Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Innocence and Ignorance in Northanger Abbey

In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, we find a character who, like others we have encountered this semester, operates with an innocence born of her virtue. Problematically, however, this innocence often renders these characters ignorant of the dishonorable motivations of others.  Fairly late in Austen's novel, Henry Tilney characterizes Catherine's approach to others as follows: "With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced? What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person's feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered?--but, how should I be influenced, what would be my inducement in acting so and so?" (90). While Tilney seems to hold her in high regard for this very reason, inherent in his statement is the danger Catherine potentially faces in her assumptions that others will interact with her with the same rectitude with which she constantly conducts herself.  I am interested in to what extent Austen posits, in this novel, innocence as a positive attribute, and what message about an oft attending ignorance she wishes to share with her readers. 

In the opening pages of the novel, in a comparison between the initial plot points of her work and those one would likely find in a Gothic novel, Austen writes, "But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out" (8). Austen's protagonist, Catherine Morland, seems to take this advice to heart later in the novel when, upon suddenly seeing the man with whom she has shared a brief flirtation, Henry Tilney, with another woman, she rightly assumes this woman to be his sister: "But guided only by what was simple and probable, it had never entered her head that Mr. Tilney could be married . . . he had never mentioned a wife, and he had acknowledged a sister . . . therefore, instead of . . . falling in a fit on Mrs. Allen's bosom, Catherine sat erect, in the perfect use of her senses" (35). Here, then, Austen shows Catherine to be quite capable of sound logic. Perhaps of import, however, is the fact that, in this instance, Catherine's rational calculations inform her only of the happiest of conclusions. It is in other relationships that we find Catherine unable to be so discerning.

For much of the novel, for instance, Catherine is oblivious to the fact that Isabella is using her to further her relationship with James, that John Thorpe intends to marry her, and that General Tilney falsely believes she and her family to be wealthy. What each of these seems to have in common is that none is something she would be happy to know; each would cause her anxiety. This anxiety, and a kind of willful ignorance Catherine seems to employ in order to combat it, is especially apparent in the scene in which Captain Tilney comes upon Isabella and Catherine talking in a quiet corner of the Pump-room, and Catherine is amazed by the impropriety with which Isabella engages in conversation with him: "She wished Isabella had talked more like her usual self, and not so much about money; and had not looked so well pleased at the sight of Captain Tilney" (101). Even with her misgivings so apparent, however, a few days' reflection finds Catherine yet "not allowing herself to suspect her friend" (101). Similarly, while she readily recognizes the amarous feelings Tilney has for her, she is oblivious to that romantic interest which does not please her, as evidenced by her amusing response to John Thorpe's flirtatious suggestion that she will be happy to see him at a later meeting: "There are very few people I am sorry to see" (86). Finally, pleased by the positive attention she receives from General Tilney, she seems not to question why this stern man would single her out for kind treatment, and she ignores hints that would complicate her estimation of him: "'Your father is so very liberal! He told me the other day, that he only valued money as it allowed him to promote the happiness of his children." "The brother and sister looked at each other" (141).  Although Austen endears Catherine to her readers through the very innocence that allows her to think the best of others, it seems, given the many mishaps into which her ignorance of others' true motivations leads her, that Austen does not conceive of such innocence as entirely wise.
I wonder, finally, if Catherine's later escape into the fantastical Gothic is a means by which she is able to escape the anxieties of these relationships, thereby maintaining her innocence. It is interesting to note that, while she is long unable to suspect a new friend of duplicity, she readily suspects General Tilney of murdering or secreting his wife within the abbey.  Further, her imaginings of these hideous crimes seem to cause her relatively little uneasiness. At one point, for instance, Catherine determines she will seek out the hidden woman: "Till midnight, she supposed it would be in vain to search; but then . . . she would . . . steal out and look once more. The clock struck twelve—and Catherine had been half an hour asleep" (131). Soon disabused of her misconceptions by Henry, she admits to herself that "Charming as were all of Mrs. Radcliffe's works . . . it was not int them perhaps that human nature . . . was to be looked for" (137). It seems significant, then, that, no longer distracted by these romantic ideas, Catherine must now deal with reality. When, for instance, her ignorance of General Tilney's ulterior motives leads to the shock she experiences at her forced departure, she feels keenly the difference between imagined and actual suffering: ""Yet how different now the source of her inquietude from what it had been then—how mournfully superior in reality and substance! Her anxiety had foundation in fact, her fears in probability; and with a mind so occupied in the contemplation of actual and natural evil" (156). So embroiled has she been in the idea that General Tilney was a murderer, Catherine fails to detect, and protect herself from, that which is truly opprobrious in his character.  Both her own moral innocence and the innocence of reality to which her reading here contributes can be seen, then, as amounting to ignorance.  Did Austen share the view of many in the eighteenth century that certain types of fiction could prove so distracting as to cause a reader to fail to attend to the immediate necessities of his or her own life? 

Friday, April 5, 2013

On Attending the 44th Annual Meeting of ASECS

On Thursday, April 4th, I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Cleveland, Ohio. The first panel I attended was titled "Novel Experiments," and its purpose was to discuss to what extent and under what conditions the novel may be accurately termed an experiment. The first panelist, Jenny Davidson of Columbia University, argued that calling the novel experimental is of little use if the term is applied too generally. Any fiction writing may be called experimental, she asserts, in that, unless an act of plagiarism, it is a result of some amount of innovation; to call the novel an experiment in this sense, then, is meaningless. Davidson is more interested in what authors were more experimental than others, and how so. She offers Richardson and Austen as examples of particularly experimental writers, suggesting that their work may be viewed from novel to novel as a series of experiments in which one significant variable is changed, with differing results. For instance, Richardson's Sir Grandison may be seen as an experiment building on Pamela and Clarissa but with the new variable that its "repository of virtue" is a man. Anne Stevens of the University of Nevada argued, in a paper titled "Experiments and Microgenres," that it is futile to attempt to discern which of the earliest novels may be appropriately called "experimental" until the term "novel" itself has a firm definition. She makes the excellent point that early novels are considered experimental only against the conventions of later novels and, thus, that their designation as such is anachronistic. She believes these earlier novels may be more aptly described as simply innovative. As examples of innovation, she describes the many "microgenres" that emerged during the eighteenth-century, such as "season" novels, in which, for example, a summer in Bath or a winter in Dublin may be described, and "speaking object" novels, in which the novel's narrator is not human. An amusing example of the latter that she offered is The History and Adventures of a Lady's Slippers and Shoes, Written by Themselves. Finally, panelist Katarzyna Bartoszynska of Bilkent University made an argument, in her presentation, for the early Gothic novel as an experiment.   She equates the novel's early development with the birth of realism, and suggests that, contrary to what one might assume, the Gothic genre actually helped train readers to better approach realism. An imperative of early fiction, she opines, was to teach readers how to engage with texts that were literally unbelievable yet aesthetically effective; in other words, readers had to learn that a story need not be "true" in order to be of value. The Gothic novel may be seen, then, as key to the development of fiction in that its uncanny elements were particularly helpful in teaching readers to suspend their disbelief.

The second and third panels I attended were part of a series called "Women Outside the Blue Stocking Circle." The purpose of these panels was to explore the lives and careers of those women writers that were not members of the Blue Stocking Society and, often, to discuss how and why these writers worked without the support of this influential group. Presenting a paper titled "The Curious Case of Charlotte Lennox," Susan K. Howard of Dusquesne University focused on those aspects of Lennox's writing and personal life that likely excluded her from the Blue Stocking Society. That which most divided Lennox from members of the society was most likely the fact that, while the latter engaged with literature as part of their leisure time activities, Lennox wrote in order to survive and support her family. For Lennox, writing was a business, and one which she could simply not afford to take lightly. In her relationships with mentors Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson, for instance, Lennox readily made demands about the publication of her work and expressed her discontent with the market. What interested me most about this portrait of Lennox was that she operated with what was considered an "unfeminine directness," and the fact that this served her in her career. Howard offered the following illuminating characterization: "She was widely read, but nobody liked her." In the next presentation, of a paper titled "A Life Beyond Loveliness: What Can Be Learned from the Latter Days of Melesina Trench," Katharine Kittredge of Ithaca College described the unusual career of this woman writer.  Well educated in her childhood, Trench gave up intellectual pursuits in her early adult life as a wife and mother, instead spending her time socializing or in leisure activities.  Trench later described this period as one in which she experienced an "absence of reflection." Interestingly, Trench became a writer in her mid-forties, after the death of her husband. A friendship she developed with another women writer, Mary Leadbetter, was instrumental in her career. Afraid that attempts to have her work published would be viewed as too aggressive, Trench sent her work to her friend with indirect suggestions as to which newspapers would perhaps be interested in it, and Leadbetter, wishing to support her friend, saw to it that Trench's work was published. In her paper, then, Kittredge offers an example of how a relationship between women writers can "embolden" and "enable" them. The next panelist, William McCarthy of Iowa State University, is in the earlier stages of a project called "Was Anna Letitia Barbauld, Because Not a Bluestocking, a No Stocking?" McCarthy asserts that, though Barbauld is often perceived as a Blue Stocking, she lived far from London and cannot be accurately described as having been influenced by or influential in this group. His current work is focused on simply surveying, therefore, what relationships could have been of consequence in Barbauld's career: Who were the women she knew, and to what extent? To this end, then, McCarthy lists the women writers with whom it is documented that Barbauld corresponded or engaged socially and describes the duration and nature of these engagements. What he has found thus far is that each of these relationships had been too brief or superficial to be considered of genuine impact on Barbauld's work. He concludes that Barbauld's had many female friendships, but none that were intellectual in nature and that, therefore, she could have benefited from membership in the Blue Stocking Society.

In the second panel of the Blue Stocking series, Eve Tavor Bannet of Oklahoma University began with a paper titled "'Wretched Uniques': Women's Genteel Beggary in Mrs. Bennett and Her Contemporaries." Bannet's work, in its focus on the penury experienced by writer Anna Maria Bennett, is concerned with the relationship between female authorship and female poverty. In her novel The Beggar Girl, Bennett portrays the plight of a gentlewoman newly impoverished, and the extent to which she falls prey to both vicious men and women. At the time, apparently, a common view of the poor was that they were deserving of their lot. Bennett's point in this novel, then, is to demonstrate the surprising ease with which, in the shifting economic structures of the time, members of the gentility, and especially women, could fall into hardship. Next, Cynthia Roman of Yale, in her presentation on print seller Hannah Humphrey, offered the career of Humphrey as an example of a highly successful and influential eighteenth-century businesswoman. As the owner of a print shop specializing in satirical prints, Humphrey operated far outside the conservative Blue Stocking Society. As an unmarried woman, Humphrey ran her business entirely independently, and did so with remarkable success. Her political savvy, her understanding of cultural trends, and her sound judgment of the graphic arts served her incredibly well. As a result, Humphrey built a highly successful career for herself and significantly influenced public opinion. Finally, in his paper "'Observe Her Heedfully': Family, Friendship, and a Lady's Life of Reading," panelist Mark Towsey of the University of Liverpool explores what can be known about eighteenth-century Scottish women by their reading habits and patterns and asks the following question: "Must a woman have published in order to be considered literary or an intellectual?" To argue against this assumption, Towsey offers the example of Elizabeth Rose, a woman whose reading experiences are heavily documented. Available for study, for instance, are lists of the books she read and that were included in her personal library, journals in which she reflected on her readings, and letters in which she discussed and recommended books. Evident especially in this correspondence is that eighteenth-century anxiety about women's reading that we have discussed extensively in class. Rose criticizes much of the literature she reads and urges her friends and family members to avoid entirely or attend to only certain sections of particular books. She also feels strongly, however, about the potential of reading as a pedagogical tool. Ultimately, in this portrait of Rose, Towsey presents women as, in their role as readers and interpreters of literature, intellectual and cultural agents in their own right, both as individuals and collectively.

Attending ASECS was an extremely edifying experience. Given the panels I attended, I of course learned a great deal about the development of the novel as a genre and about women writers of the eighteenth century. As this was the first national conference I have had the opportunity to attend, I also gained much valuable information about the nature of conferences in general. I had previously thought that conferences served simply as opportunities for scholars to present their finished works. I know now that many use such meetings to test new ideas or to build on earlier ones, to gauge whether a proposed topic is worthy of future exploration and to get feedback as to what other lines of inquiry their own questions may engender. I especially appreciated the fact that, among the questions asked of the panelists, there were many "Have you read . . . ?!" and "You have to read . . . !" It was so neat to witness the enthusiasm with which these scholars approached their and others' work, and it made me all the more excited to participate in such conversations in the future.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Novel: Please Enjoy Responsibly

Having recently read Catherine Gallagher’s Nobody’s Story, which discusses extensively the social role of the reading of fiction in the eighteenth-century, I was specially attuned to mentions of reading in Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. Throughout the novel, Radcliffe posits literature as something that offers much to its readers. We learn early that Adeline, the novel’s heroine, has benefited from reading: “From books, indeed, she had constantly derived her chief information and amusement: those belonging to La Motte were few, but well chosen; and Adeline could find pleasure in reading them more than once. When her mind was discomposed . . . a book was the opiate that lulled it to repose” (82). Especially important here is the fact that reading has offered Adeline not only entertainment but also education and comfort. As we observe Adeline’s relationship with literature throughout the rest of the novel, it seems that this sense of comfort is that which Radcliffe figures as the most constant benefit of reading. Whether suffering from loneliness at the abbey or grief at Leloncourt, Adeline takes solace in poetry and plays (82; 236; 261). Indeed, the narrator even goes so far as to mention, in one of the moments in which Adeline turns to literature for comfort, that poetry “had seldom forsaken her”; this indicates that, in a life in which instability and betrayal are the norm, the written word alone has been steadfast. Clearly, then, Radcliffe posits reading as beneficial. She does not do so, however, without some degree of caution.

There are two instances in The Romance of the Forest that, although not directly related to reading, respond, I believe, to an uneasiness about reading that we have seen intimated by other early novelists. Like Sarah Fielding, through the example of the beggar in The Governess, and Charlotte Lennox, through the example of Sir George in The Female Quixote, Radcliffe cautions her readers against readily assuming the veracity of a story and instead urges discernment by writing of Adeline’s encounter with Theodore’s suspect surgeon. In order to support his claim of “infallible judgment,” the surgeon tells Adeline a story of a patient who passed away while under his care. With the utmost confidence, he asserts that this death was the result of fatal mistakes made by the physician who first administered to the patient: “Depend upon it, said I, you are mistaken; these medicines cannot have relieved him; the patient is in the utmost danger”(183). The surgeon goes on to tell of his final efforts to save the man through an alteration of the first physician’s prescriptions but concludes finally that “all would not do, my opinion was verified, and he died even before the next morning” (184). As Adeline is a careful listener, Radcliffe expects us to be discerning readers; we are to notice, like Adeline, that this patient’s condition improved with the care of the first physician and worsened immediately when the surgeon assumed his care. Because Adeline attends the story with caution, she is able to conclude that this other physician is far more fit to tend to Theodore, and ultimately, Theodore lives as a result. Clearly, then, one must exercise prudence when the audience to a story.

Another anxiety with which British society regarded reading by the late eighteenth century is well represented metaphorically by Radcliffe’s account of Clara and her lute. According to Gallagher, novel readers were, by this time, pejoratively figured as so embroiled in the emotions of fictional characters that they often failed, and sometimes disastrously, to attend to the immediacies of their actual lives. Clara, similarly, is so enthused upon receiving a lute from her father that she “played it again and again till she forgot every thing besides” (249). Her zealous interest in the instrument soon results in her neglecting a needy family, losing valuable instructional time with her father, and missing dinner with her family (249-253). Ashamed at her lack of discipline, Clara attempts to return the lute to her father; in doing so, however, she proves to him that she has gained command of her impulses, and he no longer fears the instrument a perilous distraction. Counseling her on her further engagement with the lute, Clara’s wise father offers her the following: “Since you have sufficient resolution to resign it when it leads you from duty, I doubt not that you will be able to control its influence” (253). These words seem readily applicable to reading and, thus, strike me as Radcliffe’s soliciting her audience to approach reading in such a way that it, too, may be enjoyed responsibly.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Passion and Compassion

Early in Fielding’s The Governess, the pupils of Mrs. Teachum’s academy are reformed by an experience in which they physically fight over an apple, feel and inflict pain, and later reflect seriously on the motivations for and consequences of their actions.  This, their first of many lessons, soon finds the girls, when dining together, “so changed, that each helped her next Neighbour before she would touch any for herself” (59).  I was surprised, then, to encounter, just a few pages later, what seemed a very different sentiment regarding one’s fellow person.  When, out on a walk, the class comes upon “a miserable ragged Fellow, who begged their charity,” they move instinctively to provide him aid, which prompts the following from their governess: “She told them, she approved of their Readiness to assist the poor Fellow, as he appeared to them: But oftentimes those Fellows made up dismal Stories without much Foundation, and because they were lazy, and would not work” (109).  That Mrs. Teachum would advocate caution, even mistrust, when interacting with the seemingly needy seemed incongruous with what I had thus far read.  Further reflection recalled, however, a story shared by Miss Jenny Pearce earlier in the novel, by which I began to form a clearer picture of that which Fielding is here promoting.  Jenny tells of a time in her youth in which she was much grieved by the loss of a beloved pet.  When Jenny's mother believes her daughter to have spent sufficient time mourning her loss, she advises her daughter thus: “Now tho’ I have always encouraged you in all Sentiments of Good-nature and Compassion . . . you are to consider, my Child, that you are not to give way to any Passions that interfere with your Duty" (65). 
The narrator soon offers several striking exemplifications of the validity of Mrs. Peace and Mrs. Teachum’s calls for caution.  In the fairy tale concerning Princess Hebe, the queen warns her daughter against “the Indulgence of the most Laudable Passion, even Benevolence and Compassion itself, through the tale of a “Hen, who, thinking that she heard the Voice of a little Duckling in Distress, flew from her Young ones, to go and give it Assistance” (129).  In consequence of committing this charitable act, the helpful hen is eaten by a fox, and her offspring by a falcon.  Yikes.  Soon after, Mrs. Teachum’s students are told, by Miss Jenny, of Princess Hebe’s being tricked into estrangement from her mother by her impulse to rescue a shepherdess from the clutches of the deceitful Rozella and of the fairy Sybella’s having been similarly hoodwinked in her efforts to aid what seems an old man interested in the reformation of his wayward son (135; 137).  These grave lessons could clearly be perceived as suggesting that charitable action leads to disaster.  However, as so many didactic voices throughout the novel explicitly commend benevolence, there is obviously something more at work here. 

This may simply amount to one aspect of Fielding’s larger admonition against acting with “Passion.”  In the aforementioned examples in which charitable action has dire consequences, it is important to note that each hinges on a spontaneous reaction, that of leaping to the aid of one in need, to a spontaneous emotion, that of compassion.  Happily, there are many examples in the novel in which concern with the well-being of others does not lead to oppression or death.  The students’ selfless interaction with one another following the “apple fray” is, of course, one important example, as the girls are only equal to such magnanimity after careful reflection upon their own and the others’ behavior.  Fielding posits reason, then, rather than passion, as the proper impetus for action. 

Because I, in my reading of The Governess, thought its views on charity strikingly pronounced, I wondered what other philosophy may have informed these views.  Having read, in the text’s introduction, that Fielding was influenced by Locke’s theories on education, I was interested in Locke’s views on benevolence, and I found Steven Forde’s “The Charitable John Locke” to be helpful (29).  It would be very difficult to paraphrase Forde’s treatment of the complex nature of Locke’s views on charity, but the following excerpt from his essay, though seemingly not wholly related to that which I am concerned with here, is instructive:

“In both [his “Venditio”] and the passage on charity in the First Treatise, Locke is very precise in his language: though charity is a duty it is not a duty of ‘justice.’  Justice, in matters of property, is concerned only with respecting the possessions of others and with fair rules of trade, a standard relatively easily reconciled with self-interest. Charity is a more exacting moral standard, but one to which people cannot strictly be held . . . [M] men are duty-bound only to refrain from harming or destroying one another.” (451)

Forde also asserts, ultimately, that “Lockean morality is not individual right per se, but concern for the common good.”  (1).  If I, in my admittedly very limited study of this aspect of Lockean theory, am correct in believing it to suggest that, because a natural right to self-preservation logically engenders self-interest, mediating one’s compassionate impulses through one’s self-interest is ethical, then these views seem to relate to those espoused by Fielding in The Governess.  For Mrs. Teachum and the novel’s other educators, self-preservation amounts, of course, to the preservation of one’s moral character, or the strict adherence to one’s “Duty.”  I would be interested in learning of the extent to which Fielding, like Locke, conceived of such preservation as ultimately beneficial to both the individual and society. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"O Vanity!"

In reading Joseph Andrews, I was most intrigued by Fielding's representation of the character of Parson Adams. In his introduction to the text, Thomas Keymer refers to the "ludicrous yet good-hearted Adams" (xxvii). Examples of the humorously ludicrous in Adams include his forgetfulness, his tendency towards being drawn against his nature into physical altercations, and his sometimes being the brunt of others' jokes (82; 103; 218). Fielding seems to approach something more serious, however, in his representation of other aspects of Adams' character. In the preface to Joseph Andrews, the narrator states the following:
"The only Source of the true Ridiculous (as it appears to me) is Affectation. . . . Now Affectation proceeds from one of these two Causes, Vanity, or Hypocrisy: for as Vanity puts us on affecting false characters, in order to purchase Applause; so Hypocrisy sets us on an Endeavor to avoid Censure by concealing our Vices under an Appearance of their opposite Virtues." (6) While Adams proves, throughout the novel, to be a loving and giving individual, he does not seem, as the narrator claims, to be "a Character of perfect Simplicity" (8). Rather, there are many moments in which he seems guilty of the vanity of which the narrator so disapproves. Adams, for instance, considers himself quite learned, and is resentful when others seem to question his intellectual or moral authority. While the first of the many debates in which he engages throughout the novel, this with Joseph Andrew's doctor regarding their respective knowledge of surgery, ends with Adams "very contendly suffer[ing[ the Doctor to enjoy his Victory," later discussions find the parson less willing to relent. For example, In a debate with with one of his many hosts concerning whether one's countenance may provide an accurate reflection of one's disposition, the other man speaks "with so little regard to the Parson's Observation, that it a good deal nettled him" (158). Injured, Adams boasts of the knowledge of the world he has obtained through reading: "I can go farther in an Afternoon, than you in a Twelve-Month" (159). Similarly, when Peter Bounce later refers to Adams as one who is ignorant of the world, the parson interrupts: "'You will pardon me, Sir,' returned Adams; 'I have read of the Gymnosophists" (238).

Adams is further characterized as one who is not terribly receptive of the wisdom of others. His and Parson Barnabas's discussion of tithes, for instance, "continued a full Hour, without the Doctor or the Exciseman's having one opportunity to offer a Word" (65). Later, in a rare moment in which Andrews shares his philosophical musings, the narrator remarks that "the Reader hath not been a little surprized at the long Silence of Parson Adams, especially as so many Occasions offer'd themselves to exert his Curiosity and Observation. The truth is, he was fast asleep, and had so been from the beginning of the preceding Narrative" (204). It is evident, then, that Adams gives greater weight to his own reflections than he does those of others. Didacticism is the nature of his profession, of course, but the aforementioned moments suggest that there is something of vanity in the eagerness with which Adams endeavors to share his wisdom with the world.

This is most succinctly, and humorously, related in Adams' conversation with Mr. Wilson concerning the latter's personal history. Here, Mr. WIlson expresses his scorn for vanity, and proves that he does so in both thought and deed by very honestly sharing with Adams the extent of his youthful transgressions (175-195). This leads to the parson searching "after a Sermon, which he thought his Masterpiece, against Vanity," and explaining that he has "never been a greater Enemy to any Passion than that silly one of Vanity" (186). That, in response, the humble Mr. Wilson simply "smiled, and proceeded" calls special attention to the irony, and hypocricy, of boasting of one's ability to speak against vanity (186).

These moments of Adams' hypocricy are brief but, given that they exist at all, significant. Late in the novel, at the supposed death of Adams' son, Andrews tries to comfort the parson with his own past sermons, in which he "preached nothing more than the Conquest of [passion] to Reason and Grace" (272). Adams dissolves, instead, into an emotional tumult, but shortly thereafter advises Andrews to bear his own suffering with composure. The fact that the parson is deeply offended when an impatient Andrews rejoins with "it is easier to give Advice than take it," suggests that Adams is here trying to avoid the censure of which the narrator earlier speaks by advocating a virtue he does not himself hold (272).

I woud not be interested in this characterization of Adams did I consider it a straightforward condemnation of vanity and hypocricy. Rather, I am intrigued by the fact that these traits exist in a character who is otherwise represented as so thoroughly good, and I wonder what Fielding means to communicate through this. In the preface, the narrator states, "O Vanity! How little is thy Force acknowledged, or thy Operations discerned  How wantonly dost thou deceive Mankind under different Disguises?" and follows with a thorough discussion of the trait as a great force of evil in the world (60). Following this diatribe, however, the narrator, in a self-conscioius moment, continues to address vanity thus: "I know thou wilt think, that while I abuse thee, I court thee; . . . but thou art deceived, i value thee not of a farthing; . . . for know to thy Confusion, that I have introduced thee for no other Purpose than to lengthen out a short Chapter" (60). The narrator's rather desperate insistence that vanity is of little consequence to him, coupled with the dubious assertion that he mentions it only to avoid brevity, communicates that it is an attribute with which he himself struggles. Perhaps the character of Parson Adams is meant to remind Fielding's audience that even the best of humans are subject to vanity and to encourage all to guard against it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Ruin'd": A Cautionary Tale

In Richardson’s Pamela, there is so much talk of the title character’s being “ruined” should she submit to the sexual advances of Mr. B., that I was immediately struck by a far different, though equally pejorative, use of the word early on in Haywood’s Anti-Pamela.  Rendered uneasy by the idea that her daughter, Syrena, could feel genuine emotion for a man with whom she engages romantically or sexually, Mrs. Tricksey warns, “I hope you do not stand in need of any Caution against indulging a secret inclination for him; for if it once comes to that you are ruin’d!—No Woman ever made her Fortune by the Man she had a sincere value for” (66).  Indeed, as Syrena’s various failed exploits seem to imply, women are in danger whenever inclination plays a role in their strategic approach to “love,” for as Catherine Ingrassia asserts in Anti-Pamela’s introduction, every time “Syrena approaches ‘success’—e.g. marriage or a financial settlement—her own sexual desires undermine her” (38).  Syrena is not, then, “ruined” when she compromises, according to the customs of her time, her virtue by engaging in pre- or extramarital affairs, for here she is using her sexuality to exert power over the various men in her life.  Rather, it is in those situations in which her own desire controls her, such as when she hazards her comfortable arrangement with the Mercer in order to aid the Gallant by whom she is taken, or risks her potential marriage to Mr. W. for the sexual gratification of a brief affair with his son, in which she meets her demise (38-39).  This notion of control seems of great import to Haywood, as the narrator takes pains to point out the disastrous potential of a loss of such control: “And here, methinks, it is worth remarking, how the indulging one Vice, destroy’d all the Success she might have expected from the other; for had she been less leud, her Hypocrisy, in all Probability, had obtain’d end” (198).  It is not, then, Syrena’s lack of virtue, but her lack of self-discipline that aborts her best-laid plans. 

Ingrassia posits Anti-Pamela as “a complex novel that offers an alternative didacticism that teaches cunning, duplicity and, ultimately, self-sufficiency within the treacherous financial and sexual economies women confront” (37).  Necessary to “self-sufficiency,” it seems, is the idea that no woman can allow herself to be manipulated by affection or sexual desire, or any motivation other than the strictly pragmatic, when navigating these economies.  Were not Syrena’s experiences sufficient, then certainly the sad circumstances of the myriad virtuous female characters of Anti-Pamela validate this idea.  If Haywood urges, as Ingrassia asserts, that female readers of Anti-Pamela recognize “the dangers and desires of the men who court them, employ them, or, potentially, marry them,” then the tragic end of the loving Maria and the jealous misery of Mrs. E. and Mrs. C indicate that even when marriage is pursued honorably, women often proceed at their own peril when not attending strictly to the practical aspects of the union (43).  The only female character ultimately rewarded with a happy, mutually loving relationship is, in fact, the Mercer’s wife, and her prize is an adulterous husband who, one may note, is reformed only after he learns of his mistress’s own infidelity and nearly brings his family to financial ruin. 

All of this recalls, of course, Haywood’s Love in Excess, in which female desire manifests itself in a variety of ways but generally to the misfortune of those women who experience it.  Ingrassia claims that, in Anti-Pamela, “Haywood seems to be offering a cautionary tale to the women—and men—who misread not only Pamela but her earlier fiction as well” (36).  If this is true, then perhaps Love in Excess’s heroine, Melliora, is meant to serve as an example of proper conduct not only for her maintaining her virtue in the face of D’ Elmont’s advances, but also for maintaining self-control in the midst of strong emotion.  Her self-exile after Alovisa’s death, for instance, indicates that, despite her love for D’Elmont, she retains the self-sufficiency Haywood advocates in Anti-Pamela.  This idea also sheds new light on an aspect of Love in Excess that troubled me well after I had completed the novel, that of the meaning of Violetta's death.  Certainly this minor character’s love for D’Elmont, given its utterly selfless nature, could be said to be even more virtuous than that of Melliora.  It surprised me, then, that such an affection, that which incited Violetta to follow her beloved to another country with the intention only of advancing his happiness, would be rewarded, by Haywood, with death.  Perhaps, however, Haywood offers, in Violetta, that which she later echoes in Anti-Pamela, a warning to women of the dangers of loving without at least some element of pragmatic self-interest. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"But whatever you do, Pamela . . ."

In an article titled “Richard’s characterization of Mr. B. and Double Purpose in Pamela,” Gwendolyn B. Needham contends that the average reader of Samuel Richardson’s first novel fails to recognize the complex character the author renders in its hero-villain, Mr. B.: “Convinced of Mr. B.’s wickedness, outraged by a seeming switch from black dye to whitewash, the reader doubts the ‘miraculous conversion’ and deplores Richardson’s ineptitude” (437).  Needham holds, instead, that Mr. B.’s motivations have been represented consistently throughout the narrative and that “Richardson’s psychological insight and conscious realism make convincing what happens to a Mr. B. when he encounters a Pamela” (452).  I am interested in Richardson’s characterization of Mr. B. because of an unbecoming characteristic I found to be as prevalent in him after his “reformation” as before, that of his nearly paranoid concern with others’ perception of him.  This is evidenced by a series of solemn counsels he administers to Pamela in regards to her behavior as his wife.  Fearing the opinion of their wedding guests, for instance, he asks that she adopt an artifice of lightheartedness at their nuptials: “But whatever you do, Pamela, be cheerful; for else, may-be, of the small Company we shall have, some one, not knowing how to account for your too nice Modesty, may think there is some other Person in the World, whose Addresses would be still more agreeable to you” (342).  Of her role as hostess, he enjoins, “[B]ut yet I will say, that I expect from you, whoever comes to my House, that you will accustom yourself to one even, uniform Complaisance: That no Frown take place on your Brow . . . That . . .  you signify not, by the least reserved Look, that the Stranger is come upon you unseasonably” (371).  Finally, he warns her against ever representing their marriage in an unfavorable light: “In all Companies she must have shewn, that she had, whether I deserved it altogether, or not, a high Regard and Opinion of me” (446). 
Prior to reading Needham’s article, I considered Mr. B.’s excessive vanity just another aspect of his unsavory character, despite the fact that his creator, Richardson, clearly wished me to have a far higher opinion of him by the latter half of the novel.  Needham, however, urges that Richardson’s continued representation of this prevalent fault in the hero is not indicative of the author’s inconsistency in characterizing him, but the opposite.  It is Mr. B’s ego that is at the heart of the novel’s initial conflict, as his inner struggle, in deciding whether a marriage to Pamela is worth the censure of his peers, “finally emerges as a clear case of Pride versus Love” (Needham 455).  However, as Needham also holds that “Richardson emphasizes pride of self as Mr. B.’s dominant and pervasive trait” and “convincingly demonstrates that Mr. B.’s ego and domineering disposition remain essentially unchanged,” I now question his characterization in but a different way (445; 468).  No longer does Mr. B. seem strangely converted from one who is thoroughly bad to one who is thoroughly good.  Rather, my own observations regarding his excessive fear of the judgment of others, coupled with Needham’s insistence that his vanity explains his psychological motivations throughout the novel and provides for his realistic rendering, lead me to newly question the likelihood of such a man marrying below his station. 

Of course, Needham also asserts that Richardson has created, in Mr. B., “a man capable of correcting and disciplining himself given sufficiently strong motivation” (446).  His love for Pamela may indeed provide just such motivation.  However, as he is hardly reformed in his vanity; as he seems, in his aforementioned cautions to Pamela regarding her behavior, to prize others’ perceptions over her comfort; and as, in marrying his servant, he would surely risk a far more extensive disapprobation of his peers than that afforded by any of the smaller matters over which he shows so much concern, I have my doubts.