Foxes, Graces, Fatal Flowers

Maitland, Paul Fordyce, 1863-1909; Boats Moored on the Thames

(Paul Fordyce Maitland, Boats Moored on the Thames: York Museums Trust)

On a cold and blue and almost cloudless day, I pass through the park, between the bobbing magpies. Once you recognise the sight and sound of them, they’re everywhere. In our small garden yesterday, I watched a magpie take into its beak three, four, five suet pellets, and was put in mind of the fox.

Six or seven years ago, looking out of the window of my mother’s first-floor flat in Sutton, I would sometimes see foxes jogging along beside the railway line, about fifty metres away. At the end of the short garden was a garage with a flat roof and the downstairs neighbour used to throw food up onto it. One morning a fox appeared there – the roof was accessible from a low wall nearby. It took up items of food into its long jaws, meat and vegetables, five, six, seven pieces and, at the last, added a whole egg. Then it made its way down off the roof and emerged at the side of the track, all the food still apparently in place, undamaged, before padding off in the direction of home where, presumably, its cubs were waiting.

There are times when something occupying our minds or strongly present for a while—and it might be anything, from a car, a song or a woman’s name to a painting, a terrace of houses or a body of writing—exerts a powerful centripetal force. Details of things seen or heard fly to it and stick like burrs. Sounds and sights, images, phrases, connect with an audible click.

Since I’m reading or, mostly, rereading Penelope Fitzgerald’s books at present, when I walked in the park yesterday and heard the skirl of bagpipes launching into ‘Amazing Grace’, it was enough to recall the novel I’d just finished. Offshore, which won the Booker Prize in 1979, is set on the barges moored on Chelsea Reach and is dedicated ‘To Grace and all who sailed in her’. Grace is the name of the central character Nenna James’s barge, as it was the name of Fitzgerald’s, ‘a battered, patched, caulked, tar-blackened hulk’. The ‘great consolation was that a Thames barge, because of the camber of the deck, never sinks completely.’ On this point, Fitzgerald remarked, she could ‘give evidence, because we went down twice, and on both occasions the deck stayed just above water’, although Grace was finally ‘towed away to the Essex marshes to be broken up.’[1] After one of those disasters, Fitzgerald ‘went back to her teaching the next day, looking more than usually dishevelled, and said to her class: “I’m sorry I’m late, but my house sank.”’[2]

Bavarian-Gentian

Similarly, thoughts of that fox recalled Fitzgerald’s letter in response to Frank Kermode’s review of her final novel, The Blue Flower, which centres on the life of the German Romantic poet Friedrich von Hardenberg, who wrote as ‘Novalis’. ‘I hope you won’t mind me writing to thank you for your review of The Blue Flower. I started from D. H. Lawrence’s “fatal flower of happiness” at the end of The Fox, having always wondered how DHL knew it was blue, and never quite managed to find out all I wanted to, partly because Novalis’ letters to Sophie have disappeared, buried in her grave I daresay.’[3]

Kermode had written of Fitzgerald: ‘She has the gift of knowing, or seeming to know, everything necessary, and as it were knowing it from the inside, conveying it by gleams and fractions, leaving those who feel so disposed to make it explicit.’ And, of the object of Fritz’s quest, ‘The visionary blue flower dominates his imagination, but in the waking life of Fritz von Hardenberg the part of the flower was played by Sophie von Kühn’.[4]

Sophie was the twelve-year-old girl with whom the poet fell in love. They became engaged on her thirteenth birthday but she died of tuberculosis just two years later. Novalis himself died before reaching thirty.

The end of ‘The Fox’ has ‘poor March’ musing on how, ‘The more you reached after the fatal flower of happiness, which trembles so blue and lovely in a crevice just beyond your grasp, the more fearfully you became aware of the ghastly and awful gulf of the precipice below you, into which you will inevitably plunge, as into the bottomless pit, if you reach any further. You pluck flower after flower – it is never the flower.’[5]

And the ending of Offshore? The two weakest characters, drunk and more than usually incapable, drift off in the storm, when the anchor comes clear and the mooring-ropes pull free under the strain. ‘It was in this way that Maurice, with the two of them clinging on for dear life, put out on the tide.’[6]

A craft that should be firmly linked to those of its close neighbours becoming unmoored and drifting off into the open sea because of intoxicated incompetence. Not a fable for our time, obviously.

References

[1] Penelope Fitzgerald, ‘Curriculum Vitae’, in A House of Air: Selected Writings, edited by Terence Dooley with Mandy Kirkby and Chris Carduff (London: Harper Perennial, 2005), 477-478.

[2] Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (London: Chatto and Windus, 2013), 158.

[3] Penelope Fitzgerald to Frank Kermode, 3 October [1995], in So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald, edited by Terence Dooley (London: Fourth Estate, 2008), 453.

[4] Frank Kermode, ‘Dark Fates’, review of The Blue Flower, London Review of Books, 17, 19 (5 October, 1995), 7.

[5] D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Fox’, in The Complete Short Novels, edited by Keith Sagar and Melissa Partridge (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 203.

[6] Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore (1979; London: Everyman, 2003), 131.

 

Something to be resisted

Hands-off-pensions-G-Jane-Atkins
(Photograph: Jane Atkins, via The Guardian)

At the kitchen table, the Librarian is looking at the newspaper. ‘What a bloody mess.’ Perhaps the word wasn’t ‘bloody’. A comment on the times: I have not the faintest idea what she is referring to – there are just too many candidates, even sticking to the United Kingdom: the Brexit fiasco (or the fiasco of the level of comment upon it); the Labour policy on Brexit fiasco; the transport fiasco; the benefits or homelessness or education fiascos; the prisons fiasco; the higher education fiasco; the housing fiasco; the local council cuts fiasco; the tax evasion fiasco; the fracking fiasco; the foreign policy fiasco; the Tory leadership fiasco. I surrender.

In fact, she’s referring to the higher education fiasco: a fiddle here, a twiddle there. Either you acknowledge the benefits—to everyone—of a population as well-educated as possible or you don’t. So either you fund higher education properly or you don’t. And, of course, even in the higher education sector, there’s more than one bloody mess. This one—the forthcoming universities strike—is coming up fast.

The Guardian reports that ‘Universities UK (UUK), which represents university employers, has proposed that in order to overcome a £6.1bn deficit in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the fund should switch from a defined-benefit scheme that gives a guaranteed retirement income to a riskier defined-contribution plan, where pension income is subject to stock market movements.

A UUK spokesperson said the proposed pension changes were a necessary step, made in the best interests of university staff, to put the USS on a sustainable footing for the long term.’

‘Necessary’, ‘best interests’, ‘sustainable’. Nice, but not actually true. Try this:

‘University employers have provoked the largest vote for industrial action ever seen in the higher education sector. They have done this by overseeing what they present as a financial crisis for the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), and by threatening enormous cuts to the pensions of hundreds of thousands of university staff. None of this is necessary. It is the result of the misrepresentation of USS finances, and the desire of a new breed of university managements to cut their pension liabilities and thereby ease the financing of new buildings and campuses.’

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/30/university-staff-are-right-to-be-striking

Yes, this kind of behaviour, this kind of pretext, is becoming all too familiar—and is something that needs to be resisted. As it will be.

 

Education, chaos, Henry Adams

Henry_Adams__Marian_Hooper_Adams_1883

(Henry Adams at his desk. Massachusetts Historical Society via Wikipedia: photograph by Marion Hooper Adams, 1883.)

‘Said Mr Adams, of the education,
Teach? at Harvard?
Teach? It cannot be done.
and this I had from the monument’

So Ezra Pound, in the first and longest of The Pisan Cantos.[1] That ‘monument’ was the philosopher George Santayana: born in Spain, he went to the United States at the age of eight, later studied at Harvard and taught there for many years before returning to Europe for the last forty years of his long life.

‘Mr Adams’ was not the John Adams to whom Pound so frequently referred, often pairing him with Thomas Jefferson; nor the historian Brooks Adams but his elder brother Henry Adams (born 16 February 1838), also historian—and novelist, and autobiographer.

In early 1939, Pound had put together four quotations, from John Adams, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and section 8 of the American Constitution, as an Introductory Text Book, which he asserted ‘should be taught in all American universities as the basis of a true American culture.’[2] Towards the end of that year, he called on Santayana when the latter was in Venice. As David Moody surmises, ‘Possibly feeling rather talked at as by an over-excited teacher’, he told Pound the anecdote about Henry Adams which found its way into the Cantos.[3] But Noel Stock is surely correct in saying that, while Pound seems to make the story apply to Harvard in particular, Santayana in his autobiography implies a more general statement about teaching.[4]

‘Never before had Adams been able to discern the working of law in history, which was the reason of his failure in teaching it, for chaos cannot be taught.’[5] So Adams—writing of himself in the third person, as he does throughout his book—defines the problem. Santayana looked back to that meeting in Persons and Places: ‘“So you are trying to teach philosophy at Harvard,” Mr Adams said’, adding ‘“I once tried to teach history there but it can’t be done. It isn’t really possible to teach anything.”’ Santayana commented dryly, ‘This may be true, if we give very exacting meanings to our terms; but it was not encouraging.’[6]

Fenollosa-and-Mary

(Ernest and Mary Fenollosa, via https://otakusenvenezuela.wordpress.com/ )

For Pound, the main link with Henry Adams—about whom he is not particularly complimentary—is the figure of Ernest Fenollosa, whose notes and direct translations, given to Pound by Fenollosa’s widow, Mary, enabled both the Noh plays and the poems of Cathay; and whose ideas expressed in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry had a lasting influence upon Pound.

Chapter XX of Adams’ Education is headed ‘Failure (1871); Chapter XXI is headed ‘Twenty Years After (1892). In that large and gaping temporal space, Adams was married to Marion Hooper, known as ‘Clover’ (a talented amateur photographer), in 1872; she committed suicide in December 1885. In the late spring of 1886, Adams, in company with the artist John La Farge, set off westward to Japan. After a week in Tokyo, they moved to a small house, belonging to a Buddhist priest, in the hills, close to the summer villa of Ernest and Mary Fenollosa in Nikko. La Farge emerged from his stay with drawings, sketches and other material for future use—the book, An Artist’s Letters from Japan, and a printed version in the same year of a talk centred on Hokusai—but Adams seems never to have really engaged with Japan.

John_LaFarge_Magnolia_1860

(Magnolia by John La Farge, 1860)

In September, Adams and La Farge sailed back across the Pacific to San Francisco. Lawrence Chisolm remarks that, ‘For Adams, return was a prelude to years of wandering, until at last, in The Education of Henry Adams, he transformed the story of his personal searches into a history of Western man.’[7]

‘His first step, on returning to Washington’, Adams wrote, ‘took him out to the cemetery known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence’ (329). This was the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens; and that ‘bronze figure’ was a memorial to Adams’ wife Clover. Adams discusses his own, and others’, responses to the figure but doesn’t allude to the reason for its being there at all. Robert Hughes suggests that this may in fact have been one legacy of Japan: its inspiration ‘seems to have been a sixth-century wooden figure sheathed in bronze which he saw in the convent of Chugu-ji’.[8]

Marian_Hooper_Adams_Monument

(Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Adams Memorial (1886-1891), Rock Creek, Washington)

Adams once noted that ‘One sees what one brings’ (387)—and he brought an extensive knowledge of artistic and religious history to the moment when ‘he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new’ (382). He had seen, at the Louvre and at Chartres, what he judged ‘the highest energy ever known to man’, exercising ‘vastly more attraction over the human mind than all the steam-engines and dynamos ever dreamed of’ (384-385), yet the unprecedented speed and extent of new scientific and technological developments represented now, in 1900, ‘a new avalanche of unknown forces’ which would require ‘new mental powers to control. If this view was correct, the mind could gain nothing by flight or by fight; it must merge in its sensual multiverse, or succumb to it’ (463).

Familiar modernist concerns: speed, fragmentation, instability, multiplicity – but Adams gets in quite early.

(There was an intriguing novel called Panama by Eric Zencey, which sets Henry Adams in Paris in 1892, investigating the disappearance of a young woman connected with the Panama Canal bribery scandal. I’m slightly alarmed to see that it’s over twenty years since I read it.)

References

[1] The Cantos of Ezra Pound, fourth collected edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 433.

[2] Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909-1965, edited by William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 129; A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and His Work: Volume II: The Epic Years 1921–1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 299.

[3] A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and His Work: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 7.

[4] Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974), 478.

[5] Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1918; New York: The Modern Library, 1931), 363: page numbers in brackets refer to this edition.

[6] George Santayana, Persons and Places: The Background of My Life (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944), 234.

[7] Lawrence W. Chisolm, Fenollosa, the Far East and American Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 75.

[8] Robert Hughes, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America (London: The Harvill Press, 1997), 244.

 

Wintry discontents

Winter

It was St Matthew who observed that God ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45). Still, some people—very few of whom will fall into such clear-cut categories—get a lot more sun than others; or a lot more rain; or snow; or just weather, generally.

BBC weather reports mention strong winds disrupting events at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang; a tropical storm threatening the Phillipines; and, just over a week ago, the extreme weather in Moscow. The Russian capital had seen its heaviest snowfall in a day since records began, with more than 2000 trees brought down and air travel disrupted, according to official statements. This followed the breaking of another record in December, when the city registered the least amount of sunshine ever seen in a month there.

And here, in the mild South? Glumly dutiful rain today: no snow, of course (though more Northern parts of the country have had plenty), and it’s not even that cold. I turn the thermostat up one degree and it’s comfortable enough. But yes, some days lately have been pretty murky. ‘We just sat and grew older’, Frank Kermode recalled of his early naval experience in the Second World War, parked off the coast of Iceland, ‘as lightless winter followed nightless summer and the gales swept down the funnel of the fjord’.[1]

Patrick Hamilton was probably right to observe that, certainly in the twentieth century, ‘Wars, on the whole, are remembered by their winters.’[2] In the First World War, 1916-17 was claimed to be ‘the coldest winter in living memory.’[3] And the next year? Holidays for some. ‘Even in the doom-struck winter of 1917-18’, E. S. Turner observed, ‘British newspapers carried advertisements headed, “Where to Winter: Monte Carlo.”’[4]

Friedrich, Caspar David, 1774-1840; Winter Landscape

(Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape:
photo credit, The National Gallery)

In war or peace, though, winters take their toll, physically, financially, psychologically, emotionally. ‘Wynter wakeneth al my care’, an anonymous medieval (early fourteenth century) lyricist wrote – or sang, sighing and sorely mourning, ‘When hit cometh in my thoht / Of this worldes joie, hou it geth al to noht.’

Nou hit is, and nou hit nys,
Al so hit ner nere, ywys[5]

(Now it is and now it is not,
As though it had never been, indeed)

White-GWHouse

(http://gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk/ )

It might well seem that the world’s joy (and much else) was pretty fleeting when the average life expectancy for a male child was not much more than thirty years. In later centuries, people would take a longer view: Gilbert White could look back almost the length of that medieval lifespan when, writing of the winter of 1767-8, he noted that there was ‘reason to believe that some days were more severe than any since the year 1739-40.’[6]

On to Victorian England, where the Reverend Francis Kilvert can record in his diary for Septuagesima Sunday, St Valentine’s Eve, 13 February 1870: ‘the hardest frost we have had yet.’ Arriving at the Chapel, he writes, ‘my beard moustaches and whiskers were so stiff with ice that I could hardly open my mouth and my beard was frozen on to my mackintosh.’[7]

Ah, that old beard and mackintosh combo.

VW-Hut-Int

A little later still: though Virginia Woolf defined ‘the greatest pleasure of town life in winter’ as ‘rambling the streets of London’,[8] the disquieting character of the first winter of the war certainly unsettled her. ‘It’s a queer winter—the worst I ever knew, & suitable for the war & all the rest of it’, she wrote in her diary for Friday 22 January 1915. And, three weeks later: ‘I am sure however many years I keep this diary, I shall never find a winter to beat this. It seems to have lost all self control.’[9]

It was in the winter of the next year that D. H. Lawrence retrospectively placed the apocalyptic moment from which there was no real coming back. ‘It was in 1915 the old world ended. In the winter of 1915-1916 the spirit of the old London collapsed, the city, in some way, perished, perished from being a heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, lusts, hopes, fears, and horrors.’[10]

Lady_Ottoline_Morrell

(Ottoline Morrell by George Charles Beresford, 1864-1938)

That was through the eyes, or in the voice, of his protagonist, Richard Somers, still traumatised by his encounters with officialdom. Lawrence’s letters of the time are not, though, hugely different. To Harriet Monroe, he wrote on 15 September 1915:‘This is the real winter of the spirit in England.’ Less than two months later, though, to Ottoline Morrell, he wrote with—if not optimism, then at least a crack of light—‘There must be deep winter before there can be spring.’

DH-Lawrence

(D. H. Lawrence)

No, definitely not optimism. He is advising her to drift and let go. His postscript reads: ‘Only do not struggle – let go and become dark, quite dark.’[11]

References

[1] Frank Kermode, Not Entitled: A Memoir (London: Harper Collins, 1996), 125.

[2] Patrick Hamilton, The West Pier (1951; in The Gorse Trilogy, Black Spring Press, 2007), 30.

[3] Michael Hurd, The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 94.

[4] E. S. Turner, Dear Old Blighty (London: Michael Joseph 1980), 49.

[5] The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 9, 10.

[6] Gilbert White, The Illustrated History of Selborne (1789; London: Macmillan, 1984), 46.

[7] Kilvert’s Diary, edited by William Plomer, Three volumes (London: Jonathan Cape, 1938, reissued 1969), Volume One (1 January 1870—19 August 1871), 34.

[8] Virginia Woolf, ‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’, in Selected Essays, edited by David Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 177.

[9] The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 1: 1915-19, edited by Anne Olivier Bell (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), 26, 33.

[10] D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, edited by Bruce Steele, with an introduction and notes by Mac Daly (1923; Cambridge edition, 1994; London: Penguin, 1997), 216.

[11] Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, June 1913-October 1916, edited by George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 393, 469.

 

Ardent and enraged: Ford among the Suffragettes

VH_FMF_Selsey

(Ford Madox Ford and Violet Hunt at Selsey)

On 9 February 1911, The New Age published a letter to the editor from Giessen, in Germany, outlining the writer’s reasons for supporting women’s suffrage:

‘As for the question of militant tactics, I am certainly in favour of them. It is the business of these women to call attention to their wrongs, not to emphasise the fact that they are pure as the skies, candid as the cliffs of chalk, unsullied as the streams, or virginal as spring daffodils. They are, of course, all that—but only in novels. This is politics, and politics is a dirty business. They have to call attention to their wrongs, and they will not do that by being “womanly.” Why should we ask them to be? We cannot ourselves make omelettes without breaking eggs. Why should we ask them to?’[1]

Ford Madox Ford was in Giessen, enmeshed in the maze of the country’s civil law, as part of a ludicrous scheme to secure German citizenship and thus obtain a divorce from his wife Elsie, so that he might marry the novelist (and suffragette) Violet Hunt. His letter came just three months after ‘Black Friday’, 18 November 1910, when the police had physically – and, in some cases, sexually – assaulted the women demonstrators marching on Parliament.

Daily-Mirror-Front-Page-Published-Saturday-19th-November-1910

In his Ancient Lights, which appeared the following month, Ford would assert that, ‘Personally I am an ardent, an enraged suffragette.’[2] He was certainly a productive one. The previous year, he had published, in an English Review editorial, several pages on ‘Women’s Suffrage’, primarily an attack on the Liberal government’s pig-headedness, in particular the devious methods and bad faith shown by Asquith, and the press’s refusal to publish details of abuses together with its readiness to publish more sensational accounts based on dubious sources.[3]

‘In one of His Majesty’s gaols, the doctor officiating at the forcible feeding of one of the women caught her by the hair of the head and held her down upon a bed whilst he inserted—in between her teeth that, avowedly, he might cause her more pain—the gag that should hold her mouth open, and there was forced down her throat one quart of a mixture of raw oatmeal and water. In the barbarous and never to be sufficiently reprehended Middle Ages this punishment was known as the peine forte et dure.’

Ford granted the urgency of some of the major legislation that Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George wished to push through but pointed out, ‘that very urgency makes the necessities of the women by ten times the more urgent. For the reforms that Mr. Lloyd George and his friends desire are precisely social reforms and social reforms precisely concern women even more than men.’ There had been proposals to abolish the House of Lords’ legislative veto: ‘this may be for the good of the people or it may prove the people’s bane. But there can be no doubting that in making these demands Mr. Lloyd George and his friends are asking to be allowed to become the autocratic rulers of the immense body of voiceless and voteless women. As far as the men of the country are concerned the Cabinet will be at least nominally popularly elected. For women they will be mere tyrants.’[4]

Later that year, in four issues of The Vote, Ford published ‘The Woman of the Novelists’, in the form of ‘an open letter’, which became the seventh chapter of his The Critical Attitude (1911).[5] He remarked that, much of the time, when men talked about women, they were, in fact, talking about ‘the Woman of the Novelist!’[6] As readers and consumers of books, women could exert a significant influence over the ways in which male authors portrayed them; but, Ford suggested, ‘it should be a self-evident proposition that it would be much better for you to be, as a sex, reviled in books. Then men coming to you in real life would find how delightful you actually are, how logical, how sensible, how unemotional, how capable of conducting the affairs of the world. For we are quite sure that you are, at least we are quite sure that you are as capable of conducting them as are men in the bulk. That is all we can conscientiously say and all, we feel confident, that you will demand of us.’[7]

Six years after the Representation of the People Act, in the first part of Some Do Not. . ., which can be confidently dated to 1912, Ford has the Tory younger son of a Yorkshire landowning family discuss matters in general, and the Pimlico army clothing factory case in particular, with the young suffragette, Valentine Wannop:

Parades End. Call Sheet #14

(Adelaide Clemens as Valentine Wannop in the BBC/HBO/VRT television adaptation of Parade’s End)

‘Now, if the seven hundred women, backed by all the other ill-used, sweated women of the country, had threatened the Under-Secretary, burned the pillar-boxes, and cut up all the golf greens round his country-house, they’d have had their wages raised to half-a-crown next week. That’s the only straight method. It’s the feudal system at work.’

‘Oh, but we couldn’t cut up golf greens,’ Miss Wannop said. ‘At least the W.S.P.U. debated it the other day, and decided that anything so unsporting would make us too unpopular. I was for it personally.’

Tietjens groaned:

‘It’s maddening,’ he said, ‘to find women, as soon as they get in Council, as muddleheaded and as afraid to face straight issues as men! . . .[8]

Certainly by the following year, golf greens, along with tennis courts, bowling greens and racecourses, were among the casualties as Suffragette protest increased in militancy. It was in 1913 that the Women’s Freedom League published Ford’s pamphlet entitled This Monstrous Regiment of Women.[9] His title derives from the fervid Protestant John Knox, whose First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women appeared in 1558, damning rule by women as unnatural and repugnant. It was directed primarily against the Catholic Mary Tudor (as well as the Scots queen Mary Stuart and her mother) but, with monstrously bad timing, appeared just months before the accession to the English throne of Elizabeth – who was not amused.

Portrait-of-Mary-Tudor

(Mary Tudor)

Ford begins his pamphlet, in fact, with the great gains made for England in wealth and power during Elizabeth’s reign, following it with the rejuvenation of the institution of the British throne under Victoria, though he warns against running the theory too hard, given that another queen in that period was Mary, ‘who is generally known as “bloody”’, and also Anne, ‘who is principally known because she is dead’, though her reign, at least at home, ‘was one of comparative peace’. He concludes that, appealing to the reader’s common sense, rather than ‘to prove romantic notions’, he has merely set out to prove, and has surely proved, ‘that in England it has been profitable to have women occupying the highest place of the State.’

One of Ford’s critics remarks, sharply but perhaps not entirely unjustifiably, that Ford ‘took pleasure in feeling more qualified to diagnose the problems with women than women themselves’.[10] It’s certainly arguable that, while his support for women’s suffrage was genuine and sustained, he was often prone to wanting to have his cake and eat it. He was hardly unusual in that: indeed, there have been recent attempts to present such wanting as a coherent political strategy. As Joseph Wiesenfarth remarks, ‘Ford’s personal life suggests that he treated women as equals. He treated them as well and as badly as he treated men’.[11]

Treated – and was treated, at least in Ford’s own view. While at Giessen, he also began writing Women and Men: ‘I have personally been treated badly by men who behaved as if they were wolves. On the other hand I have been badly treated by women who behaved as if they were hyenas.’[12]

On the one hand, wolves; on the other, hyenas. It’s not just the BBC that knows about balance.

References

[1] The New Age, VIII (9 February 1911), 356-357; see Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 49.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 294.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, ‘The Critical Attitude’, English Review, IV (January, 1910), 332-338.

[4] Ford, ‘The Critical Attitude’, 333, 336.

[5] ‘The Woman of the Novelists’, The Vote, II (27 August, 3 September, 10 September, 17 September, 1910).

[6] Ford Madox Ford, The Critical Attitude (London: Duckworth, 1911), 151, 152.

[7] Ford, The Critical Attitude, 168-169.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 145.

[9] The pamphlet is reprinted in Sondra Stang, editor, The Ford Madox Ford Reader (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1986), 304-317.

[10] James Longenbach, ‘The Women and Men of 1914’, in Helen M. Cooper, Adrienne Auslander Munich and Susan Merrill Squier, editors, Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 108.

[11] Joseph Wiesenfarth, Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 27.

[12] Ford Madox Ford, ‘Women and Men—I’, Little Review, IV (January, 1918), 27.

Mr Joyce, that dull book, nymphs

Twat

On my way to the cemetery—just walking, not for any graver purpose—I pass a van (a bit grimy) parked almost opposite the school. When the recent news is of academy schools in dire financial trouble and declining resources allocated to the arts and creative subjects in English schools, how can this not be cheering? Clearly, the writer already possesses the tools necessary to engage in political comment and discussion as it’s generally practised in this country lately, certainly online. More, it’s even spelled correctly.

Perhaps not quite cheering enough to offset all the other stuff. Still, let’s raise a glass for James Joyce’s birthday: ninety-six years today since the guard on the 7 a.m. express train from Dijon handed over two copies of Ulysses, one for the author on his fortieth birthday and one for Sylvia Beach to display in the window of her bookshop, Shakespeare & Company. ‘That dull book,’ he said, when Sylvia told him she was printing a thousand copies, ‘you won’t sell a copy of it.’

Waterhouse, John William, 1849-1917; Hylas and the Nymphs

(Why yes, it’s Hylas and the Nymphs by J. W. Waterhouse:
photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery)

Joyce had troubles enough in his time, with self-appointed judges and moral guardians, but would probably have been surprised to find a censorious glare turned upon John William Waterhouse. It’s a worrying sign, this lamentable decision of the Manchester Art Gallery to remove Hylas and the Nymphs from public view. Whatever one’s feelings about that specific painting, this policing of the past, the kind of censorship that announces, in the first instance, that it’s not censorship, is unambiguously bad. To claim that such actions are taken to ‘prompt a conversation’ when erasing history only closes down conversations, is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. And, alas, it’s given even more ammunition—as is evident from the yards of comments already posted about this news item—to the online (and offline) tribes who moan endlessly that their lives have been irretrievably ruined by those censorious and puritanical feminists who are plotting the ruin of western civilisation.

 

Books, music-hall, lovers, cats, Colette

Colette-3

This week’s Times Literary Supplement reprinted a 1985 review of Deep into Mani: Journey to the southern tip of Greece by Peter Greenhalgh and Edward Eliopoulos. The reviewer was Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose evident delight in the book was based on an intimate knowledge of the region described and the existing literature about it (his own Mani had appeared almost thirty years before). He was, then, in his accustomed context. A slightly less familiar one is as translator on the title page of Julie de Carneilhan and Chance Acquaintances by Colette, two novellas written and published during the Nazi occupation of France, which appeared in English in 1952. He ‘usually enjoyed her writing but having to correct the proofs in a rush soured him for Colette.’ Still, the money was useful.[1]

Colette-4

(Via http://www.musee-colette.com/)

Novelist, autobiographer, journalist and short-story writer (and actress and dancer) Colette was born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette on 28 January 1873, in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, a village in Burgundy. ‘To those who live in the country and use their eyes everything becomes alike miraculous and simple.’[2] She was allowed, she remembered, to go out at 3.30 in the morning, walking towards the kitchen-gardens. ‘I went alone, for there were no dangers in that free-thinking countryside. It was on that road and at that hour that I first became aware of my own self, experienced an inexpressible state of grace, and felt one with the first breath of air that stirred, the first bird, and the sun so newly born that it still looked not quite round.’[3] As a teenager, she wanted to be a doctor, ‘an ambition all the more extraordinary’ since there were only seven woman doctors in the whole of France at that time.[4]

Famously, Colette’s earliest books were credited to Henri Gauthier-Villars, ‘Willy’, whom she had married when she was 20 (he was fifteen years older): his part in them seems, rather, to have been that of editing, suggesting and prompting. Colette left him in 1906 and worked as a music-hall performer to earn a living. For many years, she was involved with the stage, with literary journals, with music.

‘The opening, last night, was epic. The orchestra conductor, as we saw too late, was not an orchestra conductor but a wine merchant. Musically, the evening was a disaster, for the other numbers as well as our own. Backstage everyone was howling, and the audience booed the conductor. It was stunning!’[5]

She published nearly eighty volumes, which is one point of affinity with another writer whose birth year she shared, Ford Madox Ford—there are perhaps two others: a deep love of France and a complex, mutable relationship between fiction and autobiography.

A wonderfully sensuous writer, she powerfully evokes her early years, her relationship with her mother, her schooldays, the smells, sights and sounds not only of her childhood and girlhood but also of the Paris and Provence of her adult life. She was a mass of contradictions but had a wonderful eye for detail, an ear for tone and feeling, a fiercely intimate relationship with the physical world. ‘We do not look, we never look enough, never attentively enough, never excitedly enough.’[6]

Colette2

Some of her remarks about the South ultimately conquering its conquerors recall similar statements from Ford and Joseph Roth: ‘The barbarians from the north parcel out the land, speculate and deforest, and that is certainly a great pity. But during the course of the centuries how many ravishers have not fallen in love with such a captive? They arrive plotting to ruin her, stop suddenly and listen to her breathing in her sleep, and then, turning silent and respectful, they softly shut the gate in the fence.’[7] She wrote lyrically too about Brittany: ‘I wish you could see Rozven, with its cove of green sea, its complicated rocks, the little woods, the old and new trees, the warm terrace, the rosebushes, my yellow room, and the beach to which the tides bring treasures—mauve coral, polished shells, and sometimes casks of whale oil or benzine, from far-off shipwrecks. And I have a rocky perch, between the sky and the sea . . . ’[8]

Colette’s father, Le Capitaine (Jules-Joseph Colette), died in 1905. He was an ex-captain of the select Zouave infantry, born in Toulon and trained at Saint-Cyr, and had lost his left leg in Italy in 1859. She recalled the row of volumes well-bound in boards, covered in marble paper, on the highest shelves of the family library. The titles, handwritten in Gothic lettering, were, she remarked, not tempting: My Campaigns, The Lessons of ’70, Elegant Algebra, Zouave Songs and others. After the Captain’s death, Colette’s brother went through those books. ‘The dozen volumes bound in boards revealed to us their secret, a secret so long disdained by us, accessible though it was. Two hundred, three hundred, one hundred and fifty pages to a volume: beautiful, cream-laid paper, or thick “foolscap” carefully trimmed, hundreds and hundreds of blank pages. Imaginary works, the mirage of a writer’s career.’[9]

She was divorced from Willy in 1910 and her beloved, maddening mother died two years later. Colette’s daughter Bel-Gazou was born in 1913. the year after her second marriage to Henry de Jouvenel. In the first winter of the war, she managed to get through the lines and join Henri at Verdun.[10] She wrote extensively about that war (and the next one): her reports for Le Matin were later collected as Les Heures Longues, sections of which are translated in Earthly Paradise.

Gigi-film-poster

Admired by Edith Wharton, Cocteau, André Gide, W. H. Auden, Somerset Maugham, she crops up constantly in the literary history of the first half of the twentieth-century. In 1921, she writes to Marcel Proust in response to his sending her an inscribed copy, ‘If I were to tell you that I burrow in its pages every night before going to sleep, you would think I was merely offering you a hollow compliment. But the fact is, Jouvenel gets into bed every night to find me, your book, and my glasses. “I am jealous but resigned,” he says.’[11] As editor, in the office of Le Matin, she advises Georges Simenon to ‘Suppress all the literature and it will work’.[12] In November 1952, when François Mauriac wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, ‘one of the first things he did was to call on Colette, who should have had it, he felt, in his place.’[13]

Chéri and The Last of Chéri, Break of Day, The Vagabond, the other more frankly autobiographical volumes, the stories, the letters: there’s a great deal of pleasure to be had; with the added attraction that she often makes me laugh.

‘It’s curious that the hat which is too small creates an impression of lunacy much more than does the hat that is too large. A lunatic hardly ever puts on his head a hat which is too big. He readily covers himself with a bottle-top, an empty matchbox, a child’s boat turned upside-down, a jampot.’[14]

A jampot is tempting but I’m currently opting for the bottle-top.

References

[1] Artemis Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (London: John Murray, 2012), 263-264; see also the letter to Joan Rayner [January 1952], in Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor, selected and edited by Adam Sisman (London: John Murray, 2016), 60.

[2] Colette, My Mother’s House, translated by Una Vincenzo Troubridge and Enid McLeod, in My Mother’s House & Sido (Penguin, 1966), 61.

[3] Colette, Sido, translated by Enid McLeod, in My Mother’s House & Sido, 147.

[4] Judith Thurman, Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000), 54.

[5] To Léon Hamel, Dijon, 22 September 1910: Letters from Colette, selected and translated by Robert Phelps (London: Virago Press, 1982), 17.

[6] Looking Backwards: Recollections [Journal à rebours and De ma fenêtre], translated by David Le Vay (London: Peter Owen, 1975), 149.

[7] Colette, Break of Day [La Naissance du Jour], translated by Enid McLeod (1928; London: The Women’s Press, 1979), 14.

[8] To Louis de Robert, early April 1911: Letters from Colette, 22.

[9] Colette, Sido, in My Mother’s House & Sido, 182.

[10] Colette, Earthly Paradise: An autobiography drawn from her lifetime writing by Robert Phelps (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), 18.

[11] Letters from Colette, 63.

[12] Patrick Marnham, The Man Who Wasn’t Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, 1994), 112.

[13] Robert Phelps, Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook (London: Secker and Warburg, 1978), 269.

[14] Looking Backwards, 138.