Guest Blog – Playfulness and Pseudonyms: Introducing George Fleming, yet another forgotten Transatlantic Literary Woman

Guest Blog by Lisa Nais, 
Doctoral Researcher,
University of Aberdeen 

Playfulness and Pseudonyms: Introducing George Fleming, yet another forgotten Transatlantic Literary Woman

The nineteenth century saw quite an astonishing number of literary talents named George: George Fleming, George Paston, George Egerton and, of course, George Eliot. The other thing that these Georges had in common was their sex: they were all female. Julia Constance Fletcher, Emily Morse Symmonds, Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright and Mary Ann Evans. With the exception of George Eliot, it is hard to determine which of these women is least known. Here, I shall make the case for George Fleming. If you type her pseudonym into Google, you have to scroll down four pages until you find the first reference to the author. A footballer, a managing director and a teaching fellow of the same name are more popular than my subject. I continued my little experiment and scrolled down another few pages, looking for my own publications on Fleming. Somewhat dejectedly, I gave up on page twenty.

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Hence, an introduction is in order. Julia Constance Fletcher was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1853 to a clergyman from Indianapolis and his Swiss wife, who was rumoured to be prone to infidelity. When Constance was in her teens, her parents’ marriage broke apart, and her mother started living together with her lover and the children. Eventually, they married and moved to Italy with Constance, while her brother joined the American military forces. Constance enjoyed a Bohemian lifestyle, and when they went on the Grand Tour in 1876, she transformed her experiences into a novel, Kismet, which, published in 1877 under the pseudonym “George Fleming”, turned out to be a bestseller. The next year saw the publication of another bestseller, Mirage, which is now thought to include the first fictionalisation of Oscar Wilde, whom Constance met and struck up a friendship with in 1876. In 1879, she was the subject of the London rumour mills, as she was engaged to be married to Lord Byron’s grandson. This engagement was short-lived, however, because of her mother’s reputation. Rather than despairing over her loss, Constance took her friend Robert Browning’s advice and returned to her literary career, publishing four novels and two short story collections in the years 1880-1895. In the 1890s, she turned to the London stage, producing several popular plays of her own creation and adapting, for instance, Rudyard Kipling’s The Light that Failed and Edmond Rostand’s Les Romanesque, with great success. At the turn of the century, however, she suffered a ruptured blood vessel at the back of her eyes and partially lost her sight, which left her incapable to write as prolifically as she had done before. Her popularity waned and her income diminished in the last decades of her life. She died in Venice in 1938.

Part of the reason for the incognisance of Constance Fletcher and her body of work is her withdrawal from public life due to her diminishing eyesight; another part is the androcentrism of the literary canon. However, a decent amount of work has been done to re-establish Fletcher’s reputation. Type “Constance Fletcher” into Google, and the first three hits are a Wikipedia entry and two more scholarly biographical encyclopaedia entries for Fletcher, followed by my scholarly article on her novel Mirage and her contribution to the British aesthetic movement. While the majority of these sources also state her pseudonym, the name “George Fleming” seems not to be associated with Constance Fletcher nowadays, when the exact opposite was the case in the nineteenth century.

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George Fleming was well-known before Constance Fletcher was. Her first two novels were published as part of the Roberts Brothers’ No Name Series in the US and under the pseudonym George Fleming in the UK (Macmillan). The American mode of publication entailed speculation about the identity of the author, as books in the No Name Series were published anonymously. Fletcher playfully claims the novel back as her own, opening Mirage with the words “Her name was Constance” (9). However, the British and the American publishing context overlapped at times. For example, the two novels were reviewed by Henry James in the American periodical The Nation. James lived in London at the time and likely read the English edition by Macmillan, which was signed off George Fleming. The American edition, in contrast, was published anonymously, and this ambiguity is reflected in James’s review. Since he was acquainted with Fletcher, James picks up on her authorial playfulness, noting that “we say ‘her’ characters, for, in spite of the name on the title-page, the tone of these pages is irremediably feminine” (LC I 275). The title page of the American edition of Mirage, however, stated no name. The curiosity and speculation generated by these publishing practices are characteristic of Fletcher’s deployment of her pseudonym. I will spend the remainder of this blog article discussing the piece of writing that most overtly plays with Fletcher’s masculine alter ego: an 1888 essay that argues that women cannot think for themselves.

“On a certain Deficiency in Women” was published in the July number of the Universal Review, a short-lived London periodical. It was signed “George Fleming”. And the writer refers to himself in the first person. The piece, I venture to argue, only masquerades as an opinion article. The article opens:

Many years ago the present writer had the pleasant fortune of spending an entire Sunday afternoon lying upon the sun-warm bank of an alpine torrent by the edge of a pine wood, while, near at hand, two young girls discoursed at length upon the triumphant joys of solitude. (398)

Having marked my share of undergraduate (opinion) essays, I would like to grab my red pen, rudely circle the whole passage, and write in all-caps “You’re not in creative writing class!” across the top of the page. Indeed, this opening may well be that of a short story. Under this assumption, then, the question is: what does the opener tell us about the narrator and his story? “Many years ago” reminds rather of the fairy tale opening “once upon a time”. Next comes a parallel alliterative structure “the present writer had the pleasant fortune”, which includes an assonance on top of things. Such a complex, almost poetical structure is hardly deployed co-incidentally. In addition, to that, Fletcher sets the scene in a secluded, romantic spot: on a “sun-warm bank”, near an “alpine torrent” in a “pine wood”. I’m almost tempted to write “romantic” with a capital R. The opener of the piece locates the story in a romanticised setting, well before the year 1888, in which the essay was printed, and thus sets up “George Fleming” as the narrator of the piece whose memory and reliability cannot be straightforwardly assumed.

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The story continues for three pages before the actual philosophising begins. George Fleming’s hypothesis is summarised neatly on page 405 near the close of the piece: “In the present writer’s eyes [women’s] disability consists almost entirely in the feminine incapacity or radical disinclination (the word matters little) for serious, concentrated, and continued thought.” Blatantly misogynist on the surface, this statement also includes some subtle criticism of its superficial meaning. The tautology, “incapacity or radical disinclination”, conjures up a scientific or even medical context for the narrator’s argument. However, the evidence on which his argument is based is “the present writer’s eminent good fortune to [have] become acquainted with a vast number of women, old and young”—that’s not exactly good practice (400-401). Then, the parenthetical aside, “the word matters little”, comments on the pseudo-scientific (mal-)practice. Undercutting the narrator’s argument, the authorial voice butts in to belittle the effort of the androcentric scientific community to define woman’s place in the home with ostensibly scientific substantiation. There are numerous ways to refer to woman’s inferiority, but, really, the verbosity conceals a very simple argument, which serves to keep woman in her designated place.

This is exactly what Fletcher reveals in the sentence following George Fleming’s thesis statement: “And this again derives in a great measure from the crowded life, the gregarious habits, the sheep-like following and halting of educated women” (405). The statement constitutes not only the cause, but also the effect of the belief in woman’s inferiority. Note the use of the noun “halting”. It is not part of a sequence, as in “sheep-like following and halting”, which would imply that the sheep (apparently aka women) actively follow and halt. Rather, an Oxford comma or respectively an additional “and” between “gregarious habits” and “following” is ambiguously missing, which indicates that the agent that does the halting could either be the women or society. Fletcher’s authorial voice develops this ambiguity further. Conspicuously, she ceases to use the narrator’s pronoun “he”, and switches to an authorial “we”, concluding “And are such things [solitude, that is the time and space needed to pursue the same goals as men], then, finally denied to the larger half of our adult population?” (406). The verb “deny”, here, clearly indicates that the agent that imposes such limitations on women is not woman herself.

These instances of narratological as well as semantic playfulness reveal Fletcher’s authorial voice. This voice is that of a New Woman. As Margaret Stetz has argued, New Women’s writing often includes plots that “register outrage against constricting social limitations based on gender” (199). Fletcher’s essay does not merely register outrage; it playfully adopts a misogynist viewpoint in order to undercut and ridicule it, thus making blatant her disdain for such a perspective. And on top of that, her own illustrious career—two bestsellers and another three novels up to 1888—constitutes an antithesis to “George Fleming’s” flawed hypothesis.

Lisa Nais

References

Fleming, George. Mirage. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1878. [published anonymously]

— “On a certain Deficiency in Women”. The Universal Review1.3(1888): 398-406

James, Henry. Literary Criticism: Volume I. New York: Library of America. 1984

Stetz, Margaret D. “New Women Writing Beyond the Novel”. In The History of British Women’s Writing, 1880-1920: Volume Seven. Ed. Holly A. Laird. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 189-202

Get to know the TLW Team – New Committee Member Lindsay Middleton

Hi all, bf593d5a-9cd7-4b2e-ba4e-7fa8d66af6b3

I am writing to introduce myself as the newest member of the TLW team. I am very excited to have recently joined as an online committee member! I will be involved in managing the blog and Twitter accounts, as well as organising the wonderful events and bookclubs that TLW have in store.

Over the past few years I have attended the University of Glasgow, getting my MA in English Literature and my MLitt in Victorian Literature there. Over that time I have attended numerous TLW events, so I am thrilled to now be involved in such a valuable and important community.

My current research is slightly at odds with the TLW rubric, in that I consider recipes and literature from nineteenth-century Britain. My PhD project – ‘The Technical Recipe: A Formal Analysis of Nineteenth-century Food Writing – uses a formal reading to chart the development of the recipe as a textual genre, as well as investigating the innovations in material food technology that influenced Victorian eating and cooking. As such, my project sits across the disciplines of English Literature and the History of Technology, and I have one supervisor at the University of Glasgow and another at the University of Aberdeen. It’s fair to say, then, that I’m used to my interests being spread across multiple areas!

One of my core beliefs when it comes to my research, and in general, is that recipes, domestic texts and women’s writing have the ability and power to both highlight the structures that govern society, but also to disrupt them. Given the domestic slant of my work, and the fact that the majority of historical food texts were marketed at and read by women (either housewives or their female servants), I am passionate about uncovering the latent power that is so often overlooked in these texts. Recipes are not normally deemed ‘literary’, and cookbooks – like popular fiction – are too often dismissed as ‘feminine’ unscholarly texts, and are therefore overlooked in scholarship. The gap this creates is one I see as full of potential.
The hidden texts read daily by hidden women do not just represent and strengthen the patriarchal structures those women work within, in the domestic sphere. Those texts also have the potential to upset those systems and create spaces within patriarchal societies in which women can express themselves.

It is this interest that has lead me to the TLW and the events they put on, as they create a space in which women’s writing is at the fore. Having fruitful discussions with likeminded readers is such a rewarding thing, and demonstrates the good that comes from paying attention to women writers who have used their writing to create a space of power and presence. Moreover, my interest in food has always led me to those transatlantic women who adapt and create new culinary trends in their travels. From the endlessly influential Julia Child, to Elizabeth David, to M.F.K Fisher, whose writing about crossing the Atlantic in The Gastronomical Me is incredibly beautiful, these women have always used food as a means of creating community across the ocean – and that is something I find fascinating.

I am therefore very excited to get involved with the TLW team, and be a part of the very necessary conversations they facilitate. And who knows, maybe some tantalising discussions about female foodies lie in our future!

Lindsay

 

Helen Hanson, “Putting “Rebecca” on Trial: Daphne du Maurier and Hollywood’s mid-century Adaptation Industry”, Tuesday 9th October, 5pm.

Venue: Room 101, 5 University Gardens, Glasgow University.

TLW are thrilled to be hosting Professor Helen Hanson from the University of Exeter on Tuesday 9th October. We can’t wait to hear Prof. Hanson’s talk, “Putting “Rebecca” on Trial: Daphne du Maurier and Hollywood’s mid-century Adaptation Industry.” This is definitely one for our film buffs, and anyone interested in women and film, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, or film noir. Read on to find out more about what we’ll be discussing on the evening.

As with all our events, this talk is free and open to all. We’re a friendly and welcoming bunch here at TLW, so please do come and join us from 5pm for drinks and refreshments, with the talk beginning at 5.15pm in room 101, 5 University Gardens.

“Putting “Rebecca” on Trial: Daphne du Maurier and Hollywood’s mid-century Adaptation Industry,”

 

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Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca (1938) has continued to grip and seduce its readers in the 80 years since its publication. The novel’s success springs from du Maurier’s brilliant control of her plot, and her bravura evocation of the gothic mood. Rebecca is a sensational story, but with its roots in the long tradition of female gothic literature, it reads like a classic. These qualities made Rebecca a highly attractive property for screen adaptation, and Alfred Hitchcock’s film version released in 1940, was huge critical and box office success; the film won the Oscar for Best Picture and it inaugurated a trend for dark gothic films for women during the 1940s. However, in the background of the film’s success Daphne du Maurier, and the film’s producer David O. Selznick, were fighting a lawsuit which contended that Rebecca infringed copyright. The story of the case, which was eventually resolved in favour of du Maurier, is intriguing. The talk will examine some of the legal documents, correspondence and statements from the legal process, and papers from the Daphne du Maurier archive at the University of Exeter. These documents provide fascinating insights into du Maurier’s writing process, as well as offering a judgement on Rebecca as a novel that is both highly original and part of the wider gothic genre.

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Speaker bio: Professor Helen Hanson is an Associate Professor in Film History at the University of Exeter. She has written widely on the history of American cinema, and she has particular interests in the history of creative processes ‘behind the scenes’ in the Hollywood Studio Era. She is the author of Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female Gothic Film (2007) and Hollywood Soundscapes: Film Sound Style, Craft and Production in the Classical Era (2017) and the co-editor of The Femme Fatale: Histories, Images, Context and The Companion to Film Noir.

 

 

Janine Bradbury, “Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts”, 5.15pm, Tuesday 20th November, Room 101, 5 University Gardens

The Transatlantic Literary Women are excited to be welcoming Dr Janine Bradbury to Glasgow to give a paper titled: “Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts”. The talk takes place in room 101, 5 University Gardens at 5.15pm on Tuesday 20th November with drinks and refreshments available from 5. This is a social, friendly gathering. As always, everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

Racial Passing and its Transatlantic Contexts

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an entire literary genre emerged in the United States that revolved around light skinned, mixed race African Americans who ‘fraudulently’ pretended to be or passed for white in order to ‘evade’ racism, prejudice, and segregation. Films like Imitation of Lifebrought the topic to a national audience and writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Langston Hughes featured passing in their works.

Given that the United States has a distinct history of race relations, how do stories about passing ‘work’ beyond these regional and national contexts? And do American stories about passing inspire and hold relevance for writers across the black Atlantic? How is gender and nationhood represented in these works? And what role do women writers play in the history of the passing genre?

This talk explores the phenomenon of ‘passing-for-white’ as represented in the work of transatlantic literary women ranging from Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen to contemporary British writer Helen Oyeyemi and asks why passing continues to inspire women writers across the West.

Bio: Janine Bradbury is a Senior Lecturer in Literature at York St John University where she is also the Acting Subject Director of American Studies. Her work on passing has appeared in the Guardian and her forthcoming book Contemporary African American Women Writers and Passing will be published with Palgrave Macmillan.

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Marine: Angela Carter and America

Hello all!

I am a PhD student at Cardiff University, proudly representing TLW in Wales. My research focuses mostly on the portrayal of objects and materiality in the work of Angela Carter. Naturally I couldn’t miss an opportunity to talk a bit more about her. While my research doesn’t directly concern itself with transatlanticism, it is worth looking at Carter for an example of a British writer’s critique of America.

If you’ve been one of our attendees from year 1, you’ll know that we invited Dr Heidi Yeandle (Swansea University) to tell us about her research into Carter’s portrayal of America. The case for reading her work in a transatlantic light is therefore a well established one, with researchers like Yeandle, but also Sarah Gamble, and Edmund Gordon’s recent biography. Carter’s relationship to the continent was a fraught one on multiple emotional, cultural, and political levels. Her first experience of America was a trip to the ‘US of A’ after she’d won the Somerset Maugham literary Award for her novel Several Perceptions (1968). Then accompanied by her first husband Paul Carter, she took a road trip around the country before embarking on a plane to Japan. A month there led to some drastic changes: she left Paul and filed for divorce, and what was supposed to be a short stay became a 2-year long expatriation that lasted until 1972. While her trip to America was comparatively shorter and less eventful, Carter still acknowledges its effect on her imagination in the essay ‘My Maugham Award’ she wrote in 1970:

‘In America, I saw a great many hallucinatory midnight bus stations and lived in a log cabin in a redwood forest for a while. I heard the windbells of San Francisco and the picturesque cries of the street traders of the Haight-Ashbury quarter … ‘hash … lids … grass’ I made a sentimental journey to the jazz museum in New Orleans and looked at a glass case containing Bix Beiderbecke’s collar studs and handkerchief through a mist of tears. […]’[1]

The enumeration goes on. Carter compares the effect of the travels she undertook around that time with an ‘enormous barrage of imagery’ (204). Indeed, her writings bear the mark of an American inspiration, particularly her novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), set in the USA, and replete with allusions to Hollywood and the cinema industry. In addition, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) takes place in an imagined South America – a homage to the continent of Magical Realism and Borges, who Carter had started reading while travelling in Asia.[2]

When she returned to America more than a decade later, Carter’s career had blossomed. She had published her novels The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and The Passion of New Eve (1977), and the short story collections Fireworks (1974) and The Bloody Chamber (1979). In her polemical essay The Sadeian Woman, she had put forward radical ideas about the politics of sex, pornography, and pleasure. During the 1980s, Carter lived in the USA three times in total: in 1980, as a teaching fellow at Brown University; in 1985, for a similar position at the University of Texas, Austin; and in 1986, to work at the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa.[3] Unsurprisingly, her journals from the decade testify to her growing interest in American history, but also in contemporary American culture, with topics ranging from snake fights (yes, yes) to urbanism – on a random note, she took extended notes on the malls she visited there. Nevertheless, Carter remained very ambivalent in her assessment of her temporary home country. Her notes from that time reveal her frustration:

‘It’s a culture so entirely without sensuality that I find it very difficult to work here. It’s not something I can talk to Americans about, either; the sensuous apprehension of the world was written out of the script very, very early on.’[4]

The short stories that she wrote during the decade, later anthologised in Black Venus (1984) and the posthumous Old World Wonders and American Ghosts (1992) show Carter working out her frustration with the American ‘script’ by exploring foundational myths. Carter’s America, home to Edgar Allan Poe, Lizzie Borden, Cotton Mather and John Ford, is a ghostly land, haunted by puritanism, violence, and repressed European paganism. It is also a colonised land, and the figure of the Native American appears in various guises throughout the collections. To conclude this (very) short introduction to Carter’s transatlantic aesthetics, I will leave you with her own depiction of the American continent, taken from the story ‘John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore”:

America begins and ends in the cold and solitude. Up here, she pillows her head upon the Arctic snow. Down there, she dips her feet in the chilly waters of the South Atlantic, home of the perpetually restless albatross. America, with her torso of a woman at the time of this story, a woman with an hour-glass waist, a waist laced so tightly it snapped in two, and we put a belt of water there. America, with your child-bearing hips and your crotch of jungle, your swelling bosom of a nursing mother and your cold head, your cold head.

Its central paradox resides in this: that the top half doesn’t know what the bottom half is doing.[5]

Marine.

[1] Angela Carter, Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings, ed. by Jenny Uglow (London: Penguin Books, 1998), p. 203.

[2] Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016), p. 143.

[3] See Edmund Gordon, The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016), for a detailed chronology.

[4] Cited in Gordon, p. 314.

[5] Angela Carter, American Ghosts & Old World Wonders (Random House, 2012), p. 21.

TLW Film Night, Wednesday 18th April 2018, 5.15pm

Film Night
Wednesday 18th April 2018, 5.15pm
Gilchrist Postgraduate Club, Glasgow University

Those of you who have attended our events in the past will know that we hand out feedback forms asking what you would like to see included in the series’ future events. One of the frequent suggestions that we get is for a film screening, and what with the overdue recognition that is currently being given to women’s role in the film industry, we have been inspired to arrange some film-related events. Not only can we confirm that our very first film screening will take place on Wednesday 18th April, but we also have a fantastic film-related talk in the pipeline after summer! Keep your eyes peeled on the blog and Twitter for updates on the talk.

So, what are we going to be screening on our very first film night? Well, we think that you should have a say in this, so to narrow things down a little we have collated a list of four films to choose from, and created a Twitter Poll. You can read a little about each film below, as well as why they are relevant in celebrating the achievements of women in film. Whether it’s one of your favourite films that you want to re-watch in good company, or if it’s a film that you have been meaning to see for ages, this is your chance . . . get voting!

Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola has avoided living in the shadow of her acclaimed father, Francis Ford Coppola, by following her own creative path and paving the way for other female film-makers in the industry. She wrote, directed and produced this highly-acclaimed film which follows the friendship of an actor (Bill Murray) and a college graduate (Scarlett Johansson). Lost in Translation was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, with Coppola winning Best Original Screenplay, and Johansson taking the BAFTA for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

American Honey (2016)
Andrea Arnold is a British filmmaker who some of you may be familiar with through her film Red Road (2006), a Scottish film set in the Red Road high-rise flats in Glasgow. American Honey focuses on a very different world from this, following runaway youth, Star (Sasha Lane), on her journey around the Midwest of America. The film won both the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and Best British Film at the BAFTA awards.

Sound of My Voice (2011)
Brit Marling co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in this psychological indie thriller about documentary-makers who go undercover in a Los Angeles cult. Marling has been making her mark on film and television over the last few years with films like Another Earth (2011), The East (2013) and the Netflix series The OA. She has spoken out about what made her start writing roles for women rather conforming to the roles being ascribed in a male-dominated industry. You can read more about this in her response to the Weinstein scandal here.

Morvern Callar (2002)
You may have seen British film-maker Lynne Ramsay’s latest film, You Were Never Really Here (2017), in the cinema right now. Ramsay co-wrote and directed Morvern Callar, and this choice has a bit of a literary theme to it. It was adapted from a book of the same name, and also follows Morvern (Samantha Morton) as she masquerades as the author of an unpublished novel which her boyfriend has left behind before committing suicide. Morton won the BIF award for Best Actress, and the film won the Award of the Youth at Cannes.

All these films are from female filmmakers which have been given award recognition, we hope you like what we have chosen and look forward to seeing which film you pick. The poll closes in a week, so get your votes in while you can! The film night will take place at Gilchrist Postgraduate Club, plus it’s free and open to all (student and public). We will have some snacks and refreshments, and you can also purchase food and alcoholic drinks from the Gilchrist café.

Head over for 5.15pm to join us for a relaxed and welcoming night appreciating women’s achievements in the world of film-making!

Kari and the TLW team.