Tag Archives: literary

New catalogue: Papers of C. Day-Lewis and his wife Jill Balcon

The catalogue of the poet and novelist C. Day-Lewis and his wife, Jill Balcon, is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.* These papers were generously donated by Daniel Day-Lewis and Tamasin Day-Lewis to the Bodleian Library in 2012.

C. Day-Lewis was Poet Laureate between 1968 and 1972; his earliest collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, was published in 1925, but the publication of Transitional Poem in 1929 saw Day-Lewis’s true emergence into the poetry world. Along with W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice, he became one of the influential young poets of the 1930s (perhaps unfairly given the collective name of ‘MacSpaunday’ by Roy Campbell). For some years a member of the communist party, his early poetry collections, including Magnetic Mountain (1933), reflected his left-wing political views. In 1934, Day-Lewis also wrote a manifesto, A Hope for Poetry, claiming the young poets of the generation to be the direct descendants of the previous generation of poets, in particular Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, and T.S. Eliot.

With a young family to support, Day-Lewis also turned his hand to writing detective fiction under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. A Question of Proof, published in 1935, was the first of twenty Blake novels featuring the detective Nigel Strangeways. The success of the Blake novels allowed Day-Lewis to give up teaching to become a full-time writer. The novels achieved global popularity and were translated into several languages including Polish, Finnish, and Japanese.

Cecil Day-Lewis, by Howard Coster, bromide print, 1954, NPG x1808 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Day-Lewis worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War. In 1941, he began an affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann which was to last several years. After the war, Day-Lewis took up a part-time position at the publisher Chatto & Windus, a role he maintained until the end of his life; his autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), was published by them.

In 1948, Day-Lewis met Jill Balcon, a young actress and the daughter of the Ealing film producer Michael Balcon. Despite family opposition (Day-Lewis was still married to his first wife at the time), the relationship flourished and the pair married in 1951. They had two children, the writer Tamasin Day-Lewis and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. The family moved to Greenwich in 1957.

C. Day-Lewis was awarded a CBE in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours and was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in early 1951. In 1964, he took up the post of the Charles Eliot Norton Chair in Poetry at Harvard. Both Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon championed the reading of poetry and literature and were active members of the Apollo Society along with Stephen and Natasha Spender, and Peggy Ashcroft.

Draft autograph manuscript of poem by C. Day-Lewis, ‘At East Coker’, n.d. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 6681/38. By kind permission of the estate of C. Day-Lewis.

Just before C. Day-Lewis’s death, the couple filmed a television series entitled A Lasting Joy at their home in Greenwich exploring some of Day-Lewis’s favourite poems. Day-Lewis died at the home of his friends, Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard in May 1972, composing poetry almost until the end. He was buried in Stinsford, Dorset, not far from his literary hero, Thomas Hardy.

Jill Balcon was a successful actress and broadcaster in her own right, becoming for many people the voice of George Eliot. After her husband’s death, Jill continued to act in both radio and film productions. She moved to a cottage in Steep, Petersfield and became the neighbour of Alec Guiness. She worked hard to promote Day-Lewis’s poetic legacy, editing both Posthumous Poems and The Complete Poems. She died in July 2009 and was buried by her husband in Stinsford.

The collection includes literary manuscripts, including early drafts, of Day-Lewis’s poetry and prose. The collection also contains photographs and audio recordings, alongside a wealth of professional and personal correspondence demonstrating their wide connections to the worlds of literature, drama and scholarship.

-Rachael Marsay

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Explosions and ‘dull domestic details’ in the Edgeworth Papers

As mentioned in our August blog and the recent blog post about the physician Henry Holland, the Bodleian Libraries acquired a collection of letters last year which included letters between Maria Edgeworth and Henry Holland and which has now been fully catalogued. In his memoirs, Recollections of Past Life (1868), Henry Holland recalls how he became acquainted with Maria on a visit to Ireland in 1809, after which they maintained an ‘unbroken and affectionate correspondence for more than forty years’ that would have ‘formed a volume’ in itself.

Sir Henry Holland, Bart., M.D., F.R.S., D.C.L., Oxon, &c., &c from Barraud & Jerrard, ‘The medical profession in all countries, containing photographic portraits from life’, 1873-74 (London) (image from U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collections)

Holland noted in that same memoir that he admired Maria’s letters for their intellectual ‘discrimination and ability’. These characteristics are evident in her letter to Henry Holland dated 25th February 1820 (MS. 16087/1). Here too we see a lively variety of everyday domestic details and ambitious intellectual forays into discussion of contemporary literature and politics on an international scale. Writing from the home of her beloved Aunt Margaret Ruxton at Blackcastle near Dublin, Maria begins with updates on the ailments of her step-aunt Charlotte Sneyd and half-sister Fanny, and goes on to describe the visit of her step mother Frances Beaufort to the latter’s parental home in Cork. Just as we have sought to identify interesting material for the readers of our online blog, Maria is anxious not to bore her high-society friend with the humdrum happenings of her daily life in rural Ireland:

And are these dull domestic details all I can tell Dr. Holland who is living in the middle of all that is gay & fashionable and learned and wise, in the scientific, literary, political, and great world in London?

In fact the letter is far from dull. Edgeworth claimed not to have Holland’s ‘intrepid industry nor your art of making eight & forty hours out of the day’. Yet over six pages she certainly makes a good go of it. She crams in her comments on the recently published Ivanhoe (‘a great proof of Walter Scott’s talents’, discussed in last month’s blog), describes her continued labour of correcting the proof sheets of her father’s ill-fated memoirs (‘Till I have corrected the last proof sheet I shall never stir’), and she offers Holland a ‘sunbaked urn’ recently found in an Irish tunnel ‘bones and all’ to satiate his antiquarian interests. Then, Maria turns to current affairs and future continental travel plans:

By a letter from my brother Sneyd [Edgeworth] who
is at Paris we hear that the Duc de
Berri’s assassination [on the 14th Feb] has created much
less sensation there than we could imagine
– If they restrict the press I think it
will fly and in its explosion overturn
the throne – In these days the press /is\ in
an over match for cannon – and It is
an engine far more dangerous to
meddle with than any of the cannon
that are “laying about”

If there be not an explosion or a
revolution in Paris before the end of
next month I shall be there with two
of my sisters Fanny & Harriet

Page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS. 16087/1

Full transcription of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS 16087/1

Recent events had proven that stifling the freedom of press was dangerous to national order. When Britain had reinstated press censorship as part of the Six Acts following the Peterloo Massacre in the previous year (an event discussed by Maria in another letter), protests erupted across the country. Maria’s shrewd predictions in this letter proved largely correct. The assassination of Charles Ferdinand Duc de Berry (the heir to the French Bourbon throne stabbed by the anti-monarchist Louis Lavel as he left the opera) was indeed used by the French government to validate the reinstatement of press censorship in March 1820. Riots broke out in retaliation against the bill, but were soon quelled by the Royal Guard. This imposition of peace allowed the Edgeworths to proceed with their planned trip to Paris at the end of March 1820 and the Bourbons to cling onto their throne for another decade.

Engraving of The Assassination of the Duke of Berry by Charon, Louis-François (1783-1831?), source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

In the context of the UK’s recent departure from the European Union, Maria’s letter to Henry Holland reminds us of the effects that political events can have at the micro and macrocosmic level: it can mean inconvenient disruptions to carefully planned family holidays, or shake the foundations of an entire nation. Maria’s comments also help to demonstrate that Irish-continental connections were often as strong as, or could serve as a means to strengthen critique of, Anglo-Irish ones.

Much has changed since we started Opening the Edgeworth Papers a year ago and this is our final blog post. Our twitter account and blog posts have allowed us to disseminate our work around the world. Our monthly transcriptions have even appeared on Edgeworthtown’s new town centre mural. We’ve curated a successful exhibition ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ at the Bodleian Library. This month, we had the honour of hosting the second Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture, at which Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) delivered a fascinating paper about theatricality in Maria’s works. A recording of the lecture is available online.

Edgeworthtown’s town centre mural. Images courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

One of the joys, and occasionally challenges, of working on the Edgeworth family is discovering new material that has come to light. Since starting the project a year ago, we’ve had twitter followers send us information and images of previously unknown letters in private collections. Other items have appeared at auction, most notably at the Cotswold Auction Company’s sale this month. This major collection of over thirty of Maria’s previously unknown manuscript notebooks containing drafts of her novels, caches of letters to publishers, and printed books from the Edgeworth library took the field by storm when it dramatically exceeded auctioneers’ modest expectations and reached £147,000: evidence, perhaps, of the revived commercial attraction of one of the nineteenth century’s most successful authors. Thankfully, important lots were purchased by academic institutions, namely Princeton University Library and the National Library of Ireland, which will remain accessible to future generations of scholars.

Although this is our last blog post, this isn’t the last you will hear from the Edgeworth Papers Project team! On Sunday 29th March, we will be holding a masterclass on the Edgeworth Collection as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. The event is being held at the Weston Library Lecture Theatre in Oxford at 12 noon, where we will be talking about a selection of items from the archive. All are welcome, and tickets can be purchased online. You can also continue to follow updates on the project on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers. You can also access further content, including a recorded performance of a manuscript dramatic fragment by Maria, at our Great Writers Inspire Page. We hope that you will continue with us on this journey working on a fascinating collection that is only just beginning to reveal its secrets.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Reading in ‘cold frosty weather’: January 1820 in Edgeworthstown

In 1745, 53-year-old Englishwoman Lady Elizabeth Cathcart married for the fourth time. Her new husband, 35-year-old Colonel Hugh Maguire, was an Irishman from County Fermanagh. Shortly after their marriage, Maguire discovered the true extent of Lady Cathcart’s wealth and, when she would not hand over her jewellery and property, he took her to Ireland and imprisoned her at his home, Tempo House. The story went that it was not until his death, 22 years later, that Lady Cathcart was released. Freedom suited Lady Cathcart: she lived for a further 22 years, dying in 1789. She did not remarry. You can find out more about her story on the BBC website.

Writing in the late 1790s, Maria Edgeworth used Lady Cathcart, her villainous husband and her imprisonment as a model in Castle Rackrent (1800), in which Sir Kit locks up his English Jewish wife for seven years. Like her real-life counterpart, Lady Kit flees her gaol only when her husband dies. Maria recalls Lady Cathcart in a letter to her Aunt Ruxton, written on 21 January 1820, having recently ‘luncheoned’ with Mr Nugent, ‘the son of old Nugent of Kisolla’, who had attended Lady Cathcart back to England following her release:

I fell into discourse with
him concerning olden times & Lady
Cathcart, her jewels &c. I asked if I had
understood his father rightly that she
was very avaricious. “Yes Ma’am but she
“could send very odd presents. She
“sent my father Ma’am some time
“after she returned to England a
“present of a bed side carpet and of
“an old dress which she had worn
“when she was Lady Mayoress she
“said, and which she said was very
“valuable. I remember seeing it &
“fingering it when I was a boy it was
“some shift silk that stood an end with
“silver flowers tarnished, but we thought
“it mighty odd”.

It is an odd story, not least because Maria does not provide any further commentary beyond repeating Nugent’s account. As in Castle Rackrent, the story is left to speak for itself, without a framing narrative perspective. Are we to see Lady Cathcart as an object of ridicule (a miser who overvalues the most tawdry of her possessions) or an object of pity (a victim of trauma trapped in that past where she was confined to an attic room with a prayer book and an old newspaper for company)?

First page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Margaret Ruxton, 21 January 1820, MS. Eng. Lett. c. 717 fol.64r

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 717 fols. 64-65

Maria’s continued interest in Lady Cathcart speaks to her particular interest in incidents from real-life; her novels frequently include sketches of ‘real’ happenings or persons that were known to Maria and her circle. People on the side-lines might rarely make history themselves, but the (younger) Nugent here acts as a kind of informant, from whom Maria can piece together more material. Sometimes, however, marginal figures do get cast centre stage. It should be remembered that Castle Rackrent is narrated by Thady Quirk, the estate’s steward, rather than the landowners themselves. In this same letter, Maria tells her Aunt that ‘In the next Farmers Journal you will see a short tribute to our excellent faithful Mrs Bellamore’. Though by no means as newsworthy as Lady Cathcart (whose obituary, preserving her story for posterity, appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1789, pp.766-7 among the ‘Obituaries of Considerable Persons, with biographical anecdotes’), Kitty Bellamore had been the family’s longstanding housekeeper. You can see a picture of her in our October blog. The presence of both Lady Cathcart and Mrs Bellamore in this letter reflect Maria’s wide-ranging interests and concerns; in her letters she frequently juxtaposes the tales of women of rank with more domestic and quotidian news about the Edgeworth family – servants and all. And she concludes this letter with a brief enquiry about the health of her aunt’s servant, Molly Coffey.

It is perhaps Maria’s amplifying of all kinds of person and voice that makes Castle Rackrent foundational to the development of both ‘National Tale’ and ‘Historical’ novels. In the ‘deep snow’ and ‘cold frosty weather’ at Edgeworthstown in January 1820, we find Maria, her sisters and aunts reading another novel by an author praised for his development of the ‘National Tale’, Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which had just been published on 20 December 1819. Maria and Scott had been in correspondence since the publication of Waverley in 1814, and he acknowledged her influence on his writing. Ivanhoe may have triggered a reminiscence of the Cathcart tale and her reworking of it in Castle Rackrent: Scott’s Saxon hero, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, recovers from his wounds in a tournament due to the tender ministrations of a Jewish healer, Rebecca. He in turn rushes to fight for Rebecca when she claims the right to be tried for witchcraft by combat. English, Jewish and Irish onomastic variants seem to meet and mingle in the author’s imagination in this letter: Anglo-Saxon brewer’s daughter Lady Cath(cart), the fictional Jewess Lady Kit and the Irish Kitty Bellamore.

Eugène Delacroix, Rebecca and the Wounded Ivanhoe, 1823, Oil on Canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The letter tells us a little about reading at Edgeworthstown House, as the volumes of Ivanhoe moved among the Edgeworth family members prompting imaginative engagements and correspondence beyond their bedchambers:

We have all been reading Ivanhoe, at different times of the day and night each of the three volumes has been in requisition in the different rooms of the invalids & most thankful have we been to the enchanter wizard Walter Scott who with his magic spell and charmed book can banish painful realities & ‘snatch us from ourselves away’.

Here Maria offers an intriguing insight into Edgeworth family reading habits. Thanks to Abigail William’s perceptive book, The Social Life of Reading (2017) we know much about the practices of shared reading in the eighteenth century. Maria details an activity at once shared and separated – voracious appetites for reading shared by all family members who are nonetheless separated from each other due to ill health, meaning that the inhabitants of Edgeworthstown House were reading at different paces and in different places. Maria’s letter does not reveal the nature of the illness of Aunt Charlotte Sneyd (1754-1822), who lived at Edgeworthstown house with her older sister, Mary (the surviving sisters of Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s first two wives, Honora and Elizabeth). Maria’s teenage stepsisters were also bedridden: Lucy (born 1805) was still recovering from back surgery and Sophy (born 1803) was seeing some relief from jaundice through treatment by the ‘blue pill’. Family members stay connected nonetheless through reading. Communal activity continues as volumes are transported around the house from invalid to invalid enabling everyone to participate, albeit in their own time. And each to be transported in imagination by the wizardry of Scott’s writing to distant pasts in England.

Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, 3 volumes (1820). Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Dunston B (Scott) 114/1-3

Through this letter, Maria extends that community to her Aunt Margaret Ruxton. Concerns about the health of the family extend to a query about the health of her cousin, another Sophy (1776-1839); Maria expresses her relief that her dearest friend and confidante has not ventured out to visit in such inclement weather. She also wants to know whether Margaret has read Ivanhoe too and how far she has got, fearful of revealing too much and spoiling it; she offers her own copy if her Aunt has yet to obtain it. Though she encloses an opinion of Ivanhoe from her acquaintance Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832), a Scottish Whig MP, Maria’s uncertainty as to whether her Aunt has read it leads her to caution, ‘If you are afraid of forestalling you can miss it in the 3rd page’. Maria’s warning here reminds us that epistolary exchanges could be complex: there are parts to skip over, sections marked private, cross-writing that can make the letter hard to follow, and additions, crossings out, and other incidentals that can interrupt the expected ‘flow’ of the letter. So too, authorship is not always straightforward. Though this letter was penned by Maria, she reports tasking Fanny with writing out a note to Sir James. We have seen similar examples of ‘shared authorship’ over the past year; sometimes this has suggested a ‘co-written’ letter by multiple persons, at other times – owing largely to Maria’s weak eyesight – we find her commissioning another (usually Fanny) to act as scribe.

The note written by Fanny to Sir James recalls another episode that we have encountered this year: the seditious meeting bill. The bill was one of a number of bills introduced to the House of Commons following the Peterloo riots, which we wrote about in our August blog. On the day of the first reading of the bill in December 1819, a poem (purportedly written by Maria) was circulated in the House and subsequently printed in The Times. Sir James gave a speech that day in which he referred to ‘an honorable gentleman who had written made the English laws his particular study & who had written the history of a modern great republic’. Maria, clearly following the news closely, wrote – albeit via Fanny– to Sir James to ask to whom he was referring. His answer, not quoted in the letter, also contained his thoughts on Ivanhoe. This letter ripples with the familial, political, local, and literary connections that Maria maintained through her correspondence.

Please join us for the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture 2020 on Wednesday 5 February at 5:30pm in the Weston Library, Oxford. Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) will be delivering this year’s lecture ‘Trap doors in private houses’: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth. All welcome, free entry, and no booking required.

Poster for Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture 2020

Our final blog will be published next month when we have completed our full planned year of punctual blogging. Watch our twitter account for news of our plans for the future.

If you missed our ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ exhibition which ran until 26 January at the Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library, do check out this review. And do come and meet our team by signing up for our masterclass at the Bodleian Library, Oxford on 29th March 2020.

– Anna Louise Senkiw
– Ros Ballaster

References:

W. A. Maguire, ‘Castle Nugent and Castle Rackrent: fact and fiction in Maria Edgeworth’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 11 (1996), pp.146-159.

Abigail Williams, The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home (Yale University Press, 2017).

A ‘Christmas Dainty’: fragments of festive frolics with the Edgeworths

Since our last post, the days have got shorter, colder, and wetter. Winter has arrived in Oxford, and as frosts begin to form, thoughts turn to Christmas. When we last encountered the Edgeworths in our November Blog, Maria was busy devouring an eclectic assortment of literature with her newly-rested eyes. Little seems to have changed when she writes to her beloved sister Fanny on 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Edgeworth, 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Transcription of MS. Eng. lett. c. 706, fols.16-18

Here, she recounts the ‘curious facts’ and inventions she had gleaned from the latest issue of William T. Brande’s periodical publication, Journal of Science and Arts. Much like her hero Lewis in the moral tale A Sequel to Frank (1822), Maria Edgeworth appears to have spent the long winter evenings leading up to Christmas reading and talking to her family about books.

As for many of us today, Christmas was for the Edgeworths a time for family. Writing to Henry and Sneyd Edgeworth on Christmas Day 1807, Maria lamented the absence of her two brothers from the festivities of ‘the most agreeable family […] I ever was in’. That family would have ensured their ‘merry Christmas’ had they been present (1).

We don’t know how the Edgeworths spent Christmas Day in 1819. Unlike in 1807, there are no letters known to survive from Christmas Day 1819. Perhaps, like the titular character of Maria’s earlier novel Ormond (1817), it was spent feasting on a ‘festive dainty’ of goose and turkey. But the letters in the Bodleian do give us a tantalising insight into the Edgeworths’ activities in the weeks leading up to the big day.

As we discussed in our June blog post, the Edgeworth Papers are full of literary and epistolary fragments. Despite their incomplete status, these fragmentary forms provide touching, and at times comedic, insights into the everyday lives of the extended Edgeworth family. This is particularly evident in the letter fragment by Maria to her sister Fanny dated 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16).

Letter fragment by Maria Edgeworth to her sister Fanny, 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16)

Here, Maria slips once more into the voice of the aspirant playwright heard in her plays Whim for Whim (1795) and Comic Dramas (1817), dramatizing one particularly unfortunate incident involving her seven-year-old half-brother Michael Pakenham and an unwelcome visitor to Edgeworthstown House:

Enter Pakenham ^one corner of^ handkerchief at eye
– & in great rage – those impertinent
Sheep! – What do you think Maria – Just
now I went to drive them away from
Honora’s plot & bed & the moment I
had driven ‘em off when I turned my back
one came up & set his great head against
My behind & knocked me down
I never saw such a sheep in
my life – and he ran after
me to the steps

Among the Edgeworth papers, there is an attractive line drawing of Pakenham in April 1818 attentively listening to his older brother Francis read by his sister Honora, who gave the drawing to Maria in 1836 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol.32)

The Edgeworths’ walled kitchen garden at their home in County Longford is now carefully maintained by the Edgeworth Society. Back in 1819, the young Pakenham appears to have taken it on himself to defend the honour of the flowerbed tended by his sister Honora from the attentions of one of County Longford’s more rowdy woollen residents. Despite his valiant efforts, Pakenham’s heroic quest ended in tears, a bruised ego, and a sore behind. Maria is famed for her emphasis on a moral point to her tales. Here, perhaps, the take away is simply, ‘pick on someone your own size’.

The walled garden at Edgeworthstown House. Image courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

Entertainments were commonly written and performed by large households like the Edgeworths during the festive period. Here in Oxford, we’ve been honouring this tradition of domestic entertainments by bringing one of Maria’s dramatic fragments to life. MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols.3-8 was written in c.1811, and is made up of a series of fragmentary scenes of downstairs and upstairs life as a group of young women prepare to visit the seaside resort of Brighton. Here is the first page of the manuscript and our transcription in which the conniving maid Miss Lapell plans to sweet talk the housekeeper Mrs Wright into putting in a word for her to take employment with young Lady Flora so as to ensure she joins the jaunt to Brighton.

A fragmentary draft of an unidentified play, c.1811 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r).

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r

Thanks to the inspired dramatic treatment of director Ellen Brewster, and a wonderful cast of student actors (Jemima Hubberstey, Olivia Krauze and Eugenie Nevin), Maria’s untitled and incomplete scenes were performed under the title Brighton Ambitious for a group of Edgeworth scholars from around the world as part of a workshop held at the University of Oxford this month. Maria had little success as a professional dramatist, and never realised her ambition of having a play staged professionally. But the vibrancy of her wit can been seen in this short fragment, of which we only wish we had more. The performance was filmed, and we hope to share this sparkling example of Maria’s dramatic talent online with you soon.

Almost as exciting as the run up to Christmas for our project team has been the preparation and recent opening of our exhibition in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Library. ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ focuses on the family’s lives at home and abroad, as well as Maria’s literary fame. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open 9am-5pm daily until 26th January 2020.

This will be followed on Wednesday February 5th 2020 by the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture at the Weston Lecture Theatre, Bodleian Library, Oxford. This year, Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir (Faculty of English, Cork University) will open up the topic of Maria Edgeworth’s engagement with the dramatic and the theatre. Her lecture is entitled ‘Trap doors in private houses: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth’. The event is free and open to the public. Do please join us for the lecture and drinks thereafter in the Rector’s Drawing Room of Exeter College, Oxford, where the distinguished Edgeworth scholar, Professor Marilyn Butler, herself served as Rector from 1993 to 2004.

As we begin to look forward to the next stages of our project, we wish you all a Merry Christmas, and look forward to sharing more stories from the Edgeworth Papers with you in the New Year.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull


Footnotes

1. Frances Beaufort Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth: With a Selection from Her Letters (London, 1867), 3 volumes, volume I, p.205.

The Natasha Spender archive is now available

Programme for a piano recital by Natasha Litvin (later Spender) in 1944, from MS. 6647/54The archive of Natasha Spender, concert pianist, academic, and wife of the poet Stephen Spender, is now available.

Natasha Spender, Lady Spender, née Litvin (or Evans), was born on 18 April 1919, the illegitimate daughter of Ray Litvin and Edwin Evans, who was a well-respected (but married) Times music critic.

Ray Litvin (d. 1977) was from a family of Lithuanian Jewish refugees and grew up in Glasgow. She became an actress and was by 1915 a regular with Lilian Baylis’s Old Vic theatre company but in 1926 her career was crushed when she caught typhoid fever and became profoundly deaf.

Young Natasha, who had been fostered out during her early years, went on to spend her holidays with the wealthy and very musical family of George Booth (son of the social reformer Charles Booth) and his wife Margaret at their home Funtington House in West Sussex. A gifted pianist, Natasha trained at the Royal College of Music and following graduation, studied with the musician and composer Clifford Curzon and the pianist Franz Osborn before starting her professional career. During the war, she gave concerts for ENSA and in 1943 she, along with the actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft and the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, founded the Apollo Society which presented poetry with a musical accompaniment. She appeared often on television and radio including as the soloist in the very first concert televised by the BBC. She also gave recitals in the UK and abroad, including a concert for former prisoners in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In the 1960s Natasha made a move into academia after earning a degree in psychology and from 1970 to 1984 she taught music psychology and visual perception at the Royal College of Art. She later contributed to the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Natasha met the poet Stephen Spender in 1940 at a lunch party hosted by Horizon, a literary journal that Stephen was co-editing at the time. They married in 1941. For decades, the Spenders were central figures in the London (and international) literary scene, with Stephen Spender’s career as a writer, professor, lecturer, editor and delegate taking them all over the world, with long periods in America.

In the 1950s, Natasha became friends with the terminally alcoholic, noir author Raymond Chandler, who fell in love with her. The exact nature of their relationship became an ongoing source of speculation among his biographers. This, along with controversies over unauthorized biographies and interpretations of Stephen Spender’s life led to Natasha fighting hard for the rights of biographical subjects and particularly for her husband’s reputation. Following Stephen Spender’s death in 1995, Natasha founded the Stephen Spender Memorial Trust, which continues to promote poetry in translation, and she collaborated first with John Sutherland on an official biography of her husband (published in 2004) and then with Lara Feigel on an updated edition of Spender’s journals (published in 2012). Natasha also published articles about friends and associates, including Dame Edith Sitwell and Raymond Chandler, and her archive includes an unfinished memoir covering the early years of her life and marriage. She died on 21 October 2010 at the age of 91.

The papers will be of interest to readers researching the history of early twentieth century theatre and performance, the academic field of visual perception, and the literary circle of Stephen Spender.

Jenny Joseph archive is now available

Jenny Joseph standing in a lane Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, 2009 © Georgie Brocklehurst

Jenny Joseph in Minchinhampton, 2009 © Georgie Brocklehurst

The catalogue of the archive of the British poet Jenny Joseph is now available online.

Jenny Joseph (1932-2018) is best known for her much-loved poem ‘Warning’ with its famous opening lines:

 

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

It was 1961 and Joseph was still in her 20s when she wrote ‘Warning’ for the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time. It was first published in The Listener magazine in early 1962 and then revised for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem wasn’t an immediate hit but it built up steam through the 1980s in the UK and abroad (particularly in the US), becoming much anthologised, reprinted and re-used, featuring in everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on such a life of its own that the archive includes an unauthorised poster attributing the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 it was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired a social movement: the Red Hat Society, a group for women over 50. (You can find recordings of Jenny reading ‘Warning’ and other poems at the Poetry Archive and on YouTube).

Jenny Joseph was born in Birmingham and raised in Buckinghamshire. She won a scholarship to St Hilda’s College in Oxford to study English, and graduated in 1953. She trained as a secretary and then as a reporter, starting at the Bedfordshire Times and moving to the Oxford Mail. She sailed to South Africa in December 1957 and worked as a secretary and as a reviewer for the leftist newspaper New Age. In February 1959 she had just started teaching at Central Indian High School in Johannesburg when she was expelled from the country for reasons stated as ‘economic grounds or on account of standard or habits of life’ – likely connected to her anti-apartheid views and associations. She returned to London and thereafter lived mainly in London and in Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire.

She married pub landlord Charles Coles in 1961 and had three children while continuing to write, teach English as a foreign language, and lecture in language and literature for the Workers Education Association and West London College.

Jenny Joseph’s poetry was first published and broadcast on radio in the early 1950s on programmes like Thought For The Day and Poetry Please. Her first poetry collection, The Unlooked-for Season, was published in 1960 by Scorpion Press (in 1962 it received a Gregory award for poets under 30). She did a great deal of work for children – writing six children’s reading books in the 1960s, teaching workshops in schools, and in 2000 publishing All the Things I See – Selected Poems for Children. Her last poetry collection Nothing like Love (a collection of love poems) was published in 2009. In 1995 Joseph won the Forward Prize for her poem ‘In Honour of Love’ and her experimental fiction work Persephone (1986) won the 1986 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.

The archive is particularly strong on business correspondence, with a section dedicated to her most popular poem, ‘Warning’ that includes not only agency correspondence and fan letters but artefacts (from cartoons to quilts) that were inspired by the poem.

Cataloguing was generously funded by Jenny Joseph’s friend Joanna Rose, and by Joseph’s family.

‘jumping of thoughts’: reading curiosity among the Edgeworths

…how wonderful that little black marks made on paper can make thoughts jump & hearts jump too at ever, or never so great a distance

Despite our 200 year distance from the Edgeworth papers, we have the same experience reading this letter from Maria Edgeworth to her cousin Sophy Ruxton of 5 November 1819 as Maria herself describes. Maria was an expert in making thoughts and hearts jump and she understood the curiosity that drives all readers from the earliest age to acquire knowledge and immerse themselves in strange experiences. Maria, you may remember, had been instructed to rest her eyes for some time and her sister Fanny was writing letters on her behalf, but she records now that she is now ready to read again:

Now that I have a little time & eyes to read again I find it delightful — And I have a voracious appetite and a relish for food good bad & indifferent I am afraid like a half famished ship – wrecked wretch, an appetite quite unknown <to> those who eat their daily literary meals and go to their regular monthly feasts and festivals & grow nice & fastidious & eat the best bits turning up their nose & vowing they can’t touch a bit more.

Evidently invigorated and hungry for all kinds of literature, she writes about her extensive and eclectic recent reading. She mentions her plans to send The Poems of Mr. Hunter and the Letters of Lady Russell to Sophie’s home at Black Castle; that she has been reading the 4th volume of Frederick Lillin de Chateauvieux’s 6 volume New Voyages and Travels, Marshal de Bassompierre’s Memoirs of the Embassy (first published in 1626 and translated by John Wilson Croker in 1819), and November’s Quarterly Review. Besides her reading, she also casually mentions in the opening passage a letter from fellow writer Joanna Baillie, which she will send on (a reminder that familiar correspondence was not ‘private’ as we would understand it today). Maria does not only share her reading, but offers to share the texts themselves, an indication of the level of literary traffic between Edgeworthstown House and Black Castle.

First page of MS. Eng. Lett. c.718 fol. 183r

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 718, fol.183r

The ‘little black marks’ that dart across the page do more than record Maria’s voracious reading habits; they also demonstrate Maria’s curiosity about a range of topics. We have written in previous blogs about her global outlook; her interconnectedness with the rest of the world forged through travel, friendship and the publication (and translation) of her works around the world. Her reading too gave access to a world beyond Edgeworthstown, particularly the reading of periodicals. The Quarterly Review ran from 1809 until 1967, was published by John Murray (who also published works by Austen, Byron and Scott amongst others) and was set up to rival the Edinburgh Review taking a liberal-conservative position conducive to Maria’s own politics.

Maria is not overexaggerating when she describes the ‘farrago of strange facts and strange thoughts [that] are dragged together in the quarterly rev[ie]w’. The issue she was reading (from April 1819, Vol. 21, No. 42) includes wide-ranging reviews (not all mentioned by Maria in the letter) from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Revolt of Islam, Lieutenant General Baron Pamphile de Lacroix’s Memoires pour server a l’Histoire de la Revolution de Saint Domingue, and E. Hawkin’s Dissertation on the Use and Importance of Unauthoritative Tradition and Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent the years 1799-1804 by Alexander de Humbolt and Aime Bonpland. Maria clearly delights in the array of knowledge to collect, contemplate and share with her family.

We see from Maria’s comments her appetite for curiosities. She mentions, for example, the lengthy review of a new book on the cemeteries and catacombs of Paris which describes unusual ways of memorialising and imagining the dead. She draws attention in particular to a description of the luz – a ‘bone in shape of an almond’ at the base of the spine traditionally believed by Jewish people to be the bone from which the body will be resurrected. Maria might have been drawn to this particular excerpt from the review because of recent events in Europe, the Hep-Hep riots in the region of the German Confederation that took place between August and October 1819; these were pogroms against Ashkenazi Jews in the period of growing Jewish emancipation, many of whom died or had property damaged. Her comments in the letter do not refer to these riots but, as they were reported in the newspapers (and we can assume that she did read the newspapers), she would have been aware of these troubling events.

Maria was no stranger to anti-Semitic sentiment herself. Her 1812 novel The Absentee featured an unpleasant portrayal of a Jewish figure called Mr. Mordicai, drawn in the manner of Shakespeare’s vengeful and villainous Shylock. One American admirer, Jewish schoolteacher Rachel Mordecai (later Lazarus) (1788-1838), who was a fan of her educational writings, wrote directly to Maria on 7 August 1815 to complain about the ‘illiberality’ of her representations of members of the Jewish nation. Remarkably, the correspondence continued until Mordecai’s death (in fact descendants of both families continued to write to each other for another 100 years). The effect of Mordecai’s writing was significant: in 1817 Edgeworth published Harrington, which tackled the problem of inculcating anti-Semitic feeling in children, and can be seen as reparation for her earlier unsympathetic portrayal of Jewish people. The hero Harrington’s growing recognition of the errors of the anti-Semitic thinking a nurse impressed on him when a child even involves an encounter with the actor most famous for playing Shylock of the eighteenth century: Charles Macklin, who transformed the role from pantomime stock antagonist to a more psychologically ‘real’ figure than stereotypical villain.

Johann Zoffany, Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Covent Garden, 1767/1768, The Holburne Museum (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

As we have shown, however, Edgeworth’s politics and social criticism is not always straightforwardly unambiguous; for modern readers, Edgeworth’s revised representations of Jewish people remain underwhelming. As Rachel Schulkins has suggested, ‘Edgeworth attempts to “overturn” the traditional Jewish stereotypes… by portraying the Jew as essentially a good Christian’: Harrington’s love interest, the beautiful Jewess, Berenice, turns out to be a Christian after all (though she has a Jewish father, she has a Christian mother in whose faith she was raised). That said, Maria’s exchange with Rachel Mordecai and subsequent writings do show her willingness to rethink her ideas, and the reading discussed in this letter bespeaks a broad interest in ‘curiosities’ and ideas that surely influenced her beyond her immediate circle.

Indeed the letter also shows that Maria did sympathise with and listen to those caught in dramatic scenes of conflict on a smaller stage. At the close of the letter she describes a domestic incident: ‘a horrible scene of lying and counter lying as cannot be spoken of in jest. It ended in Lovell and Mrs E’s dismissing the cook upon the spot’. The night before, described by Maria as ‘black Saturday’, the cook and the kitchen maid had both claimed ‘certain blankets & sheets stolen betwix’ them’. On the Sunday afternoon, matters came to a head and an argument ensued – for three hours – before Mrs. Edgeworth ‘magnanimously parted’ with the cook, ‘regardless of her own convenience’. Truth, for the Edgeworths at least, was always more important than convenience.

If you’re in Oxford, you can find out more about the Edgeworths and their shared endeavours (as well as their travels and Maria’s fame) at our new exhibition, Meet the Edgeworths, which runs from 30 November 2019-1 February 2020 in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Libray. Do also keep an eye on Twitter (@EdgeworthPapers) and look out for our final blog of this year next month!

Anna Louise Senkiw

 

References

Rachel Schulkins, ‘Imagining the Other: The Jew in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington’, European Romantic Review, 22:4, 2011, pp.477-499.

‘Stray Bits of Scandal’ in the Edgeworth Papers

When we last encountered the Edgeworths, Maria and her half-sister Fanny were busy discussing transcultural literary exchanges between Ireland and France with their sister-in-law, Henrica. Writing jointly once again to their cousin Sophy Ruxton in October 1819, the sisters communicate snippets of domestic and society news (MS. Eng. lett. c. 718, fols.179-82). They comment on the health of family members (see our April blog). They compliment the good behaviour of Maria’s beloved doggo Foster (subject of our June blog) who has won the affections of their housekeeper Kitty Bellamore (see the water-colour drawing in the family papers, MS. Eng. Misc. c. 901, fol.5). They return at several points to report on the live events as their brother Lovell attempts to counter bullying in a local election campaign over which he was presiding as sheriff. Maria refers to the poem she wrote for her aunt to accompany a violet vase (see our April blog) and to a drawing Fanny made of their two younger brothers, Francis and Pakenham, possibly the one dated 1818 in the collection of family pictures (Francis reading to his brother Pakenham, Ms. Eng. Misc. c. 901, fol.32). But the most distinctive feature of the letter, and the focus of this blog, is that the sisters endeavour to bring their cousin up to speed on the latest society gossip — from substantial anecdotes included in the body of the letter, to a short list of ‘stray bits of scandal’ notes on the back to save paper.

Letter from Maria and Fanny Edgeworth to Sophy Ruxton (14 October 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 718, fols.181v-82r)

Transcription MS. Eng. Lett. c. 718, f.179-182

Kitty Bellamore, housekeeper at Edgeworthstown house (MS. Eng. Misc. c. 901, fol.5)

Maria lived in a society that was filled with scandalmongers; gossip circulated through correspondence and newspapers as well as speech, and it is the subject of many plays and novels. In her final novel Helen (1834), Maria describes Lady Katherine Hawksby and her set of high society London ladies as so addicted to scandal that they consume more gossip than they drink tea. Throughout her published oeuvre, Maria condemns this habit of reputation-damaging scandalmongering. In her short stories “Angelina” and “The “Catastrophe” from Moral Tales (1801), for example, Edgeworth argues that gossiping about scandals was for idle individuals ‘who have nothing [more] to do or say’ than to cause people misery—a ‘buzz’ to temporarily occupy their attention for a few moments, before a new object of their spiteful entertainment attracted their attention. Away from her instructional fiction, however, Maria tows a more blurred line on the subject. Writing to the Scottish poet and playwright Joanna Baillie in 1825, Maria begrudgingly admitted to the necessity of scandal: ‘I hate scandal but truth is truth.’(1)

Yet in this letter, the Edgeworth sisters seem to be as ravenous to be simply entertained by gossip as Lady Katherine Hawksby and her set in Helen. Writing to their cousin, the sisters delight in revealing that ‘they can tell you more than you know’ about the morals of the Byron-reading John Wolfe, Viscount Kilwarden, and remark how they ‘long to be sitting on the sofa – and to hear what I am sure will be an entertaining chapter of Saints & Sinners’. There is a distinction between the private exchange of interesting news between family members and the circulation of information that put at risk public reputation.

One of the most scandalous chapters in the life of a rich married couple in the early nineteenth century was divorce. Prior to 1857, the only way by which a couple could get divorced was through a Private Act of Parliament introduced in 1700. This was an expensive and highly public process and was only granted as a last resort on the grounds of adultery and extreme cruelty. Indeed, between 1700 and 1857, only 314 divorces were granted by parliament, though of course many more did separate without pursuing divorce. Despite divorce’s scandalous connotations, Maria was sympathetic in her treatment of Lord and Lady’s Glenthorn’s mutual desire for a divorce in her earlier novel Ennui (1809). Yet in this letter, the Edgeworth sisters revel in the scandal associated with marital separation:

2 <a> stray bits of scandal – to[o] good to be lost
Lord & Lady Charlemont [Anne Caulfeild, Countess of Charlemont (1780-1876) and Francis Caulfield, 2nd Earl of Charlemont (1775-1863)] are to be separated
— cause his gallantisms & her Ladyships
want of temper –
Lord & Lady Lismore [Cornelius O’Callaghan, 1st Viscount Lismore and Lady Eleanor Butler ] to be separated
cause unknown to me

Here, Maria and Fanny treat the latest separations of society couples as delicious pieces of gossip to be shared and consumed with their cousin. With divorce such a rare occurrence, any instances of separation for ‘gallantism’ (adultery), ‘want of temper’ (patience), and even unknown causes are deemed ‘to[o] good to be lost’. Yet the sisters choice to wedge their ‘stray bits’ onto the reverse of letter suggests an attempt to chirographically preserve their gossipy gleanings from being lost.

The sisters contrast the ‘want of temper’ of a contemporary society wife, Ann Caulfield, with their admiration for the virtue and patience of another woman they have been reading about, Rachel Wriothesley, Lady Russell (1636–1723), in Some Account of the Life of Rachael Wriothesley Lady Russell (1819) by Mary Berry:

We have been much interested in the life &
letters of that most excellent and amiable & un
-pretending of creatures – Lady Russell – There
are touches in these letters which paint domestic
happiness & the character of a mother & a wife
with beautiful simplicity – I like even Miss Berry
much the better for the manner in which she has
edited this book

The wife of William, Lord Russell (1636-83), Rachel was greatly admired for her piety, matrimonial devotional, and stoicism in the face of adversity after the execution of her husband for his involvement in a Whiggish plot against King Charles II. Indeed, in Maria’s educational tale Rosamond (1821), the titular heroine goes as far to claim that Russell remained the most celebrated woman in all of Europe: “Who is there in our own Country, or France, or Italy, or Spain—in any country; what celebrated woman can you name, who can stand comparison with Lady Russell?”.

Rachel Russell (née Wriothesley), Lady Russell, by Henry Meyer, after Samuel Cooper, stipple engraving, published 1853. NPG D5859 © National Portrait Gallery, London (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The letter remains diplomatically silent about the reputation of the author of this biography, Mary Berry (1762-1853). A companion of Horace Walpole, Berry’s career as an author begin with the failure of her scandalous comedy of manners. Despite its stellar cast of prominent actors, and its success as a private theatrical, The Fashionable Friends (1801) was withdrawn from the Drury Lane theatre after two performances, its content being apparently too risqué for further performance: it included reference to secret extra-marital affairs and an excessive display of romantic attachment between two women (Mary Berry herself and her friend the celebrated sculptress, Anne Damer). The lack of comments on Berry’s scandalous literary beginnings may be due to the fact that the Edgeworth family were acquaintances of the Berry sisters (Mary and Agnes), with whom Maria corresponded from 1813 onwards.

Mary Berry, by William Greatbach, drawn by George Perfect Harding, published by Richard Bentley, after Anne Seymour Damer (née Conway) mixed-method engraving and etching, published 1840 NPG D42589 © National Portrait Gallery, London (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Fanny and Maria tell Sophy Ruxton that they are enclosing ‘two or three agreeable letters for your amusement’. Letters were often read by individuals other than their intended recipients for entertainment. But they were also read for moral improvement: as Mrs Egerton remarks of Lady Russell’s letters in Rosamond, ‘looking up in early youth to a high character exalts the mind, and gives the best promise of future excellence’. Rather than condemn Berry for her scandalous beginnings, much like contemporary reviews in the periodical press, the author and editor is praised by the sisters for the careful editing and circulation of Russell’s previously unpublished letters. The Edgeworths knew about and valued the importance of careful editing. In this same letter, Maria makes reference to her own patient editorial endeavours tracking down material to include in her ill-fated Memoirs (1820) of her father Richard Lovell: ‘I must beg of you my dear friend to look among my letters […] I am now come to the last of what I am writing and want to be certain of the accurate recollection of some <words> expressions of his’. Viewing Berry not as the salacious author of Fashionable Friends, but as an editorial comrade-in-arms, Maria demonstrates how stray bits of scandal could be conveniently lost and forgotten if it suited a writer— as well as countering the tendency to see women as the vehicles of idle gossip and dangerous scandal by celebrating women’s contribution to the promotion of scholarship through editing and memorializing significant figures of the past.

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Footnotes

(1) See Christina Colvin, “Maria Edgeworth’s Tours in Ireland”, in Studia Neophilologica 43.1 (1971), pp.252-56.

References

Lewis Melville (ed.), The Berry Papers: Being the Correspondence Hitherto Unpublished of Mary and Agnes Berry (1763-1852) (London: J. Lane, 1914).

Susanne Schmid, “Mary Berry’s Fashionable Friends (1801) on Stage”, in Wordsworth Circle 43.3 (2012), pp.172-82.

Maria Goes Global: Pleasure and Business Abroad

In last month’s blog, we discussed Maria Edgeworth’s response to Peterloo and her concern for political reform (rather than revolution) in Ireland and in the West Indies. This month we take a look at the Edgeworth family’s global – particularly European – outlook, which went beyond politics.

A letter dated 15 September 1819 (MS. Eng. Lett. c. 704 fol. 6-7), to Henrica “Harriette” Edgeworth (née Broadhurst), wife of Maria’s brother Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, highlights in particular the cross-channel friendships and acquaintances enjoyed by the Edgeworth family. The letter was written and signed by Fanny Edgeworth, but with contributions from Maria.

It begins by responding to Harriette’s recent letter detailing her visit with her husband to Paris, which the family had clearly received with delight. Frances tells her that ‘Your visit to Madme Recamier amused us much’, but lightly berates her for the lack of details about ‘Extravagant’ Parisian life:

I wish you would enter into some particulars for my sake – tell me whether you drive your own carriage – I thought that was impossible in the streets of Paris – Tell me how much a good Voiture de service [hired carriage] costs per month –

Maria had visited Paris in 1802 with her father and would have been eager to see whether costs and customs had changed: the following year, she and Fanny would travel to France again for two months from April 1820. The letter also sees the Edgeworth sisters introducing visitors to different national customs and identities at their home in Ireland. Fanny describes a visit from some English friends, Mrs and Miss Carr.

The letter treads familiar ground too; they report (once again) on the state of their sister Lucy’s bad back as well as other domestic concerns such as the cost of postage. The closing lines of the letter are written down the side of the front page – a common feature of letters written during a period in which postage cost by the page and paper was not a cheap commodity.

First page of MS. Eng. lett. c. 704 fol.6-7

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 704 fol.6-7

Back on the continent, another French acquaintance, Madame Gautier, had written to describe meeting Harriette and Charles during their visit, which Frances shares in the letter:

Je retournerai vers la fin d’Aout â Paris – ou plutôt â Passy et c’est alors que j’espère jouir encore de la societé de’ M – & Mde Sneyd – J’aime beaucoup Mde Sneyd –Elle a de la gaièté et de la grace dans l’esprit – Elle parait bonne et sensible – ce qui est deux attributs essentials aux femmes – il que les dames Edgeworth qui j’ai eû le plaisir de connaitre possedent <uniquement> (1)

In this passage, Madame Gautier writes about meeting Harriette and Charles in Paris. It was not only Harriette’s journey that occupied the Edgeworth circle, however. Frances tells her that ‘Mrs Tuite has been very entertaining in all her accounts of Paris & Italy’. Despite the comparative difficulties in travel in comparison with today, this letter evinces the international outlook of Maria and her circle.

Portrait of Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) by François Pascal Simon Gérard (Musée du Louvre) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Maria Edgeworth was no stranger to Paris. Indeed she was herself an acquaintance of French socialite Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) (mentioned in this letter), who led a celebrated salon in Paris frequented by leading literary and political figures. The pair met during Maria’s first visit to Paris in 1802, during which Récamier took them to theatre, and where Maria’s love interest Abraham Niclas Edelcrantz (1754–1821), whom she would subsequently refuse an offer of marriage, was sitting next to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Maria corresponded with other European writers and thinkers: from 1805, for example, she corresponded with and befriended Etienne Dumont (1759–1829), later the translator of the works of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (c. 1747/8–1832) into French – though unfortunately only a copy of a single letter Dumont wrote to Maria in 1820 exists in the Bodleian’s Edgeworth Papers (MS. Eng. lett. c. 720, fols. 56-7).

The Edgeworths’ November 1802 visit to France (the party consisted of Maria, her father and step-mother Frances, and her oldest half-sister Charlotte) came just before outbreak of war, which restricted travel between the two counties, as fellow novelist Frances Burney (1752–1840) famously discovered during her effective exile in France between 1802 and 1814.

Despite the physical constraints of journeying to France during this period, Maria was part of a cross-channel literary community. The increasingly global literary marketplace had several implications for Maria’s literary works. As Frances tells Harriette in this letter, for instance, Popular Tales (which featured ‘The Grateful Negro’, as discussed in August’s blog) had been translated into French: ‘once by Madme de Roissy & once by some name-less person’. Another of Maria Edgeworth’s French translators included her friend and sometimes collaborator, Louise Swanton Belloc, a Frenchwoman of Irish descent.

Maria’s writings were translated not only into French, but also into other European languages too: Dutch, German, Irish, Italian, Swedish, and Spanish versions of her works were published in her lifetime. A Bengali edition of her tale, Murad the Unlucky, entitled Hatbagyo Murad, was published in India in 1861, translated by Judu Gopaul Chatterjea (a copy of which exists in the British Library).

The (multiple) translations of Popular Tales speak to her status as an international literary figure. But it was actually a translation of Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis’s (1746–1830) Adèle et Théodore that was Maria’s earliest effort prepared for publication.(2) Though it remained unpublished due to a rival translation being published first, it remains a testament to Maria’s early engagement – encouraged by her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth – with a wider European literary scene. Maria was not alone: Gillian Dow’s edited collection, Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900, showcases the rich traffic between English and other European texts and the role women played in circulating, translating and producing these works in their own languages.

Translation was also a vital means of disseminating the progressive educational ideals the Edgeworth family sought to promote, ideals always in dialogue with that of French thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and de Genlis. Maria recommends a text for the niece of Juliette Récamier to translate which also promises to educate the young woman in the thinking of an English ‘genius’ who was an important member of Robert Lovell Edgeworth’s circle of scientific speculators. Humphry Davy (1778-1829), Cornish chemist and inventor, wrote his poem ‘The Sons of Genius’, when he was just 17. Published in Robert Southey’s The Annual Anthology in 1799, it honours the contribution of natural philosophers, the ‘sons of Genius’, to the flourishing of culture and humanity.

Translation is only one aspect of viewing Maria as a European writer who participated in pan-European literary networks. Her epistolary novel, Leonora (1807), for example, was written in response to Madame de Staël’s (1766-1817) literary sensation Delphine which appeared in print while Maria was staying in Paris in 1802. You may recall from our July blog, that Byron counted both Maria and de Staël amongst the ‘literary lions’ of the age. Their cross-channel, contemporary success is integral rather than incidental to this description. Unlike Jane Austen (today the most famous novelist of the early nineteenth century) whose novels are set in England, Maria used locations across Ireland, England and France, the latter being the (partial) setting for both Leonora (1807) and Ormond (1817), as well as further afield – ‘The Grateful Negro’ is set in the West Indies. Several of her near-contemporaries, including Helen Maria Williams (1759–1827), Charlotte Smith (1749–1806), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) also depicted scenes abroad in their writing.

As we have seen on numerous occasions throughout this blog series, the Edgeworth family were a ministry of all the talents. Maria’s literary depictions of France were therefore not the only representations of abroad. There are several drawings of Irish, French and Swiss views in the Edgeworth papers collection, drawn by various members of the family (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901 fols. 90-136). The family travelled further still: during Michael Packenham’s journey to India in 1831-1832 he produced a series of pencil and ink drawings of India in the ‘No. 1 Madras Sketchbook’ (MS. Eng. misc. g. 356) and five poems (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898 fols. 31-5). These drawings and writings are a testament not only to their artistic endeavours but also to the family’s travels.

Image from No. 1 Madras Sketchbook (MS. Eng. misc. g. 356)

Whilst the letter of September 1819 speaks of the family’s friendship and literary connections in France, Maria’s popularity in France and the influence of French writers (especially female) on her own work, it also demonstrates the Edgeworths’ attachment to the cultural pleasures of the Irish Catholic tenants to which they lived in such close proximity. On the way back from a drive in their landau with Mrs and Miss Carr (visiting acquaintances from England whom we encountered in our April blog), they stop to join an appreciative audience in the sunshine as a fiddler plays for dancers in ‘all the vivacity & graces of an Irish gig’. The scene reminded Maria of her sister’s Charlotte’s drawings of similar scenes, which had been engraved for inclusion in the forthcoming memoir of their father that Maria had written, Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1820). It was a scene that the Edgeworths were particular fond of – here is another similar drawing in the Edgeworth papers of an Irish dance, drawn for Maria by a female acquaintance in 1836.

Irish Scene, drawing in pen and ink, MS. Eng. misc. c. 901 fol. 111

Fragment of MS. Eng. lett. c. 704 fol. 7v

In this month of September 2019, as Great Britain is on the cusp of separation from these two European countries of Ireland and France, a family letter of two hundred years ago reminds us of a long history of artistic and intellectual exchange. Of course, historically, relationships between France, England and Ireland have often been troubled by conflict, claims and counterclaims of sovereignty and autonomy. But we hear in Frances and Maria Edgeworth’s collaborative letter a desire for connection, a sense that there is much to be learnt and enjoyed in acts of translation not just of languages but also of cultures.

Anna Louise Senkiw

 


Footnotes:

(1) “I will return near the end of August to Paris – or maybe to Passy and that is why I hope to enjoy again the society of Mr and Mrs Sneyd. I like Mrs Sneyd very much. She seems kind and sensitive – the two attributes that are essential to women – and which the Edgeworth women I have had the pleasure to know possess especially” [translated by Ros Ballaster].

(2) See Gillian Dow (ed.), Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900 and Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography.


References:

Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography (Clarendon Press, 1972).

Gillian Dow (ed.), Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900 (Peter Lang, 2007).

Susan Manly, Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), available at: https://chawtonhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Maria-Edgeworth.pdf

Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Maria Edgeworth: Women, Enlightenment and Nation (University College Dublin Press, 2005).

Our Distant View: Peterloo, Rebellion and Reform

Over the past few months we have opened up the Edgeworth Papers to share tales of the Edgeworths’ domestic concerns, love affairs, and literary lives. We now turn to consider how the public political world also impacted upon the Edgeworth circle. News of one event in Manchester two hundred years ago – and widely commemorated this month of August 2019 – reached the Edgeworth family at the comparative distance of their home in County Longford.

On 16 August 1819, a large crowd gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to urge for greater parliamentary representation and listen to radical speakers including ‘Orator’ Henry Hunt (1773-1835). Following the orders of magistrate William Hulton to arrest Hunt, the cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged into the amassed crowd (modern estimates are there were up to 80,000). The charge resulted in the deaths of approximately 18 people (including a two-year-old boy) and the injury of an estimated 400-700 more people. The Peterloo Massacre, as it became known, was a defining moment in nineteenth-century class history. It was widely reported in the newspapers and the graphic satires of the day.

The Manchester Heroes, 1819, Hand-coloured etching by George Cruikshank on paper, 250 × 350mm, © Trustees of the British Museum

Maria mentions Peterloo in her letter to Peter Holland (1766-1855), who lived close to Manchester in Knutsford, on 27 August (MS 16087/1). The Bodleian has recently acquired this fascinating (and as yet uncatalogued) collection, comprising 145 largely unpublished letters. The collection includes 37 letters written by Maria to Holland and c.80 letters to her from his son, Sir Henry Holland (1788-1873), apparently on behalf of and in collaboration with his father. The archive also includes letters written by Henry to his father and to the writer Lucy Aikin (1781-1864). In this particular letter, Maria informs Peter Holland that she has dictated the letter to Fanny in order to save Maria’s eyesight and for his ease of reading. The letter is urgent though as she needs to know if Peter Holland is ‘dead or alive’ and his family safe following the ‘riots of mob & military’ in Manchester. We provide a transcription of the first paragraphs of the letter that relate to Peterloo.

Images of the first two pages of Maria’s Letter to Peter Holland (27 August 1819, MS 16087/1)

Transcription of first two paragraphs of Maria’s Letter to Peter Holland 27 August 1819, MS 160871

From her ‘distant view’, Maria shares her opinion on events, which she declares ‘perhaps on these occasion may chance to be the truest because the most impartial’. Maria does not support the reformist cause as it is proposed by Hunt (indeed she refers to his ‘evil designs’), and she praises the yeomanry’s ‘good intentions’, but censures their actions:

‘…their imprudent conduct they have made notorious to all the world—What an opportunity of showing that just vigor necessary to restore order they have lost by rashness – why did they not let Hunt and his followers proceed to some overt act before they began cutting and slashing? – I hope Government will forbid yeomanry to act again in any such cases – from their local feelings & from their want of discipline they are of all others the most improper to be employed.’

Maria’s concern for Holland was not only personal, but also evinces her active interest in the politics of the day. Though Maria was ‘distant’ from Peterloo, she was no stranger to political uprisings, such as the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a retaliation against British rule that resulted in the deaths of 10-30,000, which helped shape her ideas about the acceptable and proper limits of rebellion, though her progressive leanings were toward reform rather than regime change.

We should not overstate her interest in the events at Peterloo: in her letter to her Aunt Ruxton, written on 18 August (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56) she does not mention Peterloo at all [though perhaps the news had not reached the Edgeworths]. Yet, in several letters we find Maria and her family commenting on political stories in the newspaper whilst her sister Fanny’s (almost indecipherable) diary from our May blog, evidences the almost daily reading of parliamentary debates.

But the Edgeworth archive and Maria’s novels reveal more than just passing epistolary musings and fictional depictions of revolt and reform. Amongst the papers in the Bodleian, we find a manuscript copy of a poem entitled ‘Lines inspired by the Lord Chancellor’s Speech on the second reading [of] the Libel prevention Bill’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898, fols.25-6), apparently a ‘surplus copy’ of those circulated to members in Parliament. The Libel prevention bill was one of a series of measures (known as the Six Acts) Parliament passed in response to Peterloo, which hindered rather than furthered reform and focussed on curbing the rights of people, rather than – as Maria hoped – reforming the Yeomanry.

The ‘Lines…’ comment on the irony of Parliament attempting to curb the freedom of the press whilst benefitting from parliamentary privilege – that is, the legal immunity from prosecution offered to members of parliament which enabled them to speak freely in order to fulfil their duties. One consequence, however, was that they might make libellous claims without fear of legal challenge, whilst ordinary citizens were subject to increased scrutiny:

‘For still a British Senator we find
May speak (not print) the dictates of his mind,
Men in two honored houses at their ease
May talk what nonsense, or what sense they please,
Sedition there, and Libel, lose their name
There Truth & eloquence may lead to Fame!’

‘Lines inspired by the Lord Chancellor’s Speech on the second reading [of] the Libel prevention Bill’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898, fols.25-6)

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 898 fols.25r-26v

Parliamentary privilege was an ancient custom. But, by the nineteenth century it had taken on a new dimension. Parliamentary speech had become subject to increasing coverage and scrutiny in the newspapers although the newspapers could not (and still cannot) print anything potentially libellous said in the chamber. Nevertheless, parliamentary speeches had been turned into theatre by great orators such as Edmund Burke (1729-1727) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) in the previous century, with newspapers the platform for parliamentarians to achieve new kinds of ‘Fame’ – even if that ‘Fame’ was built on shaky foundations.

Maria Edgeworth’s politics are reformist rather than revolutionary and she consistently represented reform as a means of averting the suffering and violence attendant on outright rebellion. Edgeworth’s story ‘The Grateful Negro’ (written 1802 and published 1804 – one of 11 in Popular Tales) was a reformist take on the abolition debates. A fictional account of the 1760 slave rebellion in Jamaica, the story makes the case that sympathy and care for slaves would prevent violent rebellion and hence be to the economic and ethical advantage of the colonial system. While Maria was critical of abusive and neglectful landlordism, as we see in the satire in Castle Rackrent (1800) and the sentiment of The Absentee (1812) concerning Anglo-Irish rule, she did not criticise the (colonial) system itself. So too, she takes a reformist approach to the issue of slavery – the Jamaican planter Mr Edwards concludes a benevolent exercise of slavery is the best way to sustain the system which supports his livelihood and reconciles his conscience. ‘The Grateful Negro’ was also as Elizabeth S. Kim explains, a vehicle for debating the rights and wrongs of a rebellion nearer to home – the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Our investigation of the letters has uncovered a reference hitherto undiscussed to an encounter with a black woman on Irish soil. While she makes no direct reference to Peterloo in her letter composed the day after the massacre of 18 August to her Aunt Ruxton, Maria provides a short note smuggled into the top right hand corner of a scrappy one page sheet; here she describes a meeting with one Mrs Blackall. Despite interest in Maria’s literary depictions of race, there has been little or no attention to this brief mention of her encountering a mixed-race woman on Irish soil. Maria records that:

‘We dined yesterday at Mrs Whitman where we met Captn & Mrs Blackall — who is 3/4th a negress—Black all indeed. Pray when does the Bishop arrive’

In the third edition of her novel Belinda (1810), Maria erased the suggestion found in the first two editions to a mixed-race marriage, such as the one she described in this letter. Edgeworth changed the name and the reference to the skin colour of Belinda’s white West Indian suitor, Mr Vincent, in her novel: Juba, the African servant who marries the white daughter of a tenant farmer, Lucy, becomes plain James Jackson. But as her encounter with the Blackalls demonstrates, interracial couples would later feature in the Edgeworths’ daily lives.

Maria consistently argued for reform to avert the violence and cruelty she thought resulted from both sides in systems of oppression, whether in Manchester, Jamaica or Ireland. However, there is some cruelty to modern ears in the laboured pun she elaborates in this brief sentence concerning Mrs Blackall, a woman of African descent.

Maria’s Letter to Aunt Ruxton (18 August 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56)

Transcription of Maria’s Letter to Aunt Ruxton 18 August 1819 MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56

The Edgeworth papers are full of such interpretive cruxes. They reveal to us not only strangeness and distance but surprising connections and unexpected moments of encounter.

Looking beyond the Edgeworth papers there are a number of events this year in and around Greater Manchester to commemorate Peterloo including ‘Making the News: Reading between the lines, from Peterloo to Meskel Square’ at the Portico Library, ‘From Waterloo to Peterloo’ at Gallery Oldham, and a public re-enactment in St Peter’s Square on 16 August 2019.

Ros Ballaster and Anna Louise Senkiw

 

References

Elizabeth S. Kim, ‘Maria Edgeworth’s The Grateful Negro: A Site for Rewriting Rebellion’, in
Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Volume 16, Number 1, October 2003, pp.103-126.