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

Upstate (with Vittoria Colonna) · 9 August 08

We have arrived, settled in and picked up our tickets for Glimmerglass. The house we’ve rented is a restored Victorian (from 1875). We are in the green bedroom; Isobel has the white.

Last night, exhausted from the drive (will they ever finish working on I-81?), I watched the opening ceremony for the Olympics. It was the gayest thing ever. Kitsch, yes. But so over the top as to transcend kitsch. Madness. At the culmination, Sarah Brightman—Sarah Brightman! late of Andrew Lloyd Webber—standing on top of the world, sang “You and Me” in Chinese to a Chinese pop star while giant whales were projected onto the ceiling of the stadium and steadily made their way round it. Somewhere Busby Berkeley is hiding his head in shame.

This afternoon, though, I am resting, and Ellen,

why, Ellen is doing what she likes best.

Posted by: Jim

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  1. We are indeed in a beautiful Victorian house, and Jim has promised to photograph the hall, stairway, our and Izzy’s room, the dining room, porch and other sitting and bedrooms.

    It’s a strange place, for it still has the servants’ stairwell and the small halls and landing places that connect what was a front part of a house to a back one. Now they are not separated, but one can see how they originally were on- and offstage, how parts of the house were set up to exclude one set of people from another. For example, the dining room has pocket doors: these slide so as to close off the dining room from other rooms.

    I am reading and studying books on the poetry of Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo, and my own poetry translations as well as the poetry of Petrarch, Laura Battiferri, and what I have in an anthology of Renaissance women's poetry. I did forget my copy of Marguerite de Navarre's Prisons (which I need to assess Vittoria's ms said to be sent to Marguerite). In compensation I bought Kermina's biography of Jeanne d'Albret (wonderful French book comparable to Kermina's book on Madame Roland.)

    I don’t know if this is my favorite thing as my central task is to read and review a book on Vittoria Colonna published in 2008, in which the author (A. Brundin) does not deign to notice my vast translation. I am beneath her notice except that I find in her book signs she has read my work as she consistently takes out a little time to refute things I have come down on the side of; ironically I see signs she knows my work on Gambara too (though the same backhanded persistency).

    Mine author also takes what I think is a elitist conservative (need I say religious), narrow and networking view of the poetry. The author omits Vittoria's love poetry, marginalizes her autobiography and basically ignores her statements about her retreat. We are asked to believe this daughter of the Colonna, desperately unhappy woman, and reclusive poet constructed a persona to influence others as if she were a modern academic careerist. I don't even see Colonna as a high-minded feminist in the way of Christine de Pisan. Nothing of this defense of women on grounds of learning or decency or humanity.
    Mine author's translations are in translationese, written in English that no one ever wrote who wanted to be understood, cribs. Let’s say I’m keeping my temper by rereading the poetry itself and renewing in my mind what is really is. I'm doing this review because my work is will be recognized by official organs. Hitherto I've had many readers, people using the translations for their master theses, printing them in anthologies, reading them aloud in festivals, quoting them, thanking me, but nothing has gotten into hard print in prestigious places.

    Sigh. For me this is a grim painful task. Colonna was a great poet, but to me no object for hagiography, particularly (ludicrously) as this great networker and career constructor. I find most of these women academics take the route (easier) of agreeing with Bullock and now Brundin that the religious poetry is superior to the erotic. I spent on and off years of my existence finding great sustenance in the beauty and contra mundi of this poetry of love and solitude, of raptures and hatred of the worldliness of world. I shall have to disagree and leave it at that. I do remember Toscia Tobana at least attacked Bullock's arrangements and choice of texts. I never ever wanted to enter any competitive fray over this stuff. To do so blasphemes it. Yet too this I've come.

    As Jim says, we drove to Glimmmerglass this morning and have our tickets for our 4 operas; the countryside is cool, pretty, all green and hilly, dotted with small and large turquoise lakes. But alas at the last moment it was such a wrench to live my house I forgot my bathing suit! It is too cool to swim anyway. Izzy & I have agreed tomorrow afternoon will be a good one to go some of the lakes.

    Elinor    Aug 9, 2:39pm    #
  2. From Kathy, a journalist and Latinist:

    “The neglect of your Vittoria Colonna translation would make anyone unhappy. So unprofessional. Perhaps she didn’t want anyone to “discover” your poems. That’s probably common enough. Yes, I agree that literal translations are terrible except as a trot. It can be very, very frustrating to translate the tone and style into the different structure of the English language, and that’s what you managed to do. But unless you’re Robert Pinsky you can’t get such poetry published. His translation of the Inferno was published in the ‘90s.”
    Elinor    Aug 14, 2:26pm    #
  3. Dear Kathy,

    Yes she may hope no one has looked at my poetry, but I know lots of people have who are Renaissance scholars or interested in the poetry of women (as I outlined). Equally dismaying and nightmare-inducing is my discovery of how many other women scholars of women’s Renaissance poetry are determined to present early modern women as careerists. I went through a new volume of Laura Battiferri’s poetry (quoted by this author) and discovered her poetry is presented with the sycophantic stuff first, the choice is repeatedly for poems which “prove” Battiferri to be respected (flattered) by prestigious people; the whole approach is an endorsement (in effect) of the hierarchical and corrupt relationships at the time: Battiferri was the illegitimate daughter of an illegimate son of a man whose family enriched him and themselves by making him a Catholic cleric. A side effect is to keep all women in their place as concubines who are not married off as family property.

    Do I have the nerve to speak out against all this? I think it’s a falsication of what is best in the women’s poetry. For Battiferri it is what has been traditionally valued: beautiful landscape and retirement poems.

    I am feeling better by having finished the reading. Ahead of me is to write. I have to remember that RQ asked me to do this as they have asked me to be a referee and write other reviews. Their staff recognizes my work online :)

    I can’t tell my nightmare online. Just believe it was searing.

    Elinor    Aug 14, 2:33pm    #
  4. IN response to another friend:

    “I have to be a hypocrite and not send howls over how this woman is presenting this poet—it’s now the in thing about all women academics of early modern poets to make them into academic-style careerists like themselves, and worship at altars of prestige and power. I supoose it's natural for these academic women and men to see these earlier women as creatures like themselves

    Colonna wasn’t that. The woman lived in deprivation within nunneries (flagellated herself), had been rejected by the nasty husband for not getting pregnant (she wrote a scathing letter to him all the while supporting him publicly and presenting herself as ecstatic in marriage, grief-striken as a widow); she was a woman who died alone, solitary, her body was put in an unmarked grave at first (as I recall) probably consciously knowing herself a heretic from the church's point of view; good thing she had this powerful family and died young or she would have found herself harrassed badly. She was also fanatically religious (common among upper class French women in the 17th century, but towards the end of their lives), and wrote a poetry of strong abandonment. And I have to be calm over this unprofessional (spiteful?) ignoring of my work. Brundin'd say it's popular; but I detect her resentment of my work in a closing comment (at the end of this book) about "unhelpful biographism"!

    I am finding myself very sympathetic to the stance I saw in Birchall’s book of poetry. Poetry is in a bad way in our world—whether written and published in thevRenaissance or today. No one outside a few rare poets values it for itself at all. Modern poets read one another’s work and careerists in academia read the old poets to stroke one another’s careers and get tenure.

    I do remember how Annie Finch provided the poetry for the Univ of Chicago Press edition of Louise Labe’s poetry; I was invited to provide the poetry for their Veronica Gambara volume if I would 1) take my poems off the Net; and 2) endure a catfight with the condescending woman now writing the apparatus who would of course frame and arrange the poems in this pro-establishment way of them all (follow the 1759 arrangement, made more than 200 years after she died). I remember how Gaspara Stampa’s poems were so uniquely candidly framed since they were published by her sister.

    I wonder why the book was not sent to one of Brundin's friends or her advisor. Then the person would go on about how the book is impeccable and there'd be an end on it.

    Elinor    Aug 14, 3:11pm    #

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