Saturday, August 16, 2014

Excessive women: The novels of Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Lennox, and Elizabeth Inchbald

Part 2: Charlotte Lennox and The Female Quixote (1752)

Charlotte Lennox as one of "The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain,"
by Richard Samuel, 1779
Charlotte Lennox, like Eliza Haywood and Elizabeth Inchbald, turned to writing out of financial necessity. Like Haywood (and Inchbald, too), Lennox may have married out of necessity: a literary and theatrical career was not considered respectable for an unmarried woman.

Lennox was fortunate to find aristocratic patrons, support among the bluestocking circle, and mentorship from established male writers such as Samuel Johnson and Samuel Richardson. Nonetheless, the literary life was a precarious one, and Lennox experienced periods of financial distress throughout her life.

The Female Quixote, like many other novels
written by women, was published anonymously.
The Female Quixote is a one-joke novel, but it's a good joke. Like her predecessor Don Quixote, Arabella has read so many French romances that she's come to see herself as one of her fictional heroines: she uses archaic language ("questionless" for doubtless, "history" for story, "haply" for perhaps), makes imperious gestures that mystify those around her, and expects men seeking her love to undergo years of trials to prove their fidelity. Needless to say, her imaginative flights lead to comical misunderstandings with those around her, who don't have quite such active imaginations or fantastical views of everyday life.

Jane Austen read and enjoyed The Female Quixote, writing to her sister Cassandra that "it now makes our evening amusement; to me a very high one, as I find the work quite equal to what I remembered it." [1] Austen seems to have modelled Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, in part on Arabella; both characters have perhaps immersed themselves a bit too deeply in the worlds of their fictional reading.

Here is Arabella in a mutually misconstrued conversation with her flirtatious cousin Charlotte Glanville:
Whence comes it, Cousin, added she, being so young and lovely as you are, that you, questionless, have been engaged in many Adventures, you have never reposed Trust enough in me to favour me with a Recital of them?

Engaged in many Adventures, Madam! returned Miss Glanville, not liking the Phrase: I believe I have been engaged in as few as your Ladyship.

You are too obliging, returned Arabella, who mistook what she said for a Compliment; for since you have more Beauty than I, and have also had more Opportunities of making yourself beloved, questionless you have a greater Number of Admirers.

As for Admirers, said Miss Charlotte bridling, I fansy I have had my Share! Thank God, I never found myself neglected; but, I assure you, Madam, I have had no Adventures, as you call them, with any of them.

No, really! interrupted Arabella, innocently.

No, really, Madam, retorted Miss Glanville; and I am surprised you should think so.

Indeed, my Dear, said Arabella, you are very happy in this respect, and also very singular; for I believe there are few young Ladies in the World, who have any Pretensions to Beauty, that have not given Rise to a great many Adventures; and some of them haply very fatal.

If you knew more of the World, Lady Bella, said Miss Glanville pertly, you would not be so apt to think, that young Ladies engage themselves in troublesome Adventures: Truly the Ladies that are brought up in Town are not so ready to run away with every Man they see.

No, certainly, interrupted Arabella; they do not give their Consent to such Proceedings; but for all that, they are, doubtless, run away with many times; for truly there are some Men, whose Passions are so unbridled, that they will have recourse to the most violent Methods to possess themselves of the Objects they love. Pray do you remember how often Mandana was run away with?

Not I indeed, Madam, replied Miss Glanville; I know nothing about her; but I suppose she is a Jew, by her outlandish Name.

She was no Jew, said Arabella, tho' she favoured that People very much; for she obtained the Liberty of great Numbers of them from Cyrus, who had taken them Captives, and could deny her nothing she asked.

Well, said Miss Glanville; and I suppose she denied him nothing he asked; and so they were even.

Indeed but she did tho', resumed Arabella; for she refused to give him a glorious Scarf which she wore, tho' he begged it on his Knees.

And she was very much in the right, said Miss Glanville; for I see no Reason why a Lover should expect a Gift of any Value from his Mistress.

Doubtless, said Arabella, such a Gift was worth a Million of Services; and, had he obtained it, it would have been a glorious Distinction for him: However, Mandana refused it; and, severely virtuous as you are, I am persuaded you can't help thinking, she was a little too rigorous in denying a Favour to a Lover like him—

Severely virtuous, Lady Bella! said Miss Glanville, reddening with Anger: Pray what do you mean by that? Have you any Reason to imagine, I would grant any Favour to a Lover?

Why, if I did, Cousin, said Arabella, would it derogate so much from your Glory, think you, to bestow a Favour upon a Lover worthy your Esteem, and from whom you had received a thousand Marks of a most pure and faithful Passion, and also a great Number of very singular Services?

I hope, Madam, said Miss Glanville, it will never be my Fate to be so much obliged to any Lover, as to be under a Necessity of granting him Favours in Requital.

I vow, Cousin, interrupted Arabella, you put me in mind of the fair and virtuous Antonia, who was so rigid and austere, that she thought all Expressions of Love were criminal; and was so far from granting any Person Permission to love her, that she thought it a mortal Offence to be adored even in private.

Miss Glanville, who could not imagine Arabella spoke this seriously, but that it was designed to sneer at her great Eagerness to make Conquests, and the Liberties she allowed herself in, which had probably come to her Knowlege, was so extremely vexed at the malicious Jest, as she thought it, that, not being able to revenge herself, she burst into Tears.

Arabella's Good-nature made her be greatly affected at this Sight; and, asking her Pardon for having undesignedly occasioned her so much Uneasiness, begged her to be composed, and tell her in what she had offended her, that she might be able to justify herself in her Apprehensions.

You have made no Scruple to own, Madam, said she, that you think me capable of granting Favours to Lovers, when, Heaven knows, I never granted a Kiss without a great deal of Confusion.

And you had certainly much Reason for Confusion, said Arabella, excessively surprised at such a Confession: I assure you I never injured you so much in my Thoughts, as to suppose you ever granted a Favour of so criminal a Nature.

Look you there now! said Miss Glanville, weeping more violently than before: I knew what all your round-about Speeches would come to: All you have said in Vindication of granting Favours, was only to draw me into a Confession of what I have done: How ungenerous was that!

The Favours I spoke of, Madam, said Arabella, were quite of another Nature, than those it seems you have so liberally granted: Such as giving a Scarf, a Bracelet, or some such Thing, to a Lover, who had haply sighed whole Years in Silence, and did not presume to declare his Passion, till he had lost best Part of his Blood in Defence of the Fair one he loved: It was when you maintained, that Mandana was in the right to refuse her magnificent Scarf to the illustrious Cyrus, that I took upon me to oppose your Rigidness; and so much mistaken was I in your Temper, that I foolishly compared you to the fair and wise Antonia, whose Severity was so remarkable; but really, by what I understand from your own Confession, your Disposition resembles that of the inconsiderate Julia, who would receive a Declaration of Love without Anger from any one; and was not over-shy, any more than yourself, of granting Favours almost as considerable as that you have mentioned.

While Arabella was speaking, Miss Glanville, having dried up her Tears, sat silently swelling with Rage, not knowing whether she should openly avow her Resentment for the injurious Language her Cousin had used to her, by going away immediately, or, by making up the Matter, appear still to be her Friend, that she might have the more Opportunities of revengeing herself... [2]
Arabella's imaginative world puzzles and exasperates the men around her, particularly those who wish to court her: Mr. Hervey, Sir George, and Charlotte's brother Charles. But this suggests that Arabella's fantasy world functions as an escape from male control. It also comes to seem like an unconscious protest against the powerlessness of women: the heroines of romances are imperious queens and princesses, whose "Histories" are filled with "Adventures" very different from the highly circumscribed existence of a young 18th-century woman of rank.

The men in the novel, particularly Arabella's prospective father-in-law and his son Charles, determine to "cure" her of her imaginative flights. The first attempt is made by a woman known only as the Countess, who had "when very young, been deep read in Romances," and who thus understands their appeal to Arabella. [3]  This highly sympathetic character, though, disappears quickly and is replaced by the Doctor, a Samuel Johnson-like figure who tries to argue Arabella out of her identification with the heroines of these "contemptible," "senseless," and "absurd" books. [4]

That Arabella's imaginative rebellion ends with her submission to male authority, although perhaps inevitable, is also disappointing. In the preface she wrote to the novel for its inclusion in her series The British Novelists, Anna Barbauld wrote that Lennox's story was "not very well wound up. The grave moralizing of a clergyman is not the means by which the heroine should have been cured of her reveries." [5] But perhaps there is no way to satisfyingly end a novel that suggests that women, in order to be fit for marriage and domesticity, must be "cured" of their imaginations.

Next time: Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story (1791)
Last time: Eliza Haywood's Love in Excess (1719-20)


1. Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra and others. R.W. Chapman, ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1932, Letter 48, p. 173.
2. Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, Book II, Chapter IX
3. The Female Quixote, Book VIII, Chapter V
4. The Female Quixote, Book IX, Chapter XI
5. Anna Barbauld, "Mrs. Lennox," in The British Novelists; with an Essay and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, 1810, Vol. XXIV, p. iii. Retrieved from

Monday, August 11, 2014

Excessive women: The novels of Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Lennox, and Elizabeth Inchbald

Eliza Haywood by George Vertue, 1725
My exploration of Jane Austen's precursors continues with three novels whose heroines exceed the bounds of propriety. They dare to give free play to their desires, whether amorous or imaginative, and then must face the consequences in a society where the erotic and intellectual economies are controlled by men. The experiences of the heroines parallel those of their creators, three women who braved scorn and ostracism by becoming writers—a disreputable choice for a woman in the eighteenth century.

Part 1: Eliza Haywood's Love in Excess (1719-20)

The vilification faced by women of that era who chose occupations such as actress or writer was experienced quite directly by Eliza Haywood, who was both an actress and a writer. Women were supposed to remain in the private domestic sphere; to venture into the public literary world was to transgress on a male domain.

For her temerity Haywood was mocked by Henry Fielding in his play The Author's Farce (1730) in the character of Mrs. Novel. (Haywood evidently wasn't, or couldn't afford to be, offended; she and Fielding worked together before and after this play was performed.) And she features in Pope's Dunciad (1728) undisguised as "Eliza," where she is the prize for a (literal) pissing contest between booksellers.

Pope's poem portrays Haywood with "Two babes of love close clinging to her waist" [1]. Haywood indeed had two children by men other than her husband: the first was probably fathered by the writer Richard Savage, and the second by her long-term lover, the writer and actor William Hatchett. There is some question, actually, despite Haywood's claim that she turned to writing as a result of "an unfortunate marriage" [2], whether there ever was a Mr. Haywood. According to scholar Christine Blouch, Haywood's contemporaries believed that she had been abandoned by her husband, while her own accounts are somewhat inconsistent: in addition to the "unfortunate marriage" comment, which suggests that she may have left him, there is another reference in her surviving letters to becoming a widow at a young age. However, no marriage records for Haywood have ever been found.

Perhaps, then, drawing on personal experience, Haywood made the power of erotic passion to overcome social and religious proscriptions the subject of her first and most successful novel, Love in Excess. Published when Haywood was (probably) 26, it relates the amorous misadventures of the dashing roué Count D'elmont, whose powerful attractions cause the ladies of his acquaintance to "curs[e] that custom which forbids women to make a declaration of their thoughts." [4] In spite of these societal strictures, Alovisa (a form of Héloise) sends D'elmont an anonymous note declaring her love for him. D'elmont, though, mistakenly believes that the note comes from another beauty, Amena, pursues her with the aim of seduction, and comes close to succeeding:
"...all nature seemed to favour his design...[Amena] had only a thin silk night gown on, which flying open as he caught her in his arms, he found her panting heart beat measures of consent, her heaving breast swell to be pressed by his, and every pulse confess a wish to yield; her spirits all dissolved, sunk in a lethargy of love; her snowy arms, unknowing, grasped his neck, her lips met his half way, and trembled at the touch; in fine, there was but a moment betwixt her and ruine..." [5]
One of the remarkable things about Haywood's novel is how steamy the love scenes are; later in the century, as novels became more respectable, women writers would not venture to describe erotic pleasure so explicitly. Another remarkable feature is the presumption of the equality of desire in women and men. Later in the novel D'elmont has fallen in love with his young ward Melliora, and she with him; their feelings are not only semi-incestuous (since he is her guardian), on his part they're entirely adulterous (since he has married in the meantime). Both characters realize that their shared passion is "wrong," but are (almost) helpless to restrain their mutual desire:
"As they were passing thro' a walk with trees on each side, whose intermingling boughs made a friendly darkness, and every thing undistinguishable, the amorous D'elmont throwing his eager arms round the waist of his (no less transported) Melliora, and printing burning kisses on her neck, reaped painful pleasure, and created in her, a racking kind of extasie, which might perhaps, had they been now alone, proved her desires were little different from his." [6]
Detail of the frontispiece to the 4th edition (1722), by E. Kirkall
Of course, there are often severe consequences for women who express their desires so openly: over the course of the novel, three women wind up dying because of their love for D'elmont, and another is sent away to a convent, giving the nominally happy ending a bitter aftertaste for the reader. But the moralistic ending, in which D'elmont is reformed by finding true love and marries the heroine, doesn't obscure the novel's most evident message—a bold one for its time—which is that for both women and men, "passion is not to be circumscribed." [7]

Next time: Charlotte Lennox and The Female Quixote (1752).


1. Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, Book 2, line 150.
2. Christine Blouch, "Eliza Haywood and the Romance of Obscurity." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, v. 31 no. 3, Summer 1991, p. 539.
3. Blouch, p. 544.
4. Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess; Or, the Fatal Enquiry. David Oakleaf, ed. Broadview Press, 1994, p. 41.
5. Haywood, p. 63.
6. Haywood, p. 127.
7. Haywood, p. 191.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Going astray: Gumrah

"Gumrah" is translated in the subtitles of B. R. Chopra's 1963 film as "misled," a word with two main senses: "to go astray" and "to be deceived." Both meanings come into play in this story of a woman torn between the passions of romantic love and the constraints of familial duty.

Just in case we miss the point, the movie's pre-credit sequence portrays the moment in the Ramayana when Sita sees a golden deer and asks Ram to capture it. Ram and his brother Lakshman are both skeptical—they rightly suspect a trick—and before leaving Sita alone Lakshman draws a line around their cottage that he urges her never to cross:

Lakshman to Sita: So, never go out of this line

It's the social and emotional consequences of a married woman "crossing the line" that Gumrah will explore.

In the idyllic hill country of northern India, Meena (Mala Sinha) meets and falls in love with the dashing Rajendra (Sunil Dutt), an artist and a singer. Rajendra sure knows how to sweet-talk a girl:

You are my art, my soul

Meena's older sister Kamla (Nirupa Roy) and her two young children are visiting the family home in Nainital, while Kamla's husband Ashok (Ashok Kumar), a well-known barrister, has had to stay behind in Mumbai to deal with work. The two kids, Dollie and Pappu, love to play with their Auntie Meena and are just too adorable for words:


When Kamla learns that Meena and Rajendra are in love, she promises Meena to speak to their father (Nana Palsikar) on behalf of Rajendra's marriage proposal. But tragedy strikes: before she can bring up the subject, Kamla has a fatal accident. Shocked and grieving, her father approaches Meena with his misgivings about the future of the children: Ashok is too consumed by the demands of his career to raise them on his own. The children need a mother's love, says her father,

And only you can give them that love

Meena's response is immediate:

I can't do this, I can't

She goes to her bedroom, where the children are sleeping; so as not to disturb them, she takes a pillow and blanket and curls up on the floor. But in the morning she discovers that the children have made their choice:

Dollie and Pappu join Meena to sleep on the floor

Out of her love and concern for her sister's children, she bows to her father's wishes and marries Ashok—without revealing her love for Rajendra.

Ashok is not unkind, but he is neglectful: he leaves early for work and returns late, often bringing cases (and clients) home with him. It's not made explicit, but it seems as though they may sleep in separate bedrooms. Unlike other married couples in their Mumbai social circle, Meena and Ashok rarely argue, but in part it's because their relationship is rather formal (Ashok addresses her as madame and mon cher) and passionless.

One night the children ask her for a bedtime story. Meena sings to them the mournful tale of a young woman who is forced to leave her true love and marry a stranger, and whose "dreams of love remain unfulfilled":

The music is by Ravi with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi; the playback singer for Mala Sinha is Asha Bhosle. It's in this song that we see through the surface normality of her domestic routines with husband and children to Meena's deep unhappiness.

For a celebration of their first wedding anniversary Ashok and Meena are invited by Meena's father to visit him in Nainital. Meena leaves first with the children, and Ashok promises to join them later. Of course, he becomes enmeshed in work and gets stuck in Mumbai. At the Ashokless anniversary party, Meena hears a familiar voice singing "Come, my dear; my love is calling you. I didn't know our love would end so soon, and that you'd become a stranger...when once I held you in my arms." Yes, it's Rajendra, singing for the entertainment of the party (Sunil Dutt's playback singer is Mahendra Kapoor):

Rajendra urges Meena to begin meeting him again. After a brief struggle with her conscience, Meena starts visiting Rajendra every afternoon, and spends hours in his company. One evening as she's sneaking back into her father's house she unexpectedly encounters Ashok. He's finally managed to get away from the office, and he's brought her a make-up present—a diamond ring:

Meena, this ring is the symbol of my love

Through a chance encounter Ashok meets Rajendra and strikes up a friendship with him—a friendship that causes Rajendra and Meena many uncomfortable moments in Ashok's company (and Chopra excels at making us squirm along with Meena and Rajendra).

Following Ashok's advice, Rajendra winds up moving to Mumbai. Ostensibly he is pursuing his painting and singing career; his true motive, of course, is to remain as close as possible to Meena. And once he's in Mumbai, Meena finds it impossible to resist seeing him every day; if she is not being technically unfaithful to Ashok during these clandestine meetings, she's certainly being emotionally unfaithful.

One day as Meena is leaving Rajendra's flat she is accosted by an unfamiliar woman:

You are barrister Ashok's wife, aren't you?

The woman claims to be Rajendra's abandoned wife, and knows all about her visits to Rajendra. She begins to blackmail Meena; desperate, Meena hopes to buy her silence. Predictably, though, the woman comes back for more, and begins to intrude even into Meena's home. Meena finds it harder and harder to meet her demands while continuing to keep everything concealed from Ashok.

Finally, the woman's demands become so extreme that Meena is reduced to pleading with her for more time to raise additional cash—when the woman spots her diamond ring:

This ring will remain mortgaged with me

Meena has no choice but to let her take it; but she can't let Ashok see that she is no longer wearing the symbol of his love. She's then in a race against time to raise enough money to redeem the ring from her tormentor before Ashok learns the truth. But has Ashok already begun to suspect that she has transgressed the boundaries of their married life? And, despite the difficulties involved, shouldn't Meena have been honest with Ashok from the very first?

Meena is a flawed and erring woman. And yet, thanks to Mala Sinha's utterly compelling portrayal, it is impossible not to sympathize with her. Some of her choices may be poor, but her alternatives are sharply constrained by social forces over which she has no control. And this is a film in which it's clear that no one is blameless.

Mild spoilers follow. There are two models for resolving the conflict between love and duty in mainstream Hindi cinema: the Krishna-Radha model, where love conquers all, and the Ram-Sita model, where duty requires a selfless sacrifice. Which model is operative in Gumrah is never in doubt. If the pre-credit Ramayana sequence didn't clue us in, there are repeated dissolves to images of fire (Sita's symbol). So if the final moments of the film offer the resolution that we've long anticipated, at least it is shown to be Meena's choice. And complicating the facile final title card ("...and they lived happily ever after"), which I strongly suspect is the contribution of B.R. Chopra's younger brother Yash, is the depth of emotion in Mala Sinha's eyes. Her performance suggests the profound emotional costs for Meena of that "happily ever after."

Mala Sinha

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Crossing boundaries: Gender, race, and colonialism in Belinda

Maria Edgeworth by John Downman, 1807
"I have made up my mind to like no Novels, really, but Miss Edgeworth's, Yours, and my own.—"
—Jane Austen writing to her niece Anna Austen, Sept. 28, 1814 [1]
The narrator of Austen's Northanger Abbey famously praises Maria Edgeworth's Belinda (along with Fanny Burney's Cecilia and Camilla) as a work "in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language." [2]

Austen was far from Maria Edgeworth's only admirer. Belinda, published in 1801, quickly went through two editions and was later selected for inclusion in Anna Barbauld's series The British Novelists (1810).

Anna Barbauld
Barbauld was a poet, essayist and critic who was approached by a coalition of booksellers to create what scholar Claudia Johnson has described as "the first novelistic canon." [3] The 50-volume series of what Barbauld calls in her introduction "some of the most approved novels" included 29 novels by 22 authors, for each of which Barbauld wrote a short critical and biographical introduction. [4] The series included Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), Samuel Richardson (Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison), Henry Fielding (Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones), Samuel Johnson (Rasselas), Oliver Goldsmith (Vicar of Wakefield), and Tobias Smollett (Humphry Clinker).

But Barbauld also included a generous representation of women writers: Charlotte Lennox (The Female Quixote), Frances Brooke (The History of Lady Julia), Clara Reeve (The Old English Baron), Fanny Burney (Evelina and Cecilia), Charlotte Smith (The Old Manor House), Anne Radcliffe (Romance of the Forest and Mysteries of Udolpho), Elizabeth Inchbald (A Simple Story and Nature and Art), and Edgeworth (Belinda and The Modern Griselda). (That over the next few decades of the 19th century all of these novelists were eliminated from the canon is the subject of another post.)

A funny thing happened on the way to Belinda's inclusion in The British Novelists: the novel that was canonized was a different work from the one that was first published. Barbauld was something of a political dissenter, and in her view significant novels engaged with "systems of philosophy or politics" and had "some serious view." [5] This idea of the function of the novel may be, aside from Belinda's popularity and Barbauld's friendship with Edgeworth, what recommended it for inclusion in The British Novelists. But the revisions Edgeworth made to the novel in preparation for the new edition removed or toned down some of its most politically progressive elements.

In its earliest editions, Belinda treats questions of gender, race and colonialism with a surprising freedom. The eponymous heroine feels "esteem" and "admiration" for, and finally becomes engaged to, the "remarkably handsome" Mr. Vincent, a "Creole" from the British West Indies with a "manly, sunburnt complexion." [6] Kathryn Kirkpatrick's notes for the Oxford World's Classics edition of Belinda suggest that in the early 19th century "creole" did not necessarily mean someone of mixed-race parentage, but rather someone born and raised in the West Indies (whether of European or African descent). However, Mr. Vincent's racial status, like his "sunburnt complexion," is ambiguous.

Ultimately Belinda breaks her engagement with Mr. Vincent, but not because of his race. Instead, it is because he is a passionate gambler, a vice she feels can never be fully overcome. But even so, Belinda and Mr. Vincent's lengthy flirtation with the possibility of interracial marriage is remarkable.

More remarkable still is the courtship and marriage between two other characters, Lucy and Juba. Lucy, described as "a pretty-looking girl of about eighteen," is the granddaughter of a tenant of Lady Anne Percival, the novel's epitome of good sense and felicity. [7] Juba is the African-descended West Indian manservant of Mr. Vincent.

In some ways Juba is a stereotypical character—he speaks in dialect, refers to Mr. Vincent as "massa," is superstitious, and plays the tambourine and "banjore." But he's also described by Lucy's grandmother as "a most industrious, ingenious, good-natured youth." The grandmother tells Lucy, with Lady Anne's warm approval, that "the eyes are used to a face after a time, and then it's nothing...make a prudent choice, that you won't never have cause to repent of." [8] Lucy makes the prudent choice of Juba, and later in the novel they celebrate their marriage.

But when Belinda was chosen for inclusion in Barbauld's series, Edgeworth (apparently under pressure) radically revised the story to remove any hint of interracial romantic relationships. In the 1810 and subsequent editions, Lucy marries an Englishman named James Jackson, not Juba (although Juba remains a character in the book), and Belinda only becomes friends with, and is never engaged to, Mr. Vincent. Incidentally, it is the revised 1810 version of the novel that is available on the Open Library and Project Gutenberg free e-book sites.

Who applied the pressure on Edgeworth to remove from Belinda the romances between English women and West Indian men? A letter Edgeworth wrote to her aunt Margaret Ruxton on 9 January 1810 suggests that the pressure came from Edgeworth's father: "...Juba the black servant is not allowed to marry the country girl Lucy; because my father has great delicacies and scruples of conscience about encouraging such marriages." [9]

Another curious aspect of Edgeworth's novel is that it features multiple scenes of cross-dressing: another kind of crossing of boundaries, this time of gender. Harriet Freke (pronounced "freak," meaning idiosyncrasy), frequently dresses (and even more shocking in the context of the novel, behaves) as a man. At one point she jumps into her friend Lady Delacour's carriage while en travesti, and when she is challenged by Lady Delacour's male companion cries out, "'Who am I? only a Freke!'" [10]

But Mrs. Freke, though the most prominent, is far from the only cross-dresser in the novel. Lady Delacour and her enemy Mrs. Luttridge dress as men to fight a duel, a masculine privilege. And early on in the novel its hero, Clarence Hervey, tries to win a bet with Lady Delacour by putting on a hoop skirt and being introduced to her company as "Madame de Pomenars." [11] (Perhaps Edgeworth is suggesting that the ideal man combines the masculine virtues of courage, confidence, and "animal spirits" with the feminine ones of delicacy and sentiment.) The cross-dressing episodes survived the substantial revisions for the 1810 edition; apparently the transgression of gender boundaries was less alarming than racial ones.

So Belinda, although it espouses traditional strictures on women's behavior and demeanor, is also strikingly modern—and perhaps it was this modern, critical view of the society in which its characters must find their way that was part of its appeal to Jane Austen.

After its approving attitude towards interracial romance and its more equivocal stance towards cross-dressing and gender ambiguity, a third modern aspect of Belinda is its self-reflexiveness. Several of Edgeworth's fictional characters compare themselves to characters in fiction, as when Mr. Percival observes that "husbands may sometimes have delicate feelings as well as their wives, though they are seldom allowed to have any by these unjust novel writers." [12] Clarence Hervey's first love, whom he names Virginia after the heroine in a romance, is "spoiled by early novel-reading." [13] And the book concludes in Chapter XXXI, entitled "The Denouement," with an arresting metafictional conceit:
'And now, my good friends,' continued Lady Delacour, 'shall I finish the novel for you?'

'If your ladyship pleases; nobody can do it better,' said Clarence Hervey.

'But I hope you will remember, dear Lady Delacour,' said Belinda, 'that there is nothing in which novelists are so apt to err as in hurrying things toward the conclusion: in not allowing time enough for that change of feeling, which change of situation cannot instantly produce.'

'That's right, my dear Belinda; true to your principles to the last gasp. Fear nothing—you shall have time enough to become accustomed to Clarence. Would you choose that I should draw out the story to five volumes more? With your advice and assistance, I can with the greatest ease, my dear. A declaration of love, you know, is only the beginning of things; there may be blushes, and sighs, and doubts, and fears, and misunderstandings, and jealousies without end or common sense, to fill up the necessary space, and to gain the necessary time; but if I might conclude the business in two lines, I should say,
"Ye gods, annihilate both space and time,
And make four lovers happy."'

 1. Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra and others. R.W. Chapman, ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1932, Letter 101, p. 405.

 2. Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Ch. V

 3. Claudia Johnson, "Let me make the novels of a country": Barbauld's The British Novelists (1810/1820). Novel, Spring 2001, 34(2): 163-179, p. 166.

 4. Quoted in Johnson, p. 168.

 5. Quoted in Johnson, p. 172.

 6. Maria Edgeworth, Belinda, Chapter XVI.

 7. Belinda, Chapter XVIII.

 8. Belinda, Chapter XVIII.

 9. Quoted in "A Note on the Text," Kathryn Kirkpatrick, ed., in Maria Edgeworth, Belinda, Oxford World's Classics, 1994, p. xxvii.

10. Belinda, Chapter III.

11. Belinda, Chapter V.

12. Belinda, Chapter XIX.

13. Belinda, Chapter XXVII.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In the shadow of Lully: Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Marc-Antoine Charpentier
A possible portrait of Marc-Antoine Charpentier
When Jean-Baptiste Lully accidentally plunged his heavy conducting staff through the top of his foot during a performance in December 1686, and died in agonizing pain three months later from gangrene, his fellow composers must have had mixed feelings. Fifteen years before his death Lully had purchased the exclusive privilege of producing opera (and other music) for Louis XIV's court. In effect, it was a lifetime monopoly on the production of opera and musical theater in France, and the quarrelsome Lully employed it ruthlessly against those he perceived as his rivals.

Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Lully portrayed himself as defending French musical values against Italian influence. Ironically, Lully himself was born in Tuscany as Giovanni Battista Lulli; and one of the composers whose "Italian" style he most fiercely opposed was the Parisian native Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

As a young man Charpentier had gone to Italy, birthplace of opera, in order to study music. But only a year or two after his return to France, Lully acquired the royal privilege. Lully's monopoly virtually closed off for Charpentier any possibility of producing a large-scale opera.

So Charpentier focused on other forms, particularly sacred music. Marie de Lorraine, the highly devout 'Mademoiselle de Guise,' brought Charpentier into her household to compose for her private orchestra and 14-voice mixed choir (Charpentier himself sang the haute-contre parts). He also composed a large amount of music for the religious institutions that she and her relatives supported.

While Lully's monopoly made it impossible for Charpentier to have operas publicly staged, the ban did not extend to private performances. Of course, private concert rooms lacked the size and stage machinery of an opera house, and so the works performed had to be reduced in scale. For his patrons Charpentier composed half a dozen chamber operas on Biblical, mythological and allegorical subjects.

And the chamber operas were not the only music Charpentier wrote for the stage during the time of Lully's monopoly. Charpentier also took Lully's place as the composer for Molière's theatre troupe, the Comédie-Française. In yet another irony, Charpentier had to write new music for many of Molière's plays; the music Lully had written for them was not in conformance with the restrictions he himself later imposed on the number of musicians and singers theaters could employ. (To add insult to injury, Lully also evicted the Comédie-Française from the Théâtre du Palais-Royal so he could use it as an opera house.)

But after Lully's death, the monopoly was finally relaxed, and Charpentier began composing large-scale music dramas. Celse Martyr (The Martyr Celsus, music lost; libretto published 1687) and David et Jonathas (David and Jonathan, 1688) were performed at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand, where Charpentier had recently become maître de musique. A few years later, Médée (Medea, 1693) was produced for the Académie Royale de Musique at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal—the royal opera company and theater formerly controlled by Lully. While Médée was praised by connoisseurs and by the king, it was not revived at the Académie, and Charpentier never composed another opera. In 1698 he was named as the maître de musique of the Sainte-Chapelle, where he spent the final six years of his life composing motets, psalm settings and masses for services at the chapel.

Eclipse and revival

After Charpentier's death in 1704, his music fell out of favor—in part because those loyal to Lully's style disparaged it, and in part because it was less widely available than Lully's: in contrast to Lully's compositions, the vast majority of Charpentier's works remained unpublished. Fortunately, after his death Charpentier's music manuscripts remained in his family and were kept largely intact. In 1727 they were sold to the king's library, which during the Revolution became the the core of the Bibliotèque Nationale.

There the manuscripts remained until the mid-20th-century revival of interest in the music of the Baroque. In the early 1950s Médée received its first performances in over 250 years. Three decades later, the rediscovery of Charpentier was accelerated when the scholar H. Wiley Hitchcock published the complete catalog of Charpentier's works, and in the early 1990s facsimiles of his surviving manuscripts began to be issued.

For a composer's work to truly flourish it must be performed, and conductor William Christie has been Charpentier's most important modern champion. Christie's period-instrument group Les Arts Florissants, founded in 1979, is even named after one of Charpentier's chamber operas. Over the past 30 years Les Arts Florissants and other early-music groups have performed and recorded a wide variety of Charpentier's music; I've listed a handful of recommended recordings below. The catalog numbers are for those who (like me) cling to the outmoded CD and DVD formats.

Sacred music

Canticum ad Beatam Virginem Mariam. Le Concert des Nations, directed by Jordi Savall. Recorded 1989. Astrée E 8713.

A selection of motets dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the pieces for which dates can be determined were written during Charpentier's time as the composer-in-residence to Mlle. de Guise. A sample: "Salve Regina à trois voix pareilles," featuring John Elwes (tenor), Josep Cabré (baritone), and Gerard Lesne (haute contre), directed by Savall:

This recording is about to be reissued by Savall's own Alia Vox label in a deluxe 25th anniversary edition featuring two remastered SACD discs and a DVD.

Chamber opera

Actéon. Boston Early Music Festival Vocal and Chamber Ensembles, directed by Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs. Recorded 2009. CPO 777613-2.

Acteon was a hunter in Greek mythology, who spied on the bathing goddess Diana and was punished by being turned into a stag pursued and torn to pieces by his own hounds. One of the chamber operas written by Charpentier when he was in the service of the Guise family, Actéon is given an excellent performance by the ensembles of the Boston Early Music Festival, and is accompanied on this recording by two smaller-scale secular cantatas. Aaron Sheehan (tenor) sings the role of Actéon:

Tragédie lyrique

Médée. Les Arts Florissants, directed by William Christie. Recorded 1994. Erato 2564 66035-7.

Médée has come to be viewed as one of the great achievements in Baroque opera, and it is hard to imagine this recording of it ever being surpassed thanks to the astonishing performance of Lorraine Hunt in the title role. Here is the end of Act III, in which she summons demons from the underworld to help her wreak revenge on her unfaithful husband Jason and his new lover Creusa:

Charpentier was left bitter by his long struggle to have his music recognized. As H. Wiley Hitchcock writes in his article on Charpentier in Grove Music Online:
To posterity he left an enigmatic and poignant Epitaphium Carpentarij (no. 474), a strange, semi-sacred dramatic cantata to a Latin text, its date unknown, in which 'the shade of Charpentier' speaks to two wanderers in the underworld. It includes this rueful assessment: 'I was a musician, considered good by the good ones, scorned as ignorant by the ignorant. And since those who scorned me were much more numerous than those who lauded me, music became to me a small honour and a heavy burden. And just as at my birth I brought nothing into this world, I took nothing from it at my death'. [1]

1. H. Wiley Hitchcock. "Charpentier, Marc-Antoine." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed July 13, 2014,