Sunday, March 27, 2016

examined and tossed about

Juliet in The Wanderer, 1814, goes to work at a milliner’s shop. This is the most amazing thing in Burney since the man in Cecilia shot himself. Millinery tires her, not the work itself, but the fact that she is always on display, she is in a room with other workers; she is depressed by conversation that she dislikes; the war between the customers and sellers is oppressive to her.

The ladies whose practice it was to frequent the shop, thought the time and trouble of its mistress, and her assistants, amply paid by the honour of their presence; and though they tried on hats and caps, till they put them out of shape; examined and tossed about the choicest goods, till they were so injured that they could be sold only at half price; ordered sundry articles, which, when finished, they returned, because they had changed their minds; or discovered that they did not want them; still their consciences were at ease, their honour was self-acquitted, and their generosity was self-applauded, if, after two or three hours of lounging, rummaging, fault-finding and chaffering, they purchased a yard or two of ribbon, or a few skanes of netting silk.

But “Upon further observation, nevertheless, her compassion for the milliner and the work-women somewhat diminished; for she found that their notions of probity were as lax as those of their customers were of justice; and saw that their own rudeness to those who had neither rank nor fortune, kept pace with the haughtiness which they were forced to support, from those by whom both were possessed.”

Eventually “In viewing conflicts such as these, between selfish vanity and cringing cunning, it soon became difficult to decide, which was least congenial to the upright mind and pure morality of Juliet, the insolent, vain, unfeeling buyer, or the subtle, plausible, over-reaching seller.” The two sides have four faults each in that sentence: they are equal for a moment, but the ladies are condemned more insidiously by Burney because they have more power, as Mr Giles says in vol. IV, ch. LXV, when he is speaking to Mrs Ireton: “I don't know why you ladies who are so rich and gay should not try to make yourselves pleasant to those who are poor and sad,” and the Admiral in vol. V, ch. XCII, "For who the devil's the better for her birth and breeding, if they only serve to make her fancy she has a right to be impudent?"

The protagonist wants to settle on her morals and she can't. “I know no longer what is kind or what is cruel, nor have I known for some time past right from wrong, nor good from evil!" said Cecilia in Cecilia after she had lived for months with a guardian who guilted her into giving him money for his debts. It is economics that introduces these problems to Burney’s world, the inequalities of money, which create a level of misunderstanding that is different from the interpersonal kind (which the author still pursues), it is a misunderstanding that confounds direct thought, and it is less optimistic than the interpersonal, since there is no Other to understand; there is no hope that (as at the end of Camilla) the problem will be fixed with some statement of truth. “[E]very doubt was wholly, and even miraculously removed, by learning thus the true feelings of her heart.” With economics it is the opposite: every revelation makes it worse.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

of man; that amazing assemblage

Camilla starts by saying that it wants to explore “the Heart of man; that amazing assemblage of all possible contraries,” but the work is difficult -- “The historian of human life finds less of difficulty and of intricacy to develop, in its accidents and adventures, than the investigator of the human heart in its feelings and its changes” – this is her hwaet – and her investigatory method is a romance-story idea, the delayed marriage, distant forebear to Christina Stead’s 1952 book, The People With The Dogs – I’m mentioning Dogs because I think it carries out Burney’s ambition where Burney doesn’t –; and in that book (Dogs) there are many characters who demonstrate some series of possible contraries, for instance, “a woman in a scarlet dress” who, during a rehearsal in a theatre, responds to one of the protagonist’s lines with a catchphrase, “I’ll be a mistress but never a wife,” then “withdrew her soft plump bosom from the comradely hands of a rakish young actor and moved back and up in one single voluptuous motion, as if startled. She laughed, took a step back. Suddenly her face clouded, became proud and she went and stood against the back curtain, arms akimbo. No one took any notice.”

In Dogs it is enough for a character to come in once only and do that action and leave, detaching herself from plot; first making a public persona with the catchphrase, then reacting to a private stimulus by withdrawing her bosom, and you can offer some sort of structure there, some kind of equation, a desired addition of verbal attention justifying a desired subtraction of physical attention, but the implied engine of those actions remains locked within the woman and in her associations with the rest of the room. The larger engine is the book. But the book is a book of privacies and relational missteps, and by this is related to that little gesture. In Camilla, too, privacies and missteps, but there the different aspects have been separated, they are not introduced in that casual way, and the engine is externalised, explained, the machinery bared, the changed emotions are clear and they are preceded by clear triggers. Edgar, seeing Sir Sedley kissing Camilla’s hand in the garden, decides wrongly that she is flirting, so his mood is transformed. “Within these last twenty-four hours I have been the most wretched ... the happiest ... and again the most agonized of human beings!” The moods are large: they articulate themselves. They are often tied to statements of judgment and temperance,* which speak back to the book’s last line, “What, at last, so diversified as man? what so little to be judged by his fellow?” Indecisive behaviour is reserved for people who are at the apex of distress.

She now heard a hand upon the lock of the door. 'O that I could die! that I could die!' she cried, madly advancing to the window, and throwing up the sash, yet with quick instinctive repentance pulling it down, shuddering and exclaiming: 'Is there no death for me but murder—no murder but suicide?'

Stead’s method is the one that enters Cecilia briefly when the protagonist sits on a chair. Camilla tries a similar strategy when Edgar is about to leave the house and Camilla, who can't talk to him, stands in the parlour staring through the window at his horse. If the chair seems effective then why does this version of the same idea feel so ludicrous?

*eg, “The goodness of her heart, the evenness of her temper, and her natural turn to contemplation, had established her character alike for sanctity and for philosophy throughout the family.” “The inconsiderate facility with which she had wandered about with a person so little known to her, so underbred, and so forward, appeared now to herself inexcusable; and she determined, if but spared this dreadful punishment, to pass the whole of her future life in unremitting caution.” That's an interesting "inconsiderate."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

he could not bear to have the pleasing reflections revolving in his mind

Going from Evelina, 1778, to Cecilia, 1782, and to Camilla, 1796, you notice that the sentences have become longer, more leisurely, and more packed: short stories closed inside them –

Charmed with the youthful nurse, and seeing in her unaffected attitudes, a thousand graces he had never before remarked, and reading in her fondness for children the genuine sweetness of her character, he could not bear to have the pleasing reflections revolving in his mind interrupted by the spleen of Miss Margland, and, slipping away, posted himself behind the baby's father, where he could look on undisturbed, certain it was a vicinity to which Miss Margland would not follow him.

-that from a page picked at random – her style getting farther away from the one that Samuel Crisp asked her to use in her letters to him when she was young, in a note to her during the winter of 1773, “Dash away, whatever comes uppermost – the sudden sallies of imagination clap’d down on paper, just as they arise, are worth Folios”—that is the character Evelina’s mode of letter-writing, though she never knew Crisp and he never wrote to her – but by Camilla the sallies are Folios: pages 291 – 293 of my 1972 Oxford edition are filled with the information that Edgar loves Camilla, which we have already heard more than once. How many more times are we going to hear it? I am up to page 367* and the story ends on 913. The author has become a scanning eye across a multitude: the secondaries can wander off and hold conversations of their own, she’ll follow them, going from one character to another and stopping and rounding them up for a head-count.

Miss Margland screamed, and hid her face with her hands. Indiana, taught by her lessons to nourish every fear as becoming, shriekt still louder, and ran swiftly away, deaf to all that Edgar, who attended her, could urge. Eugenia, to whom Bellamy instantly hastened, seeing the beast furiously make towards the gate, almost unconsciously accepted his assistance, to accelerate her flight from its vicinity; while Dr. Orkborne, intent upon his annotations, calmly wrote on, sensible there was some disturbance, but determining to evade inquiring whence it arose, till he had secured what he meant to transmit to posterity from the treachery of his memory. Camilla, the least frightened, because the most enured to such sounds, from the habits and the instruction of her rural life and education, adhered firmly to Sir Hugh, who began blessing himself with some alarm; but whom Dr. Marchmont re-assured, by saying the gate was secured, and too high for the bull to leap, even supposing it a vicious animal.

Burney wants you to have your eyes on them all – why? for a reason? what reason? – to make them familiar? too familiar? -- “the latent springs,” she says, “the multifarious and contradictory sources of human actions and propensities” (what is the ending of Cecilia if it isn’t a Middlemarch that doesn’t know what it is?)-- what are they doing? how are they positioned in space? how are they acting? what do they think about other people’s friends?

Mr. Tyrold, according to the system of recreation which he had settled with his wife, saw with satisfaction the pleasure with which Camilla began this new acquaintance, in the hope it would help to support her spirits during the interval of suspense with regard to the purposes of Mandlebert. Mrs. Arlbery [the new acquaintance] was unknown to him, except by general fame; which told him she was a woman of reputation as well as fashion, and that though her manners were lively, her heart was friendly, and her hand ever open to charity.

The reader has heard similar news about Mrs Arlbery before. I am reading a reprint of the first edition, which was written under pressure: words were left out of sentences when the book went to the printers, and serious revisions waited for the second and third editions. “Fanny finished the book – which is about 350, 000 words long – in a period of two years that also included the birth of her child and her subsequent illness.” Fanny Burney: a Biography, 2000, Claire Harmon. The repetition, then, those long expositions, they were physically written to Crisp’s instructions, “clap’d down on paper,” “whatever comes uppermost” – not spiritually written like that though, and when I say spirit of course I mean style.

* It changes.

Friday, March 4, 2016

taking possession of it

Mary Poovey’s Fathers and Daughters: the Trauma of Growing Up Female, 1981, is the only essay in the 1988 collection of Evelina criticisms, Modern Critical Interpretations: Fanny Burney’s Evelina, ed. Harold Bloom, that mentions the last, weird letter to the protagonist from her guardian, Mr Villers, who tells her that she has his consent to get married. “Villers, until this point apparently healthy, suddenly depicts himself as nearing the grave,” says Poovey. Myself I was so startled by his unprecedented barrage of phrases about death -- “the weak and aged frame of thy almost idolizing parent, nearly worn out by time, past afflictions, and infirmities,” “the remnant of my days,” “breathing my last faint sighs,” “the fleeting fabric of life would give way,” “pouring forth my dying words,” “a shadow insensible to her touch,” “Grieve not at the inevitable moment! but may thy own end be equally propitious” – that I re-read ten pages to see if anyone had told us Villers was sick, or had fallen off a horse, or … eh, he’s fine, and Evelina’s three-sentence response (the last letter in this epistolary book) doesn’t react to his death-language at all, or not overtly, although I wondered if Burney’s mind was still hanging on annihilation when she began it with: “All is over, my dearest Sir; and the fate of your Evelina is decided!” – the mentality of the Villers letter seeping across into another character, and both of them foreshadowing the little death that Burney will suffer in a moment: she is about to stop being the person who is writing Evelina. The plot is culminating in a triumphant wedding, but the language is staging a rebellion against happiness with a sort of implied murder.

In the Poovey context this Villers letter is proof of a Freudian conflict that the essayist has been working out, with the father figure needing to go through a textual elimination so that the new father-husband, can take his place: and in the essay it fits neatly but in the book it fits nothing, it does not appear to be part of a pattern, it comes and is denied or ignored, and this burst of strangeness from outside the story – the author’s mind encountering something that is not plot and allowing it to stay there, not erasing it, a sudden mystery -- appears to me like the cousin of a phrase in Cecilia, when the protagonist has a “secret idea” that she is “doing something right” as she sits deliberately on the chair that her beloved has just vacated: he leaves, he dramatically “tore himself away” exclaiming “this bitter hour!” and everything at the moment is fraught, Cecilia is distracted: she “went to the chair upon which he had been seated, and taking possession of it, sat with her arms crossed, silent, quiet, and erect, almost vacant of all thought, yet with a secret idea she was doing something right.” Soon another character will show “concern at the strangeness of her look and attitude.” One of the other essayists, Jennifer A. Wagner, has decided that Evelina is a novel about privacy. “Privacy is a sort of ‘self-ownership’ that society inherently and to a greater or lesser degree threatens.” Privacy and Anonymity in Evelina, 1988.