misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

EC/ASECS Pittsburgh, Recovery: normalizing the gothic, radical scepticism, suicides, feminism

Dear friends and readers,

Five days after coming home from Portland, Oregon (a Sunday night), I sallied forth once again, this time to Pittsburgh as experienced in the Penn/Omni vast grand hotel, to join in for one day at the EC/ASECS meeting. The appropriate umbrella theme was thought to be "recovery:  Pittsburgh (it is fervently hoped) is recovering from its time as the center of steel manufacture, and its time as a desperately depressed city of high unemployment when "big steel" vanished to foreign countries where low wage workers could be exploited.

I regretted very much not being able to come to Thursday night's Oral/Aural experience where Peter Staffel put on Royall Tyler's The Contrast (1787) and much poetry was read aloud,

A recent staging of Tyler's The Contrast

but Friday I could not again cancel my classes (as I did last week to go to the JASNA AGM). Happily in the event last and again this week I had such good times with my 3 classes, a full house in all three with good students (of which I have a reasonable number, say near a third in all classes) glad to see me again. I will write separately on this week's time with Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (yes, I'd be Northanger Abbey'd out were that possible). But we did manage to arrive (Jim driving 80 miles an hour and me sitting exhausted after a 12 hour day) at Pittsburgh around 11 pm on Friday night, and were sitting in its large (some would say magnificent) Art Decor front hall eating lovely sandwiches and drinking (me scotch and ginger ale)

This photo (as others on the site) make the place look far gaudier than it is; the lights do not have the glaring effect you see here, and the artwork (carving, space) is grand and ornate without being too overdone.

So we spent all day Saturday with old friends and new acquaintances at the sessions, lunch, in between times when I encountered people who wanted to talk or were willing to.  Enough people welcomed me warmly (the way the people did at the Burney conference) to feel like that needed cordial to the heart when one re-joins one's tribe, and Jim has agreed to be "the custodian" of the website for EC/ASECS.  There were no sessions on Sunday, but I did talk late on Saturday to Christine Clark-Evans who will be organizing next year's do and she welcomed the idea of a panel on 20 and 21st century novels set in the 18th century. I'd like to do a paper on Winston Graham's Poldark novels. Having chaired two panels this year, and helped Mary Trouille with a panel last, I feel I'm up to this kind of thing and when you declare a panel, the rules for the EC allows you to give a paper on a topic you like.  I did become aware that in one day I heard some 17 papers while over 3 days at JASNA I heard 8 (and 3 at the Burney in one morning).   The emphasis on what experience was sought in the JASNA as opposed to this EC session (and also the Burney) is striking.  It suggests my taste for sessions as the heart of a conference is not unusual among scholars.

This blog will mostly be on those few papers over the day which intersect with my interests on the gothic, women's writing and art, and Austen, but I give only the gist of what was said. I did take more notes than appears here, but as I am not confident of the full accuracy of my details, I'll see if I can reconstruct just some of the two or three excellent and unusual papers (for example, Edwards on Defoe) and put them into this blog in the comments section.  There was a revealing debate that erupted or emerged in the conference over what stance towards authorship or a particular attribution we should take when we have so little evidence of who wrote what in the first and mid-part of the 18th century and I describe that as far as I heard and saw it.   What value this blog has beyond a piece of autobiography is one can see what a few recent trends in scholarship are. Alas, one of these is a tendency to erase the outlook and some of the gains of feminist literary scholarship -- such as studying women's texts in any given instance (in this one suicide) as much as one would men's, not ignoring them.  On the other hand, a number of the papers on gothic, Richardson, women's images would not have been imaginable much less given before the 1970s.  There were two papers on Austen: one on S&S and the other on Austen sequels and film adaptations.

My panel came first: 9:00: Gothic as Trauma and Recovery, and I gave a 21 minute version of my 31 minute paper at the Portland JASNA. Once again I read the book in the context of Genlis's Countess of C********** and two other gothic tales from Adele et Theodore; Charlotte Smith's Montalbert, a powerful enthralling gothic with patterns and attitudes that resemble Austen's;, Anne Fuller, The Convent, or the History of Sophia Nelson, a startling eye-opener as it is also a loving parody which finds validity in gothic visions and a traumatized condition all the while it makes fun of the superficial conventions ; finally Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle. written with NA in mind, where mockery forestalls pain and the gothic becomes self-reflexive while we revel in its pleasures.

Catherine reading The Monk (2007 NA)

One of the other two papers was an attempt to find powerful women and/or gestures in these gothics: Ellen Ledoux in Smith's Emmeline, Radcliffe's Udolpho and Fenwick's Secresy. It seemed power was good if the heroine ended up happily but that is true of abject heroines in many gothics.  This paper got lots of comments. A third paper by Jade Higa argued that Joanne Baillie's metrical legends convey a power struggle between factions where the ideals are nationalism which was presented from a post-modern perspective (so no critique of nationalism as such was offered).  It was really on Joanna Baillie's poetry called to mind how Scott's gothic histories concentrate on the fallible sensitive Waverley hero (as the figure is called).

There's a brand of feminism that demands exemplary role models acting out conventional notions of power; such readers would not like this book -- or Cat's Eye, or Lady Oracle.  Alias Grace would "fool" and distract with its costume gothic (to use Atwood's own term).    I see this insistence as a return to conventional notions of success (connects to why Fanny Price not acceptable).  By power I mean effective, real power that matters, that gets you something and I did speak up that these remnants of power were very tiny in number and often such a figure ends up dead in these books.  Others agreed but seemed strongly to want to justify and understand the reading of gothic books by what powerful women or gestures by women could be discovered in them.  I mentioned Donoghue's The Room in this session; only one person had read it, but a couple had read the Twilight books.  I alos wondered why Scott was not brought in more.  Redgauntlet is a perfect instance of the feminized hero and ambivalence towards modern progress and the anonymous state and capitalism; it romances those who lose out because they are not ruthless enough

The typical thinking of 1970s second wave feminism is found in Michelle Masse's book on the gothic where she ponders the problem of "masochism."  Or Diane Hoeveler who goes to great trouble to turn abject heroines to performative actresses manipulating their world (as if this is admirable).  Many feminists who are career-oriented are hostile to the gothic. I do not think power is a pretend game of gestures (these may help gain it but you need much more than that to start off), effective power is a handle or ability that gets you something securely for life that you actually want.  I suppose marriage can function that way if you are lucky.  So while the 1970s feminists wanted to expose the misery and victimizing of women, the modern careerists can't bear this reading of books re-enacting powerlessness and trauma as a way of showing the truth of the experience of life for many women -- and men too (in the 18th century gothic formulation, especially younger brothers).

At 10:45 am the second session began: Recovery in the writings of Daniel Defoe.  There were at this conference no less than 9 papers were directly on him and several more where a Defoe text served as primary example.  Defoe is not quite being recovered though, or not without some barriers. 

A map very like those found in Defoe's Tour of Great Britain (2 volumes)

It was in this session I became aware of a flare up of controversy that had occurred in another session. Robert Hume in a paper on book history and printing practices had argued what I'll call a position of radical scepticism. His talk was centered on the publication of novels in the 18th century, and showed statistically something like 80% of all books we now call novels were published anonymously and the same kind of number were not called novels. Anything but. They were "true" and "authentic memoirs," or "histories" or "life stories" (biography was not a popular term and autobiography is first used as a term by Southey in something like 1809). A similar number for anonymity is found for poetry and plays.  He used the example of Defoe to show that we talk as if Defoe's novels were called and regarded as novels by him; further to read our works you would think all Defoe's works had his name on them upon publication. In fact none of his novels did -- I'm not sure about his other works. Moll Flanders was itself printed later in the century in expurgated and other (additions to the text) form where the author was said to be Laetitia Atkins. Anyway he showed how you could demonstrate how we can't know Defoe wrote MF and maybe he didn't. In another paper (by chance) doubt was cast on Roxana as by Defoe.

Apparently John Richetti (a speaker at this session) got up excited. He is a Defoe scholar, written articles a biography, a book and really there was a vehement debate when he insisted Defoe wrote MF. While Hume had the best of the argument, the feeling in the room was on Richetti's side -- we have no evidence for sure and Defoe works go up and down in numbers over the years. Sometimes 500 works attributed, sometimes 200, sometimes less. But still there are a core of works (and these are considerable in number the way a genius who writes for a living can produce) and they are by this man of high genius.  The four speakers who included Richetti were careful not to ratchet up the vehemence that apparently emerged in the earlier session, not get too involved and two people almost parodied themselves in continually saying they were not sure the work they were discussing was by Defoe.

I know from my work on Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu how for the latter nothing was published under her name and the former at least 3/4s of her work is not published or anonymous. For them we have ms's with their names on them -- especially Finch.  Hume's paper is salutary and reminds us of how much we make up and how little we know, and how our attitudes differ so from those of the 18th century. He was in the audience and looked irked at the semi-posturing but himself did not say anything. He too remained tactful.

One of the 4 papers given was excellent:  Jesse Edwards delivered an old-fashioned close reading of Atlas Maritimus & Commercials, demonstrating that by the attitudes of mind, style, the kinds of information on offer this was a valuable work by Defoe.  Edwards was eloquent; his was the best paper I heard over the course of the day.  Unfortunately the other people had run over their allotted time and in order to hear Edwards's paper most of the people sat for another 10 minutes in the session so lunch turned out to be 50 minutes rather than an hour.  Richetti had been first and in his paper argued that we see Defoe enacting profound aspects of his life experience in his works; I liked it and agreed.  Again the thinking here is of the older new critical-biographical variety.  Kate Levin discussed an edition of 1776 which censored the original book from a conventional standpoint and attributed it to Laetitia Atkins. Robert Griffin asked if Defoe wrote Moll Flanders and said he thought Defoe had and it mattered.

When I got to lunch Jim had saved a seat for me with some friends over lunch and we got to talking about language among other things.   we talked of the problem of "German" in the 20th and 21st centuries. One person said that English and French are translated into other languages and spread through translation but German is regularly not translated. He seemed to be wondering why German has not had the same hegemony since it was the language of science (Russian became that too). I said i had a student who gave a talk in my 302 Natural Sciences and Tech on the way languages evolve and develop, borrow, achieve hegemony, lose it,. about their changes in pronunciation and vocabulary.  He's Ethiopian and said that In Ethiopia after the "national" Ethiopian and a "new" one springing up from an amalgam of the national tongue, many many many added modern words and city life, Italian is spoken. One of my students who is Ethiopian gave a good talk on language change and said in Ethiopian all the garages and car stores are run by Italian speakers.  For what it's worth after lunch Jim suggested: the collective guilt since the extermination camps were opened is not yet dissipated even now. He thought it began a long history of reluctance to study German literature outside Germany and in non-German speaking countries too.

Linda Troost gave the presidential address. Unfortunately I was not able to take down what she said-- not a conducive atmosphere to this even if my stenography were up to it.  I would have liked to, for her interest in sequels and movies is one I share and she had many acute observations and information I didn't know.   She called her talk "The Undead 18th century" and was lively and informative over a wide range of texts which reflect modern obsessions with "the undead"  -- far beyond those of Austen.

An android Anna Karenina

The content once she got down to specific works was on the popularity of Jane Austen sequels with zombies in them. She showed how crude P&P and Zombies and S&S and Sea Monsters are, but also defended these works as reflecting genuine reactions to parts of Austen's texts that modern readers are made uncomfortable by -- and she thought they were much less sentimental than the film adaptations.  She did not bring up how the zombies are part of a homosexual-lesbian subtext that mocks in a grotesque heterosexual sex. See my blog, "The Queering of Jane Austen."  As there was not time for q&a and she didn't seem eager for (such books would be treated hostilely by many in the room), no one tried to ask her questions.

Before the afternoon sessions started I went to look at the book exhibit. I saw books I'd like to read (if only I had the time), but the prices were outrageous:  $90 and more per book, many of them just "reads" so to speak.  I did talk to an old friend who told me he's sent two chapters of his book on Johnson and Boswell to a publisher and is waiting for more comments beyond those he's had (who is his audience? he sometimes assumed much more knowledge than the average person would have).  Also Caroline Breashears once again; we were not able to sit together for lunch but we did for the late afternoon's last session and had some good if brief talk before we went off to our respective dinners.  A young scholar who said we knew each other came over and we compared teaching notes.

Then it was time for the first afternoon session.  it was a round table on teaching the 18th century without technology.  The most interesting paper was Jack Fruchtman's because it was on how he teaches the constitution and in the course of doing that he discussed this fascinating documents, its amendments and judicial review. The constitution is a bundle of powers put together; it sets up institutions, provides checks and balances and is written with very specific and highly vague provisions.  I told about how I make all my students do 10 minute presentations on a text assigned in class a reading, and how afterward I ask the rest of the class four question (thesis, strategy, the speaker's strength and how he or she could have improved -- delivery and content). It gets us talking about a text, de-centers the classroom; the person up front pays attention and so do a number of the students who identify.

Two late afternoon sessions manifested recent attitudes of mind today in the way the gothic session had, and there was one paper of real interest to me because of its text: Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Elisa Beshero-Bondar chaired both and the titles of the sessions had been so general as to be innocuous and without limitation on what texts and theses could be discussed. In the event though (as I say) there were close parallel themes reflecting recent scholarly trends in a number of the papers (7 altogether). 

It was in the 3:15 to 4:30 session, Maureen Gallagher gave her paper, "The Temptation to Look Away: The Textual Erasure of the Fallen Woman in Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  Gallagher asked if Austen re-affirmed patriarchal norms or broke them down. She showed the novel socially erases the two Elizas, and manifested a profound ambivalence to transgressing norms.  Jason Vanfossen argued that the stories and characters in Joanne Baillie's De Montfort are best understood as homoerotic (homosexual); he was himself involved in this strongly, a young man. Jan Stahl whose work I heard in last year's EC/ASECS at Bethlehem (on Lewis's Monk) seemed to be arguing a point of view at least consonant with Gallagher's: she showed the intense trauma that Richardson's Pamela was experiencing.  This was not the overt thesis but the real content of what she was showing -- the overt thesis was taken from modern film studies about gazing, the male gaze, voyeurism in Pamela and its supposed happy ending (where the heroine gains status, power, money, her reward for not yielding her virginity).

In the question and answer period I defended Austen on the grounds she at least exposed and made us see as real, understandable and even valid traumatic experience, intense imaginings, and that such a book could provide the kind of liberation a book like Judith Herman's on hostages and terror provides. That such things occur is insisted upon and that people do not heal from them.  A little later I pointed out that the two Elizas had been brought before the public eye in the 2008 S&S by Davies Pivcevic and Alexander and that we were made aware that Eliza's child by Willoughby was Brandon's nephew and his sense of his nephew cannot be celebrated while little Mr Palmer is.

Eliza with her baby, visited by Brandon (2008 S&S), this just before he goes off to Cleveland with Dashwood girls where much is made of little Mr Palmer

Gallagher responded to my comment with references to how at the close of S&S we after all had an affirmation of how valuable conventional choices (Marianne's marriage to Brandon) are.  People shy away from seeing the books they read as subversive of the social conformity proclaimed as the norm of all around us. It was interesting to me that Jan Stahl was very pleased with how I understood on her paper and said in her dissertation she had used Hermann.  When the session was over, she came over to me and was much franker than she had been when up front and talking to the group.  She said she had liked my comments in the Bethlehem conference during her panel session afterward too.  I was not surprised when Vanhossen's paper reminded me of one I had heard on Holcroft's Anna St ives, where the person asserted the relationship between the rival males is really homosexual in feel and desire.  This may be a case of seeing what we want to see, finding ourselves in the texts (which we all do).

Unfortunately, in the last session of the day someone had an overlong paper and persisted in ignoring the chair so she could read her paper on to the end.  As in the session on Defoe, the last person to speak had to speak well beyond the time allotted even to try to finish her paper and we had hardly any questions and talk afterward.  Very briefly, Lin Nulman discussed how women are presented in Colley Cibber' s The Careless Husband and Susannah Centlivre's The Gamester.  In The Careless Husband, the husband's a brute, and there's nothing like the humanity and liberality in Centlivre's work.  The overlong paper was Devjani on Georgiana Cavendish's The slyph: her argument was convoluted but it was cheering to see that more and more people are admitting this fascinating candid novel is by the Duchess of Devonshire.  Lisa M. Wilson showed us portraits of Mary Robinson over her lifetime, which ones she endorsed and why; how Robinson built her image and what part different archetypes and clothes played. 

Reynolds's sexual erotic, dreaming Mary Robinson

Romney's demure society Mary Robinson

The paper that interested me most was Nicole Reynolds's on suicide in 18th century texts.  Her paper seemed to be wholly about male suicides, and she showed men killed themselves when they lost face before others (particularly doing some act considered unmanly or shameful), lost their money or some important part of their public pride. Since her main example was Harrel from Burney's Cecilia, her thesis and matter fit 18th century into what I know of 19th century suicide: for men it's losing face there too, one's money, one's position in society.  I asked her had she read about women and she seemed a little at a loss; I asked, Was suicide less socially acceptable for women?.  Madame Ricconboni wrote one novel where the woman killed herself and Riccoboni had to endure unkind sneers at her and her work for a long time afterward.  Joan Hinde Stewart's Gynographs has a chapter on this novel, which caused a scandal because the heroine kills herself.

I was struck that my questions elicit a reluctant response to think along gender or even class lines at all; the paper in effect left women out and treated the way men killed themselves as a kind of universal.  It was de-politicized: another aspect of suicide is how before the mid-19th century suicide was treated punitively because religious belief anathemized such people through ritual (they'd be buried outside consecrated ground; in some countries their estates could be confiscated).  The gender faultine is what the feminist movement in scholarship wanted to change: to bring women into the dialogue (50% of human race) and show their texts, their experiences of life -- and here it would be death.  This is alas a trend today:  the disappearance of feminist gains.  A good book on suicide which takes into account the gender faultline (as well as a religious one) is Barbara T. Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories.  Although Gates's central matter is situated in the 19th century, the introductory chapter and much that is said about motives, means, and social context for suicide is pertinent (as far as I can see) to the 18th century.  She also has a good bibliography.  (I'm something of an expert in this topic as Trollope has many suicides in his books; he takes the secular psychological-sociological-gender stance.)

For dinner Jim and I had a pleasant time quite by chance.  I wished we were in a crowd of friends to eat but never know how to join or make one unless I by sheer luck am in a place where someone else does it and we can tag along.  Jim himself will tag along but most of the time he seems to maneuver us so it does not happen.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing as I often make social goofs.  Well, this kind of gathering did not happen to us once again, and we had to find ourselves a place for a decent meal as the hotel food was high and did not look edible.

We went to an Italian restaurant we saw advertised in a book in our room (as Izzy and I had done in Portland.)  It was a block away from the one theatre in Pittsburgh which was doing South Pacific (the NYC production had traveled here and was on its way elsewhere to turn up in DC for New year's Eve) in one direction and a concert hall in the other. it was super-crowded at the time we walked in, but as luck would have it one foursome had canceled and the restaurant employee asked us if we minded sitting at the table with another couple.  A woman my age was standing in the vestibule and had been waiting for her daughter since 6!  It was then 7:10 or so.  The three of us sat down and at first it was not that comfortable, and certainly when the upset daughter got there it was even less so, but I managed to exchange places so I was next to Jim and as the woman whose name I knew by that time -- Janice -- and I had begun friendly talk we managed to return to it and we had a pleasant dinner with these two people. Janice reminisced about what Pittsburgh was like when she was growing up (polluted), her time as an Allegheny Flight Attendant and I talked on as I sometimes can. It was less fraught than most conversations I could have had (no matter how satisfying because people with similar interests at EC/ASECS) mainly because nothing whatever rides on the time -- not even the shallow one of wanting next year to be greeted and talked to again in a friendly way.  They were going to South Pacific and left us around 10 to 8 when Jim and I sat over coffee and port.

After the people left that Saturday evening (sessions being opened), Jim said there was a tradition in 19th century theaters in London to have a live-in cat.  Come to think of it in both cases of conversations Jim did not tell his views until the other people left and then just to me.  How careful he is.  I thought about how when Austen and relavites went camping (like ladies and gentlemen).  Then we took the drive back in a much slower way; it was a very pretty morning and we got back to Izzy and the cats before 2 in the afternoon.

Well determined, dared, and done.  I went to three conferences, gave the same paper twice, a short and long version and I chaired two panels. In the case of JASNA I went without Jim, I meant to have gone alone, and had a new experience and made new acquaintances and now could possibly go to the JASNA in NYC in 1212 and also talked to a few scholars (Gillian Dow most notably) who share my interests and outlook on Austen. 

The front lobby of the Portland Hilton: One had to pass this frequently to get from place to place -- this too made more vivid than it is in one's experience of life.

I made visible my commitment to Burney reading and could do a paper -- but probably will not as I'm uncomfortable with how where they are is not announced.  At the EC/ASECS session this time (in between sessions, over coffee) one Burney person told me that a few people think the Burney people to grow would have to start joining in with the ACESC, but that "conservative" people in the Burney group don't want to leave JASNA (its paradoxically anti-intellectual currents, and readings of Austen that make her conservative might be liked by some Burneyites) plus there are personal relationships which keep the groups together. I did see that a few people high in the Burney group are non-scholars by trade and Janeites who like to go to JASNA. 

Giving a paper and chairing a panel at the EC/ASECS is my way of doing my bit. I hope to do so again next year. i can also get up in front of a group of people and act out characters and read poetry aloud. I'm not shy of that (I don't know why but I know I'm not).  And I hope Jim doing their website will be cooperative, that it won't be a trouble for him (or by extension) me but a way of helping out so we are part of this tribe that I find I can be comfortable with.  A rarity for me and so all the more valued.

Izzy has thought of a way I could write about the topic, "Sex, Power and money" for the next JASNA which as a concatenation I don't think is at all in the spirit of Austen's books.  I now have a feel of what this conference is about and Jim has offered to come with me to NYC (he missed me) and perhaps Izzy will come again too.  Giving papers is something I can do -- though it takes such weeks and weeks sometimes to do a good one I do enjoy the work, love to learn still, and take pleasure in my final product.

Tags: costume drama, female archetypes, historical novels, women's art

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