Camilla: VariousPostings to Austen-l and Janeites

The Concept of Confidentiality, The Perverseness of the Spirit, The Wilder Wonders of the Heart; Fashionable Spas; A Heroine In Search of a Mother; Camilla and Sanditon and other Austen novels; The Heroine as Cripple; Surrogates for Burney's Father

To Austen-l

Subject: [Janeites] Camilla: The 'Concept of the Confidential'

From: Ellen Moody

The above phrase is Margaret Ann Doody's. I have been rereading this literary study-as biography and would like to say it is excellent -- once you have read at least a couple of Burney's novels and a reasonable amount of her diaries and letters or read a biography which quotes from these as unexpurgated and unabridged by Fanny herself or her niece, Charlotte Barrett. There are some biographies which stand on their own: they are introductions to the writer; you learn to love and to want to read more. Such a book is Joyce Hemlow's. There are some biographies whose greatness only becomes clear after you have read some of the subject's works. These include Victoria Glendinning on Anthony Trollope, W. J. Bate on Samuel Johnson -- and Margaret Ann Doody on Frances Burney (her favored version of the name -- myself I am leaning towards Fanny d'Arblay).

The concept of the confidential. This is what is lacking in Camilla. People invade, pervade, have no respect for one another's space or sensitivities. I wonder if this is a new concept derived from the enlightenment. The concept of private space is itself a moot one in this period.

Let me explain.

Some reading about letters before the 19th century and the workings of the post office have begun to persuade me that the very concept of private space, an area you could write in and be sure no one but you and some privileged friend or close family member could get access to did not exist until the 18th century, and then it only existed feebly until the 19th century when for the first time letters were really regarded as sancrosanct objects no one was allowed to open. In both France and England only in the 18th century was there an attempt to set up a postal service which was not corrupt. In England Ralph Allen organised the post office to be separate from the government, and no longer to be a private reserve for profit by individual family networks. For the first time the ideal (often still broken) was that no one in government or the state could open your letter and forward it to some spying organisation. For the first time people who opened other people's letters to steal money would be fired if caught. For the first time an attempt was made to support the postal service from the money paid by stamp duties: before this it was acceptable to take bribes, to demand bribes for delivering letters.

Fanny Burney's compulsive diary and letter writing -- and the number of diarists and letter writers who wrote from the heart and emerged but did not publish their texts in the later eighteenth century -- testify to a desire for confidentiality, private space for the first time in Western literary tradition. Boswell is another such figure, but the new release is also recorded by Henry Tilney who cannot believe that Catherine Morland does not keep a diary. To say she does not is the equivalent of saying he and she are not standing together, talking together, real breathing human beings in Bath in an assembly room.

Before the middle of the 18th century people who wrote letters could only see themselves as part of a family network which they could never escape from, a network which would provide them with jobs, marriage, everything. Letters were mostly written (remember how few people could write) as performances on behalf of one's family to negotiate positions, money, gain some advantage. Only slowly in the 18th century does the private letter emerge. It is in the second half of the 18th century we see a large number of novels where characters write letters to pour out their hearts to one another.

Why did Burney herself escape to her diary and letter-writing nightly? Why was it such an important valve? especially when she was imprisoned in the court of George III? I think this concept of confidentiality is not as important in Evelina or Cecilia but is important in Camilla because Camilla was written after Fanny was able to take her private space back again.

An interesting aspect of the time between the publication of Cecilia and the publication of Camilla is that for a long time between them, very like Austen in Bath, Fanny Burney had no comfortable base from which to write. Daddy Crisp died, so she couldn't go to Chessington. Her stepmother, a woman who had no idea of privacy whatsoever, was in charge of her father's home. There was the time at court. Only when she married d'Arblay, did she have privacy and space and time to herself again. Then she wrote about it from the point of view of its preciousness and rarity.

I wonder if confidentiality is something which is today respected in principle but not in reality? especially inside a family.

Ellen Moody

Re: Camilla: The Perverseness of Spirit

It continues to dismay me how people reading a book and asked to talk about it interpret it in terms of whether a character comes up to some moral standpoint of admiration. This is as common in published literary criticism as it is in literary talk on the Net. The difference is that former is gussied up by theory and mandarin talk.

Probably one reason people hesitate before talking about biography or travel writing is it's clear they are standing in judgement on people. Yet there is no person in the book. The only person in sight was the author who may be dead.

As I see characters in novels, their behavior is part of a design, and our response to the design of the whole, and an increase in our ability to sympathise imaginatively is what the greatest books offer to us. I could as easily light into Anne Elliot for her behavior as any of Burney's characters in Camilla.

Camilla has strength, interest, intelligence, and some important things to say to us today, some of them apparently more centrally an indictment of society and human nature than Austen's own (Austen is quieter, more enigmatic, though perhaps more devastating when once thought about), though it has flaws too, one of them prolixity and length. Basically I agree with Margaret Anne Doody's discussion of Camilla (The Life in the Works, pp. 197-273. It's true that Doody doesn't sufficiently admit the possibility that 'the pseudo-priggish schoolroom narrative that masquerades as Camilla is as much at the center of the book as any of the subtexts and cris de coeurs and ironies of the dramatic narratives and meditations that make up the actual content of the book. Apart from that, though, she is accurate, indeed brilliant.

The opening paragraph (which no one here quoted) tells us the terrain of the book that Burney wanted us to explore:

the wilder wonders of the Heart; that amazing assemblage of all possible contrarieties, in which one thing alone is steady -- the perverseness of spirit which grafts desire on what is denied ...

What does Burney mean by this? How we spend our lives desiring what we cannot have, twist and turn, drive and torture ourselves for what others have and is said to be admirable. And how if we allow such desire to shape our decisions at the end of life we end up in a 'void'. This is her paragraph; she opens the book with it. I don't know how she can make the meaning she has in mind more explicit. She has to keep it general in order to cover how people feel shame so variously, act to avoid it; try to take what others have because it is denied us.

Doody points out the theatricals of the novel: the characters go to see a performance of Othello and she quotes at length to show a skein of allusions to Othello; she opposes all Dr Marchmont's speeches to Tyrold's letter. In context it is clear the former are the result of the man's inability to cope with sex, the latter totally inadequate as a way of finding happiness. One as bad as the other. Doody writes:

'In her novel's structure Burney questions the structure of conventional courtship, displaying the illogicality o fthe enduringly intricate and rule-bound activity which supplied so much of the fictional suspense of novels, and so much of the misery of real lives, including her own ...'

She also writes that:

'In a Picture of Youth [the novel's subtitle] we see the youthful characters being subjected to the process of acculturation; advice and convention redirect the nervous, active and unstable private emotions, suppressing them or forcing them to choose only approved channels. The result is real craziness, and the world's approved behavior is crazy ... '

Burney shows us a mad world (like that of Cecilia). We learn we cannot trust men to trust women nor depend on them; in fact all the people in the novel are intently distrustful and exploitative of one another continually.

In the early part of the novel Burney is also brilliant on what children really are. She is as hard and accurate as Austen in her unsentimentality and understanding of their intense passions. In the later parts of the novel I see a strong dramatization of what Doody quotes from the diaries, a conflict between what society demands and natural passions dictate In all spheres: luxury as well as sex. Where in Evelina Burney presents brutal practical jokes without registering any criticism; in Camilla she is alive to the same sorts of cruelties that make the experience of an Austen novel so intense -- or amusing (depending upon your point of view). It's also a story about misperception and anxiety (as Austen's are). Community life in Camilla is bizarre, weird because social values pervert feeling and behavior. Far from encouraging us to blame others (and thus protect ourselves from seeing our own vulnerabilties), the final sentence of this book is: "What, at last, so diversified as man? What so little to be judged by his fellow?"

Many Austen parallels everywhere. It's not the tone of mind: Austen's tone of mind is closer to Cecilia. _Camilla_ is full-throated, very direct. The opening sentences about Camilla herself remind me of the opening sentences of Emma. I have always been struck by the strong judgemental quality of Lady Susan: the de Courcys sit about coldly scrutinizing one another. I have wonder how we are to take this: Camilla shows me it's wrong, that what I feel on my pulse is what Austen meant me to feel. Camilla also deals with pervasive embarrassment (says Doody). that is Austen's topic too.

Cecilia is perhaps the greater novel for its breadth: many more types of people, many more classes. The story of Belfield widens the book out into a kind of Vicar of Wakefield. However, Camilla had some important things to say to its generation, and can say them again, if we are willing to make that act of the imagination which transposes its terms into our own. For example, it is about how perverse we are. How we hurt ourselves. The characters enact these things not so we should sneer at them and feel superior. But so that we should see our own twisted ways of getting through life as society has constructed it.

I can see why Austen subscribed.

Re: Burney & Austen: Camilla & Sanditon

While it's true that the sort of fiction which is susceptible to exalting the rake type easily is mocked by Austen in Sanditon, it's also true that Charlotte Heywood puts down _Camilla because she's too old for it and has a personality which is too self-contained to be give way to the kind of anxiety and partlys self-inspired torment Camilla undergoes. Charlotte must work to repress certain thoughts in order to maintain her apparent composure. To suggest all this in small compass (which Austen manages) is to produce a kind of text that Burney just doesn't have the linguistic tact for. I believe that through Charlotte Heywood Austen is telling us something of the reality of her inner life.

Ellen Moody

To Janeites

October 13, 1999

Re: Camilla: Fashionable spas

I suggest that Burney's scenes at Tunbridge are not gay but uncomfortable. On the surface they sem gay, having a quick beat tone and sarcastic distanced appraisals in the Johnsonian style. These keep us from entering into the mood of the scene for the participant. I am reminded of the scene between Darcy and Bingley on the first night Elizabeth comes down from upstairs in Netherfield where Jane has become sick: probably partly because Bingley engages in sarcasm at Darcy's height, but it is also uncomfortable, anything but gay or fun beneath a surface of sharp wit and intelligent appraisal which amuses readers.

This is not a small matter. Camilla is centrally about a socially-crowded world where all impinge on one another and are in constant competition, oneupmanship, on guard, and secretive. It's not a pleasant place. Consider Burney's assessment of Miss Dennel's history and character:

Miss Dennel, born and educated amidst domestic dissention, which robbed her of all will of her own, by the constant denial of one parent to what was accorded by the other, possessed too little reflexion to benefit by observing the misery of an alliance not mentally assorted; and grew up with no other desire but to enter the state herself, from an ardent impatience to shake off the slavery she experienced in singleness. The recent death of her mother had given her, indeed, somewhat more liberty; but she had not sufficient sense to endure any restraint, and languished for the complete power which she imagined a house and servants of her own would afford. (pp. 390-392)

This reminded me of a paragraph describing a Miss Bennet early in Cecilia.

It's interesting that Laclos reviewed Cecilia and praises it strongly. Textual Promiscuities by Toni Sol compares Cecilia closely to Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Because we see such strength of amorality in Laclos's characters and therefore differentiate them from Burney's does not mean that that is what struck the 18th century readers about such pairs of people. The essential imprisonment and manipulation of the private self might have seemed to them the point: that's Rousseauist and brings us to Marianne's stance in S&S: if we are to control our behavior by fear of impertinent remarks or what others think, we can do nothing since 'we are offending every day of our lives' some fool or interested person. Does not Camilla let herself be so controlled? Does not Euphemia flee from it? Does not Mrs Arlbery rebel?

One of the many things I was struck by in Maggie Lane's book on Bath and Fanny Burney was her sigh of relief that Burney liked Bath. In Lane's book on JA's England a rare moment of irritation can be glimpsed in Lane when she says Austen's attitude towards Bath was 'perverse' and proceeds herself to celebrate Bath and take what she can from Austen's novels to try to reinforce her own view rather than Austen's.

However, Burney's attitude towards Bath is debatable. Her tone in the early scenes islively, quick, sharp, upbeat. However, if you read what Burney says, she is continually sardonic, bored, and often made uncomfortable by what she sees or describes others as uncomfortable, vain, half-mad and preening. I'm not sure Burney did like Bath in the way or for the reasons that Lane likes it. Burney is fascinated by the people; loves to go to see new places. But does she like what she sees?

Burney's last visit to Bath came after she and her husband, Alexander D'Arblay returned from France; they lived on a small income, and Bath was a place for such elderly people on a limited income by that time. In the quotations Lane has from Burney's diary at that point, Burney is happy. But what does she describe: how she and her husband do very little, breakfast, chat, walk, he goes off to drink the waters or see a doctor for his health (hopeless, he had cancer), she sees a few family members, maybe a friend; by four after small meal (which recalls the time and hour of eating in The Watsons), they are settled by their fire, she writing and he reading. The quotations have a lovely atmosphere of contentment. The D'Arblays are in Bath because it's cheap and pretty (she seems more alive to the scenery at this point). They also hope for some help for one of them medically.

For Burney's last visit, Lane has missed the inward feel of Burney's enjoyment: where it stems from. For Burney's second, Lane has breezed over the actual content of what Burney writes. I suggest Burney's attitude was much closer to Austen's than Lane grasps. Burney lived among a different sort of person than Austen, and the circumstances of their existences accounts for a lot of the difference in their outward behaviors.

Returning to Camilla, the scenes at Tunbridge have the same curious dual vision and it's easy to miss what the author is feeling for real and expects us to feel and think. Austen gets to it much more succinctly in her scenes, but even there what the 18th century reader found compelling in these scenes might come from a lifestyle and consequent imprisonment we no longer have to endure so, like Lane, miss the point or think it's not important.

Think of Austen's Mrs Palmer; think of having to spend your days in close proximity to her, controlling your behavior by what passes for values in what passes for her mind. In this link between Burney's real attitude towards Bath and these social scenes at Tunbridge in Camilla we may glimpse why Austen enjoyed Cecilia and Camilla and what are the links contemporaries saw between Cecilia and Camilla and P&P and S&S.

The lady in white is a Miss Belfield type. Here is our sentimental heroine who figured forth for the 18th century the kinds of troubles vulnerable powerless women could have.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

To Janeites

October 25, 1999

Re: Camilla: Read as Deadpan Jaundiced Parody of a Heroine In Search of a Mother There is real strength in Book 6 of Camilla: it seems as soon as Fanny Burney moves into these social scenes, she comes into her own. Perhaps the way to read all these scenes is as written from a pen filled with jaundice. Imagine someone utterly disdainful of it all, detached, detailing these antics of these monkeys for our amusement. Then perhaps the book will work. I thought the scene wherein Sir Sedley described what he understood to be love could be read as strong from that point of view: I suddenly realise I am rehearsing Julia Epstein's argument about how to read Burney. I was reminded of a number of similar scenes in Cecilia except they seem here to be stronger, bitterer, perhaps because Camilla is so much more self-abnegating, sweeter, and definitely in love.

Another way to read: if one could be amused by straight imitations of the absurdities, pettinesses, and fashions of your world, Burney must have been amusing. She is probably really describing the outer behavior of types for the 1790s. A Clueless for the 1790s (which movie imitated types). I am only amused up to a point; soon I want to turn away from the soul-withering behavior. It reminds me of the conversation between Mary Crawford and Tom Bertram about what being out means. Edmund tries to suggest that the behavior of a young girl when she's out or not as described by both of them is awful: insincere, shallow, absurd. They cannot hear him, for they fail to get the point. They accept the shallow superficialities of behavior, Mary because they amuse her and she'd rather not have depths and sincerities, Tom because he can't comprehend it. Tom can only see the conventional surface.

I see more and more why writers compare Camilla to MP: it's Mandlebert's relationship to Camilla and hers to the world. It's a superficial likeness in that Burney does not go into the inner life of why someone would act like Camilla nor Mandlebert, but the paradigms are similar.

Camilla's relationship with Mrs Arlberry remind me of Cecilia's with Mortimer's mother. There seems always to be this yearning for some mother figure in Burney: we saw it in _Cecilia_ directly, by implication in the story of the motherless Evelina. I have been reading a book on modern romances for women, especially Harlequins, but all femine romances of the formulaic type. It is argued that women read these to find a mother figure, by which is meant some nurturing figure who will make the woman the center of his or her existence the way the woman is made to make the center of her existence her children or husband. We see this in Burney who cared for others, sacrificed for all, but turned to create a fictional world in which the heroine was the centre whom all want to or are thwarted from nurturing. After all, Mandlebert can't stop thinking about her; he wants to control her every movement. To women, so says this book, that's much better than indifference. Camilla and Burney's other fictions are written from the daughter's point of view, a daughter lonely for a mother.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

November 12, 1999

Re: Camilla: Lionel and Eugenia, Cripple as Heroine Tthere are two characters in this book who, had Burney courage, ought to have been put at the center: they are the ones that count, that tell us some truths about life and human nature. Eugenia and Lionel. The continual cruelty to the one, and the viciousness of the other which is accepted by all, tells the story of how indifference to all but one's own feelings and one's own practical safety and prestige are at the heart of cruelty. Not an important message. Consider why the people who don't do the fighting in war accept it; then consider those who do do the fighting.

There was a book here worth writing, a dark comedy about ennui too, about constraints, about stupidity, but Burney didn't write it. In my mind, if we add the sarcastic Mrs Ardkill it begins to resemble a book by Choderlos de LaClos.

The real life story of the French painter of flowers in the early 19th century, Rosalie de Constant was partly a result of her having been born ugly (so it was said), her having been crippled, and her having no money.

Ellen Moody

Nancy asks me what is the moral of Camilla. Easy:

Human beings are absurd and irritating. If you don't watch out, they will involve you in their financial and emotional nonsense.

To Janeites

January 17, 2000

Re: Camilla: Mr Tyrold and Camilla

I suggest that Mr Tyrold is very like Charles Burney and Daddy Crisp. The details of the portrait recall Fanny's biological father, the general shape of the relationship recall Fanny's adopted father. More and more Camilla seems to me an idealisation of Fanny when young. Edgar recalls a young man who pained Fanny badly by seeming to be about to propose but never doing so (Cambridge was his name).

Nancy wrote:

Mr. Tyrold, 'the lover's eye': 'He sees that his Camilla is unhappy but will not question her ... Mr. Tyrold "would make no inquiry that might seem a reproach, nor suffer any privation or contribution that was not chearful and voluntary'.

To which I replied:

Charles Burney's way of controlling his daughter was to withdraw affection. He would not make an explicit reproach. He was also on the surface always cheerful and only wanted from his daughters what was 'voluntary'.

Ellen Moody

Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2000
From: Ellen Moody
Reply-to: Subject: [Janeites] Camilla: A Prototype for Marianne ...

Nancy asks for a parsing of the following passage:

"A fourth night therefore passed without sleep, or the refreshment of taking off her cloathes; and by the time the morning sun shone in upon her apartment, she was too seriously disordered to make her illness require the aid of fancy."

If we think of Camilla as a Marianne (which Nancy suggested the other day), we can see the assumption: the narrator says Camilla is so sick she does not need to make herself ill. In _S&S_ Marianne makes herself ill through her indulgence in the heights of despair through her imagination.

There is an explicit allusion to Camilla in Sanditon where the sentimental passionate heroine, Clara, is likened to Mrs Berlington and Camilla too. I suggest Austen has the more ambivalent approach; that is, Burney is more sympathetic in the sense that she presents Camilla as harassed, over judged, manipulated. Marianne is seduces as much as she is seduced by Willoughby. She does not betray him the way he betrays her.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

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