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Monday July 28, 2014

In the Vatican Ladislaw speaks of language, painting, women and of Mrs. Casaubon to Naumann who has come upon her among the hewn marbles; he's been overwhelmed by Dorothea's beauty and desires to paint her.  

"Language gives a fuller image, which is all the better for beings vague. After all, the true seeing is within; and painting stares at you with an insistent imperfection. I feel that especially about representations of women. As if a woman were a mere colored superficies! You must wait for movement and tone. There is a difference in their very breathing: they change from moment to moment.—This woman whom you have just seen, for example: how would you paint her voice, pray? But her voice is much diviner than anything you have seen of her."

Middlemarch, George Eliot 1871, page 116.

~

Yes, how does one paint the voice? When I saw this Albrecht Dürer painting of Christ as Salvator Mundi at the Met,

... her voice, pray?

I thought of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and Kurt Cobain.

 

Albrecht Dürer Salvator Mundi 1505

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/27/2014 4:22 pm

In Rome on her wedding voyage, or as we say now, her honeymoon,

She had been led through the best galleries, had been taken to the chief points of view, had been shown the grandest ruins and the most glorious churches, and she had ended by oftenest choosing to drive out to the Campagna where she could feel alone with the earth and sky, away-from the oppressive masquerade of ages, in which her own life too seemed to become a masque with enigmatical costumes.

Middlemarch, George Eliot 1871, page 117.

It is not easy to film this picture of Dorothea (that goes on for several sentences before and after the one quoted) or to depict the personal interactions in Middlemarch that George Eliot renders so well in her prose. Maybe the script of the BBC miniseries should have been much longer and taken into account the human detail of the English characters to match the book, or might the writer of the screenplay have chosen a smaller segment of the novel to describe better the people in the complex world in which Eliot writes. 

Perhaps for a screenwriter to adapt the whole of Middlemarch would be like Harold Pinter's adapting À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust that was never produced. Yet Pinter's Proust screenplay stands as a literary marvel.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/25/2014 5:41 pm

Pray think no ill of Miss Noble. That basket held small savings from her more portable food, destined for the children of her poor friends among whom she trotted on fine mornings; fostering and petting all needy creatures being so spontaneous a delight to her, that she regarded it much as if it had been a pleasant vice that she was addicted to. Perhaps she was conscious of being tempted to steal from those who had much that she might give to those who had nothing, and carried in her conscience the guilt of that repressed desire. 

One must be poor to know the luxury of giving! 

Middlemarch, George Eliot 1871, page 102.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/24/2014 10:20 am

Dr. Lydgate, who is in Paris for his studies of medicine, falls in love with a French actress, Laure, who was scripted to stab her husband, an actor, in a play they were in; she actually stabs him to death before Lydgate's eyes—everyone is shocked—he clamors up onto the stage to help but the husband dies.

Laure is acquitted of the crime. He is sympathetic and finds her performing in Avignon,

"You have come all the way from Paris to find me?" she said to him the next day, sitting before him with folded arms, and looking at him with eyes that seemed to wonder as an untamed ruminating animal wonders. "Are all Englishmen like that?"

"I came because I could not live without trying to see you. You are lonely; I love you; I want you to consent to be my wife; I will wait, but I want you to promise that you will marry me—no one else."

Laure looked at him in silence with a melancholy radiance from under her grand eyelids, until he was full of rapturous certainty, and knelt close to her knees.

"I will tell you something," she said, in her cooing way, keeping her arms folded. "My foot really slipped."

"I know, I know," said Lydgate, deprecatingly. "It was a fatal accident—a dreadful stroke of calamity that bound me to you the more."

Again Laure paused a little and then said, slowly, "I meant to do it."

Lydgate, strong man as he was, turned pale and trembled: moments seemed to pass before he rose and stood at a distance from her.

"There was a secret, then," he said at last, even vehemently. "He was brutal to you: you hated him."

"No! he wearied me; he was too fond: he would live in Paris, and not in my country; that was not agreeable to me."

"Great God!" said Lydgate, in a groan of horror. "And you planned to murder him?"

"I did not plan: it came to me in the playI meant to do it."

Lydgate stood mute, and unconsciously pressed his hat on while he looked at her. He saw this woman—the first to whom he had given his young adoration—amid the throng of stupid criminals.

"You are a good young man," she said. "But I do not like husbands. I will never have another."

Middlemarch, George Eliot 1871, page 92.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/23/2014 3:48 pm

To Jane, her elder sister,

Til I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. 

Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen 1813, page 228.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/20/2014 9:43 pm

Reading in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that "Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt's (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) ill-breeding, and made no answer," (page 113) made me think of one of my favorite passages in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu about ill-breeding and then thinking of Mr. Darcy's no answer as the Narrator's masterpiece bow.

"The idea of supposing that you were not invited! Besides, wasn't I there? Do you suppose that I should be unable to get you an invitation to my cousin's house?" I must admit that frequently, after this, she (Duchess de Guermantes) did things for me that were far more difficult; nevertheless, I took care not to interpret her words in the sense that I had been too modest. I was beginning to learn the exact value of the language, spoken or mute, of aristocratic affability, an affability that is happy to shed balm upon the sense of inferiority in those persons towards whom it is directed, though not to the point of dispelling that sense, for in that case it would no longer have any reason to exist. "But you are our equal, if not our superior," the Guermantes seemed, in all their actions, to be saying; and they said it in the most courteous fashion imaginable, to be loved, admired, but not to be believed; that one should discern the fictitious character of this affability was what they called being well-bred; to suppose it to be genuine, a sign of ill-breeding. I was to receive, as it happened, shortly after this, a lesson which gave me a full and perfect understanding of the extent and limitations of certain forms of aristocratic affability. It was at an afternoon party given by the Duchesse de Montmorency to meet the Queen of England; there was a sort of royal procession to the buffet, at the head of which walked Her Majesty on the arm of the Duc de Guermantes. I happened to arrive at that moment. With his disengaged hand the Duke conveyed to me, from a distance of nearly fifty yards, a thousand signs of friendly invitation, which appeared to mean that I need not be afraid to approach, that I should not be devoured alive instead of the sandwiches. But I, who was becoming word-perfect in the language of the court, instead of going even one step nearer, keeping my fifty yards' interval, made a deep how, but without smiling, the sort of bow that I should have made to some one whom I scarcely knew, then proceeded in the opposite direction. Had I written a masterpiece, the Guermantes would have given me less credit for it than I earned by that bow. Not only did it not pass unperceived by the Duke, albeit he had that day to acknowledge the greetings of more than five hundred people, it caught the eye of the Duchess, who, happening to meet my mother, told her of it, and, so far from suggesting that I had done wrong, that I ought to have gone up to him, said that her husband had been lost in admiration of my bow, that it would have been impossible for anyone to put more into it. They never ceased to find in that bow every possible merit, without however mentioning that which had seemed the most priceless of all, to wit that it had been discreet, nor did they cease either to pay me compliments which I understood to be even less a reward for the past than a hint for the future..."

Sodom et Gomorrhe by Marcel Proust, 1921-1922; translated as Cities of the Plain by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, 1928. My emphasis.

~

One experiences Jane Austen's symmetry of construction: Mr. Darcy is ashamed of Lady Catherine's ill-breeding, but as it is explained, the Bennet familial ill-breeding—primarily the caterwauling of Lizzy's mother and three younger sisters—is why Mr. Darcy separates Jane (Lizzy's older sister) from his friend Mr. Bingley who is in a reciprocal love unbeknownst to Mr. Darcy.  

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/20/2014 1:23 pm

You may fault Jane Austen for giving the twenty-year-old Elizabeth Bennet words that are beyond a young person's years but you can not fault the words. 

Early in the morning Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives—probably after having been driven all night in a carriage—at the Bennet household; she and Elizabeth speak to one another,

"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew (Mr. Darcy) does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

"Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?"

Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine, have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment's deliberation:

"I am not."

Lady Catherine seemed pleased.

"And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?"

"I will make no promise of the kind."

"Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require."

"And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill- judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject." 

Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen 1813, page 235 ff. 

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/15/2014 6:49 am

Miss Elizabeth Bennet speaks to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy,

"The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them." 

Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen 1813, page 248.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/14/2014 7:03 am

"But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."

Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen 1813, page 241.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/13/2014 6:34 am

Hmm...our heroine does sound like Mr. Darcy here,

There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.

Pride And PrejudiceJane Austen 1813, page 88.

Hear, hear Lizzy...

"1683 other people highlighted this part of the book," so says the Kindle edition. My—so many other people. Thank you, Jane Austen, for giving us Elizabeth Bennet so dire and dear and Mr. Darcy too.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/11/2014 8:11 pm

In Pride And Prejudice, at the insistence of his wife, Mr. Bennet speaks to Elizabeth, the second eldest of his five daughters.

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."

Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning...

Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen 1813, page 74.

~

Donald Sutherland with a good tongue-in-cheek plays Mr. Bennet in the 2005 production. I've been watching the adaptions of Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Seeing film is valuable for, among other things, coming to an understanding of the settings—and how the English people lived at the turn of the 19th century—the costumes, the coiffeurs, the music, etc. as long the words of Jane Austen are read.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/10/2014 6:48 pm

Mrs. Elton says,  

"A line from me would bring you a little host of acquaintance; and my particular friend, Mrs. Partridge, the lady I have always resided with when in Bath, would be most happy to shew you any attentions, and would be the very person for you to go into public with."

It was as much as Emma could bear, without being impolite. The idea of her being indebted to Mrs. Elton for what was called an introduction—of her going into public under the auspices of a friend of Mrs. Elton's—probably some vulgar, dashing widow, who, with the help of a boarder, just made a shift to live!—The dignity of Miss Woodhouse, of Hartfield, was sunk indeed!

She restrained herself, however, from any of the reproofs she could have given, and only thanked Mrs. Elton coolly; "but their going to Bath was quite out of the question; and she was not perfectly convinced that the place might suit her better than her father." And then, to prevent farther outrage and indignation, changed the subject directly.

"I do not ask whether you are musical, Mrs. Elton. Upon these occasions, a lady's character generally precedes her; and Highbury has long known that you are a superior performer."

Emma, Jane Austen 1815, page 280.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/3/2014 8:20 pm
Labels: Emma, Jane Austen

...and when she considered how peculiarly unlucky poor Mr. Elton was in being in the same room at once with the woman he had just married, the woman he had wanted to marry, and the woman whom he had been expected to marry, she must allow him to have the right to look as little wise, and to be as much affectedly, and as little really easy as could be.

Emma, Jane Austen 1815, pages 275

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/3/2014 8:15 pm
Labels: Emma, Jane Austen

There is an intimacy anterior to this. We come close to Emma because in a strange way, she permits us to—even invites us to—by being close to herself. When we have said that her fault is hubris or self-love, we must make an immediate modification, for her self-love, though it invokes her in self-deception, does not lead her to the ultimate self-deception—she believes she is clever, she insists she is right, but she never says she is good. 

But Emma is jealous of Jane Fairfax and acts badly to her.

It has been thought that in the portrait of Emma there is "an air of confession," that Jane Austen was taking account of "something offensive" that she and others had observed in her own earlier manner and conduct, and whether or not this is so, it suggests the quality of intimacy which the author contrives that we shall feel with the heroine.

Emma and the Legend of Jane Austen, Lionel Trilling 1957; from Jane Austen's Emma, A Casebook, edited by Fiona Stafford 2007.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/3/2014 7:14 am

On Jane Austen:

There are those who love her; there are those—no doubt they are fewer but they are no less passionate—who detest her; and the new reader understands that he is being solicited to a fierce partisanship, that he is required to make no mere literary judgment but a decision about his own character and personality, and about his relation to society and all of life.

... What kind of people like Jane Austen: What kind of people dislike her? Sooner or later the characterization is made or implied by one side or the other, and with extreme invidiousness. It was inevitable that there should arise a third body of opinion, which holds that it is not Jane Austen herself who is to be held responsible for the faults that are attributed to her by her detractors, but rather the people who admire her for the wrong reasons and in the wrong language and thus create a false image of her.

Emma and the Legend of Jane Austen, Lionel Trilling 1957; from Jane Austen's Emma, A Casebook, edited by Fiona Stafford 2007.

Posted by: Eugene Wyatt
7/2/2014 9:48 pm