Friday, 25 March 2011

Faulks on Fiction (Part 3 - The Snob)

Faulks on Fiction . Great Programs on BBC Two

Faulks on fiction presented by Sebastian Faulks (started on 5 February) were a four part series on the brilliance of the British novel and its characters. Very well done, and a unique opportunity for revisiting marvelous BBC series based on famous books.
The four episodes were : Heroes”, “Lovers”, “Snobs” and “Villains”.
This post presents you with images from "The snob".
Watch the film in the next "post", and you will get the general idea.
Yours ... Jeeves

Faulks on Fiction
Review by John Sutherland

Published: February 4 2011
Faulks on Fiction, by Sebastian Faulks, BBC Books, RRP£20, 376 pages

This is a good book about good books. It, and the four-part BBC TV series it accompanies, will encourage people to read and reread classic British novels.
Sebastian Faulks starts from the position that critical theory, which has been a dominant trend in academic discourse for 50 years, is inherently sterile. Put bluntly, it goes round and round in smaller circles until it disappears up its own vocabulary. Equally dead-ended, in Faulks’s view, is the more recent fashion for biographical explanation. He illustrates his objection with a wry personal recollection: “When I went round the country doing readings after my fourth novel, Birdsong, came out in 1993, most people could not conceal their disappointment. They had expected me to be 105 years old, French and, in some odd way, female.”

What Faulks proposes is a return to “reading for character”. Fiction, he maintains, creates people. They live, we know them, we have relations with them. That is what our focus should be. There follows a survey of great characters in great fiction: “Heroes”, “Lovers”, “Snobs” and “Villains”.
Faulks’s method is to nominate his character (Robinson Crusoe, Heathcliff, Lady Chatterley), describe them, and then offer a résumé of the story with shrewdly enlightening observations.
The tone of the book is resolutely commonsensical. For example, the opening paragraph in the chapter on Jane Austen’s Emma (Miss Woodhouse, unsurprisingly, comes under the category “Snob”): “The trouble with Emma is that she’s had things rather too much her own way; the trouble with Emma is that it’s a novel of such scintillating brilliance, and so quick on its feet, that anything a reader can say about it seems doomed to bathos. If you were to hear the Amadeus Quartet playing Mozart on a summer evening in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles with your lover on your arm and a glass of Bollinger 1990 fizzing on your tongue, it would probably be vain to try to put the sensation into words.”
It’s all amiably chatty. But the chattiness often verges on, well, looseness. Faulks writes of the seventh “bout” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover: “The prose is sufficiently opaque that it had to be explained to the jury at the obscenity trial in 1960 that this was indeed sodomy.” In fact, as Jeremy Hutchinson, one of the defence lawyers, has assured me, Penguin’s counsel deliberately obfuscated this fact, the prosecution were too dozy to pick it up and the jury never caught on. Had they caught on, the trial might well have gone the other way and post-1960s fiction would have been very different.
Another example of that looseness, from Faulks’s Emma discussion: “When a piano arrives for Jane [Fairfax] from an unknown donor, there is speculation that Mr Knightley has sent it.” No there isn’t. Frank (the actual donor) encourages guileless Emma to believe that it is a gift from Jane’s illicit admirer Mr Dixon. A main section of the plot, and our final judgment on Frank, depends on Emma’s scurrilous misapprehension. Any A-level candidate committing this kind of elementary error could kiss goodbye to Oxbridge. Faulks’s easy-goingness is one of his book’s charms. But there are altogether too many bloopers. The dates ascribed to the many illustrations in the book are, every single one of them, grotesquely wrong – by a century in some cases. The author and his research assistants (whom he graciously thanks) should really have taken more trouble.
The main attraction of this book is how light it travels. Only three literary critics, by my count, are mentioned in passing (I’m gratified to be one of the three). We don’t need all that dry-as-dust scholarship is the implication. All we need is the bracing encounter with novelists and their characters.
A price is paid for this indifference to all those dreary scholars who devote their lives to understanding literature. “When Thackeray,” writes Faulks, “called Vanity Fair in its subtitle, ‘A novel without a hero’, he meant to indicate, I think, that none of the male characters fulfilled the heroic role.” A glance at the scholarship would have informed Faulks that the explanation is quite different. Thackeray began seriously thinking about his “Waterloo novel” in 1842, when London was in a hubbub about Thomas Carlyle’s lectures “On Heroes and Hero-worship”. Vanity Fair is imbued throughout with anti-Carlylism. To miss that fact (as Faulks does) is to miss much of what the novel is about.
Literary criticism, used judiciously, can help. And wilfully ignoring what literary criticism offers can lead the reader into misreading. Unnecessary blemishes somewhat disfigure Faulks on Fiction but the book remains readable, entertaining and well conceived. The corrected paperback might, however, be a better investment.
John Sutherland is the author of ‘Literature: 50 Ideas You Need to Know’ (Quercus).
‘Faulks on Fiction’ begins on February 5 on BBC Two

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A Famous "Ménage ä Trois": Emma, The Antiquarian and Volcanist Lord and The National Hero

Details of Emma's early life are unclear, but at age 12, she was known to be working as a maid at the Hawarden home of Doctor Honoratus Leigh Thomas, a surgeon working in Chester

Still only fifteen years old, Emma met Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh who hired her for several months as hostess and entertainer at a lengthy stag party at Sir Harry's Uppark country estate in the South Downs. She is said to have entertained Harry and his friends by dancing naked on the dining room table.[1] Sir Harry took Emma there as mistress but frequently ignored her in favour of drinking and hunting with his friends. Emma soon formed a friendship with one of the guests, the dull but sincere Honourable Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809), second son of the first Earl of Warwick and a member of Parliament for Warwick. It was about this time (late June-early July 1781) that she conceived a child by Sir Harry.

Sir Harry was furious at the unwanted pregnancy but is thought to have accommodated Emma in one of his many houses in London. Emma gave up on Sir Harry: probably at this time she had formed a romantic attachment to Greville. He was closer to her in age, and she might have believed that he was able to marry her. Emma became Greville's mistress. When the child (Emma Carew) was born, she was removed to be raised by a Mr and Mrs Blackburn.[2] As a young woman, Emma's daughter saw her mother reasonably frequently, but later when Emma fell into debt, Miss Carew worked abroad as a companion or governess

Emma was at Greville's mercy and acceded to his request to change her name to "Emma Hart". Greville kept Emma in a house at Edgeware Row, but he was in love with her and, wanting a painting of her, sent her to sit for his friend, the painter George Romney. Romney painted many of his most famous portraits of Emma at this time. Indeed, Romney maintained a lifelong obsession with her, sketching her nude and clothed in many poses that he used in paintings he made in her absence. Through the popularity of Romney's work and particularly of his striking-looking young model, Emma became well known in society circles, under the name of "Emma Hart". She learned quickly and was elegant, witty and intelligent. And, as paintings of her attest, Emma was also extremely beautiful.

George Romney was fascinated by her looks and ability to adapt to the ideals of the age. Romney and other artists painted her in many guises.

In 1783, Greville needed to find a rich wife to replenish his finances (in the form of eighteen-year-old heiress Henrietta Middleton). Emma would be a problem, as he disliked being known as her lover (this having become apparent to all through her fame in Romney's artworks), and his prospective wife would not accept him as a suitor if he lived openly with Emma Hart.

To be rid of Emma, Greville persuaded his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples, to take her off his hands. Greville's marriage would be useful to Sir William, as it relieved him of having Greville as a poor relation. To promote his plan, Greville suggested to Sir William that Emma would make a very pleasing mistress, assuring him that, once married to Henrietta Middleton, he would come and fetch Emma back. Emma's famous beauty was by then well-known to Sir William, so much so that he even agreed to pay the expenses for her journey to ensure her speedy arrival. He was interested in her, as a great collector of antiquities and beautiful objects, and that was how he first viewed Emma. He had long been a happily married man, now in his mid-fifties, and he liked female companionship very much. His home in Naples was well known all over the world for hospitality and refinement. He needed a hostess for his salon, and from what he knew about Emma, she would be the perfect choice.

As Sir William's mistress, Emma developed what she called her "Attitudes", using Romney's idea of combining classical poses with modern allure as the basis for her act. This eventual cross between postures, dance, and acting, was first revealed in Spring 1787 by Sir William to a large group of European guests at his home in Naples, who quickly took to this new form of entertainment - guessing the names of the classical characters and scenes which Emma portrayed.

For her "Attitudes", Emma had her dressmaker make dresses modeled on those worn by peasant islanders in the Bay of Naples, and on loose-fitting garments such as she wore when modeling for Romney. The performance was a sensation across Europe. Using a few shawls, she posed as various classical figures from Medea to Queen Cleopatra, and her performances charmed aristocrats, artists such as Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, writers — including the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — and kings and queens alike, setting off new dance trends across Europe and starting a fashion for a draped Grecian style of dress.

Nelson returned to Naples five years later, on 22 September 1798 (with stepson, Josiah, who was in his early twenties), a living legend, after his victory at the Battle of the Nile in Aboukir. However, Nelson's adventures had prematurely aged him: he had lost an arm and most of his teeth, and was afflicted by coughing spells. Emma reportedly flung herself upon him in admiration, calling out, "Oh God, is it possible?", as she fainted against him. Nelson wrote effusively of Emma to his increasingly estranged wife, Lady Fanny Nelson
Emma nursed Nelson under her husband's roof, and arranged a party with 1,800 guests to celebrate his 40th birthday. They soon fell in love and their affair seems to have been tolerated, and perhaps even encouraged, by the elderly Sir William, who showed nothing but admiration and respect for Nelson, and vice-versa. Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson were by now the two most famous Britons in the world. They were not only in love with each other, but admired each other to the point of adulation. They were, so to speak, also in love with both their own fame, and that of their lover.

He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a member of the Society of Dilettanti. His other books include Antiquités étrusques, grecques et romaines (1766–67) and Observations on Mount Vesuvius (1772).

Sir William Hamilton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766 and published his paper "Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanoes of the Two Sicilies" in the same year. He made more than 65 ascents of Mount Vesuvius and made a number of drawings before its eruption in 1767. The Royal Society awarded him the Copley Medal in 1770 for his paper, "An Account of a Journey to Mount Etna".

Sir William Hamilton,(12 January 1731 – 6 April 1803) was a Scottish diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and vulcanologist.

In 1786, a stunning young lady was sent to Sir William by his nephew, Charles Greville, in exchange for him settling Greville's debts. Like most of the men who wandered into her orbit, Sir William was smitten with Emma Lyon, who performed dances inspired by classical elements for himself and his guests, including Goethe, while wearing no undergarments. However, he made no advances until she was ready to accept him. They married on 6 September 1791 at St Marylebone Church, London. He was 60; she was 26. She later became the lover of Horatio Nelson, a man Sir William admired greatly, and whose liaison he reportedly encouraged.

After serving as Member of Parliament for Midhurst from 1761, he left his seat to become Britain's ambassador to the court of Naples from 1764 to 1800. During this time he studied local volcanic activity and earthquakes, and wrote a book on the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. He collected Greek vases and other antiquities, selling part of his collection to the British Museum in 1772. A small part of his second collection went down with HMS Colossus while being transported to Britain in 1798. The surviving part of the second collection was catalogued for sale at auction at Christie's when at the eleventh hour Thomas Hope stepped in and purchased the remains of Hamilton's second collection of mostly South Italian vases