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!





1800-1803: The Grasmere Journals

December 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, published in 2008, appears to be another work of excellence from my favorite modern literary biographer, Frances Wilson, whose riveting biography of courtesan, author and master blackmailer Harriette Wilson (no relation) I have mentioned on this site before. Dorothy (1771-1855) was an author, diarist and aide to her brother, poet William Wordsworth.

I haven’t read it yet but based on Margaret Drabble’s review in the Times Literary Supplement (April 23, 2008) I intend to as soon as possible. I strongly recommend reading Margaret Drabble’s review, not only for her insights into Wilson’s work but also because Drabble’s expansion on Wilson’s idea of a connection between Dorothy and Emily Brontë is quite fascinating.

“Wilson confines her analysis largely to the period leading up to the writing of the Grasmere Journals (1800–03) and to the journals themselves, and she brings her story to an end with an emotional climax and a textual crux.”

“She describes the immense walks that Dorothy took, “with mud-encrusted skirts banging against her sturdy legs, her flimsy shoes, her neck and face often wet and cold, her eyes and ears alert to the beauty of every sight” and the disapproving reactions of family and landladies to this bohemian mode of travel. She invokes Miss Bingley’s scorn of Elizabeth Bennet’s three-mile walk to see her sick sister at Netherfield…”

“The Wordsworth walks were more Brontë than Austen, and Wilson uses Emily Brontë as a key to her understanding of brother and sister…”

Quoted from “Poor Dorothy Wordsworth, The Shadow Story of the Wordsworths and Wuthering Heights” by Margaret Drabble from The Times Literary Supplement 23 April, 2008

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland in A.D. 1803 was not published until many years after her death and is now considered a masterpiece of Picturesque travel writing. The text is available to read online or download over at Internet Archive

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

Sublime Anxiety: The Northanger Canon

June 22, 2007 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

The gothic novels that make up the Northanger Canon:

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

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

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

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

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