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The Female Quixote On Historical Epic Romances, And The Value Of Reading In The 1700s

A drawing of Charlotte Lennox

As I have been compiling the notes for my future review of The Female Quixote, I came to the several highlights made of the dialogue that forms Arabella’s long-expected ‘cure’ from her romantic notions; these highlights will not be making it into my review so I thought I would collect them here; they are quite fascinating and make for a small exploration of the thoughts of 1700s people – or, at least, 1700s writers – on fiction, in particular romantic fiction (as swooning epics of the past were referred to).

Something I will likely add to my review is this statement; it’s also very relevant here:

Charlotte Lennox’s Female Quixote (1752) seems to join a persuasive eighteenth-century effort to dispel as “unreal” and dangerous the romance tradition that English readers had valued for two hundred years (Gordon, 1998).

Book cover

The same source goes on to say that the book ‘avoids endorsing this demolition of romance… The precise relationship The Female Quixote establishes between madness and romance needs careful articulation’. And later, ‘This critical narrative commands respect for exposing how eighteenth-century culture controlled female power and, equally importantly, how such control could be contested.’ (ibid.)

I do not know enough about the period’s literary culture to comment on it in general, but certainly Lennox’s novel suggests a background of ridicule; whilst we can’t say for certain that Lennox herself disliked epic romances, particularly given our contemporary thoughts as to viewing author and text as separate entities, the possibility is certainly there and even if not from Lennox’s own heart, it exists as someone’s opinion… quite possibly, given that Lennox was of his circle and looked up to him, Samuel Richardson.

Without further ado, then, let’s look at these extracts from the second to last chapter of the novel – which in itself is a subject of debate as some believe it to be the work of Samuel Johnson (both Samuels were in Lennox’s circle). The discourse between the Doctor and Arabella concerning the knowledge she has gained from books which she thinks contain facts (please note, quotation marks are not used in the original text):

To the names of many of these illustrious sufferers I am an absolute stranger, replied the doctor. The rest I faintly remember some mention of in those contemptible volumes with which children are sometimes injudiciously suffered to amuse their imaginations; but which I little expected to hear quoted by your ladyship in a serious discourse. And though I am very far from catching occasions of resentment, yet I think myself at liberty to observe, that if I merited your censure for one indelicate epithet, we have engaged on very unequal terms, if I may not likewise complain of such contemptuous ridicule as you are pleased to exercise upon my opinions by opposing them with the authority of scribblers, not only of fictions, but of senseless fictions; which at once vitiate the mind and pervert the understanding; and which if they are at any time read with safety, owe their innocence only to their absurdity.

Whether the above was written by or with a mind to Samuel Johnson, or whether it’s entirely the product of Lennox’s thoughts, there is a strong dislike of ‘senseless fictions’; the ‘not only of fictions’ could be taken to mean that the writer dislikes fiction in general, however, given Lennox’s interests in novels I think we can say that’s not the case. We have ‘read with safety, owe their innocence only to their absurdity’ which could be applied to Lennox’s work itself, an absurd book that readers would know without doubt is fiction and thus it is ‘safe’ to read.

There is also this, Arabella’s opinion of her past occupations once reality is pointed out to her:

What examples can be afforded by the patience of those who never suffered, or the chastity of those who were never solicited? The great end of history is to show how much human nature can endure or perform. When we hear a story in common life that raises our wonder or compassion, the first confutation stills our emotions; and however we were touched before, we then chase it from the memory with contempt as a trifle, or with indignation as an imposture. Prove, therefore, that the books which I have hitherto read as copies of life, and models of conduct, are empty fictions, and from this hour I deliver them to moths and mould; and from this time consider their authors as wretches who cheated me of those hours I ought to have dedicated to application and improvement, and betrayed me to a waste of those years in which I might have laid up knowledge for my future life.

Whilst this begins well and says good things, unfortunately, given that a long time prior to this, Arabella’s cousin and ‘lover’, Glanville, had been on the cusp of directing the servants to burn the collection, it’s likely that Lennox had in mind a mass burning of books when she wrote The End, or Finis.

On the (more) positive side to this post, on the value of reading in general and the value of novels in the 1700s specifically, Lennox includes these fragments:

…and the great use of books, is that of participating without labour or hazard, the experience of others.

Particularly, we could say, when those fictions concern killing one’s rivals in love, being taken by ravishers, and dying for the extreme amount of love one has for someone unobtainable.

Truth is not always injured by fiction. […] Books ought to supply an antidote to example.

To use words Arabella might appreciate, oh blessed relief!

The only excellence of falsehood, answered he, is its resemblance to truth; as therefore any narrative is more liable to be confuted by its inconsistency with known facts, it is at a greater distance from the perfection of fiction; for there can be no difficulty in framing a tale, if we are left at liberty to invert all history and nature for our own convenience. When a crime is to be concealed, it is easy to cover it with an imaginary wood. When virtue is to be rewarded, a nation with a new name may, without any expense of invention, raise her to the throne. When Ariosto was told of the magnificence of his palaces, he answered, that the cost of poetical architecture was very little; and still less is the cost of building without art, than without materials.

Ladies are most problematic:

Then let me again observe, resumed he, that these books soften the heart to love, and harden it to murder. That they teach women to exact vengeance, and men to execute it; teach women to expect not only worship, but the dreadful worship of human sacrifices. Every page of these volumes is filled with such extravagance of praise, and expressions of obedience, as one human being ought not to hear from another; or with accounts of battles, in which thousands are slaughtered for no other purpose than to gain a smile from the haughty beauty, who sits a calm spectatress [sic] of the ruin and desolation, bloodshed and misery, incited by herself.

It is impossible to read these tales without lessening part of that humility, which by preserving in us a sense of our alliance with all human nature, keeps us awake to tenderness and sympathy, or without impairing that compassion which is implanted in us as an incentive to acts of kindness. If there be any preserved by natural softness, or early education, from learning pride and cruelty, they are yet in danger of being betrayed to the vanity of beauty, and taught the arts of intrigue.

Given that the penultimate chapter (the one these extracts are taken from) is so different than the others, bordering on philosophical, it may indeed be the case that as some suspect, Samuel Johnson had a big role to play in its creation, though if he did, it would have been quite against his own literary tastes, as ‘Johnson had, if not a taste, at least an appetite, for the old-fashioned romances which Mrs. Lenox [sic] satirised’ (Dobson, 1892). Certainly, if not for that, there seems a sudden effort to bring in the thoughts of an intellectual in the field in ways there hadn’t been before; there is a difference between the Doctor’s dialogue and that of the Countess a few chapters before who, due to authorial devices, was unable to complete the slow suggestions she had begun to bring about to Arabella that what she had read does not reflect reality. And there is a difference between the Doctor and the historian Mr Selvin who for reasons likely, again, to do with devices and keeping the story going, did not last long in the text and indeed took the view that the lady who knew all these accounts he had never heard of, was more well-read than himself.

But however the chapter was created, it is a mini treasure trove of a few subjects – fairly generalised, but with some interesting insights into the 1700s’ reader’s mind and a few phrases about books that are quite wonderful.

References

Books

Dobson, Austin (1892), Eighteenth Century Vignettes, Thomas Nelson & Sons

Articles

Gordon, Scott Paul (1998), The Space of Romance in Lennox’s Female Quixote, Vol. 38, Issue 3, pp.499-516

 
Could There Have Been An Alternative Ending For The Awakening?

Book cover

The Awakening alternative ending.’

It came as quite a shock to me to see this phrase in the list of search queries that had led visitors to my site; I think anyone who has read the book can emphasise – the ending is a crucial element to the impact of the text. Nevertheless, I’d like to explore this possibility of a difference, and to do that I believe it’s worth first considering the intent and purpose behind such a query.

The situation that first comes to mind is that of a student, perhaps a school student rather than university where, I presume, studies of the book would be less general and more about the female agency; in a general study, such a query or consideration would be possible. Either someone wants another’s opinion, or they are looking for inspiration with which to write an ending themselves.

This brings us to possibility number two – a search for a fabled ending. Alternate endings are hardly unheard of, consider Dickens’ original ending of Great Expectations and the recommendation that he change it to something more positive… and arguably more romantic!

Perhaps however, it’s more simple: a person, very affected by Chopin’s ending, who is looking for a different one. Such intent would be categorised as personal research and furthering one’s reading. Continued interest, albeit for a reason Chopin may have not agreed with.

So to the possibility of another ending, could there be one in terms of viability? Edna could always have chosen to turn back before she became too tired but in the context of her time, arguably also Chopin’s, it would have achieved these two things:

  1. It would have made people, both fictional and factual (think of the angry reviewers of the time) think things, life, were fine as they were. Chopin would have been commended for going along with the status quo and putting the woman with the bizarre thoughts – near hysteria! – back in her place. (In this vein it’s worth considering also the effect Edna’s choice would have had on Léonce and the children.)
  2. The novel would not have achieved its full purpose and, indeed, the good work done by Chopin in the lead up to the ending would have been obliterated.

So there could have been a second ending, sure, but we would not likely still be reading the book as much as we are; it would be but a similar story to many other books. We might be looking at Anna Karenina for everything else which of course does not have the same message, albeit that there’s a similarity between the texts.

Might Edna have been okay with going back, whether literally turning around and swimming home or never going to the sea in the first place, that final time? I think we can say that she would possibly have been content but not happy. Her children would have kept her at home perhaps – or might she have left them and Léonce for good, just moving on? – but there is too much about her that doesn’t fit the socially prescribed mold. Unfortunately in this situation her children would, as much as they might also please her, remind her of her restricted life. An Edna today might have travelled the world, solo. The independence she wanted was impossible in her society.

Could Edna have had a better relationship than the one she had with Léonce, one with more freedom? Probably. Something that has always interested me is the blend in Léonce of some less restrictive elements with the then-standard socially acceptable limits he placed on Edna. He was far from the worst but still strict. Chopin surely also felt the need for her ending to support her own views and life choices, and in both of these she is more independently minded than many. She started writing after the death of her husband and her marriage was not a bad one.

If the ending were different, it would have been better at the time, the critical reviews a lot more positive, likely completely different. We know that Chopin didn’t write any more novels precisely because of the reception of The Awakening. But to have written novels that were well received may have been to compromise her values. We might remember her differently.

Chopin’s famous short story, Désirée’s Baby, sported a very similar ending, with Désirée walking into the water – she ‘disappeared among the reeds and willows’, after her husband disowns her for giving birth to a child of mixed heritage. It’s obviously a type of ending that Chopin saw good symbolism in, a firm way to get her point across. (The short story was published 6 years prior to the novel.)

To sum, I don’t think we can really contemplate another ending. The ending is there for good reason. It may have been poorly received then, but it’s considered a triumph today. Edna chose the only freedom available to her. She was stuck in ways her fictional descendents wouldn’t be now.

Your thoughts?

 
Rebecca: What Does Du Maurier’s Purposeful Omission Of The Narrator’s Name Imply?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine, playing the heroine, from the film version of Rebecca.  This particular screen shot shows the anguish of the character after discovering the costume she is wearing was one of Rebecca's

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

Looking first at the way the question is written, with emphasis placed on Du Maurier’s choice – pointedly phrased as ‘purposeful omission’ – one must consider the real life context of the book. It has been reported that Du Maurier wrote Rebecca as a study of jealousy (House, 2013), and whilst many have seen it differently, the author’s life and in particular her relationship with husband, Tommy Browning, supports it. Du Maurier was rather jealous of Tommy’s former fiancée (House, 2013); not much is known about Jan Ricardo besides the fact of the broken engagement, and the taking of her own life (Dennison, 2008) shortly after the publication of the book, which Du Maurier was reportedly sad to hear (Picardie, 2008) – her jealousy may have been considerable but not that zealous.

The novel is of course very strong in its thoughts on the woman who came before, but given the evidence, it would be wrong to say Du Maurier didn’t use her own feelings as a jumping point, letting the novel unravel from there, particularly considering her works tend to be thrilling generally. There are however definite distinct references to Jan, such as Rebecca’s signature – an elaborate ‘R’. (Du Maurier once found letters from Jan to Tommy, signed off with a flourish (Picardie, 2008).) Perhaps Du Maurier saw it as a sign of possession or used the idea of such in her fiction. Certainly the unnamed heroine views the situation as one of Rebecca’s posthumous possession of house, husband, and everyone related to them.

Away from this context, the omission implies a lack of importance, and here we can point both to the heroine’s lack – or perceived lack – of importance to others and the lack of importance she believes herself to have. (Surely with the amount of dialogue included, someone would have said her name at some point.) The dialogue running without reference to a name allows Du Maurier to showcase the way Max treats the heroine – ‘little love’ and other terms of affection, as well as the usage of ‘you little fool’ is a constant reminder of the age gap between the characters and an insight into how Max may feel about her.

The lack of a name simply reiterates Rebecca’s importance.

In our popular consequential reference to the narrator as ‘the second Mrs de Winter’ we emphasise the ranking, albeit very unwillingly. Perhaps Du Maurier had that idea in mind when she wrote – she must have considered the consequence of not providing a name. Should we have adopted this as a name? Or do we thus take this potential extra layer of decision not to include a name as further evidence of omission?

A minor point to consider: given the various allusions to Jane Eyre, could the lack of a name also be a reference to Jane’s position, a commentary on it? It is unlikely but interesting to posit nonetheless.

With all the above taken into consideration as a study, however, it is important not to neglect primary or secondary sources:

“She couldn’t think what to call her and so she didn’t call her anything. And then it became a challenge: could she actually write the whole thing without it… Funnily enough, in the Hitchcock film, in the script she is written as ‘I’, but they all called her ‘Daphne’ on the shoot.” — Kits Browning (Browning, in House, 2013)

“I could not think of one, and it became a challenge in technique the easier because I was writing in the first person.” — Daphne Du Maurier (Du Maurier, p.388)

It has been said that when writing, Du Maurier called her ‘Daphne’.

References

Online

Dennison, Matthew, 2008, How Daphne Du Maurier Wrote Rebecca, Telegraph.co.uk, accessed 30th April 2018
House, Christian, 2013, Daphne Du Maurier Always Said Her Novel Was A Study In Jealousy, Telegraph.co.uk, accessed 30th April 2018
Picardie, Justine, 2008, Daphne: The Truth Behind The Story, Justine-Picardie.blogspot.com, accessed 30th April 2018

Books

Du Maurier, Daphne, 2005 [1938], The Rebecca Notebook & Other Memories, Virago

 
The Influence Of The Female Quixote On Northanger Abbey

A drawing of Charlotte Lennox

It has been proposed that The Female Quixote, with its bookish heroine who believes women’s lives and loves should play out as they do in epic novels (the character’s sole experience of life is through reading), influenced Austen when she created Northanger Abbey1. I’m now several chapters into Lennox’s work and already the inspiration is very apparent; whilst Northanger Abbey speaks of Ann Radcliffe, Frances Burney, and Eliza Parsons (whose referenced works were first thought, in the context of Austen’s book, to not be real) there are a huge number of similarities between it and Lennox’s work.

It’s interesting that the book that was perhaps the biggest influence was not named by Austen in her novel2; perhaps the older work, successful during its time (and Lennox is now seen in academia as one of the most important female authors of her time3), wasn’t popular enough later on for her to feel a commentary was worth it. (‘Moderately popular’ has been proposed as the level of Lennox’s fame in the 1800s4; the book is pretty obscure today but slowly gaining in popularity again.) It’s also possible, if we consider the subject of plagiarism that is so commented on today, that Austen was aware just how similar her work was, that she was parodying a book that is itself a parody, and, to use a modern phrase, didn’t want to go there. However, considering the way she is very open, through the character of Catherine Morland, that her book owes a lot to the Gothic fiction of decades past, that second possibility isn’t nearly as compelling.

I think we’d better have a list of the comparisons I’ve noted so far:

  • Both Catherine Morland and Arabella are incredibly bookish.
  • Both read books that are real works of literature.
  • Both get their ideas of romance and what they should expect from that literature.
  • Both expect the world to align somewhat to that literature (though Arabella expects far more).
  • Both books are comedic.
  • Both books break the fourth wall between author and reader.

The characters’ choices of reading material differ slightly – Catherine reads Gothic romance from the 1700s, and Arabella reads epic romances from 1600s. (Arabella’s favourites include the longest work of literature published by a mainstream publisher, Artamene Ou Le Grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudery – 13,000 pages. No wonder the hero of the book is shocked when he agrees to read her favourites and Arabella’s servant arrives with them!)

Exaggeration and high drama permeate both characters’ choices, but Arabella takes it further than Catherine. Where Catherine gets excited about staying in a gothic building, opens doors she shouldn’t, and accepts criticism, Arabella lives her life to the letter, so to speak, and expects people to conform to the ways of behaviour of her favourite characters which, given they are often historical and taken from ancient myths, are even more exaggerated and over the top than anything from Arabella’s own period. Catherine is a little out of touch with the reality of her world; Arabella is getting towards being a transplant from centuries past.

A drawing of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra

The reason for each character acting the way they do is different. Catherine’s reading aligns somewhat with what we know about Austen: her bookishness is ultimately her choice and she is fairly independent. Arabella has been isolated all her life, in part due to choice, but also due to her standing; she found her father’s library and that was that. Lennox was estranged from her husband for years before they separated, a man who claimed to be an Earl but likely was not. Lennox was part of the same literary scene as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and Samuel Richardson. The women of the circle were not fond of her. She was well known in her circles but otherwise mostly anonymous.

Two authors of relative independence who were quite successful in their times but mostly anonymous; known to a few people of standing – Lennox more than Austen; both more successful in the years since their deaths, with Austen’s fame increasing far quicker than Lennox – Austen has been famous for a long time, whilst Lennox’s fame is today still on the rise.

It’s fascinating to look at two works alongside each other, one known or suspected to be an influence on the second. It’s particularly compelling when looking at works of centuries past where close reading is required more than it is when comparing more modern texts, the lesser amount of knowledge as to the writer’s background and the genesis of the work necessitating more time spent on the fiction due to there being fewer, if any, opportunities to incorporate authorial evidence that supports the idea.

References & Footnotes

1 Doody, Margaret Anne, Introduction, The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox, Oxford University Press, 1989, page unknown.
2 “Indeed, in a letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen describes reading and thoroughly enjoying The Female Quixote, and scholars have recently noted this novel’s influence on Northanger Abbey.” — Jansen, Sharon L, Charlotte Lennox and Mothers of the Novel, monstrousregimentofwomen.com, 4th January 2015, accessed 27th April 2018.
3 Facer, Ruth, ‘Charlotte (Ramsey) Lennox’, ChawtonHouse.org, n.d., accessed 27th April 2018.
4 Unknown, ‘Charlotte Lennox’, Wikipedia.org, last updated 15th February 2018, accessed 27th April 2018.

 
Brief Thoughts On The Original And Revised Endings Of Great Expectations

A screenshot of Holliday Grainger as Estella in the 2012 adaptation

I’ve often thought about the two endings of Great Expectations, but a lot more so since watching the 2012 version over Christmas (as expected as that might sound considering how recent it was).

My initial thoughts on reaching the end of my copy – the Vintage Classics edition that features both endings – was that original ending far surpassed the revised one in terms of quality and overall sense. That Estella spurns Pip yet one more time matches the person she had been in all the time he knew her, whilst the second ending’s happily ever after stance seemed a prime example of something worked simply to please the crowds. Or at least, in this case, Edward Bulwer-Lytton – who said it was too sad; I think we can safely say many readers would have liked the original. That said, the revised ending doesn’t specifically say that the characters got together.

Watching the film made me think a little more. The original ending has Estella effectively behaving as she always has, continuing to be the person Miss Havisham trained her or created her to be. In the second ending we could say that Estella eschews this training; perhaps her behaviour now is more a reflection of who she is without Miss Havisham – perhaps she’s now the person, or moving towards the person, she is without Miss Havisham’s input. She’s now herself.

Taking the endings as they are without their background literary context, they both work for different reasons.

Where the film influenced my thoughts was in what I considered Holliday Grainger’s very good performance – the Estella she and, also, Helena Barlow (as the younger Estella) portrayed, was not someone I saw changing. It seemed to me quite literally out of character for Grainger’s Estella to change as she did; I suppose you could say it highlighted for me why the original ending pips the second to the post. But it did still illustrate further than the simple dialogue and other text of the book, in regards to Miss Havisham’s teaching, how much nurture has to play in our lives.

Your thoughts?

 

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