Teaching, pasticceria, and the purposes of education.

What is university education?

What is university teaching? What is its purpose? What should it be?

downloadIf the questions have preoccupied many of us in the UK even before students started to be conceptualised as customers, they were recently brought back to me anew and with unusual clarity, as for the first time for some years I was privileged to teach, in an unfamiliar setting, students of a kind who had been through a very different education system from my students in the UK.

Over ten days in November I was lucky to teach six 2-hour sessions at the University of Macerata to 1st year undergraduates, and 1st year MA (“magistrale”) students in Languages in the Department of Humanities.

The sessions were divided equally between three longer courses, two on the nineteenth-century novel and one on modernist women’s poetry. Unlike in the UK, there are neither elaborate course booklets nor dedicated virtual learning environments such as Moodle   or Blackboard; rather there are basic directions to the students about what set the set texts are and what the general aims of the course are, as follows:

(1st year MA ) http://docenti.unimc.it/silvana.colella/courses/2014/13256 and http://docenti.unimc.it/marina.camboni/courses/2013/12192

1st year undergraduate http://docenti.unimc.it/silvana.colella/courses/2011/9153

Such elegant indications of course content give the teacher great flexibility and, importantly, the ability to keep absolutely up to date by changing research questions and incorporating new material as it emerges during the teaching year – which of course it will do, produced either by the teacher herself or by other academics. This also means it is easy to insert sessions such as mine even after the course has started.

Naturally, I tried to make connections between what I understood to be the focus of the extant courses and my own concerns and expertise, without risking overlap or duplication of material. Talking to the usual teachers of the courses was helpful. But at the same time, the sessions were (in theory at least) open to the public. The result was inevitably something of a mash-up, and had to offer something attractive. Hence the rather sensationalist titles.




Example of page 1 of a "preslide"
Example of page 1 of a “preslide”

The fact that the sessions were to be delivered in English to non-native speakers was another issue. I sought to deal with this by making available in advance what I called “preslides” in the “Teaching documents” section of my academia.edu site and /or on the usual professor’s university site: the usual prof informed the students orally in class that they should download the preslides and read them carefully along with the set texts, electronic copies of which I also provided. The preslides were designed to help students take notes. They comprised PDF versions of black and white PowerPoint slides stripped almost entirely of images, 6 slides to a page, and asked questions and provided quotations with gaps where key words should be. They were based on, but certainly not identical to, the much more elaborate PowerPoint slides I showed in class (these were also made available to students after the sessions, again in PDF, 6 slides to a page, on my academia.edu page).

Since I knew the sessions would not be examined, there was no obvious way that I could properly test the effectiveness of my teaching of the class overall (I always think of exams as testing the teaching as much as the learning). As is my wont, I planned abundant interaction from which I would normally be able gauge a class’s understanding, but I also knew that Italian students were not used to this and would probably be shy. I therefore devised a questionnaire for the students to fill in at the end of my time with them (that is, at the end of the second of the two-hour sessions). Such questionnaires are of course always double edged; they not only inform the researcher of the results, but inform the person completing the questionnaire, in this case making the students reflect on what they really had got out of the sessions and how they could get more out of future ones.questionnaire

I had 35 responses from the 1st year undergraduate class, and 22 from the first MA class, and 9 from the second (31 MA responses in total). It was quite wonderful to see the students take this questionnaire very seriously – it seems, from talking to them afterwards, that they are not used to doing this kind of thing, and that is why they spent so much time thinking about it, no matter how much I insisted it was not a test.

Of course one wants to find out what the students think of one – hence my immediate turn to the question of what I could have done better.  Almost of them were embarrassingly positive in their responses to “What could Andrew have done to help you learn better?”, especially the 1st years. “Involving” (= “coinvolgente”?) occurred in 8 of the 35 1st year responses (28%), “catch our attention” in 3 others, along with numerous generic positives.

“he was very involving, so he couldn’t have done anything more to help me learn better than this”

“it was a fantastic and involving lesson! The slides were useful and the explanation was clear”

“he was very involving and funny in his lesson”

There were just 4 suggestions for improved teaching: more on Dickens (x 2) and talk more slowly (x 2). I was delighted that only two students asked for the latter, as it meant that, for the vast majority, the care I had taken over oral delivery – speed, choice of Latinate vocabulary – had paid off.

beignetThe MA students were slightly – but only slightly – less positive on the same question. 11 wrote “nothing” and there were in addition 13 superlatives. There were, however, 8 suggestions for how I could have improved: more history (x 1); more on the concept of satire (x 1) which in retrospect I agree would have very useful (thank you to whoever wrote this – excellent idea!); don’t wait for responses from the class but just give the answer (x 1 – sorry, but my pedagogic tradition wants you to think for yourselves, not be choux buns – beignets – which I stuff with crème Chantilly!). Two wanted more time to discuss the texts, one of these two sensibly suggesting that what turned out to be a 4 hour session be split over two days. One wanted more videos (we saw just one – a Youtube video of the controversial Royal Opera performance of Salome, with Nadja Michaels, naked executioner and very bloody head). I’m a bit sceptical of this given the time constraints and the purpose of the aim of the session, but I take much more seriously the remark of another that “he could have spent more time on some extracts we’ve quickly seen”. This was echoed by another who wanted to concentrate on fewer texts (and indeed by the one who wanted more time in general). For what I had forgotten was the sheer difficulty of nineteenth-century prose and poetry for second-language learners – not only its unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax, but also its cultural references. I was treating them like UK MA students and that was very unfair of me. I really should have put myself in their shoes (as opposed to choux).

What’s the ONE most important thing you’ve learned from Andrew King’s sessions?

“That learning literature is not about studying in books but getting into the text and asking yourself questions and trying to give answers”
“I hadn’t thought it possible to find advertising language in literary works”
“There’s no limit to desire”
“Realism is a contract between author and reader which demands trust”
“Realism is still dominant in Britain today”

The biggest surprise to me, though, was the variety of the responses to the first two questions. Of the 35 1st year responses to the first question “What’s the ONE most important thing you’ve learned,” 28 wrote something about realism (6 were very specific on realism as a contract between reader and text; while 7 more were also specific in a variety of ways; the remainder more generic – e.g. “I’ve learned better realism in a more specific way”). The real delights lay in the 7 alternative responses, two of which are cited above; two others showed a delight in semiotic theory and in the problem of refusing value judgements in literary discussion. A great deal of variety was evinced in the responses to the second question, that concerning what students wanted more of (these don’t add up to 35 as not everyone wrote something – 10 wrote “nothing” while others left a blank; a very few wrote more than one thing). It’s easier to present the results in tabular form:

  • Household Words
    Household Words

    Dickens (x 6);

  • historical context of various types (x 6);
  • Victorian art (x 4);
  • literary context (x 3);
  • realism and crime (x 1);
  • theory (x 1);
  • effects of journalism and literature on lower classes (x 1);
  • realism (! x 1);
  • comparison of British realism with Italian verismo (x 1);
  • close reading (x 1)

There’s no pleasing a class completely of course. For in response to the question about what the students wanted to study less and why, 9 of the First Years didn’t want Dickens at all as they thought him “boring”; 5 found the theory of realism too hard; 1 wanted less history and 1 didn’t see the relevance of looking at the details of Victorian art. The rest said “nothing” or similar, or left the question blank.

Rather than look at Dickens journalism then, I should perhaps have looked at some short and simple contemporary newspaper articles, perhaps culled from the British Newspaper Archive. I should certainly have omitted the part of the lecture most interesting to me, the part concerning semiotic theory and realism’s aspirations faithfully to represent the world. Yet the students were perhaps right: I wonder now if that part is just me being clever, playing a kind of cadenza, with surprising trills and scales and leaps over the intellectual keyboard. It may be ingenious and of course it IS thematically integrated  – but removing it won’t weaken the overall argument. The students helped me realise that while it is integrated it is not integral. I shall accordingly drop that section in future.

Thank you 1st years at Macerata!

Herod seeks to persuade Salome of the value of his pearls, using techniques derived from contemporary advertising
Herod seeks to persuade Salome of the value of his pearls, using techniques derived from contemporary advertising, including incremental analogy and royal endorsement.

Although less effusive in their praise, the 31 MA students also wished to change less: 5 said they wanted less history, 1 wanted less on women in print. This ties in with students’ desire to focus more on the texts (though on individual questionnaires there was not necessarily a correspondence). In short, I concluded that the MA students wanted help with reading strategies. I don’t think it was just a question of not understanding syntax and lexis but of interpretative frameworks and how to test these frameworks against specific texts through close reading. I sought to remedy this in the last session with the MA students, in which I offered a framework and pretty rigorously tried to apply it to texts and historical data. Explicit feedback from 5 of the 9 students in this session suggested that that worked, but of course there is a severe limit on what it is possible to teach in such a short time. Any significant development of reading strategies requires, I think, at least 20 hours of contact time.

While I am a great believer that questionnaires which indirectly ask students to reflect on their learning have great pedagogic value, perhaps the most valuable of all is the last question: “What could you have done to help you learn better”? The undergraduate class was actually delightfully talkative and responsive, but still 7 wrote that they could have been less shy and talked more. No fewer than 19 confessed that they should have prepared in advance(about 55%) , including printing out the preslides; 10 wrote that they should have paid more attention, including two who said they should have slept the night before and 1 who, with charming candour, admitted that she should have turned off her iphone and not read messages from friends! The MA students were much more tentative and perhaps alarmed by this question: in the first, larger, of the MA classes, a slightly smaller proportion (50%) said they should have prepared for the class, but a larger proportion (25% as opposed to 20%) said they should have talked more in class. One said that the texts couldn’t be unzipped and another said that s/he should have come to both sessions, not just the second. In the second MA class, of the 9 students, no fewer than 8 said they should have come prepared; no-one said they should have talked more as in fact the smaller group did encourage more interaction.

crostata di castagne (chestnut tart)
crostata di castagne (chestnut tart)

What wasn’t captured by the questionnaire, but which I think very important indeed, was the pleasure I felt as a teacher of such socially skilled and charming students. There was a great deal of social stroking of the teacher. From my shoes, this is a great danger, whose nature is visible in the apparent difficulty students had in arriving at conclusions based on evidence independently of the teacher. I found at times compelled to make ridiculous statements to try to get the students to contradict me, even to the point of confusing the gender of the people they saw on the screen. It was hard to get them to dare to draw their own conclusions without a clear guide from me! This was especially notable amongst the larger MA group, who seemed to have been very thoroughly socialised into agreeing with what they perceive to be authority at the expense of evidence.

This certainly does NOT occur only in Italy: the rather exasperated account of an American university teacher here shows that. But I do think that it Italy it is performed with an unusual charm and subtlety. Perhaps it is even connected with the form the students’ self-criticism took (I am interpreting “I should have talked more/ prepared better ” as what they thought I as authority figure wanted them to do). It may also be connected with a short but significant discussion with the first years on the differences between the breakfast news shows on television in Italy and the UK, 1Mattina on RAI1 and its UK equivalent, BBC Breakfast. While we agreed that both involved evidence-based reasoning and the maintenance of human relations and, importantly, of social hierarchy, the balance seemed to be in favour of the latter in Italy. In other words, hierarchy determines knowledge more than disinterested reasoning. This leads me on to a speculation about the different social functions of education in Italy and the UK.

ciambellone maceratese stuffed with chocolate
ciambellone maceratese stuffed with chocolate

Does the teacher in Italy perform less the part of a model of how to draw conclusions from evidence than that of a master patissier who creates and fills beignets and other delightful pastries? An important role that of the pastry chef. I’m a great fan of beignets as well as crostate and ciambelloni maceratesi – but I do worry about how delightful it is to consume them. My concern is not with my waistline in this context. Rather, if students treat themselves as beignets that teachers fill or bake, my worry is who will use them up, and for what end? Do students perhaps need to be taught to be more rebarbative, less consumable, more overtly and independently critical of authority, more self-moving, rather than taught to sit on a shelf oozing charm and creme Chantilly, resigned to their fate? Do students need careful and phased training in specific skills of independent problem identification and solving rather than stuffing with information?

But then, putting myself in their shoes, I wonder if such a powerful focus on distanced, rational problem-solving is really a life-skill that is, or will be, useful for students in their cultural context which is very different from mine? Am I fetishising problem-solving too absolutely, too glibly? Perhaps in the lived experience of their day-to-day lives, social skills of a very particular kind are more necessary — charming consumability to ensure cooperation and loyalty from authority and colleagues, and resignation in the face of opposition to one’s needs and demands.

Is, after all, the best Italian translation of “education” perhaps not what the dictionaries tell us — istruzione or formazione? Maybe, even though we learnt it long ago as a “false friend” meaning “politeness,” it is educazione ?  Is this what teaching as pasticceria would mean?

That’s not for me to decide. I remain an outsider to Italy, still wearing my battered old British shoes, even while delighting in the many charms of Italian choux. It would be irresponsible of me to do other than raise such questions, not least because, alas, I have to confess that my pastry has always been on the heavy side. Though I’m a bit better at the picante.

The Vicissitudes of Biography; or, how to welcome an Other

Draft of a talk for the University of Macerata to a general audience at 11am on the 11th of November 2014. The elaborate PowerPoint, contrapuntal with and not duplicative of these words, can be found here, along with a spoken word recording of the presentation.

frontispiece to Elizabeth Lee, Ouida: a Memoir (Methuen, 1914)
opposite p. 89 in Elizabeth Lee, Ouida: a Memoir (Methuen, 1914)

The Vicissitudes of Biography; or, how to welcome an Other

Le vicissitudini del raccontare una vita; o come accogliere un Altro

Almost everyone I meet asks me what I am doing in Macerata. To those in the street I give a simple linear answer: a guest of the new Collegio Matteo Ricci at the University, I’m finishing a biography of the nineteenth-century popular author Ouida,  planning a European networking project with colleagues here, and exchanging ideas about teaching and curriculum design (a reflection on which can be found here) .

But I think you here, kind enough to host me in the University and to welcome me in this splendid nineteenth-century aula, deserve something more than that plain list. And it’s the relation of welcome and biography that I want to spend these few minutes thinking about with you.

In 1908, shortly after Ouida had died in Viareggio after almost 40 years in Tuscany, a woman journalist from New York, a Miss Welch, wrote to an old soldier, now retired and staying in Viareggio, to ask if he could help her with information or letters about this woman author whose works sold by the million all over the world. He replied that, yes, he had known Ouida when he was in the military and, yes, he had renewed her acquaintance recently and exchanged a number of letters with her, and, yes, he would let Miss Welch see these letters. However, he warned, writing the life of Ouida would be very difficult. This wasn’t because of a paucity of information but because of the peculiar qualities the biographer of Ouida would require. Chief amongst these qualities would be what he thought was an already outmoded sense of chivalry towards the subject.

In his next letter to Miss Welch he changed his mind: he wouldn’t let her see the letters after all. Knowing Ouida’s hatred of biographies and the publication of private lives in general, he wanted to respect her wishes. Though he doesn’t say this in so many words, it’s clear that he feared Miss Welch would not treat Ouida chivalrously.

Miss Welch never wrote the biography.1st volume-length biography of Ouida: by Elizabeth Lee (Methuen, 1914) After the many, many obituaries of Ouida after her death on 25 January 1908, the first substantial volume-form biography was published in 1914 by Elizabeth Lee, the sister of the editor of the British Dictionary of National Biography.  This was followed by three more full-length biographies, the most recent of which appeared in 1957.

But the old soldier’s warning still appertains 106 years after it was written. We might regard the term “chivalry” as problematically patronising today, but we can and should think about the moral issues of biography, of writing or telling a life.  To do that, I’m prompted here by something  we have learnt, through what I think of as “Mediterranean” theory, to call over the last 20 years hospitality but which we might well call “welcome” or accoglienza. I’m not going to explore the delightfully tortuous paths of Derrida’s thinking  on hospitality here, now, in this welcoming aula,  or the way it interacts in dialogue with his interlocutor Anne Dufourmantelle, but rather, inspired by his work, to think about the vicissitudes — the perils, pains and transformations — of writing a life.

If we have learnt anything from Derrida, we know that there are many and contradictory ways to write — many ways to approach an Other. I can for example use the life of another to celebrate myself, to parade him or her like a jewel on a breast or on my cuffs or, demonstrating my ouida silver crestacquaintance with her as one of my possessions, to flash her as a claim to my status in a defined community. So, for example, I could write a biography merely to forward my career,  or to claim membership of a specific elite — let’s call them humanities academics — by using the life to promote a specific ideology, or to fulfill a publishing contract. I can do that efficiently, careless of the specific nature of the Other. We’ve all read biographies like that.

We can also “welcome” the Other through biographical rituals, helping them cross the threshold in ways that long use has sanctioned. We can think of these rituals as conventions or characteristics of a genre. I have followed this ritual route myself, as in my chapter last year on the publishing history of Ouida:

Marie Louise Ramé was born on 1 January 1839 to Susan Sutton and Louis Ramé in her maternal grandmother’s house, 1 Union Terrace, in the small provincial English market town of Bury St Edmund’s. Nominally a French teacher, her father was rarely en famille … 

Andrew King, “Ouida 1839-1908: Quantity, Aesthetics, Politics” in Ouida and Victorian Popular Culture, ed. Jane Jordan and Andrew King, Ashgate, 2013: 13-36, p. 13.

But those are both very egocentric welcomes, the first using lives as things, as exchangable commodities (a life in return for a measurable amount of status or pay), the second, ritualistic, incorporating the Other, or perhaps making the life fit our dimensions and rules as Procrustes stretched or chopped the bodies of his guests to make them fit his bed – the biographer as butcher indeed. To those extents, both are problematic. Neither truly welcomes the life of the Other.

How then would we rightly welcome a life?

First of all, it wouldn’t mean the exclusion of the previous parading of the Other I’ve just seemed to reject. How terrible if we were not proud to be seen in the company of the Other! It wouldn’t mean rejecting the Other as jewel, or even as exchangeable object in a social transaction, ideological or commercial. Neither would it mean a refusal of form, though one would hope it not Procrustean.  But it would mean, in addition to and in excess of those, recognising the Other as other — taking the trouble to find out how this person is different from me and from my social groups.

In life, we can ask our guests what they need in ways direct or subtle – and guests can tell us even before we ask; in writing a life of the dead, in welcoming a stranger into our community from not only another place but another time, we cannot ask directly. They not only do not speak the same language as us, they do not speak at all, as Ouida well knew and feared — that was why she hated biography. But we needn’t give up in the face of her opposition. We must, to write a life, learn to read the signs of demand and desire without being able to ask, and without too much imposition. That in turn requires a plan and clear methodology that while organised and strategic, must seek to accommodate, to welcome, to be open to alterity and the unexpected. Without those one cannot expect to see Otherness.  And here lie the vicissitudes: the pains and the transformations.

If these points are relevant to the writing of all lives and all welcomes we give, what are the specific requirements of Ouida’s? Apart from my own short accounts of Ouida of course (!) – the longest just 10, 000 words –  previous biographies have all been problematic.

The best is the first, issued in 1914 by Elizabeth Lee. Since many of the players in Ouida’s life were still alive, both fear of libel and a sense of chivalry to the living as well as dead forced Lee to conceal a good deal. It also meant that she was unclear as to many of her sources, several of which are untraceable, and that she placed Ouida in her context only superficially. Nonetheless, we can see that within the limits of fear and chivalry, Lee did at least try to be responsible to her subject.

The three subsequent major biographies are all, however, examples of treating the other as object—I’ll not name them here because I don’t want to give them the oxygen of publicity. They essentially treat her like this Punch cartoon from 1881.

Punch 28 August 1881
Punch 28 August 1881

For them Ouida is nothing more than a figure of fun, a bag of bright feathers with no hat to put them on, all extravagance and no substance. The three biographies are very amusing and for that reason have been very influential from the Wikipedia entry on Ouida to the first monograph devoted to Ouida’s novels which came out in 2008. But they mistranscribe letters, misspell key names and alter evidence for comic effect just as the Punch cartoon does (Ouida never smoked for example).  For them Ouida remains a thing, an object of ridicule, a piece of meat, a way of extracting money by amusing audiences. There’s no chivalry and certainly no hospitable treatment of Ouida as a welcomed Other or, to use Derrida’s term in On Hospitality, a  foreigner (starniero, étranger).

Like many of the best known women writers of the nineteenth-century, George Eliot and Mary Braddon for example, Ouida was not pretty or conventional. But unlike most of them, neither was she accommodating or charming. Nor did she have a man to help her transact business. She was very assertive, outspoken, as this quotation from the introduction to an 1888 Italian translation to some of her short stories shows.

Si direbbe che Ouida è invasa dalla mania di proclamare ai quattro venti l’infamia di quella classe [mondana], di palesare che tutto, in essa, è fango, orpello, ignavia, ipocrisia, e che quanto havvi di più cretino ed ingiusto pullula in quelle alte sfere ove  … le tignuole rodono l’ermellino e il mondo bacia il lebbroso sulle due guancie.

“Memini” « Appunti critici » in Affreschi ed altri racconti di Ouida, Milano: Treves, 1888: v-xix, p.xi.

What “Memini” could have said, had s/he written 20 years later, was that Ouida refused to respect money, wrote tirelessly in favour of political individualism, animal rights, and the conservation of old buildings. She mercilessly denounced capitalism, militarism and masculine performance, told political leaders that terrorism was their own fault, complained bitterly that Italy had failed to live up to the ideals of the risorgimento, dared to give voice to the poor and exploited, and had a keen sense of the aesthetic, the creation and conservation of which she held up as a necessary moral alternative to the violences of war and greed. Anticipating Bhutan, she extolled gross national happiness over gross national product.

She wrote the first known novel in which a divorced woman ends happily unmarried living with her lover – Moths curiously is the only novel of her 40 in Macerata libraries.  She wrote in both her published works and private letters of unorthodox sexual preferences and practices from male homosexuality to female masochism, and refused to condemn any except when lack of consent and discretion were involved. She solidified the term ‘New Woman‘ to describe the calls for women’s work, political and artistic representation in the 1890s.

A liberal perhaps like the dominant norm amongst humanities academics in the west? She sounds like one of us.

But then not: Ouida hated the New Woman for her hypocrisy in calling for a freedom that she thought would enslave others. Ouida was also anti-Semitic and often misogynistic. She hated doctors, medical intervention and scientific progress in general; she hated democracy as tending to a dull level of conformity. She championed instead an aristocracy of intellect and land – but only as long as both the landed and intellectual aristocrat was cultured, refined and responsible (rather like the hero in her last, unfinished, novel Helianthus).

Ouida could never have been my friend. I disagree with her solutions to the problems she saw and indeed some of what she saw as problems. And she would have been hell to work with as a colleague. She remains very different from me.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to her carefully and try to understand this very other person, above all seeking the right questions to ask: what do you really need to be understood today, here, now? What do you really want? How can I encourage you to tell me so that I do not silence you with the violence either of my desires or of my parade, or cut you on the butcher’s bed of convention, ritual or ridicule? This attempt to listen through the static of the day for the voices and requirements of the dead, this attempt to become an Echo as opposed to a Narcissus — this certainly invites vicissitudes: misfortunes because the project is inevitably fraught, fated to imperfection and sacrifice on both sides, but also, I dare hope, vicissitudes in the sense of transformations both of the past and of the present, and hence a new path into the future.

So what am I doing at Macerata? Besides writing bids with my esteemed colleagues here, teaching and exchanging ideas, trying to answer these difficult questions, variants of which, despite their vicissitudes, we all answer, consciously or not, every day, in our own ways.

Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): an Encounter with Italy 1

The following three blog posts were originally published as  “The origins of Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): the  combination novel, myths of the female artist and the commerce of art.” In: Anglistica Pisana. 6.1 (2009) Edizioni ETS, Pisa, Italy, pp. 77-85. ISBN 9788846725967.

Since that volume is out of print, I reproduce it her with the kind permission of Giovanni Campolo of Edizioni ETS.

I have added my translations of passages in Italian and also a few images not in the original version from a beautiful version of the 1873 2 volume Tauchnitz  edition. This is bound in white paper with red and gold stampings, illustrated with actual photographs  cut and pasted onto appropriate additional pages. My copy (of only volume 1) has been bound by Giulio Giannini whose business was at the Piazza Pitti in Florence. They are still one of the foremost book binders in Florence (see http://www.giuliogiannini.com/). The date is not given, though there is a dated owner’s signature on the inside – S.M. Schieffelin, 1890. I have also added a few images from the Nuova Antologia,  and, in later  posts, from editions of Corinne and Consuelo  Apart from those visual additions and a bit of colour in the text to help orientate the reader on the screen,  the text is the same as published. 

bound version of 1873 Tauchnitz edition of Pascarel
bound version of 1873 Tauchnitz edition of Pascarel

In musing over the villas of Florence in her Scenes and Memories (Smith, Elder, 1912), Ouida’s friend Walburga, Lady Paget finally comes to the Villa Farinola, where Ouida lived between 1874 and 1888.

 Ouida was certainly a genius; she had a power of language, a love of nature, and, above all, a flair for couleur locale almost unequalled. If you consider that she wrote Pascarel when she had been but three weeks in Italy, you must confess that the achievement is second only to Byron’s lines on the Dying Gladiator, after having seen it for the first time. (pp. 321-2).

Two of Ouida’s biographers go so far as to take the travels and feelings of Pascarel’s heroine as a straightforward transcription of Ouida’s own. [1] This article queries Lady Paget’s hyperbole and asks what Ouida’s first encounter with Italy actually meant. I suggest that it was a new audience and new source material that led her to compose what the Athenaeum recognised as a fresh development in her oeuvre “far in advance of [her] earlier novels”[2]

Soon after its publication in triple-decker form by Chapman & Hall in early 1873, Pascarèl was brought out in a single volume by Lippincott’s in America and in two-volume form by Tauchnitz in Leipzig (Ouida had had a business relationship with these firms since 1865 and 1867 respectively). Such transnational distribution is to be expected for a writer best known for her part in forwarding the popular culture industry: there is nothing new here.

pascarel in nuova antologia
Pascarello, in Nuova Antologia April 1873, vol 22, p. 812

What was novel for Ouida was that Pascarèl was quickly translated into Italian and serialised in the Nuova Antologia.[3] This latter had been started in 1866 by Francesco Protonotari to mark the spiritual and cultural life of the newly emergent Italian nation now that the capital was in Florence. It promoted a new form of writing

con un immediato senso della realtà attuale, con una scioltezza vivace che attraessero il pubblico alla lettura e rendessero possible la trattazione chiara e piacevole di qualsiasi argomento.[4]

[with an immediate sense of current reality, with a lively fluency which would attract the public to reading and render possible the clear and pleasing treatment of every kind of theme]

One of its many interesting features is the role of the woman writer in it: its Indice per autori shows how women were, on the whole, confined to contributing fiction, suggesting a strongly gendered vision of writing in which women had to be contained. As a fiction writer, Ouida fitted in.

But it is also significant that Protonotari must have understood Pascarèl to fit his nationalist agenda and its popular and “immediate sense of current reality”. The nature of Ouida’s arrangements with Protonotari are not clear, though given the speed with which the translation appeared, one can imagine that she had been negotiating with him for some time. It is probable therefore she wrote the novel with one eye on the Italian market and the other on her established Anglophone one. Perhaps Protonotari had urged her to address the issue of national unity early on in the novel’s composition, or she herself realised what its readers wanted. Either would explain why she changed direction and started to think about the social utility of her art. What is clear is that Ouida, for the first time, was understood to have written a novel suitable for a periodical with a specific social programme: Pascarèl is a novel with a political and social agenda.

I want to fit Pascarèl into a story of Ouida’s overall literary development that queries the usual riches to rags narrative of a pathetic grotesque. During her time in Italy Ouida gradually turned towards non-fictional interventions in high-status British and American periodicals. After 1899, however, Ouida published very little at all, though she continued to write politically opinionated letters to her acquaintances along with a handful of political poems. A few of the latter appeared in The Times; others, considered too libellous for print, remained in manuscript form, circulating only amongst her network of correspondents. The poems – when they have been mentioned at all – have uniformly been taken as examples of how little Ouida knew of real political process.[5] Whatever their degree of political sophistication, they demonstrate Ouida’s commitment, at this last stage of her writing career, to art as a political intervention beyond economic exchange. Believing in the paternalist idea that genius had very definite duties to society, Ouida now was using poetry and correspondence, both public and private, as the least commercially profitable modes of writing in order to make political statements, locating her art beyond exchange value into pure, if necessarily limited, utility.

Ouida’s aesthetic trajectory to this point was not straightforward or linear. Yet her move from the purely commercial can be located best in a handful of works from the 1870s set in Italy. Central to all of them is the status of art and artists: Signa (1875), In a Winter City (1876), Ariadne (1877) and Friendship (1878) all deal with the relation of various arts to the market and, more generally, the place and function of art in society. Pascarèl (1873) initiates this series.

In Ouida’s work from the 1860s, the idea that “art” and “genius” might have an ethical or social role had been portrayed as ridiculous. The odd reference to them in Under Two Flags (1866) reduces their social utility to the teaching of etiquette for profit or the making of figurines in imitation of one’s fellows to supplement a meagre income, a metonym for commercial stories that follow formulae already tested in the market. Art is commercially imitative and combinatory. Folle-Farine (1871) portrays the artist as so egotistical as to be heedless of the sacrifices made for him:

He was not cruel. To animals he was humane, to women gentle, to men serene; but his art was before all things with him, and with humanity he had little sympathy. (Folle-Farine, Chatto and Windus reissue, 1883, p. 219).

What the artwork and the artist do is not clear except bring financial reward and fame. The eponymous heroine sells her body so that her beloved sculptor can become famous, but she views what he does in the haziest terms:

This art, which could call life from the dry wastes of wood and paper, and shed perpetual light where all was darkness, was ever to her an alchemy incomprehensible, immeasurable; a thing not to be criticised or questioned, but adored in all its inscrutable and majestic mystery. (Folle-Farine, p. 298).

Tricotrin, the artist hero of Ouida’s next novel, ensures “Art” is kept as his “handmaiden” not his “mistress” by choosing a wandering life of minstrelsy (Tricotrin, 1871, I, p.64). Art generates “treasure” for its possessors (II, p. 357), offers delights both spiritual and sensuous, but is also a place where the artist can “vent” his emotion (I, p. 248), a quiet remove from the tumult of the world, a “tuft of rushes” (II, p. 380). Such “expressive” art is beyond price, of course. There may be a faint echo of Shelley’s notion of the poet – “A statesman rules ay, for a lifetime; but it is only the poet whose sceptre stretches over generations unborn.” (II, p. 438) – but this seems just another aphorism of the kind that Ouida frequently puts in the mouths of conversationally combative characters. Described in utterly conventional ways, the role of art is never seriously debated in Tricotrin. Art is a source of firstly income and secondarily glory in these early works, mirroring Ouida’s own position as a worker in the commercial culture industry.

That Pascarèl was written to sell like its predecessors is beyond doubt. Ouida was not yet at the stage where she was a producer of a pure art for society’s sake. However, it is also the case that, along with her new politically-conscious Italian market, the established sales-generating technique Pascarèl employed – its reworking of well-known narratives in the fashion of a “combination novel”[6] ‑ that opened the way for a more thorough-going questioning of the role of art in society than Ouida had previously essayed.

[1] Yvonne ffrench, Ouida: A Study in Ostentation (Cobden-Sanderson, 1938), p. 81 and Monica Stirling, The Fine and the Wicked: the Life and Times of Ouida, (Gollancz, 1957), pp. 47-8.

[2] Athenaeum, no 2370, March 29 1873, p. 405.

[3] trans. as Pascarello, in Nuova Antologia 1873 April – September, vol 22, fasc. 4, pp. 812-861; vol. 23, pp. 101-147; 400-456; 588-635; 817-881; vol. 24, pp. 61-117. No translater is given.

[4] Indice per autori e per materie della Nuova Antologia dal 1866-1930, a cura di Ludovico Barbieri, La Nuova Antologia, Roma, 1934: xii.

[5] See Elisabeth Lee, Ouida: a Memoir, Fischer Unwin, 1914, pp. 183-5; Eileen Bigland, Ouida, The Passionate Victorian (Jarrold’s, 1950), p. 236. See also ffrench, , op. cit., pp. 159-60 and Stirling, , op. cit., p. 204.

[6] A coinage of Mary Braddon’s in her 1863 serial The Doctor’s Wife: “The combination novel enables a young author to present his public with all the brightest flowers of fiction neatly arranged into every variety of garland. I’m doing a combination novel now – the Heart of Midlothian and the Wandering Jew…” (quoted from Andrew King and John Plunkett, Victorian Print Media (OUP, 2005), p. 310).

Ouida and the Parergic 2

Guy_Livingstone frontispiece
US cheap reprint of Guy Livingstone by Routledge (1867) for both US and UK markets

Ouida, of course, from when her first story appeared in Bentley’s (she was just 18), had had to write for money. She knew where the power and money lay, and “mythical swelldom” was one place. In 1857 George Lawrence’s Guy Livingstone had appeared. It went through at least 6 editions by the mid-60s (the image is of an 1867 reprint by Routledge who evidently thought it worthwhile to print – and so establish copyright – in the US as well) and started the cult of the “muscular” hero. Even Dickens had to respond to it  (see Nicholas Shrimpton’s excellent article on Lawrence and the “Muscular School” of heroes in Dickens Quarterly, 29: 2). Lawrence himself was given no less than £1,000 for his novels – a very high sum indeed – by his publisher Tinsley, and Tinsley it was who published in volume form Ouida’s first novel, Held in Bondage in 1863, a novel which combined the dashing muscular school with bigamy and sexual deception, themes newly marketable since Lady Audley’s Secret. Ouida though only managed to get £50 from Tinsley for the rights to publish it (though she did manage to negotiate that he should only keep the copyright for a limited period. Tinsley, rather unpleasantly, wrote that he could have got the complete copyright had he driven a hard bargain). Strathmore followed the same publication pattern, though published, after negotiations, by Chapman and Hall who were now to become Ouida’s regular British publishers. She managed to sell them the short-term copyright for just £75.

Even to get these small sums was an effort. Ouida, a half-foreign woman of 20 from Bury St Edmund’s with no real connections, had to work out a way to make money in the cut-throat male world of London publishing. Hers is in a sense “surplus” labour which has to make itself needed: she is an outsider who has to get in. The solution Ouida seems to have arrived at was to  reflect back to power the image of itself it seemed to like. This is where the concept of parergy starts to become useful.

Fig 3 Under Two flags (421x640)There is an oft-repeated story that Ouida used the conversations she heard between men at her Langham gatherings for her now most famous novel, Under Two Flags. But, as Jordan demonstrates in her chapter for Ouida and Victorian Popular Culture, Ouida’s knowledge of military life was derived from reading rather than from conversations with military men. Such textual knowledge is legible from her earliest publications, the short stories she had published in Bentley’s in the early 60s, several of which we can read today as devastatingly critiquing male pomposity exemplified by the soldier (e.g. “Little Grand and the Marchioness”). But they can also be read as simply amusing in their accounts of masculinity. That they concern “mythical swelldom” as opposed to what the male critics regarded as reality is key: Ouida doesn’t get it quite “right” i.e. she presents the men from the outside, exposing men’s little blind spots and tricks of evasion. At this stage, that doesn’t matter: for the critics these deviations – these failures to adhere to the powerful norm – are a laugh, “brilliant nothings”.

By the mid 60s Ouida’s prices had risen slightly. Over 186566 she received £6 per monthly instalment for Under Two Flags in the British Army and Navy Review, a monthly to which she had contributed a series of stories and non-fiction articles on military matters since July 1864. Just as Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret was left incomplete in its first manifestation as a serial in the twopenny weekly Robin GoodfellowUnder Two Flags was unfinished when the British Army and Navy Review folded in June 1866. Bentley had taken over the Review in December 1865 but failed to save it. He later refused to publish the novel in volume format on the advice of his reader Geraldine Jewsbury who concluded that ‘the story would sell but … you would lower the character of your house if you accept it’.  Ouida wrote to another potential publisher, Frederick Chapman, a few months later claiming that the premature termination of the serial had left ‘military men’ waiting ‘with intense impatience’ to read the end. Her sales pitch to Chapman worked, for he published it as a triple-decker in November the following year. The American publisher Lippincott gave her £300 ‘by trade courtesy’ for his one-volume edition, and the continental publisher Tauchnitz brought it out in 1871. Three years later, Ouida was to sell her copyright outright to Chapman for less than £150.

This was to prove a costly mistake for, contrary to what has been claimed, the novel was initially only moderately successful. Its real success came in the 1890s when it sold in enormous numbers in cheap editions: Chatto and Windus, who bought the copyright from Chapman in 1876 as part of their vigorous expansion policy, were to print around 700,000 copies. Ouida got nothing from this. No wonder she was to write to her solictor in November 1884 that “Chatto & Chapman are two rogues who play into each other’s hands to keep down prices like the publisher in ‘Pendennis.’” Men still ruled the publishing industry, as they rule the wider media today.

By the 1890s, then, Ouida’s fiction has migrated downmarket. Interestingly, the penny papers do not treat her with the same attitude as the up-market expensive magazines and newspapers. On the contrary, for them she is “the leading female novelist of England” who has

“no rival in passionate eloquence, and the pathetic, emotional power by which she can change the lowly and the sinning into a glorified humanity, and lift up and ennoble and sanctify even the rudest nature by some one divine gem of supreme manifestation of sacrificial love” (Bow Bells 17 January 1890).

By this time, too, she had herself become comically wicked in that market. Unlike with the negative high-culture reviews of the 1870s and 1880s, this is surely a marketing ploy which positions Ouida as safely transgressive: her eccentricity is part of her scandalous appeal. One can have one’s desires enacted by someone else on the page without ever having to confess them as one’s own. Ouida is contained: once again we don’t have to read her seriously.

London journal extract on Ouida
London Journal 3 September 1898
To return again to parergy.

Parergy is not dismissal de haut en bas by critics who claim to know better – it is not a weapon in cultural warfare that the powerful wield. It is a wheedling weapon of the disempowered, a demand to be heard which knows it will fail, an attempt to participate in power while knowing that the odds are stacked against it. Is this what Ouida does in her early work?

I don’t think Ouida’s imitations of the “Muscular School” fail in an unambiguous way so much as lay that school open to the possibility of ridicule or parody:  they depart from it certainly, exposing its weaknesses and limitations and hidden assumptions. We are never allowed to forget that the hero of Under Two Flags is nicknamed “Beauty” and that he’s much more interested in his horse and his male friend “Angel” than in the heroine Cigarette or the paragon Lady Venetia or the actress he keeps (powerfully objectified as merely “the Zu-Zu” ) or his aristocratic mistress with the absurdly accurate name “Guenevere”. The women Beauty has a relationship with are all part of the appearance of masculinity. Even Beauty’s affair with Lady Guenevere is part of the system of masculine show: everyone knows about it and yet, in that complex game of respectability, at the same time they don’t. In any case, we are shown how this affair adds a potency to Beauty’s allure. How are we to take this exposure of the structuring of masculine power and image? Is it a flattering celebration or a merciless critique?

If the parergic can be found in Ouida it is gendered:  excluded from literary-economic power, she mirrors back those representations of masculinity which generate it, while at the same time departing from them by the acuteness of her vision and anxiety as an outsider.

It is very different from the non-gendered, generic parergy I located in the 1840s. If anything, that kind can still be found in the penny paper reviews of the 1890s – think of the rather strained description of Ouida in Bow Bells, with its anxious determination to dazzle with rhetorical devices (most notably a tricolon) at all costs, or the anecdote in the London Journal which could be funny were its rhythms more bouncily organised, and were it less determined to excuse its subject as distracted.

Whether Ouida’s vision of men is parergic or parodic depends on whether we read it as undermining or supporting that masculinity. I think her version of muscular literary power in her early work walks a tightrope between parergy and parody: can we say with absolute conviction that her early work parergically supports its models while failing to live up to them or parodically undermines them by exaggerating and revealing? It does both, sometimes simultaneously but mainly, I think, it lurches from one to the other from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page. The reader is in any case left uncertain, able to take from it in the end what she or he wants. Indeed, the ability of Ouida’s writing to have it both ways in terms of gender is one of the secrets of its success, and why it gives us such scope to write about this author and gender in what seems a mini-Ouida revival in the teens of the twenty-first century.

Over a hundred years after her death, we have started to find ways of reading Ouida again.


Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 3

There is no sustained recent work on either Harriet or Leon Lewis, although there is a brief post on the both at http://www.ulib.niu.edu/badndp/lewis_leon.html and another on Leon (whose real name was Julius Warren Lewis) at John Adcock’s Yesterday’s Papers site.  Harriet has not benefited from the recent revival of Southworth and other American women writers. Most of the information about her in my London Journal book therefore came from the letters in the Bonner file in the New York Public Library. Brief obituaries of Harriet appear on 21 May 1878 in The New York Times (p.1), and The New York Herald (p.5) and a particularly affectionate one in the New York Ledger itself (4 June 1878, p. 4), largely devoted to reproducing extracts from Harriet’s last letter to her editor Robert Bonner, with whom she entertained a very good relationship.

Leon and Harriet had married in 1856 when she was 15 and he 23 with already a very colourful career behind him. Leon was to run off with another 15 year old soon after Harriet died, aged 37, of a botched gynaecological operation). The copious letters from Harriet and Leon suggest that Leon blusteringly carried on the business and squandered their money while she laboured over the novels – including some under his name.

Yet it is a letter from Leon to Bonner that is particularly interesting for its revelations of how American writers dealt with the transatlantic market.

9 April 1873

Dear Mr Bonner

We hasten to return by first mail the London letter and to reply to the question with which you accompany it.

You refused us the proofs 4 years ago, saying (in substance) to Mrs L. that if she were to have them she would be likely to give undue prominence to the thought as to how the stories would suit over there, etc. (which, by the way, was a mistaken estimate of her character).

We or you or all of us have consequently had some $1500 or $2000 yearly less income during the period named than we might have had. Mr Johnson, of the London Journal, and others have repeatedly written to us to this effect, but we never replied to more than one in ten, and then only to say (you having refused us proofs) that they were not at our disposal, etc.

The next thing in order of course were offers for original stories – i.e. for manuscripts – but a like answer was returned, although the offers made exceeded any sums that had ever been paid anywhere by anybody for anything in the line of stories.

And under this state of things it became a question with Sunday English publishers as to which of them would derive the most benefit from republishing from the regular Monday Ledger Mrs L.’s stories.

That is a race of printers of which we do not propose to constitute ourselves the time-keepers. We can do no less, however, than except Mr. Johnson, of the Journal, from the general condemnation. True, he reprinted the stories without authority and without paying for them – (since he could’nt [sic] have them for pay) – but he has done so under certain conditions which command attention from their rarity:

1st – He has given the name of Mrs L. and even given her a standing qualification of “celebrated American authoress”

2nd – The London Journal is of ten times more literary importance and pecuniary value than all the rest of the story papers of the British Empire kingdom [sic] put together. The sum of $3,750,000 (£750,000) has been vainly offered for it to our own certain knowledge. [Here an unidentified extract from a book or magazine is pasted into the letter claiming the excellence of The London Journal. The sum Leon quotes is absurd]

3rd – During our stay in London in ’71, (as we must have told you upon our return) Mr Johnson called upon us at Morley’s [Hotel], offered us every civility, private boxes at theatres, invitations and introductions, etc. and upon the last day of our stay pressed upon Mrs. L a roll of bank [sic] of England notes, as an acknowledgement of the good he had derived from the stories, even in the face of sharing them with everybody else and under all the adverse circumstances – at which time he renewed his offers for proofs, as also for stories written expressly for him.

And now is this Mr Fiske [Amos Kidder Fiske (1842-1921), editor of the American fiction paper, The Boston Globe] more to you than we are that you should “aid and abet” him with the proofs you have so expressly refused to us, and so drag our names into a wretched squawk of a paper that could not possibly last three months, and during this period exist only in obscene contempt? After all you have been to us and we to you – after all we know of your heart and brain – we shall require your written declaration of preference in favour of Mr. F. before we will believe it!

Excuse scratches. We write in haste to catch the mail.

Ever yours,

Leon and Harriet Lewis

For all Leon’s protestations, The London Journal must have been supplied with advance copy of Harriet’s novels since 1869 (when Leon had first asked Bonner for proofs of her novels). Even more consistently than Southworth novels, Harriet’s appear in the New York Ledger and The London Journal at the distance of only a few weeks at most – anyone could work out that for that to happen advance sheets must have been sent across the ocean. No wonder Leon doesn’t want to be a timekeeper in what he calls the “race of printers” – Bonner no doubt had already made his calculations and come to the logical conclusions.

Leon’s also anxious to redefine the tag he claims The London Journal gave to Harriet. This was – he’s right – placed under her name in all of her novels  until Edda’s Birthright, published in The London Journal and the Ledger 3 months after Leon wrote the letter transcribed above. But the tag of “celebrated American authoress” was only part of a longer notice. What the notice actually said was that The London Journal’s was “[t]he only edition in this country sanctioned by this celebrated American authoress”. The full tag was less a celebration of Harriet than an assertion of right.

The tag had been prompted in the first instance by the appearance of Lewis novels in The London Reader, a magazine run by no less than George Stiff, the former owner of The London Journal, from right next door. While almost all London Reader serials are anonymous and with altered titles and sometimes names of principal characters changed, it’s hard to trace the originals, yet it had carried novels with Leon’s signature in 1866-7 (The House of Secrets, 4 August 1866 – 12 January 1867) and in mid-1867, followed by one with Harriet’s, The Golden Hope. More recently, the Reader had somehow published The Hampton Mystery, a version of Harriet’s first novel in The London Journal, The Double Life; Or, The Hampton Mystery a fortnight earlier than the magazine which was published literally next door, The London Journal – which was, it seems, now forced into declaring that it alone had the only sanctioned edition. Since the original had been published in America at exactly the same date as in Reader, it was impossible for Stiff to obtain a copy and put it into print by anything other than advance sheets. Later, Harriet’s Tressilian Court (1871) will likewise appear in The London Reader a week before The London Journal’s version, and Lady Chetwynd’s Spectre (1873) at exactly the same time.

What’s happening here? One possibility is that Stiff was raiding the mail intended for his former magazine and now rival next door. While he’d certainly done this sort of thing before, there are other possibilities too.

It is clear from the Bonner letters that Leon was a spendthrift and a gambler. After Harriet had procured fame and a good deal of money for them both since first appearing in the Ledger in 1862 (aged 15 and already married to Leon), he had sunk very deeply into debt. Bonner, who was clearly very fond of Harriet, kept lending the Lewises money which she would pay back by writing several serials simultaneously for him under both her and Leon’s name (romances under hers, adventure stories under his): eighty-one numbers spread over five novels managed to pay off $6075 at half rates. It seems to me very likely that the Lewises sent The London Journal AND The London Reader – and quite possibly other magazines that I have yet to discover –  advance copies of Harriet’s works to increase their already huge but always insufficient income.

What I’ve hoped to show in this and the previous blog posts is that in the cases of these three women – May Agnes Fleming, E.D.E.N. Southworth and Harriet Lewis – one cannot talk of “piracy” in the sense of a foreign publisher robbing an author. Two of the women had “exclusive” contracts with their American publishers which they broke quite legally by dealing also with publishers in Britain. Even when apparently straight piracy occurred, as with some novels by Southworth and Fleming, the writers still benefited from this in the end.

As we have come to realise more and more, nineteenth-century women writers were by no means all victims of a male publishing establishment. These three indeed, through translation, achieved a global circulation far beyond the transatlantic anglophone axis that I have focussed on here. In that sense they prefigure Hollywood by a good two generations – they are Hollywood’s grandmas indeed. The implications of that must await another set of posts.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 2

In 1855, Robert Bonner of the New York Ledger (NYL) started serialising “Fanny Fern” (Sara Payton Willis). He advertised that she was paid  $100 per column so that readers could gauge the exact amount she got paid – and could value her writing accordingly. It was at this point that sales – and the profits – of the NYL rose to unprecedented heights. This sent a clear signal across the Atlantic that America, with whom a copyright agreement still did not exist, could now provide rich and proven fodder for the cheap periodical market. The result was that The Family Herald pirated Fanny Fern’s two serial novels from NYL in 1855-6 and other papers widely plagiarised and imitated her columns.

portrait of Southworth from Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 794; also 1855 ed. from http://www.librarycompany.org/ women/portraits/southworth.htm

The London Journal, The Family Herald’s main rival, didn’t want to publish the same thing at the same time and so researched the American mass market. It discovered a tale called The Lost Heiress that the Saturday Evening Post had just published. The London Journal started running it a month after Fanny Fern’s novel had begun in The Family Herald, having changed the title from The Lost Heiress to The True and False Heiress. It published the serial anonymously until its very last episode, when it revealed the author to be E.D.E.N. Southworth. The serial was apparently very successful.

Back in America, this was noticed by Robert Bonner who invited Southworth to write exclusively for the New York Ledger. She started her series of exclusive” novels for him in 1857 and became one of the most widely read and reprinted authors of the entire nineteenth century. This in turn caused the Ledger’s sales to rise ever higher and The London Journal and other penny periodicals to print more of her stories.

As for why I’ve put 1883 as the terminus of my study you may think that’s curious when copyright plays such an important part in my narrative and the US started regulating international copyright in 1891. But two of the authors I’m focussing on were dead by then – and there are reasons why Southworth appeared in the British mass market periodical much less after 1868. When in 1883 The London Journal made the serious mistake of trying to serialise Zola and lost a large number of readers, they chose to rescue the situation by serialising a Harriet Lewis novel even though she had died 5 years previously. What the original of that novel is I haven’t been able to establish. But I can say that as far as I been able to discover, it hadn’t been published in Britain before and that her name was considered a remedy for the ills of declining circulation. It’s possible of course that she never wrote the London Journal serial: they might have only added her famous name to it. Be that as it may,  what appear in Britain are only reprints of works by these three women. 1883 therefore marks a watershed insofar as works new to the market are concerned.

The above is all background to the question I really want to address in these three blog posts which is whether the literary property of these American women was “pirated” – stolen morally (if even if such action was legal) – by the British periodicals.

To answer the question is actually rather difficult, for it depends partly on the definition of the term “piracy” and partly on information that is lacking. There is little doubt that Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fanny Fern’s writings were pirated in Britain in the same way that the French novels of Sue and Dumas had been in the 1840s. But the cases of the writers I’m talking of present complications.

While I only want to talk of the three novelists in The London Journal I’ve mentioned, May Agnes Fleming, EDEN Southworth and Harriet Lewis, they will provide varied examples of how American women writers were not simply melodramatic victims of wicked men in Europe. Rather I’ve found that, unlike Isabel Archer in Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady they could actually benefit from and actively manipulate the system of transatlantic cultural exchange.

image from http://content.lib.sfu.ca/cdm/ singleitem/collection/ ceww/id/385/rec/18

First then, May Agnes Fleming. Her first two novels in The London Journal were pirated in a quite straightforward sense, yet this surprisingly worked to her advantage. In 1868, Fleming had signed an exclusive contract with the Philadelphia fiction weekly Saturday Night. The following year The London Journal took from it a novel originally called The Heiress of Glengower, renaming it The Sister’s Crime and publishing it anonymously. Several papers in America pirated it in return, unaware that it was already copyright in America. It was so popular that when it was legally stopped in the American papers, a “bidding war” for the author resulted. The outcome was victory for Fleming: she accepted the offer of the New York Weekly which immediately tripled her income, later signed a contract that gave her 15% royalties on the sales of her novels in volume format, and, from 1872, made an arrangement to send The London Journal advance sheets for £12 per instalment. Altogether, this gave her $10,000 a year. She didn’t do too badly out that initial piracy.

E.D.E.N. Southworth’s relation with The London Journal was even more complicated. Her first three novels in the magazine were pretty certainly pirated and, like Mrs Stowe before her, she came to England to stop this – for residence in Britain gave copyright protection. However, in the year Southworth came, 1859, although she was under exclusive contract to Robert Bonner, she must have arranged to give advance sheets of her most famous novel, The Hidden Hand, to the former owner of The London Journal, George Stiff, as it appeared in another magazine of his, The Guide, only a week after it came out in the New York Ledger. When Stiff rebought The London Journal he continued his relationship with her. The next year, 1860, The London Journal would publish two more novels by Southworth again only a week after their New York appearance. Hypocritically, in an open letter to readers of the Ledger (10 March 1860) Southworth had just complained about being plagiarised in Britain . In 1861, a novel of hers even appeared in London before it came out in New York (Eudora).

Sailing ever closer to the wind, she wrote Captain Rock’s Pet especially for The London Journal. After this, none of her novels appear in it for two years. Stiff had again sold The London Journal and instead, some of her novels appear in his new magazine, the London Reader anonymously. The next Southworth novel in The London Journal, Sylvia (1864), was probably pirated, as it is a version of Hickory Hall, a serial that had appeared in the National Era in 1850. But such is impossible in the case of her next three novels in The London Journal, Left Alone, The Manhater and The Malediction. These again all appear either a week before or a week after they are printed in the Ledger. Southworth’s last novel in The London Journal, The Double Life (1869), is a version of another National Era serial from twenty years previously, which may again suggest piracy. Perhaps Bonner prevented her from sending more advance sheets. Southworth wrote a particularly strong declaration of loyalty to him dated 12 January 1869, which may be read as finally accepting that she really was under exclusive contract to him. Perhaps it is because of this that The London Journal turned to another and younger New York Ledger staple, also under supposedly exclusive contract to Robert Bonner, Harriet Lewis.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 1

An enormous amount of work has been done on the global circulation of culture via electric and electronic media, but it’s becoming realised more and more that there was a set of narratives and imagery shared globally in the nineteenth century too. What I want to do over the next few blog posts is to mark the commercial importance of serial novels by American women writers to a specific but huge sector of British mass-market fiction between 1855 and 1883.

from The London Reader 1899; my thanks to John Adcock's splendid blog for this image

Key to the idea of “commercial importance” is whether the stories these women wrote were pirated or paid for by the British publishing industry. As we know from Dickens, the issue of transatlantic piracy was very important to writers. American publishers waiting at the dockside for new British books could produce an edition almost within hours, as they did in 1823 with Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak. In the absence of international copyright agreements, the British author usually received nothing, although Harper Brothers, for instance, paid considerable royalties to Dickens and Macaulay, among others, and later on in the century Lippincott was generous to British authors he published, including Ouida. Accounts of British pirating of American serials commonly refer to how about 1.5 million copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published in Britain without Harriet Beecher Stowe’s consent, but not much else. In fact there was a huge trans-Atlantic exchange.

I’m not going to write about well-known cases here. Furthermore, rather than talking of the piracy of books (quite expensive at the time) , I’ll focus on serials in cheap fiction magazines. Instead of the high-profit-per-unit-sold model which books operated on, penny periodicals made profit through the quantity sold. Most mid-nineteenth-century British mass-market fiction was published according to the latter model in penny weeklies such as The Family Herald, The London Journal, Reynolds’s Miscellany, The London Reader and so forth. America had its analogues in 4 cent weeklies such as the New York Ledger and the Philadelphia-based Saturday Evening Post. The circulation of all these magazines was enormous, with sales in the 1850s and 60s of 500,000 each (Dickens at his most popular, remember, managed 40,000). Given the usual calculations that are used to calculate readership from sales, in 1860 just the three best-selling magazines amounted to a 50% penetration of the entire population of Britain. Given that then the literacy rate in Britain was around 60%, that means that c. 83% of the literate population of Britain was reading one of these three magazines. The analogous American magazines had comparable sales figures, though given the much higher literacy and population of American – some 31 million as opposed to 19 million in 1860 – their percentage penetration was actually rather lower, if still hugely significant.

Example of a typical cover page of The London Journal

If what I’m saying is not as well-known as it should be it’s because, despite a few academic studies (most recently of American women writers), there are no bibliographical guides or descriptions of any of these periodicals. Some are available through ProQuest’s Periodical Archives Online but one still needs a bibliographical map to find one’s way around. Unless one knows what to look for one cannot find it.  Hence the importance of aids such as the Victorian Fiction Research Guides.

The points I am making come out specifically of my bibliographical mapping of primarily the British mass-market: what I found was that I also needed maps of the American and even Australian mass markets too. A focus on one does not give an adequate picture of how the market operated.

That said, in the British market there was a quite strict form of market segmentation along national lines. While some penny periodicals such as Bow Bells, Reynolds’s Miscellany and The Family Herald gave consumers mainly home-grown British fiction, there was another set that from 1855 offered stories written primarily by a mixture of American women and British men. This set comprises three closely related magazines: The London Journal, its offshoot The Guide, and its rival from 1862 The 7 Days Journal renamed in 1863 as The London Reader. These published a very large number of serials by three American women authors: E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Lewis and May Agnes Fleming. The London Journal alone published 237 serials of various lengths – some in fact lasting only a few episodes. At least 50 of these serials, all of them long (and sometimes very long), were by 4 American women: 2 were by Caroline Lee Hentz in the mid 1850s, 13 by Southworth between 1855-1868, at least 22 serials by Harriet Lewis between 1868 and 1883, and at least 13 by May Agnes Fleming over the same period (I say at least as some are not attributed and others which are given signatures I haven’t been able to trace elsewhere).

While Southworth and Fleming have recently become visible again through the work of Nina Baym, Lorraine McMullen and others, it is Lewis in fact who has the largest number of novels published in this market sector as a whole, not just in The London Journal though she is most dominant there. Indeed, there is not a single number of The London Journal without one of her serials for 12 years from 1868, a succession of tales halted only by her death. When I discovered from perusal of her letters that she wrote a large number of serials that appeared under husband’s name Leon and his pseudonym “Illion Costellano”, her market share rose even higher.

The Uncle Tom mania in Britain over 1851-2 is well known and Louis James has pointed out the importance of American fiction in the 1830s British mass market. Susan Warner’s Wide Wide World (December 1850) and later Queechy (1852) had considerable sales on both sides of the Atlantic. Maria Cummins’s The Lamplighter created a sensation in 1854 with sales of 40,000 in its first 8 weeks and 70,000 in its first year. But it’s 1855 that is the key date for the beginning of a sustained massive import of American women writers into the British mass-market periodical. That year Margaret Oliphant realised the potency of American fiction in the “sensation” market and the Saturday Review commented on the popularity of American women writers early the following year.

There are several reasons for stressing 1855.

First, there had been recent changes in the law of copyright in Britain. In the 1840s, France had been seen as leading the way in mass-market periodical fiction, and British publishers mercilessly pirated French serials. The economics of mass-market publishing in Britain meant that there was no money to pay authors much: publishing translations of French works already known to sell well was a much safer speculation than publishing work that was untried in the market. But in 1852, there was a change in the copyright agreement with France. Now no longer could publishers in Britain simply take and translate a French work without paying the author. Fortunately, this was also the period when home-grown British writers such as J.F. Smith, Percy B. St John and Pierce Egan the Younger were selling so well there was enough profit on sales to pay them quite well, but of course it was still more profitable to publish works you didn’t have to pay for – and that would also sell well. The problem was now where to find them.

The Summer of 1871: Ouida and Wiertz

continued from previous blogs on Ouida and Mario and Ouida and Bulwer Lytton

When Ouida stopped in Brussels her encounter with the paintings of the recently deceased Anton Wiertz provoked her into an explicit and public aesthetic statement. In a previously overlooked article in the shilling monthly London Society, Ouida offers a portrait of Wiertz as ‘the ideal artist … [whose] life was consecrated to one passion, and that passion—Art.’

The major concern for Ouida in this essay is conventionally Ruskinian – an interesting departure from her satirical view of Ruskin and Ruskinianism in her early two-part short tale “Beatrice Boville” . Her target is the deleterious effect on art of industrialisation and commercialisation. Only the artist who gives in to them will gain public acclaim she  says. But public acclaim is by no means the most important criterion of value. Wiertz remains unknown and created no school, says Ouida, because, believing that ‘gold was the murderer of art,’  and ‘a cancer in the breast of humanity’ (‘un cancer [sic] au sein de l’humanité’), he refused to enter the commercial and industrial marketplace. ‘Exalted on the heights of a superhuman purity of purpose and idealism of belief, he had no common bond of connection with the sheer materialism and venal practices of the modern world.’ Wiertz was an anachronistic figure, having more in common, Ouida continues, with the artisanal aims and practices of Italian renaissance artists and of Rubens than with an era in which ‘the colours are bought ready-mixed, the oils are indifferent, the varnishes are adulterated…’  Out of time and out of place, his whole life was a martyrdom. Indeed, Ouida ends her essay with what appears to be a facile comparison of Wiertz to the type of all martyrs, Christ.

They say that when he lay there, lifeless, the peace refused to him throughout his arduous years came on him at the last; and that when the summer sunrise streamed through the ivy shadows of his casement in the glory of the morning, his face was as the face of his Christ ‑ his Christ, who brake asunder the bonds of the grave and rose triumphant in the power of God.
Antoine Wiertz, Triomphe du Christ

Is Ouida simply promoting in commercially commonplace terms an artist who refused to do so himself – in other words treating Wiertz as the very object of commerce that he refused to become in life? She is doing that, of course. She presumably is getting paid for this article (unlike for her letter to the Morning Post  I mentioned in a  previous blog) but she is also imagining a Wiertz that has created himself in the image of his own art.

In Ouida’s vision he has managed to overcome after death the alienation from his labour that he had increasingly felt in the last part of his life: in death he returned to become what Ouida regarded as one of his own best art works, the earlier Triomphe de Christ. To show that, Ouida has drawn for us a word picture of his head that Wiertz himself, the artist of horrible decapitations, might have painted had he stuck to his original principles.

Throughout the second half of her article, Ouida criticises late Wiertz for too great an emphasis on the horrible. Instead, she says, Wiertz should have concentrated on the ‘intrinsically beautiful by proportion, by colouring, and by meaning’ as he had done in his earlier works. It is as if her conclusion were restoring to Wiertz the self Ouida felt he should have been. In some senses too, Ouida’s most famous short story, ‘A Dog of Flanders’ which dates from this time, is also a gift to Wiertz of his lost identity: the underdog hero Nello, like Wiertz, came from a very poor background, was self-taught and, when he came to Antwerp, was ‘entranced and subjugated’ by the Rubens altarpieces in Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal in Antwerp. In this sense “The Dog of Flanders”, like the article, is an analogue of the ivory cigarette case she threw to Mario. She is trying to interpret and give meaning to powerful feelings that art has aroused.

Ouida is conjuring from the dead an anti-sensationalist, anti-commercial aesthetic of the romantic period, where the pen or brush mediates a sincere relation between body and text, and the individual imagination is given priority and autonomy.  Of course in these “restitutions” she’s thinking about herself and the purpose of her own art. Why write about passion? From the early short stories she had excoriated the use of other people to satisfy  one’s own ends and feelings – a conventional enough condemnation of selfish passion. Real love always means accepting the other for what they are and if necessary standing and holding back.  Hitherto, even in the novel about the revolutionary heroine Idalia, the personal had triumphed over the political.

Yet the three encounters I have outlined in these three posts – with Mario, with Bulwer-Lytton and with Wiertz – combined with our knowledge of what comes next – the political and aesthetic celebration of a unified Italy in her next novel– suggest that  Ouida was turning towards and looking backwards to a political, communitarian romanticism as an alternative to a purely commercial art, seeking to give it the gift of life that the Judas kiss of selfish commercialism had betrayed. Was this one the elements in that complex of factors that guided Ouida towards Italy in 1871?

Oscar Wilde certainly recognised Ouida’s romantic lineage in a review of her novel Guilderoy in 1889:

Ouida is the last of the romantics. She belongs to the school of Bulwer Lytton and George Sand, though she may lack the learning of the one and the sincerity of the other. She tries to make passion, imagination, and poetry part of fiction. She still believes in heroes and in heroines. She is florid and fervent and fanciful. Yet even she, the high priestess of the impossible, is affected by her age….

His attribution to Ouida of affiliation to Sand and Bulwer is certainly correct. Jane Jordan (“The English George Sand? Ouida the French Novel and Late Victorian Literary Censorship”, Anglistica Pisana VI/i (2009): 107-16) and I have discussed the former, and the three encounters I have described suggest the latter and more.

But is there also  a fourth encounter in 1871, one with a ghostly revenant that has left only indirect and indistinct traces? All I dare remark for now is that William Rossetti’s edition of the Complete Poetical Works of Shelley had come out with Moxon in 1870 – followed famously by Mathilde Blind’s corrections in the Westminster Review – and that 20 years later Ouida was to publish a long article praising Shelley as the best romantic poet because, according to her, he had “the sentiment and passion of [Italy’s] natural beauty” — and because love underlay his vehement political engagement, just as she was to portray the hero and heroine’s in her next novel, the lyric prose poem in praise of Italy, Pascarel. Did Ouida encounter Shelley too in the Summer of 1871, and was this yet another coal in the steam engine that transported her south?  Just as with her enthusiasm for Mario, Ouida would not have been alone in responding to Shelley’s paeans to the visual and narrative pleasures of Italy such as  Julian and Maddalo, a poem much praised by Rossetti in his preface, for

How beautiful is sunset, when the glow
Of Heaven descends upon a  land like thee,
Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!

The Summer of 1871: Ouida and Bulwer Lytton

(a continuation of a previous blog on Ouida and Mario)

What “Art” was and its relation to her writing were very much on Ouida’s mind in mid-1871.

We know from surviving letters that in the early summer Ouida had become concerned with the discussions around a proposed Dogs Act which would give any summary court powers over the destruction of stray, dangerous and rabid dogs. Determined to block the passage of this Act, in early June, having already been told that he liked her work, Ouida contacted Edward Bulwer-Lytton to elicit his support. He wrote her a kindly response and thereupon she invited him to visit her at the Langham Hotel where she had lived with her mother since 1867. He came several times, much to her delight.

[Picture: Edward Bulwer, (Lord Lytton.)]
Edward Bulwer Lytton
Bulwer-Lytton was a key figure in the development of popular fiction. His help to Mary Braddon is well documented, and, though to a much more limited extent, he acted as Ouida’s mentor as well. After she had left London for her tour of the continent, he wrote Ouida a long but positive critique of her latest novel Folle Farine. His letter does not survive, but Ouida’s response to it does. She wrote it at the Hotel de York, Spa (Belgium), the hotel Baedeker and Bradshaw recommended for English visitors to this already faded (though still respectable) resort. Ouida’s letter is keen to associate her novel with ‘Art’ by attributing it aesthetic value through the conventional eighteenth-century criteria of ‘judgement’ and ‘sympathy’ (I always think of Elinor and Marianne in Austen’s 1811 Sense and Sensibility when I think of those). Ouida ends by justifying her exploration of painful emotion and unconventional sexual arrangements as ‘Art’ and the duty of the artist.

It would be terrible to me to think that I had wrought an injury to any Soul, but it always seems to me that the artist has one duty that he must place before all ‑‑ i.e. to seek earnestly for the truth with all his strength & as he beholds it so to endeavour to set it forth.

She was in November to write to Isabel Burton (wife of the explorer, diplomat, orientalist Richard) and, the following year, to the conservative politician, poet and literary patron Lord Houghton that Folle-Farine should indeed be considered primarily as ‘Art’. Whether this was a retrospective judgement supported by the favourable reviews that compared the Folle-Farine‘s ‘art’ to that of ‘our pre-Raphaelite painters’ or whether the novel had been written intentionally as an ‘Art’ (as opposed to commercial) novel remains unclear. Even though an artist figures very prominently as a heartless Lovelacean seducer in the novel, the nature of art  is not substantially discussed in it compared to in Ouida’s novels of the 1870s. Likewise in her response to Bulwer, Ouida doesn’t set out an aesthetic credo beyond saying that in her view the artist should always try to represent the truth  without causing  “injury to any Soul” – an unambitious and generic programme. As mentioned in a previous blog, for Folle-Farine Ouida had managed to get £900 out of her publisher Chapman – considerably more than she had received for her earlier novels. Ouida certainly knew about the hard cash aspects of art, but her letters suggest that she was at this stage just wondering about what other symbolic systems art might be involved in.

There is another letter that needs to be mentioned here too — a previously unnoticed one from Ouida in the press. On 12 June 1871, the Morning Post published a letter to the Editor from her in response to an article supporting the Dogs Act that had appeared in the paper the previous week. Ouida wrote that while the Morning Post’s position was a very reasoned stance, she wished to add that ‘the emotional side of the subject is one which may be most fairly taken into consideration’ – for dogs are friends who can teach us ‘lessons of faith and fealty.’ Ouida must have been proud of this letter for she sent a cutting of it to Bulwer Lytton. The basis of the letter’s argumentation is the binary of  “reason” and “emotion”. It is not too great a leap to match this both to the “judgement” and “sympathy” opposition in Ouida’s later letter to Bulwer and to the sentimental tradition of writing in general whereby the sharing of emotions is regarded as a way to form communities.  The purpose of “Art” in this understanding is indeed to forge communities through “sympathy” – common feeling – with the “truth” arrived at through reason/ judgement. To forge a community is necessarily a political act which involves ethics. Ouida is trying to forge a community around an ethical cause and thereby cause political change.

It is not I think too far to claim that we see in this brief letter to the Post Ouida publishing for the first time with a purpose beyond the commercial, and also beyond the economic interests of herself and her family. She may not have found a reason for her ‘Art’ yet, but she has found, on a miniature scale, a reason for writing: to change society for what she believed was the better by appeal to common emotions without thought of payment. A week before the collective ecstasy of Mario’s last performance, Ouida’s explicit political and economic engagement had begun.

An encounter in Brussels would very soon sharpen the edge of her desire for something in her aesthetic and economic life beyond hard cash.

(to be continued)

The Summer of 1871: Ouida and Mario

Today it’s the first day of the 4th Annual conference of the Victorian Popular Fiction Association. As always, I’m attending and giving a paper. This year’s conference theme is “Hard Cash” and it’s prompted me to think about exchanges where the medium isn’t “hard” at all.

Perhaps strangely, I started wondering about the possible prompts for Ouida’s move to Italy, her increasing interest in politics and in how writing can have a social impact. In 1871, she left for a tour of the continent. The tour turned into a life-time’s decision: from 1871 until her death in 1908 Ouida was to live in Tuscany. Her decision to live in Italy (Florence at first) was motivated, according to her early biographers, by her infatuation with the opera singer Mario who had a villa just outside Florence. Ouida was over 30 and some biographies (and still some more recent critics) have described this as an adolescent passion, a symptom of how popular culture can’t grow up.

As usual, I want to query such a response. As far as I’m concerned, such an understanding is the slave of history and stereotypes. It still continues as a trope that keeps the “soft” – in this case, women and popular culture – in its place. Just the other day I heard someone, who should have known better, reduce this representative of women’s creative engagement with a system that didn’t exactly treat her well (while profiting immensely from her labour)  to a stupid ignoramus “with hundreds of lovers” and no idea of how to manage her money (oh for goodness sake!).  To begin revisioning Ouida (and indeed the despised “soft” in general), I want to consider more carefully what actually happened in the summer of 1871. Not many letters from Ouida survive from this period and certainly she left no revealing diary, but by shifting our point of view slightly we can increase our understanding of history and its operations by thinking about what is at stake in dissing too glibly such excluded and derided figures.

In the first place, Ouida’s enthusiasm for Mario was shared by hundreds if not thousands. It was a collective passion. Mario had fans. The Victorian society hostess Lady Dorothy Nevill remarked on how Mario used to create ‘a perfect furore’ when he appeared, and The Leader in 1854 noted that he had what today would be called ‘stalkers’. Lady Geraldine Somerset recorded his farewell performance at Covent Garden on 19 July 1871 in her diary:


Mario in the role in which Ouida saw him in July 1871: Ferdinand in Donizetti's *La Favorita*

The scene of enthusiasm is difficult to describe, he was in glorious voice and acted quite magnificently. They gave him a tremendous reception, and at the end of the fine 3rd act [of Donizetti’s La Favorita], the ovation was beyond anything I ever saw, the whole house rose to receive him, waving handkerchiefs and hats, shouting showering wreaths and flowers upon him. P[rincess] A[ugusta]’s wreath was the first thrown and she threw it beautifully. HRH [the Duchess of Cambridge] threw him her bouquet and he caught it in his hand in the air as it reached him, so prettily that there was a roar of applause at it. P[rincess] M[ary Adelaid] caught up my bouquet round the corner of the box and threw it to him! Again and again and again he had to come forward, five or six times…

[after the last act] ‘a really delirious excitement, the whole house standing – quite a choking sight! He was quite pale and really overcome… the public were determined to see him yet again!! And called and shouted so he was forced to come on, in his dressing gown and stood all ému, only able to press his hand to his lips to express his emotion.

The almost equally breathless Times account of the performance confirms the ‘overwhelming’ delirium of an audience in which – to the amazement of the correspondent ‑ men were as ecstatic as women.

Ouida was there too and threw Mario a bouquet. Hers had an ivory cigarette case inside it inscribed with the following in mock-Dante Italian:

Pietosi dissero gli Dei

Oda la terra una volta la musica

Del Ciel, e labbre toccaro di …


In English it reads less elegantly: ‘In pity the gods said “May the earth hear once the music of heaven”, and they touched the lips of … Mario.’

What is the meaning of these gifts that are showered on popular artists such as Mario? What is the meaning of the ecstatic applause that follows their performance and the rapt silence that the nineteenth century audience learnt to give during it? Certainly both are in excess of any ticket price or contracted payment the artist receives. The artist and the audience give and also receive in a very curious economics, very different from the hard-headed exchanges of capitalism. For her most recent novel,  Folle-Farine (which was to come out in late August 1871, immediately before she left London) Ouida obtained £900 from her publisher Chapman. This was a considerable advance from what she’d received for her early novels, but not that much compared to her fellow literary stars Mary Braddon and Wilkie Collins (and indeed, George Eliot). Perhaps what she participated in in Covent Garden was another way of conceiving the exchange that is “Art”, music, literature — a collective, communitarian conception. Perhaps also a political one? It’s an economics where “cash” isn’t “hard” in the sense of reducible to conventionally agreed quantities. If that is what the conception of art is not, what is it? How are we to understand it positively?

(to be continued)