This double standard, which mirrors contemporary society’s penchant for shaming sexually active young women, yet sympathizing with young men, situates Fantomina’s role-playing on very risky ground.  Haywood describes Fantomina as sexually excited yet very confused by Beauplaisir’s direct solicitation of her body:  “strange and unaccountable were the whimsies she was possessed of, wild and incoherent her desires, unfixed and determined her resolutions” (Haywood 44).  At this point, the similarities between drunkenness and Fantomina’s state should be very clear:  diction such as “strange,” “unaccountable,” “wild,” and “incoherent” lead the reader to believe that Fantomina is sexually aroused to the point of deep confusion.  Beauplaisir arrives at Fantomina’s lodging, but what ensues is most certainly rape.  The scene is worth repeating here to show the juxtaposition between what Fantomina thinks she wants and what Beauplaisir takes from her:

 

She had now gone too far to retreat.  He was bold; he was resolute; she, fearful, confused, altogether unprepared to resist in such encounters [because she is a virgin], and rendered more so by the extreme liking she had to him.  Shocked, however, at the apprehension of really losing her honour [her virginity], she struggled all she could.

 (Haywood 46, our emphasis)

 

The syntax in the first sentence parallels Beauplaisir’s forcefulness with Fantomina’s fear.  She does not consent; she is punished for her sexual curiosity.  She is ruined while he is satiated.  Even after Fantomina’s confession that she is really a gentle-born virgin who did not understand the implications of going to the theatre dressed as a prostitute, he continues to take advantage of her by using her as a mistress until sex with her becomes “tasteless” and “insipid” (Haywood 50).  This would seem like Haywood chooses to punish the young Fantomina, but the story does not end there.  Fantomina reinvents herself three more times in order to attract Beauplaisir, and he takes advantage of each “new” woman every time.  Creating her own sexual agency, Fantomina’s plot is foiled only by pregnancy and Beauplaisir’s refusal to ask for her hand in marriage—a sharp reminder from Haywood that female sexual agency is short-lived in a world where women are punished for both desire and innocence.

 

In another novel from Haywood’s amatory repertoire, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Inquiry (1719-1720), Haywood readers learn that seduction/rape is not the woman’s fault; it springs from false male perceptions of women (rape culture).  Like Fantomina, the novel shows one man, Delmont, taking repeated advantage of women’s love, confusion, and fear of reprisal to press them for sex.  In one such encounter, the woman is labeled a whore and sent to a convent for sneaking out to meet him; he escapes without blame.  But, Haywood doesn’t believe women can prevent rape by staying home.  Delmont’s next amour is a young woman living in his home as his ward.  Though she’s fallen for him, he is married, so she strives to avoid him.  Relentless, Delmont breaks into Melliora’s room while she sleeps.  In his mind, her feelings for him mean “yes,” and in his home, she is fair game.  Melliora is in a ‘drunken’ dream state and unknowingly responds to his advances.  Reading her unconscious failure to fight him as consent, he “[seizes] her;” she awakens in protest (“What is this?” “leave me”), but he claims he would be less of a man if he stopped now (Haywood 117).  

 

This is important.  Haywood shows that men can control their sexual urges, but male culture teaches them otherwise.  Like Beauplaisir, Delmont has learned to take advantage of women whenever he can.  His friend Despernay calls him a fool for not molesting MellioraHow could “‘a man of wit […] let slip so favourable an opportunity.’”  Despernay insists that ‘no’ means ‘yes’:  “Women are taught by custom,” he explains, “to deny what most they covet, and to seem angry when they are best pleased.”  When Delmont balks at “ruin[ing] such sweetness,” his friend sneers that not pressing for sex would be an insult to his–and every man’s–masculinity (Haywood 113).  

 

What Melliora and Fantomina show us is that for eighteenth-century women, the body is not one’s own.  In states of psychic shutdown, Melloira and Fantomina appear drunk and disordered and are therefore fair game.  Governed by the laws of strict social code, women’s bodies are available to men (who are taught to take advantage wherever possible).  Sound familiar?  Beauplaisir’s and Delmont’s names could easily be changed to those of the Steubenville rapists, and Fantomina and Melloira could be the Jane Doe of the Stuebenville case or any of the nameless women who never report rape because they assume they won’t be taken seriously.  Ultimately, what we see here are the ruinous effects of misunderstandings about women’s bodies and who controls them, and Eliza Haywood has much to offer today’s students regarding the history of such control and its brutal effects on women.

 

 

Works Cited:

Haywood, Eliza.  Fantomina and Other Works.  Ed.  Alexander Petit, et al.  Ontario:  Broadview Press Ltd., 2004.  Print.

 

—–.  Love in Excess.  Ed. David Oakleaf.  Ontario:  Broadview Press, 1996. Print.

 

 

 

Manners Envy

Elegant Company Dancing (undated). Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827, British). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Elegant Company Dancing (undated). Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827, British). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

One of the great pleasures of Austen’s fiction derives from her relentless focus on social conduct.  All of Pride and Prejudice’s characters, with the possible exception of thoughtless Lydia, are self-conscious about their own and judgmental of the behavior others.  As such, Austen has been long recognized as a brilliant observer of sociation, small group interaction, and the rules of conversation.  In her capacious understanding of not just the hows of behavior in public places, but the whys of behavior in public spaces, Austen prefigures the development of micro-sociology, those analyses of specific rituals, such as Georg Simmel’s study of cocktail party talk and flirtation, or Erving Goffman’s later analysis of civil inattention (how not to attract stranger’s attention on the street) or waiting room or elevator behavior.  While the connection of Austen’s novels to twentieth-century social science might seem dubious, any reading of her letters shows an active empiricist at work, recording the most minuet details of dress, expression, and conversation in her lab book, drawing quick and witty conclusions for Cassandra about fashion and character.

Reading Austen from a sociological perspective enables us to see more clearly not just the vivid description of social interaction, but her analysis of that action.  This distinction between the arbitrary rule and its ethical basis or form is perfectly exemplified in the following paragraph from Mansfield Park, at the visit to Sotherton, which proves to be a perfect playground for all the younger characters to exercise their selfishness.  Julia is unhappily left behind with the elders [Aunt Norris and Mrs. Rushworth], while everyone else scatters:

The politeness which she [Julia] had been brought up to practice as a duty made it impossible for her to escape; while the want of that higher species of self-command, that just consideration of others, that knowledge of her own heart, that principle of right, which had not formed any essential part of her education, made her miserable under it.

Julie understands the letter but not the spirit of the law, the outer form but not its object.

Pride & Prejudice is particularly amenable to the interests of Erving Goffman, for he meditates on first impressions in Presentation of Self in Ordinary Life, and more deeply in Stigma, which helps us to understand how Darcy is complicit in his first and terrible impression at the Merytown assembly.  Darcy and Elizabeth’s aggressive conversation at the Netherfield Ball demonstrates just about every imaginable violation of polite conversation.  And finally, if the first half of the novel charts a series of offences up to Darcy’s disastrous and wounding proposal at the Huntsford parsonage, everything from his exculpatory letter onward is remedial, and follows the essential form of apologies that Goffman lays out in Relations in Public.

Austen’s Domestic Fiction and the Network Form

The Sense of Sight (1744-7).  Philippe Mercier, active in Britain (from 1716). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The Sense of Sight (1744-7). Philippe Mercier, active in Britain (from 1716). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Counter to my own argument in Desire and Domestic Fiction (1987)  that domestic fiction proposes a self-enclosed household as a model for the modern nation, I’m contending that each Austen novel tears open the traditional household and disperses its members (especially daughters) by putting them into circulation. This is indeed what it means for a woman to be “out.”  It is thus because Austen’s novels propose a network as the model of a nation increasingly dependent on international trade that I now see them as the very examples of what a novel is and does.

If Austen’s households eventually settle down and the boundaries of her imaginary shire prove less permeable than at the novel’s opening, it is because she figured out a way of regulating the risk of self-devaluation that accompanies the dispersal and circulation of propertied families through a relatively open system of courtship. “The social season” was supposed to ensure that women of some breeding but little claim to property traveled in what Leonore Davidoff calls “the best circles.”  But Austen’s pump room and country dances never fail to include a few people–usually men–who exploit the rules of civility in order to put romance at odds with finance.  Those who engage with such people risk happiness, on the one hand, and security of position on the other.  In exposing the gap between emotional and economic value, the destructive energy of romance allows Austen to reorganize her household as a hub–a kind of relay station in a network whose managers minimize the risks of courtship.

“Man, are you capable of being just?”: Fighting for Women’s Rights Then and Now

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, "The English Lady at Paris" (1771).  Gray wash with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper.  Sheet: 12 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches (31.8 x 24.4 cm).  Inscribed in gray ink, lower left: "S H Grimm fecit 1771"; in gray ink, center right: "To Alderman | Paris"; in brown ink, verso, upper center: "The English lady at Paris - No. 8.", Signed and dated in gray ink, lower left: "S H Grimm fecit 1771"  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, “The English Lady at Paris” (1771). Gray wash with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper. Sheet: 12 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches (31.8 x 24.4 cm). Inscribed in gray ink, lower left: “S H Grimm fecit 1771”; in gray ink, center right: “To Alderman | Paris”; in brown ink, verso, upper center: “The English lady at Paris – No. 8.”, Signed and dated in gray ink, lower left: “S H Grimm fecit 1771” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

We often think of feminism as something belonging to the twentieth century.  But in 1791, Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) wrote:  “Man, are you capable of being just?  It is a woman who asks you this question…  Tell me, what gives you sovereign empire over my sex?”  The first lines of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizeness might seem, to many of us, ahead of their time.  De Gouges responded to the lauded and well-respected Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) by publishing a feminized form of the text two years later.  In it, she demands access to the political sphere for women and imagines a re-conceptualized form of marriage.

De Gouges was not, however, the only feminist of her time.  The French Revolution saw several women’s rights activists, and her ideas evolved along with and responded to the chaotic and rapidly changing events of her era.  Like that of many of her contemporaries, de Gouges’s story ends in tragedy:  she was executed in 1793.  Her other progressive ideas—which she took pains to make public—did not aid her in her cause.  She argued against slavery and was openly hostile to Maximilien Robespierre (whom she invited to a duel!).  To this day, the circumstances leading to her death and execution remain a subject of debate.  Was she killed, as so many others, because of her support for the king or was the fact that she was a woman more to blame?  What was the effect of the abolitionist play that she published in 1792?  There are compelling arguments that all of these issues helped bring about her demise.  De Gouges was tried soon after the Girondins, many of them abolitionists, including Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  Madame Roland, and Marie Antoinette were also killed during the same month-long span as de Gouges.  A Jacobin newspaper suggested cruelly just days after their deaths that these women had somehow deserved their fates.[1]

De Gouges’s story is long and complex, but in this short blog piece I will focus on her legacy.  She has, in the past two hundred years, been considered a maligned revolutionary, a disregarded loon, and an inspiring martyr.  The story of how we remember this early feminist reveals more about us than it does about her.  It also offers a poignant example of the continued importance of studying the eighteenth century.

Marie Gouze was born in Montauban in southern France in 1748.  Though her parents were not noble, she claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignon (1709-1784), also a playwright.[2]  The date that she arrived in Paris is somewhat unclear, but she fashioned a name for herself among the aristocracy and became Olympe de Gouges in the 1780s.  During this time, she was involved in a long-lasting controversy with the Comédie Française about the performance of her abolitionist play—which finally occurred in December 1789.[3]  Abolitionism was one of many political issues about which this playwright made her opinion known.  The Revolution seemed to respond to her ardent desire to change the world for the better:  she joined the abolitionist Société des Amis des Noirs, attempted to raise money for young women’s dowries, and opposed the common practice of sending unmarried women to convents.  An enslaved female character in her 1792 play, L’Esclavage des Noirs, ou l’heureux naufrage, declared boldly that slaves “would not always be in chains.”[4]  In her letters written from prison in 1793, she seems sincerely befuddled that her ardent political fervor would have endangered her life, but it did.

A burst of what we would read today as admirable activity demanding women’s equal rights ended tragically in 1793 and was replaced by outright hostility.  The century following the French Revolution was not the most progressive period for women’s rights in France.  They lost the right to divorce.  The feminist movements of the 1830s and 1840s argued for women’s inclusion in the public sphere based on their innate emotional nature.[5]  These arguments for rights look very different than those of the Revolution and often seem less than radical to the modern reader.  By the end of the nineteenth century, ideas of hysteria contributed to a false but powerful notion of women’s innate biological inferiority.  Women did not win the right to vote in France until 1944.

De Gouges’s legacy as a forgotten and maligned woman who was not respected for her political positions began with the Jacobin newspaper article claiming that she deserved her fate.  She was quickly remembered as someone who somehow deserved to die for her beliefs, then she became an historical figure who was largely forgotten.  When she was remembered, she was belittled.  In the mid-nineteenth century, historian Jules Michelet dismissed her as an illiterate, weak-minded woman caught up in a world she did not and could not understand.[6]  In the late 1850s, Charles Monselet condescendingly explained her desire to write by what must have been her fear of becoming unattractive after thirty.[7]  At the end of the nineteenth century, early psychologists examined her works in detail for proof of rampant hysteria among female revolutionaries.  Alfred Guillois’s 1904 work on the playwright studied her œuvre as “the document that best allows [us] to judge the disorder of her judgment and reasoning abilities.”[8]  Guillois read through her medical records to find proof of some kind of disorder that would make her belief in women’s rights understandable.  Appallingly, a century after her death, daring to claim that women deserved equality was understood to be a psychological condition.

Happily, feminist scholars have done significant work to revive the legacy of de Gouges in the last few decades.  Simone de Beauvoir wrote about her in The Second Sex (1949).  In 2011, her Declaration became available in its entirety in English.  In 2010, her philosophical text, Le Prince Philosophe, was added to the many of her works already available in German.  Former French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal just published a book on stories of courage, including de Gouges’s.  There are now streets and schools named after her in France.  De Gouges is now revered rather than reviled.

I would like to suggest that when we think of feminism as a phenomenon unique to our time, it is due, at least in part, to this long period of hostility—a time during which de Gouges was either maligned or forgotten rather than respected.  Her ideas—though over 200 years old—are actually quite modern and often remain, even today, revolutionary.  De Gouges fought ardently, albeit sometimes imperfectly, for the rights of society’s many downtrodden.  How we have remembered her fight shows us that progress toward equality is perhaps more cyclical than linear, which means that the past has much more to teach us than we often imagine.

 

Further Reading on Olympe de Gouges, Her Life and Times:

Beauvoir, Simone de. Le Deuxième Sexe.  Volume II. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.

Blanc, Olivier.  Marie-Olympe de Gouges:  une humaniste à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Paris:  René Viénet, 2003.

Diamond, Marie Josephine.  “The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Olympe de Gouges.”  Feminist Issues 14, no. 1 (1994):  3.

Dorigny, Marcel, and Bernard Gainot.  La Société des amis des noirs, 1788-1799Paris:  Editions UNESCO:  1998.

Kadish, Doris and Françoise Massardier-Kenney, eds. Translating Slavery:  Gender and Race in French Abolitionist Writing, 1780-1830.  Volume 1. Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2009.

—.  Translating Slavery:  Gender and Race in French Abolitionist Writing, 1780-1830Volume 2.  Kent, Ohio:  Kent State University Press, 2010.

Ripa, Yannick.  Les Femmes, actrices de l’HistoireParis:  Sedes, 1999.

Mousset, Sophie.  Women’s Rights and the French Revolution:  A Biography of Olympe de Gouges.  Trans. Joy Poirel.  London:  Transaction Publishers, 2007.

Scott, Joan W.  “A Woman Who Has Only Paradoxes to Offer,” in Sarah Melzer and Leslie Rabine, eds.  Rebel Daughters:  Women and the French Revolution.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1992.

Vanpée, J.  “La Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la citoyenne:  Olympe de Gouges’s Re-Writing of La Déclaration des Droits de l’homme,” in Literate Women and the French Revolution of 1789.  Summa Publications:  Birmingham, Alabama, 1994.


[1] Feuille du Salut Public:  Septidi Brumaire l’An 2e de la République, 3-4.

[2] Pompignon, Jean-Jacques Lefranc de.  Didon:  Tragédie en cinq actes et en vers.  Paris:  Chez la Veuve Duchesne, 1781.

[3] You can find all three versions of her play, along with information about the battle with the theatre, in Sylvie Chalaye’s 2006 reedition of L’Esclavage des nègres, ou, l’heureux naufrage.

[4]L’Esclavage des Nègres, Act II, Scene II. 

[5]For more information on this subject, see the work of Claire Goldberg Moses and Naomi Andrews.

[6] Jules Michelet, Les Femmes de la Révolution (Paris:  Adolphe Delahays, 1855), 105-107.

[7] Charles Monselet, Les Oubliés et les Dédaignés:  Figures littéraires de la fin du 18e siècle (Alençon:  PouletMalassis et de Broise, 1857).

[8] Alfred Guillois, Etude médico-psychologique sur Olympe de Gouges: considérations générales sur la mentalité des femmes pendant la Révolution française (Lyon:  A. Rey, 1904), 59.  My translation.

Celebrity Couture: A New Trend? Fashionista Mary Robinson Led the Way – Over 230 Years Ago

Celebrity Couture: A New Trend? Fashionista Mary Robinson Led the Way – Over 230 Years Ago

There’s no question that celebrity style has long had an impact on the fashion world—think Beau Brummell, Lillie Langtry, Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn.  The question is how new is the celebrity-cum-couturier?  The life of the British actress Mary Robinson (1757?-1800) would suggest that celebrity clothing and accessory lines are, in fact, nothing new.

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

It is November 1794. The French Revolution has taken a sharp turn for the worse, and Britain and France have been at war for well over a year and a half. The English have recently witnessed the Treason Trials and the suspension of Habeas Corpus at home and the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror, the Glorious First of June, and the execution of Robespierre across the Channel. Soldiers are dying, the British government is hunting down spies and locking up radicals, and the nation is in a state of social and political unrest. It is at this time, at the very height of this tension, that Mary Robinson—the former actress, fashion icon, celebrity sensation, and mistress of the Prince of Wales—debuted her two-act comedy Nobody at London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The 29 November 1794 performance did not go well.

350 Years of Dangerous Women

350 Years of Dangerous Women

Kathleen Winsor’s historical romance Forever Amber (1944) and Laura Linker’s Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures, and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730 (Ashgate 2011).

Cultivating Philosophy in the Epicurean Garden

Cultivating Philosophy in the Epicurean Garden

The physical garden was to Sir William Temple and other Epicureans a reflection of one’s mental landscape, and in the best of all possible worlds, one would stay in the garden–a position that Voltaire would later and more famously endorse in Candide. Like seventeenth-century definitions of wit, Temple’s philosophy of the garden expresses a balance of judgment and fancy, those gendered faculties of the mind, and an appropriate blend of reason and passion. The act of gardening for Temple was the practice of freeing the self from the disordered passions, unavoidable but capable of being subdued like wild weeds. One needs only a patch of earth, a shovel, and a life of the mind.

Fashionable Vice in 1790s England: Mary Robinson’s “Nobody”

The Graces of 1794. Issac Cruikshank. British Museum.

The Graces of 1794. Issac Cruikshank.  British Museum.

Picture this.  It is November 1794.  The French Revolution has taken a sharp turn for the worse, and Britain and France have been at war for well over a year and a half.  The English have recently witnessed the Treason Trials and the suspension of Habeas Corpus at home and the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror, the Glorious First of June, and the execution of Robespierre across the Channel.  Soldiers are dying, the British government is locking up radicals, and the nation is in a state of social and political unrest.

It is at this time, at the very height of this tension, that Mary Robinson—the former actress, fashion icon, celebrity sensation, and mistress of the Prince of Wales—debuted her two-act comedy Nobody at London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  The 29 November 1794 performance did not go well.  “On the drawing up of the curtain,” Robinson recounts in her Memoirs, “women of distinguished rank hissed through their fans.”  And while they were temporarily hushed, they soon resumed their vocalizations “with redoubled violence” (Memoirs 141).  Dorothy Jordan, one of the play’s comic leads, became so “agitated” by the audience’s “ill-humour” that she omitted lines from the Epilogue and botched it altogether (The Sun).  The Times reported that “the little effect intended, was utterly destroyed.”  In the course of only three performances, Drury Lane increasingly “presented a scene of confusion,” with the final staging culminating in a near riot (Memoirs 142).

For modern readers, Nobody may appear merely to offer a lighthearted gibe at voguish faux pas.  Fashionable life—comprised of narcissistic daily rituals, risible clothing choices, theatergoing, outings in carriages, and high-stakes gambling—proves, over the course of the drama, both farcical and foolhardy.  But what Nobody’s riotous reception makes clear is that Robinson’s spotlighting of fashionable excess was no laughing matter, particularly for some of the play’s aristocratic spectators.  Indeed, once the drama is placed within the timeframe of the French Revolution, it becomes clear that Robinson’s critique of fashion is, in fact, a political critique—one that links aristocratic behavior with the welfare of the nation, questions established social hierarchies, and advocates a more meritocratic form of leadership.  Even more surprising than its message is that Robinson managed to get the drama staged at all.  Produced during the time of the Licensing Act, Nobody reveals how playwrights found ways to circumvent censorship through allusive techniques—a fact that challenges the notion that licensed theater during this time was wholly apolitical.

Over the past twenty years, Robinson’s life and work have received fresh attention from scholars and biographers who have become fascinated, as her contemporaries once were, with her dazzling personality, social prowess, thespian skill, and literary artistry.  Despite this resurgence in interest, however, relatively little is known about what was one of her most striking productions: Nobody.  It is for this reason that I have recently recovered the play, the controversy surrounding it, and its socio-historical context by publishing an edition of it, along with explanatory notes, contemporary newspaper accounts, visual satire, and other relevant commentary on the academic website Romantic Circles.

A Gaming Table at Devonshire House. Thomas Rowlandson (1791). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941.

A Gaming Table at Devonshire House. Thomas Rowlandson (1791). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941.

Readers of the edition will notice that a central area of fashionable excess the comedy showcases is female gambling.  In fact, Nobody focuses attention on the Faro Ladies—a notorious group of high-society women who regularly held gaming parties.  Pre-show puffs for the play highlight this element of the comedy.  Two-and-a-half weeks before its premiere, The Morning Post, for instance, observes,

The scarcity of Ladies in the lower Side Boxes, may be attributed to the rage from Plays amongst our Dames of haut ton. Faro, and rouge et noir, have wholly banished a gout for rational amusements. This is indeed a serious, disgraceful evil; that “has encreased, is encreasing, and ought to be diminished.” (10 Nov. 1794)

And after mentioning, in a separate issue, that upcoming soirées are to be hosted by Mrs. Concannon, Lady Buckinghamshire, and Lady Archer, The Morning Post remarks,

The proud excesses of the Gay World this Winter will occasion no inconsiderable number of Bankrupts the next. Since the War, the Tradesmen’s Books are over-laded with Debts, and if one of them should press a Nobleman for his money, he is immediately denounced, ‘a Jaçobine!’ (12 Nov. 1794)

By linking aristocratic profligacy with the country’s wartime ills, these lines boldly assert that high-society socialites drain the nation’s coffers, and what’s worse, claim justification in doing so.

Just days before the curtain rose on Nobody, The Morning Post optimistically proposed that dramatic comedy could prove “beneficial to Society” when “the preposterous manners of high life and Fashionable Folly” are “checked by the pen of fair and unoffending satire” (13 Nov. 1794).  While Robinson certainly intended this outcome for her play, it was, perhaps, too lofty a goal.  In the weeks following its condemnation, The Morning Post contained the following entry: “If certain persons, in high life, are allowed to damn every piece that aims to correct their follies, the Stage will cease to be the mirror of the times, and vice will triumph over public opinion” (9 Dec. 1794).  While Nobody may not have achieved theatrical success, recovery of the drama reveals how it can yet serve as a “mirror of the times”—one in which domestic welfare contended with aristocratic vice.

Works Cited

For Further Reading

On Mary Robinson’s Nobody:

On Mary Robinson and Her Literature:

  • Brewer, William D., ed. The Works of Mary Robinson. 8 vols. Pickering & Chatto, 2009-2010.
  • Byrne, Paula. Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, and Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson. New York: Random House, 2004.
  • Davenport, Hester. The Prince’s Mistress: Perdita, a Life of Mary Robinson. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2004.
  • Gamer, Michael, and Terry F. Robinson. “Mary Robinson and the Dramatic Art of the Comeback.” Studies in Romanticism 48.2 (Summer 2009): 219-256.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Perdita: Royal Mistress, Writer, Romantic. London: Bantam, 2005.
  • Ledoux, Ellen Malenas. “Florizel and Perdita Affair, 1779-80.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. 2 June 2013.
  • Pascoe, Judith. Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1999.
  • Robinson, Daniel. The Poetry of Mary Robinson: Form and Fame. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

On the Faro Ladies:

  • Russell, Gillian. “‘Faro’s Daughters’: Female Gamesters, Politics, and the Discourse of Finance in 1790s Britain.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.4 (Summer 2000): 481-504.

What Jane Saw: New Virtual Gallery Reconstructs Art Exhibit Attended by Jane Austen

What Jane Saw 201331959

What Jane Saw.  (Photo by Marsha Miller).

I am proud and pleased to finally be able to invite you to attend an online reconstruction of a famous art exhibit as novelist Jane Austen saw it on 24 May 1813 – exactly 200 years ago to the day.  Our website and virtual gallery is titled What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).

The original exhibit featured 141 paintings by British portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds, which were displayed at the 1813 exhibition at the British Institution in Pall Mall, London.  The show amounted to the first large commemorative exhibition devoted to a single artist.  The What Jane Saw e-gallery displays these same Reynolds paintings on virtual walls, in precise imitation of the show’s original curatorial “hang.”

Although I provided the historical research for the site, this digital humanities project was a large collaborative and interdisciplinary effort.  What Jane Saw was constructed over several years by a talented team of student assistants and staff in the Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) at the University of Texas at Austin.  For a short narrative about the making of the site and some of the people involved, see this story on the UT English Department’s website: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/english/news/6550.

Even if Jane Austen had not attended this public exhibit, it would still be well worth reconstructing.  The British Institution’s show was a star-studded “first” of great magnitude for the art community and a turning point in the history of modern exhibit practices.

Among the canvases in the retrospective gallery, the many celebrity portraits of 18th-century politicians, actors, authors, and aristocrats offer concrete examples of just how someone like Jane Austen, who did not personally circulate among the social elite, was nonetheless immersed in Georgian England’s vibrant celebrity culture.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen joked how she would be searching for a portrait of Mrs. Darcy among these pictures. Two hundred years to the day after Austen attended, the What Jane Saw website restages this Regency blockbuster.

The website takes advantage of the current digital toolkit to help transport visitors back to a specific event in 1813, the same year that Austen published Pride and Prejudice.  Today, the paintings that took part in the 1813 exhibit are dispersed across the globe while the original building in Pall Mall that once housed the British Institution is so altered as to be unrecognizable.  Virtual reality was the only way to put these objects back together.

Seeing the art in situ also revives the interpretive consequences of proximity and distance.  For example, some sitters are judiciously juxtaposed while others – rival politicians or high-profile socialites – are hung at painstaking removes from key members of the royal family.  Only a visual reconstruction allows the retrieval of these hidden narratives, hinting at the implied concerns of the original curators.

We hope you will take a look at: www.whatjanesaw.org.  This educational website is free and open to the public.  So, come and see the celebrities Jane Austen saw in 1813.  Step back in time to walk among the paintings in the virtual gallery.  This may be the nearest thing to time travel on the web!

Afterwards, let us know what you think on the What Jane Saw Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/WhatJaneSaw.

350 Years of Dangerous Women

Louise, Duchess of Portsmouth.  By Paul van Somer, ca. 1576-1621, Flemish, active in Britain (from 1616); After: Peter Lely, 1618-1680, Dutch, active in Britain (from 1643).  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Louise, Duchess of Portsmouth. By Paul van Somer, ca. 1576-1621, Flemish, active in Britain (from 1616); After: Peter Lely, 1618-1680, Dutch, active in Britain (from 1643). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

By the end of the first decade of Charles II‘s reign, the King had acquired a reputation for his many mistresses; his patronage of the theater; and his interest in natural philosophy and the new sciences [1]. These pursuits and those of his most prominent court mistresses, Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland; Nell Gwyn; Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth; and Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin shaped two movements in England, libertinism and sensibility. Writers’ frequent depictions of these women gave new prominence to a remarkable figure in literature, the female libertine, that remains with us.

Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures, and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730 (Ashgate 2011) rewrites the history of libertinism and sensibility and considers the female libertine in relation to cultural, philosophical, and literary contexts that contributed to her transformations from the late seventeenth to the early eighteenth centuries in England.  I argue that there are five representative types across a diverse group of texts, including “Lady Lucretius” in John Dryden’s Marriage A-la-Mode (1671); “Lady Sensibility” in Aphra Behn’s The Luckey Chance, or an Alderman’s Bargain (1686) and novella, The History of the Nun (1689); “The Humane Libertine” in Catharine Trotter’s epistolary narrative, Olinda’s Adventures (1693), and only comedy, Love at a Loss, or the Most Votes Carries It (1700); “The Natural Libertine” in Delariviere Manley’s The History of Rivella (1714); and “The Amazonian Libertine” in Daniel Defoe’s novel, Roxana (1724) [2]. These authors created female libertines that made lasting contributions to later depictions of the figure, partially inspired by Epicurean ideas found in Lucretius‘s On the Nature of the Universe, which experienced a revival in late Stuart England. Behn and other libertine writers found its destabilizing proposal that all matter, including humans, is composed of free-floating, constantly moving atoms attractive. Thomas Creech’s multiple English translations of Lucretius’s text created a relationship between atomism and the emotions that reflected seventeenth-century natural philosophers’ interest in the connections between the soul and body. Early writers of sensibility were likewise concerned with the physiological effects of heartache made evident through their characters’ weeping, fainting, illness, or even death. Sensibility converged with libertinism in its attention to the senses in the late seventeenth century.

LinkerCharles II’s French mistresses, Portsmouth and Mazarin, who held salons in London during the 1670s, helped to transmit French ideas and culture to England, including characteristics of sensibilité that influenced Behn’s creation of “Lady Sensibility.” The court mistresses became the most influential women in England during the 1660s, 70s, and early 80s. Literary figures modeled after them persisted long after their “reigns” at court were over.

There is a current spate of historical biographies and romances about Charles II’s mistresses in the literary marketplace [3]. Next year will mark seventy years since the publication of the first bestselling modern historical romance set during the first decade of the Restoration, Kathleen Winsor‘s Forever Amber (1944). Published during the Second World War, the novel was banned in Boston and several other cities when it first appeared, mainly for its questionable morality and highly suggestive scenes involving the heroine, Amber St. Clare, a female libertine modeled after several of the real-life and fictional women I examine in Dangerous Women. Current books about female libertines owe a debt to Forever Amber, as bestselling novelists Philippa Gregory and Barbara Taylor Bradford, among others, have admitted. Readers still consistently place Forever Amber at the top of their “Historical Romance” lists, and the novel was re-released in 2000.

In 2002, Elaine Showalter reviewed the 2000 edition of Forever Amber for The Guardian, confessing to having been, as a young girl, “awed by Amber’s courage, daring and strength. Rereading the novel now is no disappointment, and I am also impressed by Winsor’s subversive feminism and the scope and ambition of her historical imagination.” Most of the characters in the novel, including Amber, reflect Hobbesian tendencies, vying with each other to achieve precedence at Charles II’s court in the 1660s. The novel demonstrates Winsor’s command of the historical and literary figures she re-imagines from the Restoration. Her characters’ vanity, plotting, and cruelty resonate with historical records of figures Amber encounters at the Carolean court, Newgate prison, and Alsatia in Whitefriars, the London “sanctuary” for criminals. Winsor drew the characters from the hundreds of accounts, poems, plots, and textbooks she claimed to have read before writing the novel.

Amber’s many marriages and romantic relationships certainly read like an early amatory plot. Born on a dark and stormy night, Amber is the long-lost child of two ill-fated aristocrats separated by the English Civil Wars. Her parents die, and she is raised by villagers of Marygreen, where she is a misfit. Like French seventeenth-century romances by Madame de Scudéry, who influenced Behn and other early English novelists, the story relies on remarkable coincidences. The novel signals that Amber is of noble, not peasant, stock, evident also in her captivating looks, a quality she shares with early romance heroines. One of Amber’s most generous lovers, Captain Rex Morgan, describes her in language we find in Restoration comedy about heroines: “I see you have wit as well as beauty, madame. That makes you perfect” (181). Winsor blends qualities of female libertines in her depiction of Amber, who rises through every class position in the novel to achieve greater autonomy and power through varied performances.

A Journal of the Plague Year (1722).  © The British Library Board.

A Journal of the Plague Year (1722). © The British Library Board.

Part of Forever Amber‘s continuing appeal remains in its sweeping survey of 1660s London and the meticulous attention to historical detail. Winsor used Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) as a source for Amber’s experience of plague in London in 1665, and her novel blends elements of other plots by Restoration and early eighteenth-century writers. Like Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Amber makes an early career out of trickster-ism and thievery, landing in Newgate prison after her trial. As an actress in the Restoration theater and then a court mistress of Charles II, Amber resembles Nell Gwyn. Defoe’s Roxana, also modeled on Gwyn and Mazarin, is perhaps Amber’s closest literary antecedent. As Amber rises higher in her liaisons with powerful aristocrats, her one consistent relationship is with her maid, Nan, who gives her advice and rises with her, much as Amy counsels Roxana through relationships and crises about the discovery of her “real” identity. Both Roxana and Amber have husbands who desert them early in the narratives, leaving them penniless. Disgraced when she dances for the court in a sheer costume, Amber becomes the “Amazonian Libertine” at court, and the scene parallels Roxana’s dance in her exotic costume. Both women experience a vague punishment at the end, and there is no narrative closure in either text.

Amber experiences disillusionment from her lover, Lord Bruce Carlton. Their relationship echoes plots by Manley, Behn, and Trotter, whose heroines are mistreated or left by cruel and faithless lovers. Carlton sees Amber as a lower-class village girl, even when she becomes a wealthy Duchess. Midway through Winsor’s novel, Amber, now the mother of Carlton’s son, tearfully pleads with him to marry her, but he refuses, arguing that “love has nothing to do with it” (426), a concise description of upper class marital relations frequently examined in Restoration and eighteenth-century comedy and fiction.

Amber’s downfall results partly because of her class aspirations, mirrored by Winsor’s depiction of the Duchess of Cleveland, still Barbara Palmer when she first arrived to Charles II’s court as his mistress. On June 24 1667, Samuel Pepys complained of Cleveland’s influence (she was then called Lady Castlemaine) in his Diary because it produced “the horrid effeminacy of the King,” who “hath taken ten times more care and pains in making friends between my Lady Castlemayne and Mrs. Stewart, when they have fallen out, than ever he did to save his kingdom.”  Though powerful, Cleveland never received a true marriage proposal from the King. She fell from power after he lost patience with her tantrums and ambition. So too with Amber and Carlton.

Single-minded in her social-climbing, Amber seems unaware that she lives in an exciting decade of scientific discovery. She never engages philosophical debates about atomism or Descartes’s mechanical theories of the body, ongoing discussions that we find the most interesting female libertine figures examining in literature. Despite a brief liaison with a student early in the novel, Amber does not question him about his studies or read his books. She lacks associations with any leading thinkers at the Carolean court and does not debate the merits of Epicurean pleasure, the existence of animal spirits, or the theological assertions of “right reason” with theologians or members of the Royal Society she would certainly have met at Whitehall. Perhaps, had Winsor continued writing the sequel she originally planned, she would have featured a more complex female libertine and a more mature Amber, a figure styled after the Duchess of Mazarin, who developed  an intellectual life as interesting as her adventures [4].  But that is another story for another time.

Works Cited

Churchill, Winston. Marlborough, His Life and Times. 4 vols. London: George G. Harrop & Company, 1949. Print.

Winsor, Kathleen. Forever Amber. New York: Macmillan, 1944. Print.

Notes

[1] Charles II cultivated this image. Tim Harris’s excellent article, “Charles II: The Reality Behind the Merry Monarchy,” concisely summarizes historical scholarship on Charles’s reign and the man behind the throne.

[2] Manley was considered a “dangerous woman,” even in the twentieth century. Winston Churchill, descendent of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, describes Manley, who satirized his ancestors, as “a woman of disreputable character paid by the Tories to take part in a detraction which in the intense political passion of the time, was organized against Marlborough” (2: 53-4).

[3] The list of popular novels or biographies continues to grow. Among others, they include Elizabeth C. Goldsmith’s The Kings’ Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin (2012); Penelope Sullivan’s Rose Scarlet (2011); and Susan Holloway Scott‘s Royal Harlot: A Novel of the Countess Castlemaine and King Charles II (2007),  The King’s Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II (2008), and The French Mistress: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth and King Charles II (2009).

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue: The Lawrence Portrait of Eliza Farren

life maskLife Mask by Emma Donoghue (Harcourt, 2004) takes its title from the artistic technique that allows a sculptor to make a cast of a living person’s face in preparation for creating a sculpture. In the novel, Donoghue defines it as “An image made by taking a plaster mould of the face of a living human subject” (156). But the term has a secondary meaning in her work, as the epigraph reveals: “How tired I am of keeping a mask on my countenance. How tight it sticks–it makes me sore. There’s metaphor for you” (quoting from William Beckford’s Lisbon Diary, 27 May 1787). It refers to the double lives of many of the characters, who hide self-doubt, love affairs, fears, and unspoken sexual identities behind the faces they present to society.

Using the historical record as the ground for her art, Donoghue depicts the social world where the masks are worn, especially the Devonshire House set and the group centered at Strawberry Hill and its owner, Horace Walpole. At the same time, she investigates the interior selves behind the masks.

Anne Damer, the central character, was a distinguished sculptor in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who faced many obstacles in her life: the suicide of her husband, the social attitude that considered female sculptors to be unfeminine because their art required hard physical labor, and persistent rumors that she was lesbian. Donoghue uses these and other contemporary events, people, and artifacts to create a world that encompasses both the complicated social structures of England on one hand and Damer’s inner life on the other.

Her lesbianism has never been definitively established. Andrew Elfenbein declares that “[f]or recent historians of lesbianism, Damer has been a pivotal figure, in some cases appearing as virtually the first modern lesbian” [1].  The Dictionary of National Biography is less assertive; it documents the “passionate and lasting friendship with Mary Berry,” whom she met in 1789, and notes the public remarks during her marriage about her “Sapphic nature,” rising from close friendships with women. But apparently her contemporaries considered her “reticent;” for example, she ordered that her private papers be destroyed after she died [2].  It is this very reticence that allows Donoghue’s speculation on her life, although it requires the utmost delicacy.

In writing a biographical novel, Donoghue must negotiate between the novelist’s license to invent and biography’s commitment to the historical record. Thus, she does not turn Damer into “the first modern lesbian”; she does not even allow her to admit her own orientation publicly. Both scenarios are false, to history and to the general mores and values of the period. On the other hand, had she left the question as vague as the information contained in the limited number of surviving documents, the novel would be unsatisfying. Instead, Donoghue, as historical novelist, fills in the gaps; the result is the portrait of a woman coming to terms with her own sexuality in a society that considers it disgusting and ludicrous.

Donoghue portrays the relationship between Anne and Eliza as an intense friendship that is destroyed by the publication of a piece of anonymous doggerel that claims that the connection is sexual [3]. This squib is deeply hurtful to Anne, but is perilous for Eliza. As an actress, a profession not held in high regard in the period, Eliza must be much more protective of her reputation than the aristocratic people who form Anne’s circle. Not surprisingly in a novel filled with artists and their subjects, a portrait plays a critical part in illuminating the friendship and its rupture [4]. Donoghue enhances the background to the creation and presentation of Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of Farren to reveal the conflicts that class and sexuality cause.

The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1790 and made Lawrence’s reputation as a painter. Before the 1790 Exhibition, he had been better known for his works in pastel, but he “seemed to arrive fully formed as a painter in oils” at that event [5]. In the episodes in which Lawrence paints the portrait, Donoghue speculates on how he might have achieved the expression on Farren’s face. According to A. Cassandra Albinson, visitors to the studio felt that “Miss Farren’s look met you as you entered” [6]. Lucy Peltz notes the “complicity between artist and sitter” in the “playful glance Farren shoots across her shoulder to her appreciative viewer” [7].

Donoghue explains the gaze as a mixture of flirtation and annoyance. The pose emerges from Eliza’s arrival in a rush at the studio: “She pulled off her muff to hand to her mother; she tugged off one glove and reached to unclasp her fur-lined pelisse. Lawrence raised one finger. ‘Don’t do that’” (251). She does what he says, but she is “smil[ing] through her irritation.” She thinks he is young, arrogant, and callow; he doesn’t seem to care, which makes it worse. What is more, she is puzzled by his method;  as an actress and thus a public person, she expects to pose as some kind of allegorical figure, or a famous woman in history, and not as Eliza Farren, a private woman (253). When she sees the finished portrait, she realizes he has produced an entirely unexpected image: “This wasn’t Miss Farren of Drury Lane, this was a private person, rushing across a summer landscape in winter clothes. How had Tom Lawrence seen such a tentativeness in Eliza’s eyes as she posed for him in his studio with a worldly confidence? How had he glimpsed the fears that she carried around like tiny pebbles in her mouth?” (262).

When she points out to the painter that she still looks very thin–she had asked him to add “a pound of flesh”–he refuses: “‘You couldn’t be more beautiful,’ he said and she didn’t know whether he meant her or the Eliza in the picture” (262). But she is frightened by the idea that there are two Elizas, the private self and the public object of desire that appears on the stage. The need to protect the private self from being tainted has caused her to break with Anne and the suggestion that she could be equally objectified by the portrait increases her insecurity. These are the fears that Tom has revealed.

In dealing with the controversy over the naming of the picture, Donoghue takes a position that is more determined than the historical record. It was originally to be titled Portrait of a Lady, an anonymous, class-registering designation, but was hung at the Exhibition as Portrait of an Actress, a title, as Peltz comments, “that without any honorific qualification was synonymous with ill repute.” In what is described as a “long and obsequious letter” to Farren, who was furious and dismayed, Lawrence blamed the Academy for the change [8]. Peltz does not give any independent confirmation for Lawrence’s version of events, but Donoghue accepts it, producing a dramatic scene in which Anne views the painting for the first time and questions the title.

Anne’s reaction to the painting tells us how much it resembles the sitter: “The pose was startlingly spontaneous: there stood Eliza Farren with one glove off, as if interrupted in the middle of a rapid journey. She was as thin as a silver birch sapling; Lawrence had caught all her serpentine grace” (265). It also reveals the resonances of its title.  Donoghue’s shaping of history is revealed when Anne demands an explanation and the Academy official tells her that the decision was made by the Academy (because it is impossible for an actress to be a lady) and that Lawrence made a terrible fuss about it. Anne responds, “How dare they?…Portrait of an Actress sounds as if she’s no better than any other strumpet who ever walked the stage. They might at least have added an adjective: Distinguished, or Celebrated” (265-266). As an aristocratic woman, Anne understands the nuances of class and realizes how much more serious it is for Eliza than for a woman of her own status, who would never actually be in that situation. Her comment also suggests her own attitude towards actresses: “any other strumpet who ever walked the stage.”

The angry confrontation the two women have at the gallery, immediately after Anne has defended her, emphasizes the tragedy of their distance; they clearly still respect each other but Eliza is afraid to be seen with her and Anne is too deeply hurt to be polite. In this scene, Donoghue comments on the complexity of human sexuality and its effect on friendship, employing the portrait to ground her narrative in history.

Notes

[1] Andrew Elfenbein, Lesbian Aestheticism on the Eighteenth-Century Stage, Eighteenth-Century Life 25.1 (Winter 2001): 2. Project Muse. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ecl/summary/v025/25.elfenbein.html

[2] Alison Yarrington, “Damer, Anne Seymour (1749-1828),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Online edition, January 2008. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/7084.

[3] See the online readers’ guide to Life Mask, which contains specimens of the attacks on Anne Damer, including the libel about her friendship with Farren: “Companion Guide to Life Mask by Emma Donoghue,” rebeccarriverslitblog, http://rebeccariverslitblog.wordpress.com/. Accessed 13 May 13, 2013.

[4]  In this discussion, I am using “Anne” and “Eliza” to refer to the characters in the novel and “Damer” and “Farren” to refer to the historical record.

[5] A. Cassandra Albinson, “The Construction of Desire: Lawrence’s Portraits of Women,” Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, ed. A. Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell, and Lucy Peltz, Yale Center for British Art and the National Portrait Gallery, London. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 34.

[6] Ibid., 34.

[7] Lucy Peltz, “Elizabeth Farren, Later Countess of Derby, c.1759/62-1829, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, ed. A. Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell, and Lucy Peltz, Yale Center for British Art and the National Portrait Gallery, London. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 98.

[8] Ibid., 99-100.

18th-Century Feminism, Women’s Poetry, and an 18th-Century Library

Portrait of a Lady, Unknown artist (18th century), British. Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Dr. Ruth Ivor.

This week the Tumblr for Eighteenth-Century Fiction highlights a fascinating list of articles from the journal’s archive on feminism in eighteenth-century literature and culture, with links to articles on Burney, Wollstonecraft, Defoe, and more.

Readers of The 18th-Century Common should also check out The Aphra Behn Society’s ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830ABO is an “online annual publication that serves as a forum for interactive scholarly discussion on all aspects of women in arts between 1640 and 1830, especially literature, visual arts, music, performance art, film criticism, and production arts. The journal features peer-reviewed articles encompassing subjects on a global range” and while it is “intended for scholars and students” we expect it will interest the nonacademic readers who frequent The 18th-Century Common.  We want especially to direct you to the first volume, Women’s Poetry.

The New York Society Library, founded in 1754 as a subscription library, recently cataloged a collection of late 18th- and early 19th-century books.  As their press release explains:

The New York Society Library has recently completed the online cataloging of its Hammond Collection:
1,152 novels, plays, poetry, and other works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Originally
part of a New England lending library, these volumes date from 1720 to 1847 (bulk dates 1770-1820)
and reflect the popular reading interests of those years, including Gothic novels, romances, epistolary
fiction, musical comedies, and other genres. A number of these books are quite scarce; in a few cases,
the NYSL holds the only known extant copy.

To browse these books as a group in the Library’s catalog: http://library.nysoclib.org/,
search by author for “James Hammond’s Circulating Library.”

While you’ll have to go to New York to actually read the books, we recommend browsing the catalog, wherever you are.