All summer all the time …
Dear friends and readers,
I write under a difficulty: I did not take any photos and we are not supposed to tell much of private conversations on the Net among friends and I have it on good authority that people like pictures and concrete conversation best. But unlike Jane Austen who claimed to have nothing at all to say when she wrote her letters, I have a few unseasonal thoughts on the place, the trip, and my experience of going to the ASECS conference for a second time since Jim died, and of the success of my paper and a book club meeting (a rare face-to-face experience of such for me). So I’ve found a few promotional and official photos of a couple of the places I was at, one book cover for Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee which I read preparatory to meeting with a book club in Santa Monica on this past Saturday evening. Not to omit stills from the 1999 mini-series, The Aristocrats, adapted from Stella Tillyard’s non-fictional study of the Lennox sisters and their worlds. I also can tell a little of the talk and more of a couple of books and movies. 3/29/15: a friend sent a photo of John O’Neill and I in the Wm Andrews Clark Memorial library
Unseasonal because I found myself in another summer world. As the plane descended and I looked out, I saw a landscape that reminded me of Florida. Flat, meadows, a body of water stretched out, these tall palm trees, and trees whose trunks looked like upside pineapples. It differed because all around the plain were mountains. I began to wonder was my view of the US hopelessly parochial: until I was 33 I lived where winter was long, very cold, and often tough (two pairs of gloves on my hands during January), with an exception for a couple of years in Leeds, England, where it cannot be said to have been summery. And we can have bitter winters here in Virginia and long lovely falls. Perhaps much more of the US is this summer world than I ever realized. My norm is still winter and rain. I remember one February day in Leeds in 1969 walking to the bus and the sun came out, and I looked up and felt so glad. I had not seen that circle for ever so long. My good friend, Diana Birchall, who I stayed with for a full day and a morning and one night assured me that in summer one does not need air-conditioning; the humidity is not what it was even in January in Florida. Maybe. 60 to 70 degrees on average, blue skies, light winds, what’s not to like. We went to an old-fashioned thrift shop where people seemed to know one another and were friendly. She and her son took me for a walk along the beaches of Santa Monica and how alluring it all looked, complete with a boardwalk, ferris wheel and rose garden.
I had been there one night in 2001 when at an International ECS Jim drove me and Yvette to precisely that spot one afternoon, walked along the beach with us, ate out, and then drove us much further along to a beach where we tried to go into the Pacific. I remembered that ferris wheel and boardwalk. Memories. Not the cliffs and whole scene and not its context. This time I visited with Diana three other friends and saw how different people lived around there. I stared out at the sky once more and remembered.
Nonetheless, gentle reader I don’t want to live in a summer world. I felt everyone was in such a state of undress. Maybe it was too much of a holiday world. It was also even when I was there outside the hotel too hot for me inside the various apartments and houses. LA of course differs from the places Jim and I found ourselves in most ASECS meetings: I was not in an isolated oasis of middle class life with all around me a vast hinderland of poverty. LA seems a huge city where much is higgledy-piggledy, some thriving, some middling, some impoverished, lots of cultural places, beaches, strips of restaurants, malls, parks. North of Montana Avenue it was all exquisite outrageously expensive homes, south apartment houses (or vice versa). A long-time friend who was part of the book club I participated in told me if you know LA it has a wonderful music, intellectual and theater world: concerts, lectures, plays, (and I added movies). You just have to know where to go.
The trip there was interminable and an economy seat is not much fun. I discovered I should have somehow put some app on my cell phone and then I could have connected to movies — for which I would have had to pay. On an airplane nowadays all you get for your ticket is a seat, necessary (for your bodily health) offers of juice, coffee, tea, soda, water, and bathroom. I bought a lunch going; it was as bad as almost every meal that passed for food in restaurants for the next 5 days. To my taste Starbucks coffee is too bitter, and their idea of a croissant is bread roll somehow or other rolled to look like a croissant. The trip home included sitting in one of the noisiest areas of rows of uncomfortable seats I’ve endured thus far. I was grateful to sink into a taxicab upon leaving the labyrinthine makeshift and ugly hangars both times.
Most of the time I was in the hotel — for the talks, for a session on how to do wikipedia in honor of Adrianne Wadewitz. Her parents were there and I talked with her father at the William Clark Andrews Memorial library a couple of evenings later. I crossed the street the first night, Wednesday, in search of food — I’d had nothing edible on the plane and saw nothing edible in the hotel spread of supposed snacks. So I accompanied an acquaintance from this wikipedia to eat some soup and drink a glass of sangria and talk of our lives as scholars and teachers.
The hotel was one of these awful huge anonymous luxury hotels set up to extract as much cash from each individual as possible. Four towers, many circles of cement and glass. There were two levels on which there were affordable and cheap eateries, and from one Italian place I ate with two of the friends who came to my lecture. One of my happiest moments was with them then. There was a reception on a rooftop on Thursday night and I joined with a young male Austen and gothic scholar from Liverpool, just appointed as a teacher, to have a good meal on that terrace with two people who teach the 18th century in a western college. I again talked with others of our work and lives. Very late Friday night I went to a reception where I talked with people of Jim, to a couple where the man had been widowed young and remarried, to an Irish woman who was at a session where 2 people showed up for the talks, and one left. There were too many talks and sessions on against one another for the number of people who came. Indeed a fairly visible percentage of people did not show at the last minute.
The hardest moments for me this as last time at Williamsburg was being in the hotel room alone. When my ipad worked and I was able to receive and send emails to friends, it was not so bad. (Sometimes it would not work.) Someone I spoke to told me he looked at his email inbetween sessions too, and pronounced it in the way people do “mostly junk.” And indeed nowadays over 75% of my email are forms of ads, promotional, requests; of the 25% left some are daily newsletters I get (which I may read), digests from listservs I skim, maybe as much as 10% are genuine communications from a listserv, friend or blog. But they matter and I felt like Jane Fairfax coming back from the post office in the rain with her precious retrieval listening to John Knightley tease her about going out in the rain in her present state of weak health (she is consumptive):
Mr. John Knightley smiled, and replied … The post-office has a great charm at one period of our lives. When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for.”
There was a little blush, and then this answer, ‘”I must not hope to be ever situated as you are, in the midst of
every dearest connexion, and therefore I cannot expect that simply growing older should make me indifferent about letters.’
‘Indifferent! Oh! no–I never conceived you could become indifferent. Letters are no matter of indifference; they are generally a very positive curse.’
‘You are speaking of letters of business; mine are letters of friendship.’
‘I have often thought them the worst of the two,” replied he coolly. “Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.’
‘Ah! you are not serious now. I know Mr. John Knightley too well — I am very sure he understands the value of friendship as well as any body. I can easily believe that letters are very little to you, much less than to me, but it is not your being ten years older than myself which makes the difference, it is not age, but situation. You have every body dearest to you always at hand, I, probably, never shall again; and therefore till I have outlived all my affections, a post-office, I think, must always have power to draw me out, in worse weather than to-day.”
‘When I talked of your being altered by time, by the progress of years,’ said John Knightley, “I meant to imply the change of situation which time usually brings. I consider one as including the other. Time will generally lessen the interest of every attachment not within the daily circle–but that is not the change I had in view for you. As an old friend, you will allow me to hope, Miss Fairfax, that ten years hence you may have as many concentrated objects as I have.”
It was kindly said, and very far from giving offence. A pleasant ‘thank you’ seemed meant to laugh it off, but a blush, a quivering lip, a tear in the eye, shewed that it was felt beyond a laugh (Emma, Volume 2, Chapter 16)
On Friday later afternoon I escaped that monstrous cavern for a couple of hours! This time I took a bus with other ASECS members to go to the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. For decades I was a member of this library receiving pamphlet publications of rare 18th century works — one I remember edited by my advisor, Robert Adams Day, one of the earliest sober, realistic epistolary novels — and then when these pamphlets stopped a newsletter telling of lectures, concerts, sometimes with informative essays about supported scholarship at the library. A long-18th-century oasis. It was much smaller than I imagined, and older. You cannot see the miles of books which are under the extensive lawn where parties, concerts and get-togethers are held. There is a concert room for the regular music and lecture events. Other rooms for exhibits and books. I did not know that the man who funded the place was gay: on the ceiling are figures of what look like classical gods, all resembling this man’s companion. A librarian took us round, telling us something of the history of the family then and more recently and how the library operates. They all seemed glad to escort the ASECS members around and tell them of the library, the man’s history, we were given wine or coffee and (the usual awful) snacks. This human dimension of the library made it come alive for me in a way it had never done before.
I mentioned my talk or paper and the book club. I am chuffed to say that my paper, “Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films” was well-received. My boast is that Jeffrey Hatcher, who writes screenplays for a living, and wrote and delivered a talk in a session the day before on writing and producing The Duchess, liked my paper and asked me questions. Just as important beyond my two friends, there were here about four people who I know and have spent time with, one of whom I was on a panel about rape with, and the other gave a paper on Charlotte Smith’s poetry which I attended. And the Austen and gothic novels guy from the night before. The day before there had been two sessions on film with semi-famous people: Stella Tillyard told about Aristocrats, how she novelizes to make her non-fictional and real people appealing, and the nature of the commercial changes in the BBC adaptation into a 1999 BBC mini-series, as well as her A Royal Affair and the art film adapted from it.
A panel of six notable 18th century scholars and film people were commentators on her and Hatcher’s presentation. And the day after the panel I was on was another panel on Austen and media; I was told still another session on Austen was made up of papers mostly on Austen film adaptations. So over the course of these days there were numbers of people lingering from session to session. I will write about the content of these papers and comments on Austen Reveries soon.
As to our Saturday book club meeting, one the women who was part of the club had made a delicious spread of food, and we did manage to talk of the book. Leading up to this for three weeks, a couple of people on Trollope19thCStudies had tried to read the book too — like me, and others they too felt it began well, hard satire on a foolish Anglo-Irish woman bankrupting herself to please a London English aristocratic gentry world made up of contemptible people who despised her. In the story, Lord Colambre returns to Ireland to discover to try recoup the family’s finances and recover a heritage. Edgeworth’s purpose is to educate the Anglo-Irish and English into acting more decently and humanely by the Catholic Irish because it’s in their interest to do so.
Here are a few notes from our discussion online at Trollope19thcStudies:
The hero’s foolish mother, the English woman whom an Irishman married for ther money, Lady Clonbrony, has given an extravagantly expensive evening party, dance, with cards, and for her pains all she got was sneers, derision, and is further wasting her husband’s property. She turns her house into a kind of Arabian Nights — rather like Miss Bates alludes to — only here the comparison is turned to genuine political and social account. The upper class English despise all Anglo-Irish, and anyone with a high rank such a woman as Lady Clonbury who rank is recent. Lady Clonbury’s good nature and inability to cope with nasty people is really why she is treated as badly as she is but the portrait is turned to make thematic points.
I can see why Austen would enjoy this book. She’d have loved the jaundiced sharp depiction of this party in London and felt for the son, Lord Colambre (his courtesy title) and his mother’s niece, companion, Miss Nugent who can stand up to the social cruelties of the crowd because (the fiction presumes this) her understanding of how worthless all this kowtowing and phoniness are protects her. Austen would have known better than to dramatize that idea — intuitively .But Edgeworth and she are on a same wave length — as she was on a different but alike wave length with Burney (an arch conservative consciously).
For Trollopians: there may be a character who influenced the depiction of Miss Dunstable in Dr Thorne. Miss Broadhurst has the same frank open sort of semi-masculine comic talk. She exposes with it – -she doesn’t care if she upsets others. Trollope does have two long sections of prose where he commends Edgeworth and hints influence. Miss Broadhurt is not as delighful as Miss Dunstable because Edgeworth is not as sparkling and clever as Trollope but the portrait does seem a sort of dry run; maybe it gave him the idea. Miss Broadhurst has the same frank open sort of semi-masculine comic talk. She does not exposes the values of others quite as sparklingly as Miss Dunstable – Edgeworth does not know how to frolic, but equally Miss Dunstable doesn’t care if she upsets most others. Maybe that’s the point. She also makes a friend of the hero when the hero’s mother wants the hero to propose to her because she’s rich. The portrait does seem a sort of dry run; maybe it gave Trollope an idea for the paradigm.
Chapters 5 and 6 showed me why many a modern Irish literature scholar say that Irish Literature begins with Lady Gregory. In chapter 6 Lord Colambre returns home. What has happened is the Irish Parliament has been abolished and whatever people met there must go to London. A sentence is devoted to Colambre’s sorrow for the Irish over their penal laws – these should be gotten rid of, but then that is forgotten over his noticing and begin grated upon by all these Irish people taking his bags, trying to get him to let them perform some service, any service to get little bits of money. They are disgusting beggars he says. Lord Colambre inveighs against the Jewish coachmaker and moneylenders. How dare they over-charge his friend. What amoral lousy people they are, crooks. Maybe they overcharge but the friend went for it. Why should these Jewish not get their money? They have to live and probably endure different penal laws than the Irish — just as bad or the same. We get this stream of antisemitism.
Edgeworth then proceeds to satirize how the middle classes ever so pretensious are taking over the houses and social places filled with super rich and powerful who went to London or back to their properties. This is what she doesn’t approve of. Right. That power is taken wholly from these people in effect and never even thought about for Catholics never reaches her mind. The women made fun of as deluded fools glamorising themselves senselessly, the man as throwing out money, not taking care of property. Perhaps so but what are the norms she wants to substitute here? It won’t do. It’s backhanded snobbishness as written. She never so much as mentioned the revolution of 1798, the failed French invasion, the savage put-down of the Irish, Wolf Tone’s execution. That’s the measure of this book. Read Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French, to see the vast world of Ireland absent from The Absentee. Not only was there was 3rd but failed revolution; it defined and characterized the whole culture of Ireland for decades after — as the repression was so ruthless; part of the causes for starving the peasants and keeping away from them, were the exacerbated relationships amid the classes which had their nuances.
The Absentee is narrow and dated; but important novel for its era: maybe the first Anglo-Irish novel in the realistic tradition — for Edgeworth wrote Castle Rackrent before this. My friend at the book club said it got him reading about ireland at this peruiod. like the hard satire — I wish it had larger broader themes, and were not just aimed at social types that Edgeworth (rightly in my view) can’t stand, but she is painting a picture of this “illegitimate” society. In a way that’s the issue; these people are taking over and have no right to; they’ve been taking over for a couple of centuries so they don’t see it this way quite. Yet it’s unsettled; the upper crust has fled to London — maybe happy at the moving of the parliament.
There come so the fore two women, Lady Dashfort and her daughter. They are seeking a husband for the daughter. Lady Dashford reminds me strongly of Lady Delaforte in Belinda – -similar aggressive type. I’ve an idea that the female reader of the time woke up at this point and found this character compelling or appalling depending on their attitude. She is not the dragon lady Lady Catherine de Bourgh is and we could praise this as realer and thus more cogent for its audience, less frivolous if you will.
Edgeworth’s problem is she is not interested in romance at all – -Lisa Moore has it she’s a lesbian (closet? but knew her feelings and in Belinda one heroine is fascinated by another’s breasts) and so wrote sapphic fiction when she was following later 18th century conventions and types (like Leonora) but here she has no interest in romance either. It’s very hard prosaic depiction of these people’s houses and those they are dependent on. So there’s little Arabian Nights or fantasy here. The heroine is Grace Nugent who has to endure much slander as a dependent on Clonbury; at one point the hero thinks to break with her as of course he would not want to marry anyone tainted by illegitimacy; but in the end she is discovered to be an heiress. You see the level of Edgeworth’s interest.
The book is too didactic, too obvious. She implies she cares about the Irish Catholics but her aim is the Anglo-Irish and the English reader. She probably down rightly reflects many attitudes towards class and family that Austen held. While some of the characters are composite people (men more) others are types (lady Dashfort and Isabel who as problems for the good man appear in Charlotte Smith. I thought I would query one house. Count O’Halloran and his menagerie. Edgeworth has a decent regard for animals so maybe that’s why the chapter on this man with a menagerie. But it is strange. Could there have been such a man or people who might keep so many animals — in their front room. Probably he’s meant to be an eccentric
The point of these chapters is literally to depict the world of the Anglo-Irish at this point. It’s written from the point of view of someone who does not expect her fellow Anglo-Irish ever to have been in Ireland. I suggest Jane Austen’s relatives would never have permitted her to write a book like this — they would have regarded it as dangerous for their reputations; it might and would offend. That she would have read it in an approving spirit as so realistic.
The plot-line that hangs the novel together is Lord Colambre’s investigation of Ireland as a place to live, for him to reside in, and the attempt of various older women to persuade him to marry their daughters, specifically Lady Dashfort over Isabel. In this part of the novel Edgeworth brings in the establishment men (Anglo-Irish again) who live in Ireland. Sportsmen mostly with semi-political views. I really do wonder why present-day Irish writers want to respect Edgeworth so unqualifiedly. She means well?
Edgeworth’s Absentee is a cross between the 18th century novel with its social satire (from generic “universal values”), both from the Fielding angle (now that the men are brought in, Squrire Western no longer a caricature) and the Richardson-Austen (courtship) and 19th novel with a turn to cultural and national analysis. What Edgeworth misses is much, among others things, the long sense of history and historical forces which we do get in Scott even if he indulges in much fantasy, myth, legend; he is himself as a novelist more openly melancholy and so his novels are today still readable (I recommend as a historical cultural study, Old Mortality).
That night I managed to reach friends on Diana’s PC computer in the room I was given to sleep in. The next morning she arose, we had a coffee and croissants at a Starbucks and then she drove me to the airport. I’ve already told of that screeching airport lounge. I omitted how Charles Krauthammer, the reactionary TV pundit was aboard, now paid by Fox News to spout vicious ideas elegantly put and plausible, and treated like a king. A young black woman next to me talking of how people don’t want public transportation; if we provided it, they would not use it. I asked her if she thought about the average income of US people and how much it costs to have and to run a car. Her face went blank: she sure had thought of this, but had been taught not to give any stranger her real thoughts. Cant everywhere.
I came home to two off-standish cats who had missed me, Yvette said; she missed me too. They went wild one night in the front room; Clarycat would not sleep with Yvette, while Ian tried to. Diana has three cats and I witnessed how one of them, Tully, at night, goes to the front door, meows and paws at the doorknob in order to go to her son’s apartment and sleep with him. Pindy came into my room but decided it was too risky as yet to make friends. Who says cats don’t have souls? I was so relieved to see her and them. A can of tuna (shared with Clary and Ian), two hard boiled eggs, fresh bread, and wine just for me.
I had trouble sleeping that first night as my body clock was totally perplexed but I did make it to the Poldark class the next morning at AU and from sten notes I talked and it went well. Two new people! We covered the rest of Ross Poldark. I think I am finally getting the hang of this kind of teaching. I proposed Fielding’s Tom Jones for the fall at that OLLI at AU, and everyone appeared so delighted that it is now all set.
I then came home to the first unabridged complete The Duke’s Children as edited by Steven Armanick and Robert Wiseman. It came in a special bag which prevented it from being taken to a post office (since i was not at home when it arrived) which would have required a scavenger hunt by me to ferret it out. That’s what happened when I ordered a copy of a set of CDs of the whole of Framley Parsonage read aloud by Timothy West arrived. It is splendidly packaged — looks indestructible. The separate thin volume includes some of Steven Armanick’s essay notes on the cuts and editing, Wiseman’s textual apparatus, explanations of editing principles, and a description of the manuscript. No illustrations. I did it on the installment plan. It is outrageously expensive: they just couldn’t get a moderately priced academic or college-textbook kind of novel publisher to pick it up.
I wonder what Trollope would have said of this. Not the text itself, he would have been intensely gratified I imagine); as we know he cared about packaging from the customer’s point of view (I refer to a couple of cases where he gave a publisher a very hard time … I’ve just gotten off the phone with one of the board members of the NY Trollope society and we discussed the possibility of my giving a brief seminaor on Trollope’s great signature book, The Last Chronicle of Barset.
‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ There is not an hour goes by in my life when I am not regretting Jim’s absence, remembering, thinking of him, scarcely believing he’s not going ever to be here again. Unlike Jane Fairfax I cannot go to the post office to retrieve any letters from him ever more. I almost wrote him a letter before I left; let this be something of what I would have written.