We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

A woman with a beautiful soul: Anna Jameson and off to New York City · 30 April 05


We are supposed to be setting off to NYC so we can get to the exhibit at the NYPL of women in the 19th century. Jim is still (Marot like) in his bath and I am (no Charlotte Corday but wedded to my computer) in my robe sitting before this screen. But soon we’ll get up and dash away.

I won’t be back to you until Monday. But I did want to say that last night I completed Anna Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada. Jameson has a beautiful soul: so do many people and I encounter them in many many of my books.

I mean to write more about this travel book. Now I’ve only got time to say that a few of the books Jim listed under our library scoop I culled from the Net, one came in under the average price for the library scoop books ($2 each): 18 cents. I paid 18 cents for Jameson’s Shakespeare’s Heroines: Characteristics of Women: Moral, Political, and Historical.

It’s a physically beautiful and expensively-produced book: splendiferous art paper on which are multi-coloured idyllic-style illustrations from Victorian period of men and women dressed in conventional Shakespearean-romance style (fairy-romance) style outfits. The text is a facsimile of the original edition, and comes with a good introduction by an intelligent editor, as well as a long dialogue invented by Jameson between her and a male reader about her book and views on women and art. The book was originally called just _Characteristics … _.

The title change was the publisher’s idea as the way Jameson discusses women is through the characters of Shakespeare. The publisher hoped the title would attract more readers. I suspect in our time it’s responsible for the new death of the book. It gets confused with books like _The Girlhoods of Shakespeare’s Heroines … _ The dialogue between Jameson and her male interlocutor is of real interest and I’ll tell you about it when I get back.

81 cents. I paid $1.98 for Gutwirth’s Twilight of the Goddesses, also printed on art paper and a seminal, perhaps one of the best sociological lit-crit-art studies on women in the 18th century I’ve read.

These books are being thrown away. As were several of the finds Jim and I scooped up in our fugitive visit to the George Mason Library book sale in Northern Virginia. It was at one of these I once picked up Agnes Strickland’s lives of the queens of England; at another all of Scrutiny. As you will have noted, this time Jim got a classic history of computing and I J. W. Cross’s life of George Eliot.

Jameson’s book belongs to a tradition only a few know of: women critics who take Shakespeare’s texts and reread and critique them from a woman-centered point of view. It was begun by Charlotte Lennox who rewrote Hermione’s story so it came out that it’s astonishingly punitive for a woman to be dead for 16 years to make her husband remorseful. There’s Elizabeth Montagu’s book—as mocked and misunderstood as Lennox’s.

And now I see there’s this.

Sometimes one comes across a tone, a cast of mind, a stance and continual wit and content that appeal strongly. So it’s been for me since opening Jameson for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Another woman had I know about when I was in graduate school … Richardson’s semi-sick masterpiece of Clarissa would not have stood a chance.

But I must run away now.

Adieu, adieu, for a little while,
dearest Fanny (& Laura & Izzy),

Posted by: Ellen

* * *


commenting closed for this article