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Dear friends and readers,

In two days teaching is done. What is the hard thing for me -- though paradoxically I often enjoy it, am exhilarated, it's a strain, an ordeal -- will be over until very late August. And then just one section for the fall, one I've taught many times before. The admiral used to insist it was not over until he finished the finals, read and graded papers. But then he sat there so sternly watching them. I don't.

And in the meantime: the last couple of nights I've been able to read and I remember what I read during the next day. The book has been Winston Graham's Demelza, and so I plan to go on -- maybe up to the 12th novel. It's a true delight to my mind to be able to lose myself in these books at night. I want to return to blogging about them but am not sure where to begin as I made a false start on the movies and would have to say erase a couple and begin again. I could do it.

My real desire is to try to write a fiction out of these, personating Elizabeth, the tragic heroine who dies half-way through -- and go to Cornwall for a holiday with Jim.

Hayle Estuary, Swans

On the subject of what we do read and blogs, I got a lovely letter from a good friend a few days ago and when I told him I told him I am now thinking of trying The Antiquary he wrote about Old Mortality as follows:

"I am now on Old Mortality which for me is one of his greatest books. It is amazingly relevant to our times as it contains these devastating portraits of religious fanaticism. The interesting thing is how Scott makes these fanatics human. He was as we know a deep-dyed reactionary but still manages to explain, and have a limited degree of admiration for, the Covenanters. He manages this partly by being deeply disapproving of the Government/State forces so he can have two 'wrong' extremes with his hero placed as a rational man in an impossible middle; the hero then ends up on the rebel's
side because of his romantic (small r!) motives, which of course are (in Scott and his time) acceptable. But it is as a portrait of what drives men to horrible deeds (the murder of Archbishop Sharp) and to rebellion which is so powerful. It ought to be compulsory reading for all who pronounce on Islamic fundamentalism but I suspect the vast majority would dislike this reminder of Christian fundamentalism! You would probably be fired from an American university for even making the comparison! (I refer to the story I saw on your FB of the Porfessor who has been suspended). In any event I feel Scott is near the height of his powers in this book. Of course I also love it because I know and love the area in which it is set so well ..."

To which I replied:

Old Mortality is one of Scott's masterpieces; you make me want to re-read _The Antiquary_ and maybe I will. I agree with your assessment. Do you know Francis Hart's Scott's Novel; the plotting of historical survival. It's a good book on Scott: unlike you thought Hart does not tell the full truth about what is shown to us about Scott, only the more upbeat point of view with the other slightly obscured. He has Scott a liberal and teaching us tolerance but within this frame it's your insight he shows. W/o tolerance we are at another's throats. I did finish my biography of Walter van Tilburg Clark -- you would like it. he was a decent man (like J.L. Carr another writer I did this term). Clark in Ox Bow Incident shows us that the only way to stop one of these violent fanatics is literally to murder him. The man gets himself in charge of a lynching gang and the only way to stop the thing form going forward would be to kill the man. Our hero (a man of compromise) cannot get himself to do this: it might be his high principles, but he feels it's that he hasn't the guts and also would hate himself for murdering someone to stop him from leading group murders. And this time if he succeeded, he'd be put in jail (by the others) and another man take his place. I don't know why I found The Antiquary so good last time so would go back to it to re-explain it to myself ...

We also discussed Crabbe and the paradoxes of reading him. FWIW, Austen could and probably did read each of Scott's novels as it came out and that means she would have read Old Mortality and Antiquary (1816 both) so that's part of my motive. I had returned to Crabbe partly because Austen said she could/should have been his wife because they were so alike in fundamental spirit.

It struck me that I've never written a blog on Scott's work -- so many on the Poldark books and other of Graham's work and the mini-series. (None on Crabbe.). I have told how I own 44 books on or by him catalogued at Library Thing (because I own these),. If you are part of library Thing you can look at this senseless page (there are many pages that make no real sense on Library Thing as people are now allowed to catalogue books they do not own and there is no disambiguation of editions): it's pictures of some of the covers of these books from any edition that comes up first.

I did write about John Sutherland's biography where Sutherland exposed Scott's truly vicious ruthless behavior as a powerful man in the upper class with a central job and ability to influence who was hired on journals and who got to write and what was said (responsible for people being destroyed in their careers) and his mean cruel behavior to his brother for marrying for love when Scott wanted all to sacrifice to family aggrandizement that meant him. But never on that dreadful course I took with Edgar Johnson (all the arrogant man did was read his falsifying book on Scott) nor on the novel and criticism of Scott, on why Scott is so central, unavoidable for literary studies of his eras and the 19th century.

A paradox I've spent such time reading Trollope (all his texts but the extensive journalism and even there I've read a bit and put it online), and even Austen who is finally narrow sexually in her conscious life, writes book with on such a narrow slice on experience literally within such a circumscribed class. 

I long to return to Scotland because of all my reading, the lake district similarly, and now Cornwall is my yearning. With Trollope I yearn to visit Australia and New Zealand for real. I used to want to go to the highlands because of Johnson and Boswell's travel books.

Wm Tuner, Scotland

Not to omit the Lake District from Radcliffe and all the romantics.

Wm Turner, Buttermere, Lake District

Come to think of it I've not written blogs on Johnson, only the one paper for the Johnson newsletter. And to some he's a mad-dog reactionary Tory and women who are intellectual are as strange as dogs on their hind legs. There I can tell myself that's Boswell quoting and re-contextualizing. Still no one has refuted Boswell, no one did then.

Well, not Graham, at least there I've got a real liberal and yet yet

Why do we read what we read?  Why read? no better way to pass the time. Nothing anywhere gives me the companionship I feel no matter how much this is a product of my own mind. When we are with others, we kid ourselves too and hide and a lot of people I've learned are utterly performative.  You reach people at their best, well those who write with integrity, compassion, insight, genuine information. Why read at night?   and how one must work to find spirits to be with in worlds they create we can bear to be in and how finally this has to do with 1) what books we can reach. I read Scott and Austen originally because the books were there in my father's library. 2) what courses we are allowed to take.  3) what other people we meet read. I've been able to branch out, reach real women's books that help for the first time, someone like Winston Graham because the Net is here and so I come back to the Internet once again and this blog.

I have to make a plan as of Wednesday. A modus vivendi has to be evolved. New routs.



May. 7th, 2012 11:21 am (UTC)
Reading at night
From another friend, on Scott: "I read your delightful blog on reading at night ...

The Antiquary is probably my favourite Scott, even though definitely not his best, because I do find it very funny. I am sure this would pass most people by! His capacity for self-mocking is admirable - for there is no doubt large elements of his own personality (albeit the better elements!) are infused in Monkbarns - anyone who has visited Abbotsford would instantly appreciate that. I am sure this is a side of Scott Byron appreciated. Monkbarns' gullible antiquarianism is exploited from within as it were. In fact it is instructive to compare how that is gently and comically mocked, where the alchemical 'get rich quick' schemes which appeal to Sir Arthur are brutally satirised. We know Scott was very concerned with money but he is not prepared to admit this as part of his own character. Does this matter or is it the work that counts? In terms of the latter I am wholly of Scott's mind. Again he is so relevant - what are the Lehmann Brothers et al but the Dousterswivels (one of his better descriptive names) of today? I also like the mockery (sort of midway between these two) of phsycial prowess - the scene where his nephew is beaten by a seal is an absolute comic favourite of mine which brings a smile whenever I think of it - I would love to see this filmed! (not very likely!) ...

Another thing I meant to say about these first 5 Scotts (well excluding The Black Dwarf) is the presence of strong women. One has to be careful here because they are a certain kind of woman - desexualised. His romantic heroines are bland and uninteresting (as are his heroes up to Old Mortality). In Waverley much the most interesting character is Flora MacIvor - a female fanatic (query - had there been a female political ideologue as a major character before this? :) for that many how many after? and treated seriously). Guy Mannering is dominated by Meg Merrilees beside whom the other characters are pallid. In The Antiquary the women of the Mucklebait clan and Lady Glenallan (even though she only appears post-mortem) are extremely striking. In Old Mortality we have Habbie's mother and Lady Bellenden - opposing political fanatics. Now none of these is a sexualised woman (although Flora is desired by Waverley) but they are all at the least very strong characters. Is part of the reason that Scott has fallen so out of favour that dominant older women with strong transgressive elements (see Meg Merilees in particular) have ceased to appeal? Another point about the Antiquary in particular is the power and force with which Scott portrays the life of the Mucklebaits and the fisher-people: this is not glamorised - the poverty and hardship are graphically portrayed, but neither are they reduced to comic ciphers. One can see the link to Crabbe here.

On Crabbe and Austen - a note: I think what that book I cannot obtain (their Domestic Economy) might talk about is the way in which Crabbe pays such attention on occasion to domestic detail - furniture, ornament etc. etc. I loved the Crabbe poem incidentally but have not yet got round to tracing it. ...

why I love these reactionary authors so much? In a sense one should be pleased as it shows one's appreciation of art is not directed by ideology; also it is true that Marxist critics loved Scott (and not Stalinist ones but genuine Marxists). But it is still something of a puzzle as to why so many of my favourite writers should be reactionaries. This is the sort of thing I ought to blog about if I felt capable of writing blogs.



Edited at 2012-05-07 11:23 am (UTC)

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