misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Mary Arnold (Mrs Humphry) Ward: mostly John Sutherland's life; Helbeck of Bannisdale

Dear friends and readers,

I've been wanting to write a blog on Mary (Mrs Humphry) Ward for quite some time now. My interest in her dates back to 2002/3 when on WWTTA a group of us read Ward's Marcella and at the time I wandered off (so to speak) to try memoirs, life-writing. books on her art.  I was aware she wrote as Mary A Ward in her scholarly articles for her husband, Humphry's edition of poetry at the end of the century (with introductory essays), The English Poets. As he was a reactionary critic on art for the London Times at the turn of the century, so she famously was against women getting the vote, vociferously "for" WW1, and (less well known) painted and drew:

Mary Ward, Borough Farm (a real place she visited)

Still what made great oodles of money and kept her and her family afloat as well as providing an outlet for her passions and high intelligence were her novels. I've now read another of these, Helbeck of Bannisdale. as well as John Sutherland's excellent biography, Mrs Humphry Ward, Eminent Victorian, Pre-eminent Edwardian and would like to call attention to these two solid books and name books by and on Ward as well as on her character and art.  When young, Mary Ward was beautiful stately. Here is a photo of her. emphasizing the sternness of her role as worker for social charities, schools, young women's colleges, political causes (mostly reactionary)

She was born in Australia. 


John Sutherland's Mrs Humphry Ward.  At the opening of the book, Mary Augusta Arnold is is likened to Trollope in her turning to dreams and endless writing as an escape from a harsh environment, to Dickens and the Brontes in awful schools, and he's very good in analysing her earliest fiction. It's almost as good as a memoir in itself to me. I can't figure out why since usually I don't like this kind of tone. I think he does capture her inward life sharply and I found myself drawn to her despite her moralisms and the turn she took to upholding the very establishment and norms which tormented her.  Despite his somewhat deprecating semi-ironical tone, Sutherlland's book is a compelling read and sympathetic portrait.  I am fascinated by the parallels with Woolf's family, and convinced Mary Ward's novels were what Woolf read when she was a girl -- though Woolf's Common Reader basically gives us essays on reading only the "big" women writers and 17th & 18th century memoirists, and presents Greek, Latin, and other classical texts as Woolf's interests.

I was startled to see myself so enjoying Sutherland's book: not just the slightly ironic deprecating tone now and agani, but because there's a level where I find Ward appalling: the overt piety, the strong socializing, the determined domineering in the "right" ways to get ahead.  She had a weak person for a husband (when it comes to the world's struggles and getting promoted and doing well as that's understood) and she becamse the leader of the household.  Made huge sums eventually.  Feminist by temperament but not in beliefs nor actions, well at any rate these actions are not dishonorable. 

Yet I feel for her too.  Mary Augusta Arnold, sent from home at an early age and only allowed to live there in her young teenagehood,  was a bluestocking type intensely and overcame it sufficiently.  I think to myself Sutherland is seeing her as an early version of himself, her world an earlier version of one he grew up in; in every good biography there's a hidden autobiography.

What we learn of the protagonists' inner life telling me of an inward life vividly and is accurate enough -- from a sceptical disillusioned hard worldly way. He points out where she was lying (misrepresenting realities) in the parts of her AWR_ I had read already in ways that made sense of why she was misrepresenting her past and memories. He made me feel for her: sent away from her home as she was growing up, put in one of these goddawful schools, utterly selfish egoistic father, maudlin alienated mother. Remember Larkin on "they fuck you up" your parents, only it seemed she turned around and kissed these whips when she got home; better yet, I now see over the years she became the person they all leaned on, needed, and the center of the big family, Herself.  An appropriately morally- and socially-acceptable form of revenge.

Sutherland exposes her sympathetically: he does not come down heavy-handedly to show you how she was driven to commercialize, downgrade and out of her own spirit wrote increasingly reactionary books, to the point where she produced three horrific classics on behalf of WW1 (important and effective propaganda at the time); she was so driven because she reveled in luxury and power both in the world and inside her family. It seems to me he wants us to understand her relentless anti-suffragette position (which cost not only her many friends, but her son a career in parliament) came out of her desire to control her family:  her younger daughter, like one of her sisters (to her mother) became a sort of abject adoring servant to her.

As the book goes on, you learn of her hard life and how she struggled to keep all her relatives afloat and did -- while like Helbeck controlling all.  She suffering psychosomatically:  many wretched sicknesses, bad teeth, trouble with lack of exercise, illnesses, debts, and vexations from much less well-off effective relatives, and also her accomplishments in the political arena beyond Somerville:  settlement houses and complexes for schooling is one.

On the other hand, he has no sympathy for what was Ward's (as he insinuates from his worldly standpoint) morbid inner world, heavy on depression, repression, coercion of other people, and anxiety over money.  That's how he puts it.  His retellings of her novels are not really satisfactory: he finally stays with the surface meanings. It does make me want to read another novel so I can see what's there as he's not telling me.

At the same time he manages to discuss fairly those novels and her autobiography which are worth reading and suggest why, and also justify her as a woman who was supporting a phalanx of family hangers-on. She did much good for children:  opened vacation and vocation schools which she ran on her own money for years; started Somerville, and actually meant well, was not a malacious or bad woman, was good-natured in her own terms and friends with a lot of people we might respect and like. They saw something we can see in her better books and aspects of her life.

She did make many enemies and this is probably the reason for her sudden drop from public radar once she died. Her later years were also rought monetarily and socially. t's a book one can learn a lot from about upper class life in England then and now. I was most startled to see how hard it was after all to place her mostly no-good son (gambler, womanizer, partly because she wouldn't let him be, and partly because she supported him) despite all her connections and how often she struggled to get her influence felt.  This showed me how hard it is to make these much-vaunted connections and socializing work for making money or getting niches, and it might be someone with nearly none and one bit of luck would do better than she and hers after years of effort. I found this salutary, cheering and also ironic.


Hellbeck of Bannisdale.  The cover illustration for the Penguin is a John Atkinson Grimshaw. mood painter of Leeds and Yorkshire.  Wonderfully a propos of her book:

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893), Waterloo Lake, Roundhay, Leeds.

As I began Helbeck,  I felt the Catholicism of the novel somehow aligns it with formal structures and types of characters I've come across elsewhere, to wit, there is an older man, strongly Catholic Helbeck, who could become a putative guardian or even husband to his sister's stepdaugher, Laura, a strong agnostic.  The sister, Augustina had married Laura's father when the father was also much older than she, and he was the agnostic, she the lapsed Catholic.

The same situation is repeated twice in another novel by a woman brought up Catholic, Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story: an older priest, Dorriforth, a sort of Mr Darcy characters as we first meet him in bearing and severity falls in love with  secular enlightened modern woman type, later 18th century version, Miss Milner. We never learn Miss Milner's last name.  They marry, a daughter is born, Matilda; Miss Milner commits adultery and vanishes (or dies) and Volume 2 rehearses the older man young woman again.  I heard a paper at the recent 18th century conference where it was argued we should take Inchbald's Catholicism seriously to explain her works.  I was sceptical.  Maybe I should not have been.

The other novel is Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Yes. The Helbeck house is in decay and only the chapel is kept up. Just the situation when Waugh's novel opens and at the close.  The attitudes towards the house.  There is throughout a  mild gothicism which is like the Bronte's only sobered up -- rather like Anne Bronte's kind.

Grimshaw, An October Afterglow

The action takes place in Cumberlandm, and Ward provides wonderful descriptions of the landscape: they are not quite gothic and remind me of Trollope's descriptions (and love of walking in) Cumberland in _Can You Forgive Her?

I know I should treat the novel sui generis but it's faster to suggest what it is by comparison and it does remind me of other books again. The way the heroine, Laura Fountain, is stuck where she is, between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand, dense, religiously rigid, marginalized poor lower class people (rather like the heroine of Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm), relations of her now dead (agnostic) father; and on the other, her stepmother's upper class but impoverished Catholic group, the Brideshead Revisited set, with Helbeck, her step-mother's brother, an apparently inflexible and dominating male at the center.  Helbeck has (we learn) been responsible for an architect he hired turning into a Catholic and losing his chance at a decent place.

A character who is deprived of a place because he became a Catholic is mirroring Ward's father; Laura's personality is probably a reflection of Ward's. I have to admit I don't like her very much -- she behaves strategically and thinks this way too; she is determined to have some kind of power but can't see her way to it -- to do what I can't think as she shows no interest in anything but music and there it's not linked to activity on her part but as an index of her upper class education and ways. She determines to break into her father's family and when she is made unhappy by the encounter but gradually worms her way in, I am to applaud her. I'm supposed to feel sympathy for her automatically; so too sympathy for Helbeck so there are some assumptions going on here I don't share, all of which makes me conclude that Sand was right when she said politics is a function of one's character.  All I read of Ward's politics put me off :)

Subbronte is a good word for the genre feel. I do love the landscape and the way Ward invites us to revel, but more than that in the landscape: in the stories Helbeck tells of the apparently conventional existences of his female relatives, I discern another theme:  a justification of living in solitude, in relative isolation, to yourself and on yourself.  Each woman gradually becomes reclusive -- now that's not conventional -- and finds peace and fulfillment idiosyncratically. It is curious for what I've read of Ward's life shows me she was anything but this :). Her novels become a way for this other side of herself to find a place to recuperate itself.   Laura resists domination by Helbeck and to allow herself to be sexually involved with him offers no other basis for a relationship. The use of landscape is expressionistic and affective.  Really this would make a good film adaptation -- not a mini-series but a powerful single episode.

I am gradually liking the hero, Helbeck and see that we are moving towards a love romance between them, where the problem is his intransigent stance as a Catholic male and her fear of this. She has now been proved wrong: she went to a dance where her Protestant relatives were in their element and found herself surrounded by people beneath her, vulgar, coarse, uninteresting, and on the way home her cousin, Humbert (any relation to Nabokov's hero I wondered -- Nabokov'd never admit reading Mrs Humphry Ward, would he? but maybe he did), harasses her sexually, distressing and frightening her with his drunkeness

This is terrible snobbery, and the anecdote to it is her near contemporary H. E. Bates's Love for Lydia (a subLarwrencian novelists -- very good, Judy, if you don't know his stories especially) but it is in human nature and we can see how this girl would feel exiled, estranged. She is indeed between a rock and a hard place. H.E. Bates makes me think about how Argyle shows she is read in the famous canon. Another much read writer of the era who dwelt in this isolated places is A. E. Coppard and we must not forget Arnold Bennet (Anna of the Five Towns, etc) and Galsworthy (I mean to read The man of property for the rape of the wife story).

It's made realistic she could get out: she apparently has some kind of income, small, but enough and a friend at Cambridge to join, but will she? Self-evidently she doesn't want to end up like her quavering sister-in-law following supersititions, but there are other ways of being in Cumberland

By Volume 3, the heroine and our hero now engaged to be married: when they are apart from others, alone without their social nexus, they are happy. Their problem is in their lifestyle at the time they cannot create a personal space of their own apart as is actually more possible today if you have an adequate income which doesn't demand this. Then you can know liberty (in its fuller extents too).

I cannot get why Ward spends such time in delineating from the outside the Catholic practices of Helbeck and shows Laura deploring them unless she means seriously to criticize these practices as ludicrous, inhumane, absurd.   Laura, I remind everyone, was brought up by a kind atheist father who basically had nothing to do with his family.

Now this criticism may be there as there are a couple of secondary characters whose lives are almost ruined by their sudden conversions to a severe austere Catholicism.  The novel also dramatizes narrow bigotry in the protestant part of the heroine's family.  Her stepmother leaves a weak feeble guilty life because of her Catholicism.

But if so, this is not backed by the narrator's discourse which leaves us suspended and gives us no clue where Ward stands.  And as I wrote the general shape and architecture is that of Brideshead which validates Catholicism.

She also doesn't come out on the side of Laura looking to be independent from Helbeck. This does seem to be backed by the narrator but only implicitly.  I found myself wondering why Ward doesn't call the novel A woman of slender means for it's Laura's lack of certain means and her ties to these relatives she keeps honoring but has nothing in common with that brings her back.

My real understanding of the book comes only from knowing Ward's autobiography.  Her father again and again gave up good positions and plunged his family in misery by his conversions to Catholicism.  She was part of a milieu where atheism (or at least agnosticism) was commonplace.  She can also be showing her own incestuous drives (people have these) by showing this romance between her heroine and a father-figure.

The book reminds me of other novels of this era, particuarly the more minor ones like H.E. Bates, a subLawrentian one and A. O. E. Coppard which delineates the imprisonment and isolation of gifted people.  I've gone on with Helbeck and have the heroine and our hero now engaged to be married: when they are apart from others, alone without their social nexus, they are happy. Their problem is in their lifestyle at the time they cannot create a personal space of their own apart as is actually more possible today if you have an adequate income which doesn't demand this. Then you can know liberty (in its fuller extents too).

John Atkinson Grimshaw,  A Moonlit Road

The peace in the book only arises when the heroine is alone in these remarkably beautiful landscapes. It has a Rousseau thrust!  If so, this is an aspect of Ward's character not only Sutherland but everyone else including Ward when explicit leaves out or hides or neglects. And it is strong and continuous -- these landscapes and long sequences of peace alone. I'm reading the book for them. They comfort me.

I would like to understand the book better.  I'm beginning to wonder if one characteristic of 1890s new women's novels is precisely this fear of speaking out directly and muddle and was understood by women at the time.

When I finished the book, I was as puzzled or unsatisfied as ever:  Laura commits suicide unexpectededly, suddenly and leaves a a letter to her friends  (not relatives, her friends from Cambridge who she never seems to settle down with) asking them to lie about her death, to pretend that it was not a suicide. There is a second surprize here: not only does Laura commit suicide, she writes a letter which enables her closest friends to lie to Helbeck about it.

What trust can she have in this man?  To say she's protecting him is nonsense for she's dead and he suspects it.  All this does is cut him off from her, and it's a lie, a barrier the way lies often work. He has nothing to console himself with.  The final lie is appalling. It shows life as utter performance.  Perhaps this is how Ward lived it.

A serious psychoanalytical study or archetypal one needs to be done to make sense of this book for Ward wrote it more than half-unconsciously.  She never questions why Laura keeps coming back to these relatives: she has money to live with her friends and an independent life among people like herself. Suddenly at the end we ar told she really loved the stepmother. If so, she never says why and endlessly shows the stepmother to be silly and weak.  According to Sutherland, Ward's later life erupts in psychosomatic and sociological symptoms.  

A final book its reminded me of Victoria Cross's Anna Lombard (from this era) also leaves the reader high and dry for any sense of the author being appalled by the abhorrent things the heroine is driven to do, and even seems to condon them (like killing a new born baby because it's another man's child from the one who has just married her and refused to have sex with her until she was no longer polluted by this pregnancy). Also of E. M. Forster's Room with a View, which explores female sexuality in its WW1 imprisoned phase.


Albert Sterner, "What does Lady Kitty do with herself here?", illustration for Chapter 13 of Mary Ward's The Marriage of William Ashe (Dec 1904).

An illustration from late in the Victorian period (Edwardian really as it's 1904), in the popular "idyllic" style familiar to me from John Everett Millais's illustrations for Trollope (and many others of the era). It's an acute question, bypassing the luxury of the surroundings to an important question: how does this heroine spend her life here?  how does she manage it?   Sterner's choice points us to a quiet level of alienation, and deleterious psychological consequences or the cost of the consequence of striving for social success.  I do like the picturesque melancholy, the quiet use of brush strokes and lines, and most unusually, that the engraver manages to keep a real (here desperate) facial expression (often in the transfer of the drawing, this is lost).

Some critics:

I reread what Sutherland wrote about it, and he is autobiographical: this is Ward as a girl (Laura), Helbeck's obsession with Catholicism her father's conversions, Laura's father's agnosticism or atheism, the world around the Wards (say the Stephens for one). As a girl Ward was continually sent away from home and hated it.  Was not therefore herself much mothered.  The only "mother" in the book is the obtuse rigid evangelical aunt with her punitive talk. But why the suicides, the deaths (by drowning in two cases). Judith Wilt's Behind Her Times: Transition England in the Novels of Mary Arnold Ward seems to have long chapters delving the inner life of the novels, with the last two on Ward's anti-suffragette stance in the context of the suffragette movement.

Fran (on WWTTA) found a reference to an article Woolf wrote for  The New Republic, 37 (9 January 1924) called 'The Compromise' concerning Ward and the biography her daughter Janet Trevelyan wrote of her in particular. It's collected in Woolf's collection, Women and Writing., which is where I probably came across it in the first place. Here's a short look:


My introduction by Brian Worthington (which I now read) sees the book as essentially anti-Catholic, rather like Villette, torn because the heroine loves the Catholic hero. Mr. Paul Emanuel is also a domineering man and we are left to wonder if he drowned. Worthington does bring up Simple Story where Dorriforth, the hero is a much older ex-priest, and Miss Milner, the heroine (as I've said) a secular free woman for her time; what happens is the heroine does marry him, but there is a break and when Volume 2 begins, it is years later and we learn the heroine took a lover, he impregnated and abandoned her, a child was born, probably our hero's, Dorriforth's (but it's not clear for sure after all), and Miss Milner dies in childbirth. One might call this long-round-about suicide.

Beth Sutton-Rampspeck's article on Mary Ward is a not an altogether persuasive argument for seeing Ward as not conservative and feminist, for to be labelled feminist and progressive requires more an examination of one's literary allegiances.  Nonetheless, in the area of literature, and particularly how and why men treat novels the way they do, and how to counter this, it's superb, not least because it's so lucidly written.

It falls into three sections: the first is about the canon and she begins with how James looked about him to surround himself in print with other male authors -- and either never mention or denigrate in all kinds of ways his many female rivals. This is important for it is a chief motive of many male novelists and common behavior among male reviewers and editors today.  Men are embarrassed by a connection with women. I'll jumpshot into the third section, where Sutton-Ramspeck explains Ward's defense of the personal and subjective approach to reading books:  partly or even largely due to the conventions of masculinity men are not supposed to reveal their personal life and it's been shown that when they do talk of what they read there is a strong tendency to speak of what can be called objective (partly never to admit vulnerability).  Ward was clear and strong in valuing precisely the personal in the books and how they fit into the real and subjective of her authors' lives. That's what was important to her and them. In this section Sutton-Ramspeck uses the criticism of Dickinson today which enables us to value her -- one of which we discussed here, "Vesuvius at home."

The second section is about how Ward shows the Brontes affecting her as a reader and writer who is a woman.  (There is no neutered person, no universal being; I'd say the presentation of that can be and is often the presentation of the male view unacknowledged.) I loved how she showed Ward felt appalled at the final choice of life Charlotte Bronte was led to. Here I feel Ward probably did not sufficiently take into account how no matter how great a poetic genius one is, when it comes to the average person's views of you, your class and money trumps all, not to omit social presence. In the marriage market, Charlotte Bronte's choices were limited.  But I've felt the waste here too -- and the death from pregnancy, oh so common. The novel where Ward goes over this choice is David Grieve.

Tags: 20th century, jane austen novels, women's novels

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