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

Questions of Identity & _The Australian Emigrant_ · 8 December 05

Dear Marianne,

I spent a good deal of last and the year before reading travel and emigrant settler books by women—and gazing at 19th century pictures about emigration:

Joseph Charles Staniland (1838-1913), Emigrant Ship (1913)

A friend from Victoria had suggested to me I try to write an essay on anti-Americanism in Trollope’s travel writings for an anthology of essays she was hoping to gather together, interest in publisher in and edit. I knew to start out with that far from simply disseminating anti-American prejudices about the US, Anthony Trollope’s travel writings seriously analyze and celebrate American values, but I said I’d try.

I did read his The American Senator (the novel which really treats this theme most thoroughly), his four major travel books, and two reasonably carefully (North America and Australia and New Zealand), and some of his shorter fiction set in America, but when it came time to try to find some context I find myself gravitating not to other travel books which contained these themes, but to other travel books by women. Several secondary studies I found were about English and American cultural clashes,and it seemed this was a topic which publishers were willing to publish books about, but a good deal that could be said about the theme had been said, and the truly interesting secondary studies were the documentary ones about the realities of emigration itself from the British Isles to its several commonwealth countries. Further it seemed to me that Trollope’s Australian book and Australian themes should be part of a serious study of his attitudes towards the US as he regarded the two colonial cultures in a similar light.

Nothing wrong in this later theme (that is, I hoped it would still fit her projected anthology), but I was still reading this stuff and deciding if I should re-read Trollope’s NA and ANZ, with a view (I knew I would do this) to doing a close literary study as the basis of my essay, when a friend in 18th century studies proposed I do a study of Sophie Cottin. I had put a novel by her on my website; I had given a conference paper called JA Among Frenchwomen where Cottin was one of my French women and then tried to publish it. Though the essay was rejected, the editor had written a long kind note suggesting I rewrite the paper focusing on one or two of the Frenchwomen vis-a-vis Austen or in her own right, so I would be returning to something I had begun to develop.

The problem was the two areas are utterly disparate, and with teaching I couldn’t do both at once. Edward urged me to do the 18th century project as this friend really would have a place to publish it, I was myself much more "recognized" as an 18th century scholar and would therefore be working in an area I was going to conferences to where I genuinely enjoyed myself with other people (not as an outsider looking in, politely tolerated as I was in the Victorian conferences). So I reluctantly put the Trollope project on hold and turned to Cottin.

That was about 7 months ago and I’ve been at work on Cottin insofar as my really alert time permits (alternating during the day with teaching). But it goes very slow and lo and behold the Trollope contact now writes me saying she has a publisher. Alas, I have nothing to offer as yet, and I know I was not controlling my trajectory to go in the direction she wanted. I wasn’t sure she even had a publisher.

I know (or now feel, says she smiling) I was enjoying reading the travel books by women and thinking about issues of identity, colonialism, and increasing my understanding and respect for Trollope’s strong well-informed political intelligence more than I am enjoying this French material. The French material is thematically closer, not because it’s feminist in terrain, but because its sexuality issues are close to the grain: after all I’ve been writing about just this sort of novel from a woman’s point of view since I did my dissertation on Richardson’s Clarissa, and as I’ve now managed to say, it’s rooted in matters of essential personal identity to me. Still I get impatient as I slowly read a novel by Cottin which is something of a trial to my patience, Matilde (religious, conservative, pernicious, sometimes sheerly stupid and ludicrous) and alternate this with Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse (very slow going as I’m also reading it in Kenrick’s 18th century English translation).

I can’t get myself to do something superficial. It can take me months to write a review. If I were young and able to go for tenure, I could see driving myself to produce a sheerly literary critical paper on Trollope, and so what if it had little new but my lucubrations? But why spend months of one’s short precious time alive producing such a piece of writing? I work hard on my writing to make it read well. I preferred to learn more about emigration, women, colonalism, and Australia first. The Trollope project would have included reading and studying irritating or dull material eventually. It already had—though mostly I read wonderful books by Susannah Moodie (Roughing It in the Bush), Anna Jameson (Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada), RLStevenson (The Amateur Emigrant). I loved all the books I read on Australia and by Australians, want to read more, and yearn to travel to Australia and New Zealand—after Trollope.

I’m doing the same for my project on Cottin: I’m not driving myself to produce the sheer portrait biography this man has in mind, but am looking for a wider more thorough literary-critical context. I’ve read about medieval women at the Crusades, listened to a wonderful reading aloud by Whitfield of Scott’s The Talisman, enjoyed James Reston’s intelligent Warriors of God, a book about the violent brutal third Crusade (Richard I and Saladin) and by extension the analogous wars in the middle east today. Now I’m about to re-begin Beatrice Didier’s L’Écriture-femme.

Ah me. And now I’m about to finish teaching and have had a new invitation to write a paper about my engagement with Gambara and Colonna for a woman who edits a good periodical about women’s writing, and am committed to produce a paper on my website for the coming ASECS Montreal conference.

I can’t read anything hard after 7 pm, and by 9 or 10 at night usually can only sit up to write away at a popular relaxed level. Library Thing takes time and is something of a puzzling headache (more on that another time). And I keep meaning to put more of my published materials, posting-essays and texts too on this website.

Well, in a few days I’ll try to make a new schedule and see what I can do about that Gambara and Colonna thing, without (I hope) giving up or becoming too thin on Cottin. I have to write the woman about my not having produced something on Trollope "and anti-Americanism" for her.

I began this blog with the intention of telling how I came to read part of The Australian Emigrant, a poem by Francis Browne. I had begun to realize that, unlike men, women emigrants often wrote that as if they belonged nowhere, were disenfranchised, without permanent ties, had no land, or place they felt was theirs because they were women. Trollope had dramatized this deep feeling in women in his travel story, Journey to Panama (one I’d like to put on my website); and I had read a similar presentation of a woman’s consciousness in Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves (a historical novel set in Australia in the 1830s). Francis Browne cries out against this rootlessness, a lack of identity for women except through men, which identity is then one of bondage:

from The Australian Emigrant (1848?)

by Frances Brown(e)

A bark went forth, with the morning’s smile,
That bore the maids of the western isle
Far, where the southern summers shine
On the glorious world beyond the line.
Theirs was a weary lot of toil,
And their hopes were turned to a better soil,
While their tears were shed for the island-shore
They should look on its greenness never more.

But one was there—who shed no tears!
A girl, in the blossom of her yers;
Yet bloom had she none from the roses caught,
For her cheek was withered with early thought,
And her young brow bore the written doom
Of a lonely heart and a distant tomb …

Silent she gazed on the shore and sea,
And here her glance was bright and free,
Like a spirit’s, bound by no kindred ties,
(For she had none beneath the skies)
Till the mountains faded in misty blue,
And louder the grief around her grew.
Then, turned the maid to that mourning throng,
And poured the power of her soul in song!

How sadly mixed was that parting strain,
That told of the talent given in vain,
And the wisdom born of deep despair:
With the tone of triumph blending there,
Throught the faintest fall and through the wildest swell
Was heard the voice of the heart’s farewell,

‘Whence flow these floods of sorrows?
O, my gentle sisters, tell
Do the heart’s deep fountains send their streams
To bid the land farewell?
Like a shadow passing from us
Is each mighty mountain brow,
But earth—the wide green earth—is ours,
We have no country now.
But, oh! the od home track,
Where our first affections rest.
Alas! no time shall give them back …

Oh! man may grieve to sever
From the hearth or from the soil,
For still some hope, some right, was his,
Which lived through want and toil;
The dwellers of the forest,
They may mourn their leafy laid;
But why should woman weep her land?
She has no portion there.
Woe—woe for deeds of worth,
That were only paid with ill
For to her the homes of earth
Are the house of bondage, still.


A little about Francis Browne (1816-1879):

Browne was one of these poets taken up by the wealthy and educated as poor, gifted—and grateful. At 18 month old she was scarred and blinded by smallpox, yet grew up to read and write brilliantly. By age 15 she had listened to Hume’s History of England, a universal history, much of Byron’s Childe Harold. By age 24 she had listened to Irish poems and send compositions of her own to Irish Penny Journal and Athenaeum. The editor got her a yearly pension of £20; in 1847 she moved to Edinburgh, in 1852, to London where she was known as ‘the blind poetess of Ulster,’ supported and her work published by wealthy English patrons. Her early verse wove folk themes; then she wrote of histories and legends. The Australian Emigrant was based on "real-life stories" her by the Irish who left Ireland and England for what they hoped would be a better life in Australia.

I should say I don’t feel this lack of rootlessness myself. My identity partly derives from my past in New York City, my 2 years in England, and now over a quarter of a century in Alexandria, Virginia. And my lifetime of reading English books. The thought I would have grown up in Poland but for my grandparents all coming over to the US in the 1910s gives me pause. Staniland’s Emigrant Ship (just above) depicts Irish people leaving Liverpool for the US in the 20th century, around the time my four grandparents left from eastern Europe. An online record Edward found shows my my paternal grandfather, Josef Garbus (the anglicized name given him upon entry to the US), identified as Austrian and from Skowilscym, Galicy, Aust. (Poland today), arrived on the Kronprinzessin Cecilie (out of Bremen, Germany) at Ellis Island on 9 October 1907, aged 18, and that

when he arrived, he was asked if he was an anarchist or a polygamist. He said no. He was in possesion of $11. He said he had a fair complexion (as did everyone) with "blk" hair and grey eyes. He was measured as 5’7". Although he was a tailor, he was labelled "labourer." He was on his way to Elizabeth, New Jersey.

I cannot imagine how different I would have been to have grown up in Poland in the 1950s.

But yes I also relate to the world with, & through Edward as his wife too and it’s central, but the tie has been no bondage to me: since I was 22 it has provided the framework and happiness of my existence. In that I am more like Susannah Moodie, whose winter poetry I will quote another day soon.

Elinor Dashwood

Posted by: Ellen

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  1. I cannot imagine emigrating to America. Whatever courage or curiosity sent my ancestors here, I altogether lack it. Indeed, I envy them: I wish it were as easy to go home.
    R J Keefe    Dec 8, 4:46pm    #

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