Catch up with past entries:

She herself had seen nothing, not the shadow of a shadow, and nobody in the house but the governess was in the governess’s plight; yet she accepted without directly impugning my sanity the truth as I gave it to her. — The “she” there is Mrs Grose. And we’ve touched on the class differencesbetween the governess and Mrs Grose in an earlier exchange. Mrs Grose simply isn’t in the position to challenge a lot of what the governess is saying. Mrs Grose certainly can’t outright call the governess a liar without risking, well, everything.

Also: the governess is honest about saying that Mrs Grose has seen nothing. This is going to be a common refrain from the governess. Either someone hasn’t seen something, or someone willfully doesn’t see something — whatever that means. Read the rest of this entry »


Catch up with past entries:

I’ll start off-topic a little, with “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Catch up with past entries:

Hey, guess what! My Norton has the serialization notations, so I’m going to try to get us in line with each official segment. Chapter 5, according to Norton, is the end of the fourth installment.

On with my notes.  Read the rest of this entry »

You’ll find the first entry here: “The Turn of the Screw” — Introduction through Chapter 2

I think I’ve been inveigled into this, but what the hey . . . I’m always up for defending the naive reading of an unsophisticated doofus.  I see that Mike, to soften the blow of the blitzkrieg he has planned against me, says a few kind words about me at the start, including “Steve is usually right.”  I suspect that he first wrote “Steve is a legend in his own mind.”  Feeling that this was a little strong, and wanting to open with a formal exchange of compliments, he crossed that out and wrote “I don’t care what they say about Steve, he makes a decent cup of coffee.”  Then he decided that this was too complimentary, and with the kind of irony that he is going to find in The Turn of the Screw, wrote about my record of rightness in a preface to what he intends to be a thorough dismantling of my rightness and a demonstration that I read on the level of the comic strip Nancy.

Whatever.  Game on. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Steve’s fault. It’s always Steve’s fault. “The Turn of the Screw,” he said, “is just a straight-forward ghost story. The governess isn’t mad. The ghosts are real. Anything else is post-modern supposition.” So we’re in an argument. My hope is that by the end of this, I’ll have proven — to Steve, and, I guess, to myself, because Steve is usually right, and he may be right this time, but I don’t want him to be — that Henry James meant for The Turn of the Screw to be more than just a ghost story.

What follows will be the emails I send to Steve from each section I read through, and Steve’s responses.

A last bit of housekeeping: the edition I’m using is the Norton Critical Edition, Second Edition. Read the rest of this entry »

When Hardy died in 1928, at the age of 87, he was on wife #2, a woman named Florence.

It’s not especially unusual for a man to remarry — married men usually aren’t good at being unmarried men because sometimes patriarchy works for people, like male people, and once you’ve gotten used to being cared for, because that’s what women do, right, is care for men, then it’s sort of rough to go back to caring for yourself — and it’s almost guaranteed when the man had been having an affair with the woman who would become his new wife roughly seven years before his first wife’s death.

Oh, Thomas “Hap” Hardy, you old romantic schemer, you.

Hardy and his first wife, Emma, started out the way one wants all new love to start: fresh and exciting and breathless. He was captivated by her hair. And there’s a wonderful drawing Hardy did of Emma, kneeling, that captures the curve of her breast erotically and again, I want to say: most all of our preconceived notions of prudish Victorians are bunk and useless. Are they flashing their panties as they climb into our out of carriages? We often confuse perversity and ill manners with eroticism. Are they writing poems like Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” and buying pornography outside of prisons*? Yes, they were.


[* A Mr Birtle, secretary of the soon-to-be-dissolved Bristol Society for the Prevention of Vice, wrote a final letter to his group: “Sir, – The Bristol Society for the Suppression of Vice being about to dissolve, and the agents before employed having moved very heavily, I took my horse and rode to Stapleton prison to inquire into the facts contained in your letter. Inclosed are some of the drawings which I purchased in what they call their market, without the least privacy on their part or mine. They wished to intrude on me a variety of devices in bone and wood of the most obscene kind, particularly those representing a crime ‘inter Christianos non nominandum,’ which they termed the new fashion. I purchased a few, but they are too bulky for a letter. This market is held before the door of the turnkey every day between the hours of ten and twelve.” — quoted from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor]

Eventually Hardy tired of Emma. His eye began to wander over several ladies, usually younger, and usually those who flattered his talents, because for Hardy the most attractive part of a woman is the part of her that finds him brilliant. In 1904, when he was 64, Hardy met Florence Dugdale, when she was 26. She thought he was brilliant. He thought she was insightful. She quit teaching in 1908 to become a professional Thomas Hardy groupie and to make catty comments about Emma whenever possible. In 1912, she multi-tasks her disdain of Emma with production of a book called — and I’m not kidding — The Book of Baby Birds.

What was Emma writing at the time? Her diaries, which she called “Why I Hate My Husband.” (Hardy had that diary destroyed. As Claire Tomalin so wisely and compassionately put it in her biography of Hardy: “Sensibly enough he decided they were largely the product of a mind subject to delusions.”)

Emma died in 1912, Florence moved in in 1913 and she and Hardy were married in 1914. But something had changed in Hardy after Emma’s death. The woman he had grown to despise had become the woman he only ever really loved. He idealized her entirely and mooned over her constantly and, p.s., don’t forget: he had married Florence. And guess who wasn’t Mr Subtle about his new-found love affair with his dead wife? Thomas Hardy. His poetry is filled with love poems to and about and because of Emma. And Florence had to hear them all and read them all and stew about them in her own kettle of rage.

It took Emma over 20 years to get to the “Why I Hate My Husband” stage. It took Florence a little less than that. And yet, symmetrically, after Hardy’s death in 1928, Florence was so grief-stricken that a doctor was called.

Oh, and we haven’t even got to the “Where do we bury Hardy’s heart?” part of the story. Hardy wanted to be buried with Emma in their plot at Stinsford. Literary people wanted Hardy to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. (Hardy probably actually wanted that, too, because he was obsessed with his own fame and standing; however, his Emma obsession in this case overrode his own fame-whoring and we have this late-blooming romance with a grave site.)

The compromise? Hardy’s heart was buried with Emma (Emma Hardy: “Um, gross you guys.”) and his body was buried in Poet’s Corner. However, we all are rewarded in this compromise, because we get this quote from George Bernard Shaw, one of the ceremonial pallbearers at the funeral:

“As we marched, pretending to carry the ashes of whatever part of Hardy was buried in the Abbey, Kipling, who fidgeted continually and was next in front of me, kept changing his step. Every time he did so I nearly fell over him.”

The moral of this story: George Bernard Shaw is awesome.

To celebrate, I’ll share, with no context at all, my favorite passage from the Catherine Peters biography of Wilkie Collins, The King of Inventors:

The hybrid and Mary don’t agree. I am sorry to lose the hybrid. She sees me into the water-closet and out of it regularly – and tries the door every time I make water. I have reason to believe that the hybrid must have seen My Person!

Happy 188th birthday, Wilkie! I hope they have hybrid-attended water-closets in whatever heaven you’ve ended up in.

The painting is titled The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, and was painted by Dadd while he was taking some “me” time at Broadmoor Hospital [personal note to my friend Catherine: BROADMOOR! TONY! GAH!] after murdering his father and then attempting to murder some French guy while on the run in France.

Richard Dadd wasn’t a well man. (Maybe I should have started with that.)

He’s on my radar at all because he makes a quick and creepy appearance in a biography of Wilkie Collins called The King of Inventors by Catherine Peters. I like to keep track of things like credit card payment due dates, social engagements, and the anniversaries of the deaths of schizophrenics on my Yahoo! calendar, and today I got a reminder about Dadd.

Dadd was born 1 August 1817. He’s not part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he’s Brotherhood-adjacent, because artists have always been great at three things: (1) annoying me, (2) writing ponderous “artist’s” statements, and (3) being incestuous as a group. He studied at the Royal Academy (which is part of the reason why Dadd wasn’t part of the PRB; that group of winners hated the Royal Academy and what it stood for SO MUCH that they gave the founder of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the devastating nickname “Sir Sloshua Reynolds.” If I had to add a (4) to my list of three things artists are great at, I think it would have to be devastating nicknames) where he ran into folks like Augustus Egg and E.M. Ward — both of whom show up frequently in Dickens biographies.

In 1842, he was picked to be a draughtsman for an expedition to Greece, Turkey, Syria, and, finally, Egypt. (And going off topic a moment to talk a little more about Egypt: Remember how great it was when Flaubert took that trip to Egypt with his probably-gay-as-pants friend Max and Flaubert was obsessed with the eunuchs and upset that they wouldn’t hang out with him — “What would I not have given in the Orient, to become the friend of a eunuch! But they are completely unapproachable.” — and Max kept taking pictures using an extremely attractive Nubian “for scale” but I mean, come on: we all know the pyramids are big.) And while it probably can’t entirely be blamed on Egypt, sometime in December, somewhere along the Nile, Richard Dadd started losing his mind, thinking he was under the influence of the Egyptian god Osiris (the Egyptian god who was cut up into 14 pieces by his evil brother and then scattered over the world, forcing Osiris’s sister-wife to go searching and assembling only she couldn’t find Osiris’s penis because that had been swallowed by a crab oh my god you guys: think of how different Christmas could have been if we’d all been Egyptian).

His traveling companions attributed it to sunstroke. It was probably paranoid schizophrenia.

Back home, in August of 1843, Dadd murdered his father, thinking his father was the Devil in disguise (he wasn’t), but before that he went through a period where he was obsessed with hard-boiled eggs and “lived on nothing else” according to Peters in her Wilkie Collins bio. (I also love the way Peters describes the murder: “Dadd went spectacularly mad and cut his father’s throat.”)

After his arrest, after trying to kill that other guy in France (who probably also was the Devil in disguise as far as Dadd was concerned), and after he was safely hospitalized away (first at Bedlam before later being moved to Broadmoor [another personal note to my friend Catherine: BROADMOOR! TONY! GAH!]), the police searched his rooms and studio where they found “drawings of his friends, including Frith, Egg, and Ward…with a red slash painted across the throat of each.”

Go ahead and take some time to shudder thoroughly. I’ll wait right here, shuddering myself.

Oh, but I’m not quite done with the uncanny and creepy: as it turns out, years later, E.M. Ward, a narrative painter of British historical scenes, killed himself. By slashing his throat.

Claire Tomalin and I got off on the wrong foot while I was reading her biography of Thomas Hardy. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Tomalin had fallen a little in love with Hap — and I mean, come on; what’s not to love, what with his being the meanest writer in the English language and the awful way he treated both of his wives? — and that her enamoration was getting between me and the truth about Hardy. (That truth being: “He’s the worst.”)

Here’s a quick example. On page 307 of the paperback of Thomas Hardy, we get a luncheon anecdote. Henry Newbolt and the poet W.B. Yeats were at the Hardys’. Hardy was deep in questioning Newbolt about his thoughts on Italian architecture; Emma, Hardy’s wife, was regaling Yeats with “much curious information about the two very fine cats” (that’s from an account left by Newbolt, quoted in Tomalin’s book), proving once and for all the Emma Hardy is my Spirit Animal because what I, too, have is a lot of curious information about my two very fine cats.


I’ll continue quoting from Newbolt’s account: “At last Hardy rose from his seat and looked towards his wife: she made no movement, and he walked to the door. She was still silent and unmoved: he invited her to leave us for a few minutes, for a ceremony which in accordance with his wishes was to be performed without witnesses. [Editor’s note: ?!?] She at once remonstrated, and Yeats and I begged that she should not be asked to leave use. But Hardy insisted and she made no further appeal but gathered up her cats and her train with perfect simplicity and left the room.”

A bit of background: Hardy has been a jerk to his wife Emma for most of the latter part of their marriage and for most of Tomalin’s biography — to the point where he’s actively flirting with other women because why not. I give you this bit of background because I’m hoping you’ll feel the sting of this commentary by Tomalin as much as I did:

“Emma must have exasperated Hardy beyond endurance for him to have treated her as he did on that occasion, in the presence of two eminent visitors. What was worse was that her presence made him so uneasy that all his considerable charm took flight, and he appeared nervous and uneasy with his gusts as well as cold and unkind to his wife.”

See: it’s all Emma’s fault. Because that’s how Tomalin rolls. It couldn’t be that Hardy’s an asshole and even if he were an asshole, like now, like in that anecdote — it’s only because Emma made him into one by just existing in the room, talking of cats with Yeats.



(Oh! And! Emma left some diaries behind, after she died — she predeceased Hardy — and they were pretty critical of Hardy as a human being. Here’s Tomalin on that scenario: “Meanwhile Hardy had found Emma’s diaries, with their angry and contemptuous accounts of his behaviour. Sensibly enough [Editor’s note: whoo boy] he decided they were largely the product of a mind subject to delusions [Editor’s note: !!!] and refused to allow them to spoil his renewed vision of her as the love of his life.” [313]. After Emma’s death, Hardy had a renaissance of love for her that’s pretty weird and controlling — especially since he actively moons over his dead wife in front of his living new wife because, as I mentioned earlier: THE WORST.)

Claire Tomalin and I still aren’t right with each other, especially once I moved on to her biography of Charles Dickens that came out late last year. For starters, she made a weird error about a debt that Dickens’s father, John, owed. John took out a loan of £200 to be paid back at £26 per annum for life. As in: until John Dickens died. As in: there was no point where John Dickens would be able to cross that off his [interrupting right now to say that those wonderful cats of mine I was mentioning up top? Totally in a fight to the death in the library where the fat one keeps condescendingly tapping the tiny orange one on the head and I’m sorry you’re not here to see this since (a) it’s awesome; and (b) it would mean I wouldn’t have to type all this out, we could just complain about Claire Tomalin in person like civilized and mature adults] to-do list. Only Tomalin says, “it should have taken a little more than eight years [to pay back]” and then, I forgot to mention, John Dickens wasn’t able to keep up with the payments on the loan so his brother-in-law, Thomas Barrow, ended up paying the loan off. So it’s even weirder when Tomalin writes, “but his financial incompetence was such that he was still paying it off thirty years later.” Only that can’t be true for a number of reasons, not least of which: the loan had already been paid off by Thomas Barrow. And then also, if John Dickens had been able to keep up with the original terms of the loan (and, by the way: what idiot agrees to loan terms like that? John Dickens, that’s who) then of course he would have still been paying the loan back thirty years later.

And then she weirdly mischaracterizes the relationship between Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell as sort of a wacky, not-as-sexy Moonlighting thing when really it was sort of a wacky, not-as-sexy boy-did-they-hate-each-other thing. (Dickens once wrote in a letter, “If I was Mr Gaskell oh how I would choke her!”)

Oh AND then there’s this that my friend Catherine sent me from the Irish Times: What the Dickens? Why biographers don’t always tell the whole story.

Turns out, Tomalin may have been taken in by a hoax — something she only realized after the bio was printed. The now-known-to-be-bunk story is: Dickens and Dostoevsky met in 1862, had a heart-to-heart where Dickens poured out a LOT of heavy stuff about himself to a Russian stranger, and Dostoevsky wrote about it. Tomalin quotes this (fake) Dostoevskian passage at length in her biography from a translation she came across but never thought, “Hm. I wonder what this looks like in Russian?” Because if she had, she would have learned that there does not appear to be an original of this conversation at all. From the article:

“She initially found the account of the meeting “electrifying” but began to have doubts after her biography was published. Then she and her husband, the writer Michael Frayn, looked for the original source of the account, not the translation she had relied on. She could find nothing to back up the English account, and other biographers who used the translation also admitted that they were unable to verify its source.”

Oh Claire Tomalin. You’re simply the worst.

If you read any biography of Dickens, one of the first things you’ll notice is that Catherine, his wife, spends almost their entire marriage pregnant. The other thing that’s great is reading all the kind of bitchy letters Dickens writes to his men friends, expressing bewilderment at all the babies in the house — sort of a shrug and a “How’d this happen?” which maybe isn’t so weird since Dickens worked a lot with prostitutes and they’re pretty good at keeping the show going without interruption, if you know what I’m saying.Good morning.

Anyway, Catherine is always pregnant, and it starts pretty much immediately, because she and Dickens were married 2 April 1836 (which corresponded with John Forster’s birthday, who was Dickens’s bff, and with whom Dickens insisted on celebrating with a birthday/anniversary sort of set-up because Dickens really gets romance. And women. And birth control.) and their first child, Charles Culliford Boz Dickens, is born pretty much nine months later, on 6 January 1837.

The Culliford comes from Dickens’s maternal grandmother, Mary Culliford. The Boz (with a long o, by the way, to rhyme it with nose) is a little more complicated. And we’re off to Chicago.

There’s a Chicago Herald article from 1895 — 25 years after Dickens’s death — that’s about a grudge that Chicago had against Dickens. Chicago had had its feelings hurt in 1867 when Dickens refused to visit on his second American tour.

Dickens visited America twice in his life, once in 1842 with Catherine where he hoped to convince American publishers to stop stealing his stuff (they didn’t) and where he was also appalled by slavery and completely disgusted by the spat tobacco stains everywhere; and a second time, in 1867, without Catherine, in order to give a lot of readings, attend a lot of dinners, and to promise the American people that he would never denounce America again. (They still stole from him.)

At the time of his second reading, Dickens’s youngest brother, Augustus, was living in Chicago with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Augustus’s actual wife was still back in England; however, Augustus had left her after she went blind. Dickens, who had left his wife because she had gotten fat (okay, okay, there’s more to it than that; but that’s a story for another time), was mortified by his brother’s behavior and cut off all contact with him. (Quick postscript on the women in Augustus Dickens’s life: Bertha, the woman he ran away to America with, may or may not have committed suicide two years after Augustus’s death in 1866. Her end story is a little Lily Bart-ian: she definitely overdosed on morphine; it’s not clear if it was on purpose or not. When news of her death reached England, the London News printed an obituary, referring to Bertha as Charles Dickens’s sister-in-law. Dickens wasn’t having it: “Sir– I am required to discharge a painful act of duty imposed upon me by your insertion in your paper of Saturday of a paragraph from the New York Times respecting the death, at Chicago, of ‘Mrs. Augustus N. Dickens, widow of the brother of Charles Dickens, the celebrated English novelist.’ The widow of my late brother, in that paragraph referred to, was never at Chicago; she is a lady now living, and resident in London; she is a frequent guest at my house, and I am one of the trustees under her marriage settlement. My temporary absence in Ireland has delayed for some days my troubling you with the request that you will have the goodness to publish this correction. I am, &c., CHARLES DICKENS”)

Back to the Chicago Herald article from 1895. The article is titled “Dickens’s Wayward Brother | Cause of the Novelist’s Seemingly Heartless Conduct. | Why the Pet of His Young Manhood Came to This Country and Prevented Him from Visiting Chicago.” This whole time, Chicago had been trying to figure out what was so wrong with it that Charles Dickens wouldn’t deign to stop by for a visit. “It’s as if he thinks being Hog Butcher of the World is a bad thing,” Chicago seemed to be thinking. And finally, someone at the Chicago Herald, 28 years later, felt they had put it all together. They had Cracked the Case, so to speak. (A quick moment or two, if you’ll let me, back on that headline. I love the ambiguity, where one isn’t certain if the headline writer means that Dickens’s treatment of his brother/brother’s fake wife was heartless, or if Dickens’s refusal to come to Chicago is what’s heartless.)

Dickens himself had claimed that Chicago was just too far away to visit. But the author of that 1895 article thought that was a specious claim. He went to Baltimore! the writer says. He went to Philadelphia! Dickens also had this to say about not visiting Chicago: “The worst of it is everybody one advises with has a monomania regarding Chicago. ‘Good heavens, Sir,” said one great Philadelphia authority to me this morning, ‘if you don’t read in Chicago the people will go into fits!’ ‘Well,’ I answered, ‘I would rather they went into fits than I did.'”

Why would Dickens go into fits at all, the Chicago Herald writer wondered. And then, it all came clear. It was Augustus.

Of course, Augustus had been dead a year when Dickens came back to America in 1867. But Dickens was serious about this “out of my life” business with Augustus, and, so the Chicago Herald writer supposed, that must be why Dickens wouldn’t come to Chicago. It was not Chicago’s fault at all! Chicago had done nothing wrong! Chicago was merely collateral damage!

And now, finally, to the whole reason I mentioned the Chicago Herald article in the first place. This quote:

“Charles Dickens’s reasons for remaining away from Chicago also involves the real origin of his nom de plume ‘Boz.’ ‘This was the nickname,’ [John] Forster writes [Forster, as I mentioned above, was Dickens’s best friend and later, his first biographer], ‘of a pet child, his youngest brother, Augustus, whom, in honor of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield,’ he had dubbed Moses, which, being facetiously through the nose became Boses, and, being shortened, became Boz.'”

Dickens used the pen name ‘Boz’ for most of his early writings, collected into Sketches by Boz. Pickwick, too, was attributed to Boz. One reason Dickens went with a pen name: in his early years as a writer, he was trying to make a career as a serious political journalist, and he was worried that the Sketches and Pickwick might detract from his credibility.

Oh, and now back to Charles Culliford Boz Dickens — the prime motivation behind this missive: that’s where the Boz in his last name comes from. He would have been 175 years young today. He tried several times to make it as a business man, but never quite had what it took. He finally settled into being the son of Charles Dickens, publishing Dickens’s Dictionary of London and Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames in 1879, and Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris in 1882.

July 2018
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