RSS Feed

Austen and The Picturesque Part II

Posted on

Austen and the Picturesque Part I

While Horace Walpole’s taste developed to appreciate the more grandly Gothic and Sublime¹, and Thomas Gray the more neoclassical aesthetics of The Beautiful¹, the nitty gritty of the Picturesque was taken up by William Wordsworth in poetry, William Gilpin in travel essays, Uvedale Price² and Richard Payne Knight³ in appreciation essays and , later in his career, Humphry Repton in landscape design. The popularity of the Picturesque owed much to the rhapsodizing essays of Gilpin, who transplanted the ideal from the paintings of Europe to the countryside of Britain, revolutionizing the pre-existing ideas about tourism and allowing more humble English scenery seekers to experience a tour of the landscape, a hereto aristocratic privilege, without going abroad. Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy Wordsworth was the author of what is considered the quintessential work of Picturesque travel literature, Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland AD 1803 (1874)

Much like the fashion for Gothic novels, the rage the Picturesque, though not unsound in itself, rose to melodramatic and absurd heights, as at Knight’s residence Downton Castle for example, where ‘large fragments of stone were irregularly thrown amongst briers and weeds, to imitate the foreground of a picture’. Austen represents the ideal has having qualities verging on the absurd, in Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, and even as dangerous in Sense and Sensibility, by associating the Picturesque with the exaggerated, emotion-driven and almost deadly sensibilities of Marianne Dashwood.

In Pride and Prejudice Austen touches but lightly on the topic, in a short exercise in ridicule. When Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst oust Elizabeth Bennet from a walk with Darcy by positioning themselves in a way that monopolizes a garden path, Darcy tries to offset their rudeness by inviting her to continue with them regardless. Elizabeth replies ‘You are charmingly group’d, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth’, indicating the enthusiasm for scenic objects grouped in threes by expounders of the ideal. This clever remark hints at the absurdity of Picturesque fastidiousness and casts that aura of silliness onto the trio, leaving the charming group, and the Picturesque, looking somewhat deflated.

Austen and the Picturesque Part III

¹ A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful – Edmund Burke 1757

² Essay on the Picturesque, As Compared With The Sublime and The Beautiful – Uvedale Price 1794

³ An Analytical Inquiry Into the Principles of Taste – Richard Payne Knight 1805

Four Georges

Posted on

New and exciting!

Finding that I didn’t like the way that some literature was formatted online, that I wanted one simple home for my resources, and that I wanted to share the sources of my references made here, I decided to start another blog where I can do all that. Introducing!:

Four Georges

The site is in it’s infancy at the mo but shortly there’ll be a world of Georgian info available.

I mention the poem Tintern Abbey by Wordsworth? It’s there! I quote directly from an online resource? It’s there. I say Natalie Regensberg writes an awesome essay, or Dr Frances Wilson writes an awesome lecture? It’s totally there! Want to read some Byron? Course you do! Just follow the Byron tag.

Obviously, I don’t do all of my research online but if possible I’ll include sites where you can read or, if that’s not possible, buy the books I’ve consulted.

I’ll be loading up all my references over this long weekend holiday, as well as drawings, paintings and photographs, and typing up poems, quotes and what nots to add there. If it’s a reference or a research tool, you’ll find it there. Enjoy!

Chawton Cottage

Posted on

For eight years, from 1809 until her death in 1817, Austen lived with her mother, her sister Cassandra and their friend Martha Lloyd, in the village of Chawton in Hampshire. The cottage is open to the public as a museum and after acquiring new funding, Austen’s letters have become part of the displayed collection. Here is a guided audio tour of the cottage from BBC Radio 4.

You can play these radio items with Real Player, simply follow ‘Listen to This Item’. If you need to install Real Player, you can download it from their website free of charge.

Austen and The Picturesque

Posted on

The fundamentally Georgian notion of the Picturesque is alluded to by Austen in five of her novels: Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Emma and most often, in Sense and Sensibility, which is no coincidence, given that the Picturesque was, like the Gothic Revival, a movement rather of sensibilities, an offshoot of feelings in the reason-driven culture of the Enlightenment. The first use of the term “picturesque” in relation to descriptions of nature is generally taken to be Pope’s reference, in a letter written in 1712, to lines of poetry being “what the French call very picturesque (Brownell, Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England [1978], 104). From the mid 18th century, through the Romantic Period, and until it had thinned out into hackneyed faddishness by the Regency, the Picturesque moved mountains.

An aesthetic appreciation of landscape was a practice that was realized during the Georgian era. This appreciation was inconceivable before the 18th century. A new way of seeing things requires learning, and a new way of seeing landscape requires travel and art, three experiences unavailable, especially combined, to practically none but the wealthy aristocracy at the beginning of the Georgian period. Like so many ideals, the Picturesque began with art, specifically the ‘discovery’ of the 17th century continental landscape paintings of Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorraine and Gaspard Dughet (also known as Gaspard Poussin).

In England, landscape painting was a wholly foreign concept at this time. Landscape was merely a curtain dressing for the more interesting human drama and the land was something associated with peasants and labor, not subjects the monied classes thought of as artistically inspiring, and the very few who traveled in Europe, and wrote about it, before the Utrecht Treaty of 1713 wrote only of scenes such as the Alps, those darlings of the Picturesque, as inconvenient, uncomfortable and dangerous. Europe however, opened up to privileged English travelers after 1713 and The Grand Tour was born. Wealthy aristocrats on their tour favoured Italy in particular and started to take notice of these exotic landscape paintings, most commonly seen in Rome, and as a consequence, rapidly began to look upon the grand, rugged, alpine terrain, lurking banditti, swarthy peasants, and crumbling ruins not as tiresome, untidy inconveniences fraught with continental danger, but as the romantic subjects of Art. An early associational link was made by Horace Walpole in a letter during his tour with Thomas Gray in 1739:

‘Precipices, mountains, torrents, wolves, rumblings, Salvator Rosa!’

Austen and the Picturesque Part II

Landscape with a Hermit
circa 1662
Salvator Rose
Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, Britain

Field Marshal, His Grace

Posted on

Field Marshal His Grace Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington c. 1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852.

Portrait of The Duke of Wellington
Francisco Goya
National Gallery, London

Born to an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in Ireland, Wellesley joined the army in 1787. He fought against the French in Flanders and in 1796 went to India, where he achieved considerable military success, taking part in the Mysore War against Tipu Sultan. During the subjugation of the Mahrattas he achieved a remarkable victory at Assaye (1803).

On 18 June 1815, the army of Napoleon faced an allied force of British, Belgain and Dutch troops on a ridge outside a small Belgian town called Waterloo. The British Army in Belgium was lead by a man described by contemporaries and historians alike as possibly the greatest British soldier of all time. From India, where he campaigned to create the British Raj, to being the mastermind of the Peninsular War, which drove the French armies from Portugal and Spain, Wellington had never lost an engagement.

Nonetheless, Napoleon Bonaparte was a master of warfare. If the allied troops folded, the road to Brussels would be open and Napoleon would again be able to plunge Europe into war. To prevent this, the armies of Wellington had a hold a ridge overlooking a farm, until the Prussian army under General Blucher could arrive and hopefully defeat the French. It was an extremely close, long, devastating battle. By 10 pm on June 18th 1815 nigh on eighty thousand soldiers lay dead on the fields of Waterloo. But the British allied forces and Wellington were victorious and the battle, and it’s ramifications would shape Europe for the century which followed it.

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Seven – Conclusion

Posted on

I have to wonder if the Crawfords are not Austen’s way of offering a lesson for the reader. Their attractiveness is undeniable and the narrative informs the reader that happy marriages would have come to pass between Henry and Fanny, and Edmund and Mary had the vanity and desires of Henry not overpowered his better feelings. Perhaps, as Mary is forced to see herself stripped of Edmund’s regard in their final interview, we the reader are forced in the final passages of Mansfield Park, by Austen’s skill as an interpreter of human desire, to acknowledge that even though she made the Crawfords bad, she still made us want them.

During Mary’s very introduction into the narrative she betrays her ill-judging notions on sexual conduct when she talks lightly and laughingly of Henry’s skills as a flirt and as a heart breaker to Mrs Grant, without a murmur of concern for the women he misuses. She declares thateverybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage’, and quickly surmises that Tom Bertram’s wealth and the estate and title that would be his upon Sir Thomas’ death, would exactly suit her matrimonial ideals and without any romantic inclination, she turns on the charm. She cleverly draws amusing stories from him in order than she may appear so winningly amused, and feigns an interest in his taste for horse racing. In the house chapel at Sotherton Mary shocks (the admittedly easily shocked) Edmund and Fanny by dwelling on what she believes to be commonly accepted female sexual fantasies. ‘The former belles of the house of Rushworth’ she imagines there pretending to pray with ‘seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different–especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at’ during the family church services of former days. Even while Edmund and Mary are developing feelings for one another, she mocks and mourns his choice of a sexually neutralized profession as a clergyman, rather than soldier, sailor or lawyer, and tells him repeatedly without disguise that she intends to marry a rich man, all of which he blindly assigns to wrongness in speech rather than in morals.

Fanny of course sees and experiences the reality of Mary’s lax sexual principles. She observes Mary standing by happily while Crawford meddles with Maria and Julia, causing bad feelings between the sisters, destabilizing Maria’s engagement with Rushworth, and leading Maria seriously astray. When there are no Miss Bertrams to meddle with, Mary even sanctions Crawford’s cold plan of a flirtation attack on Fanny, stating that ‘a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good’ and working even as Crawford’s agent to get the infamous necklace around Fanny’s innocent throat.

Whilst Mary’s questionable remarks and her culpability in the attack on Fanny could, without further missteps, have be set down as thoughtless and indecorous rather than amoral, towards the end of the narrative and at a distance from Mansfield, she betrays her truly unethical notions about sexual alliances. In her letter to Fanny at Portsmouth, she does not attempt to conceal her greedy glee at the prospect of Tom Bertram’s illness leading to death, shifting the inheritance of Mansfield to Edmund and justifying, in her mind, a marriage between them. When of course the affair between her brother and Maria dashes these happy hopes, Edmund is finally undeceived as to the nature of her true sexual morality. She views the crime of the adulterers only as folly and the only shame being that they were caught, not that they have sinned, against God, against the law and against the sexual and social mores of the era.

I would happily bet money that every reader of Mansfield Park asks themselves, after the flight of Maria and Crawford, the elopement of Julia Bertram with Yates and the life threatening illness of Tom Bertram, before they have reached the concluding chapter that reveals all, ‘But what’s going to happen to Mary Crawford?’ And though she does not sink to actual sin, it is her complete lack of sexual principles that costs her Edmund Bertram. The experience of Edmund has made her discontent with lesser men, however rich, and it is doubtful that her new standards for domestic happiness can be met by another.

Interestingly, shallow, greedy, manipulative and even amoral as she is, Mary is yet the most alluring young female of the narrative, even while Fanny is the most admirable. Complete as they are as characters, Fanny cannot tantalize, Julia cannot interest and Maria cannot charm but Mary can do all of these. Austen’s other major works also feature ladies who cannot get the man they want. But when Pride and Prejudice’s Caroline Bingley can’t manage to snag Darcy, when Isabella Thorpe is denied Captain Tilney in Northanger Abbey or when Elizabeth Elliot’s hopes of her cousin are disappointed in Persuasion, the reader cannot care. Not only do we not care but we feel a kind of justice in the punishment they receive for the pain they cause our heroines. This isn’t the case with Mary Crawford for me. She’s no Fanny, it’s true. Fanny is the bright light in a rather dark story but Mary, unlike Austen’s other disappointed ladies is likable and, being intelligent, in a partnership with Edmund she must have improved. But how can a narrative like Mansfield Park, whose stance on sexuality is so staunchly unbending, reward the amoral principles and even, at times, the machinations of Mary Crawford, with an adoring Edmund and a happy marriage? It cannot.


Visit the Sex in the Park tag for Part 1 – 6 of this topic.

Sublime Anxiety: The Northanger Canon

Posted on

The Northanger Canon is the collection of late 18th century ‘horrid’ Gothic novels that feature in the first work that Austen sold to a publisher, Northanger Abbey.

The book itself, first written in 1798 but not published until 1817, is a defense of the novel as an art form, a celebratory sending up of Gothic fiction and, a warning about it. Austen herself enjoyed gothic fiction, especially the work of Ann Radcliffe, but she feared that the excessive romanticism and melodrama of the books incited impressionable girls to ape the manners, coquetry and faux sentimentality of a Gothic heroine, in search of the exciting adventures they found on the page. Seeking the danger and intrigue of a novel in their everyday lives could not but breed insincerity and vanity, and in Northanger Abbey, she gives us the portrait of just such a girl in Isabella Thorpe.

The literary Gothic grew out of many influencing factors. Though classically focused, Thomas Gray’s 1751 masterpiece Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard was a precursor to elegant appreciations of the Gothic form such as Wordsworth’s 1798 poem Tintern Abbey. Gray’s poetry was strongly marked by the taste for sentiment controlled by classical ideals of restraint and composure that characterized the later Augustans, but prepared the way for the inward emotional exploration displayed by the Romantics of the 1790-1820 generation.

For a source for the truly macabre novels of the canon we need look no further than to Horace Walpole (1717–1797), novelist and man of letters. His 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel, and the Gothic remodeling of his widely copied estate Strawberry Hill, ushered in an era that would last six decades and continue to influence far beyond his lifetime, from the more philosophical horror of Mary Shelley, and Dr Frankenstein’s Creature, to Charlotte Bronte’s Bertha Rochester (Jane Eyre 1847), J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla Karnstein (Carmilla 1872), The Turn of the Screw ( 1898 ) by Henry James, Rebecca ( 1938 ) and My Cousin Rachel (1951) by Daphne du Maurier and innumerable others featuring suitably Gothic women on dangerous estates.

Contributing influences included accounts of European travels, most notably those accounts of the well to do Grand Tour. The tour took English travelers through the Alps, invoking sublime horror, notons of lurking banditti and introduced them to European landscape painting, especially that of Salvator Rosa and Claude Lorraine, spurning on the Picturesque movement as well as the Gothic, and Graveyard Poetry, a genre popular in the first half of the 18th century. It’s subjects were, apart from graves and churchyards, elements such as night, death and hauntings, and everything else that would be considered irrational, and thus excluded, by the rational culture of the Enlightenment. It is the nature of the human mind to interpret the denied and excluded as mysterious and intriguing, and as such, elements of the Gothic novel that would keep the public coming back for more included more than just dungeons and skeletons: it was violence, murder, wealth, poverty and incest and its underlying current of themes on the minds of the Georgians: Anti-Catholicism, eroticism, social freedom and illegitimacy.

The gothic novels that make up the Northanger Canon:

  1. Horrid Mysteries: A Story From the German Of The Marquis Of Grosse by Peter Will 1796
  2. The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest by “Lawrence Flammenberg” (pseud. of Karl Friedrich Kahlert)
    Translated by “Peter Teuthold” 1794
  3. Orphan of the Rhine, Eleanor Sleath, 1798
  4. Clermont, a Tale by Regina Maria Roche, 1798
  5. The Castle of Wolfenbach, Eliza Parsons, 1793
  6. The Midnight Bell, Francis Lathom, 1798
  7. The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale, Eliza Parsons, 1796
  8. The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe, 1794
  9. The Italian, Ann Radcliffe 1796

If you live in Virginia or plan to visit Charlottesville, then you’re in luck. And not just because Virginia is awesome, which it surely is. The Library of the venerable University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by none other than Thomas Jefferson, houses an unparalleled collection of first editions of the canon, as part of their wonderful Sadlier-Black Collection. Their website hosts photographs of the canon set, as well as blurbs and illustrations, along with those of the other classics making up the entire collection. Were I in Virginia, honestly, nothing could keep me away from that library. I highly recommend a read of the collection’s introductory essay Sublime Anxiety: The Gothic Family and The Outsider by curator Natalie Regensburg, from whom I stole this post’s title. Nice one, Natalie. The absorbingly fascinating story of book collector Michael Sadlier, and how the quest for the canon books began, can be found here on the library’s website. The collection includes first editions of and illustrations from many other Georgian writers, including Mary Shelley and John Polidori, and a Victorian personal favourite, Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 1848.

Atlhough I’ve had The Mysteries of Udolpho and another Radcliffe The Romance of the Forest, on my bookshelf for a while, I’ve only just started reading them, and they really are very addictive. There has been a revival of interest lately in the gothic novel and as Radcliffe, the ‘Queen of Terror’ is especially thought to have perfected the genre, her books are less difficult to find than the rest. Recently I was surprised and pleased to find them in the ‘classics’ section of a bookstore. Of the works however of Radcliffe’s ‘charming imitators’, as Austen wrote, there is a champion in independent publisher Valancourt Books. Bless their little gothic hearts for publishing the novels of many of the canon authors.

Images featured in this post are an illustration from The Mysteries of Udolpho,Vol. 4, p. 217 (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1830) and the cover of The Midnight Bell and The Mysterious Warning as published by Valancourt Books 2007.