June 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

Doro is my nickname for Dorothy Wordsworth, whom I’m really fond of. Not only was she waaaay cooler than her dull brother, yep, that Wordsworth, she wrote a travel memoir that is so perfectly in the Picturesque style that it puts Gilpin to shame. Not that he shouldn’t be ashamed anyway, so atrocious is his prose.

I’m always book hunting and recently found this suuuuper cute Oxford University Press 1958 edition of some of her journals. It includes the Grasmere Journals that I’ve mentioned before.

It’s pocket! And mint green! And a super cute picture on the front! It has “Purchased at Wordsworth’s Cottage Grasmere” stamped on the flyleaf. Sweeeet!

I’ll do a little write up about it when I’ve finished reading. Right now I have to get back to Doro’s slanting woods of an unvarying brown and the half dead sound of the near sheep-bell. O Doro!





Austen and the Picturesque. Part Four Concluded.

July 13, 2007 § 3 Comments

Beginning of Part Four here

“I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower,- and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”

– Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s appreciation of the Picturesque isn’t merely an exercise in fashionable sentimentality. Although her demonstrativeness is revealed to be affected, Marianne’s feelings are genuine; her real sensibilities as well as her sense prevail in the novel. While Austen uses the Picturesque to highlight Marianne’s emotionalism, she also uses it to remind us of her real taste and intelligence underneath her often self-absorbed and foolish actions. Edward and Marianne hold intelligent discussions about landscape and the narrative hints at ‘old disputes’ between them, indicating a history of thoughtful debate. The jargons of the Picturesque are not merely hollow words when used by Marianne:

“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel…”

Marianne’s actions of course and even her language at times borders on the absurd, and Austen associates the Picturesque with the absolutely absurd Rushworth in Mansfield Park. In a rage for ‘improvements’ Rushworth bores the Mansfield company with talk of instigating some at Sotherton. “Your best friend upon such an occasion,” Maria Bertram advices succinctly “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine” ***

Throughout her works Austen never criticizes the Picturesque per se but she does criticize the fashion for it. Like the subject of any fashion, there is nothing wrong with the Picturesque, what Austen ridicules with it, as she does so often, is the blind following of a trend without reason, honesty, learning or a consultation of real personal taste.


*** I’m currently doing more research into this topic and will revising shortly – RH

For Parts 1 – 3 please see the Austen and the Picturesque catergory link.

Austen and The Picturesque. Part Four.

July 12, 2007 § 2 Comments

In Sense and Sensibility Marianne Dashwood’s ‘passion for dead leaves’ is more than a romantic appreciation of Picturesque nature, it’s a declaration of the ideals that she has adopted. Decaying beauty is a phrase that could be used to describe Marianne herself for a good portion of the narrative, as well indicate her tastes. Her character is sound; she is ‘sensible and clever…generous, amiable, interesting’ but her demonstrative emotions and her actions are fueled by Romanticism, and often conjure affectations that, she acknowledges in the final chapters, go against even her character. Her sensibilities are fed by ill judged but popular sentimental notions and propped up by her will to embody the Romanticism of the poetry she reads and the decaying beauty of the Picturesque she so admires. These sensibilities, likewise the Picturesque, invoke drama.

When Elinor pokes fun at Marianne’s first conversation with Willoughby she jokes that ‘another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty, and second marriages, and then you can have nothing farther to ask.’ Marianne’s notions on landscapes and love characteristically have the Romantic in common. Edward Ferrars also teases her good naturedly on the topic. During his first stay at Barton Cottage he admires the surrounding countryside and ridicules the language of the Picturesque as a superficial concern:

“You must not enquire too far, Marianne; remember I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold; surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere.”

Marianne laments that ‘every body pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was’, ‘him’ being William Gilpin in his series of essays on the Picturesque, a devotion to whom Edward also notes when he declares that if she were rich, Marianne ‘would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree’ and indeed, on the sister’s journey to London, ‘any object of picturesque beauty within their view drew from her an exclamation of delight’

Part Four is to be continued

Austen and The Picturesque Part II

July 3, 2007 § Leave a comment

Austen and the Picturesque Part I

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

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

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

Austen and the Picturesque Part III

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

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

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

Austen and The Picturesque

June 28, 2007 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Austen and the Picturesque Part II

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

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