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

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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Jennifer Haytock, “Writing for France: American Women Writers and the Great War”, Wednesday 17 October, 5.15pm,

 

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The Transatlantic Literary Women are excited to be welcoming US academic Professor Jennifer Haytock to Glasgow on Wednesday 17 October.

Jennifer will be talking about American women writers in France during the First World War. Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Mildred Aldrich, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Atherton, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher will all be present! The talk takes place in room 202, 4 University Gardens at 5.15 on Wednesday 17 October, with drinks and refreshments available from 5. This is a social, friendly gathering. As always, everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

Writing for France: American Women Writers and the Great War

Looking back in her unpublished autobiography, the American journalist Mildred Aldrich wrote how “strange” it was that during the war “I . . . should suddenly find myself more alive than I had ever been, and possessed with but one idea—a wish to try and make everyone see the situation from my point of view.” Aldrich and other American women writers, including Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Atherton, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher, were either already living in France when the Great War began or came to France in order to contribute to the war effort. With the exception of the more domestic Toklas, all were professional women and many were well-known public figures before the start of the war, and they turned their skills and reputations to the work of educating Americans about why the invasion of France and Belgium mattered. While American men too worked behind the lines and wrote about the plight of France and Belgium, these women were able to write about the war without the baggage of masculinity, so often tied to martial prowess, thus opening up the ways in which war could be written about. In reportage, memoir, short stories, and poems, these writers showed Americans the suffering of refugees and the wounded, the physical devastation of the war, and the efforts of the French to take care of their own problems, all with an eye for engaging American sympathy and calling them to action. As we prepare to mark the centenary of the Armistice, we’ll examine the ways that American women writers sought to invest their fellow citizens in the plight of France.

Jennifer Haytock is professor of English at The College at Brockport, SUNY. She has published The Routledge Introduction to American War Literature, The Middle Class in the Great Depression: Popular Women Writers in the 1930s, Edith Wharton and the Conversations of Literary Modernism, and At Home, At War: World War I and Domesticity in American Literature.

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TLW/CAS Event: Conniving and Surviving: Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and 1930s Movies (Sept 26th,University of Glasgow)

Please join us for a joint Centre for American Studies/TLW talk on Wednesday 26 September 2018 at 5.15 at the University of Glasgow.

Our speaker is Professor Donna M. Campbell (Washington State University) who will be discussing “conniving and surviving” women in 1930s movies. Full details below. The talk will take place in room 202, 4 University Gardens at 5.15, with wine, soft drinks and snacks available from 5. This is a free event, generously supported by a BAAS/US Embassy Small Programme Grant. Everyone welcome!

Conniving and Surviving: Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and 1930s Movies

Donna M. Campbell (Washington State University)

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Since their beginnings in the early 1900s, mainstream Hollywood movies have been a perennially faithful barometer of gender norms and expectations for women, both reflecting and shaping the attitudes of U. S. culture as a whole. By the early 1930s, the vamps, flappers, and vixens of the 1920s began to fade from the screen along with the cult of youth and exuberant sexuality that pervaded movies such as It, Flaming Youth, and Our Dancing Daughters. In their place were women, no longer “girls,” whose response to the catastrophic economic times of the Great Depression was to seize control of their lives and bodies by any means necessary, from the canny conniving, played for humor, of the golddigger to the intense, driven women fighting for survival played by two leading actresses at Warner Brothers, Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis.

Stanwyck’s and Davis’s careers spanned the early years of sound film through the television miniseries, yet in their career peak of the 1930s and 1940s, they epitomized women who would do whatever it took to survive in films such asBaby Face, Jezebel, and Double Indemnity as well as adaptations of fiction by writers such as Edna Ferber (So Big), Edith Wharton (The Old Maid), and Willa Cather (A Lost Lady). Their characters operating in survival mode mirrored the desperation of the real women who flocked to see the movies of Stanwyck and Davis, offering extreme solutions but also a sense of self-worth that countered cultural anxieties during the worst economic era of the twentieth century.

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Donna M. Campbell is a professor of English at Washington State University. Her most recent book is Bitter Tastes: Literary Naturalism and Early Cinema in American Women’s Writing (University of Georgia Press, 2016), and her work on women writers and on film has appeared in Legacy, Journal of Popular Culture, Studies in American Fiction, American Literary Realism, Edith Wharton in Context, Edith Wharton and Cosmopolitanism, and The Cambridge History of the American Novel. Her current projects include a critical edition of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth in the 30-volume Oxford University Press edition of the Complete Works of Edith Wharton, a series for which she is associate editor.

 

Guest Blog: Deborah Snow Molloy and her New York Gals

Hello everyone,

It’s lovely to be here, thanks very much to the team for welcoming me in a guest spot. I’m a part time, distance scholar writing from a very warm corner of Kent, and proud to be doing my PhD at the University of Glasgow under Laura’s steerage.  My project focusses on female mental illness in New York fiction of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, with a particular interest in the relationship between the city and female distress.

On first glance there wouldn’t appear to be much transatlanticism contained within my project, but as I sat and wondered how I could write this blog I realised just how many of my texts include a journey across the Atlantic. New York City is a liminal space, situated as it is on an archipelago at the edge of a continent, a place where fact and fiction blur.  It was a site of both entrance and exit as people came and went through the harbour, before air travel was possible, following a dream or escaping a nightmare.

Djuna Barnes describes Manhattan in a wonderfully evocative piece written in 1917 about a boat trip round the island;

“New York rose out of the water like a great wave that found it impossible to return again and so remained there in horror, peering out of the million windows men had caged it with.[1]

She goes on to recount her dismay at the amount of refuse the city dumped on the wharf and the proximity between the rotting waste, an insane asylum and a home for old men. As she tells it, the waifs and strays of the city are lumped together in one unsightly mass on Randall Island, on the opposite side to the luxurious cruise liners docked in Chelsea. It is perhaps not surprising that Barnes left New York in 1921 to become one of the Lost Generation writers in Paris, though she continued to write about the city of her youth, and ultimately did return.

Edith Wharton, a TWL favourite, similarly left the Big Apple behind her in favour of a continental existence but could not escape the lure of New York in her writing. The extended Wyant/Manford clan run away from New York in Wharton’s Twilight Sleep (1927)and Kate Cleophane makes a brave return to the city in A Mother’s Recompense (1925), only to flee again from “the Babylonian New York which seemed to sway and totter toward her menacingly[2]. Wharton wrote the blurb for Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)in which we follow Lorelei Lee from New York over to Europe and back again on her increasingly sociopathic adventures. Helga Crane’s internal divisions are externalised as she shuttles between Harlem and Copenhagen in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) whilst Angela Mory seeks to leave the strain of prejudice and pretence behind her as she leaves the city for Paris in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun(1928). These ladies flee the verticality of the city for the horizontal space of the liner deck and the wide, blue ocean, looking to escape from their troubles but often coming right back to them.

Sonya Vrunsky in Anzia Yezierska’s Salome of the Tenements(1923) makes the crossing from Europe as a child, full of potential and hope for a new life, only to find clinging poverty and disillusionment in the East Village,

“on the ship to America, the sea, the sky called to me ‘Fly, fly, free, like the sea-gulls!’ But I was roped off, herded, like cattle, in the steerage, choked with bundles and rags and sea-sick humanity.”[3]

Her struggles to reconcile her Russian, Jewish heritage with her love for her American, Protestant husband forms the transatlantic heart of the novel. Betty Smith offers a similar vignette within A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1944), as Aunt Sissy satisfies her baby-craving by adopting the illegitimate child of a young immigrant girl, who returns to Sicily with her parents after the failure of their American Dream.

Fannie Hurst is one of my more forgotten authors, though she was a best-seller for years.  She captures both the beauty and the terror of New York in her short story “The Vertical City” (1922).

“All who would see the sky must gaze upward between these rockets of frenzied architecture, which are as beautiful as the terrific can ever be beautiful.”[4]

Literary New York is an uneasy place, full of noises and motion that unsettle its inhabitants. The population ebbs and flows with the tide, and whilst characters do seek to escape it is hard to break free from the shadow of Lady Liberty.   Its many contradictions result in a disorienting map of broken lives, where only the toughest can survive, but there is also an undenial allure to the City by the sea.

As a final thought, I would like to recommend Lauren Elkin’s book Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London(2016) to anyone looking for a slightly different literary read. In it she documents her own transatlantic travails through several major global cities, set against a back drop of insightful literary criticism.  A native New Yorker, she considers the ways that women interact with unfamiliar urban spaces in a self-deprecating and witty manner, retracing her own footsteps via the works of Jean Rhys, George Sands, Martha Gellhorn and more.  To give her the last word:

People move to New York from all over the world, drawn to what it stands for: work, success, freedom, acceptance, glamour…To approach the city from somewhere else amplifies it’s power. There are so many viewpoints on the city that ‘New York’ – the idea – is filtered in the imagination through millions of tiny windowpanes.”[5]

[1]Djuna Barnes, “’The Hem of Manhattan’ [New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine, July 29, 1917]”, pp285 – 295 in New York: Djuna Barnes, edited with commentary by Alyce Barry, 1989, (Sun & Moon Press: Los Angeles),

[2]Edith Wharton, The Mother’s Recompense, 1986, (Virago Press Ltd: London), p36

[3]Anzia Yezierska, Salome of the Tenements, 1995, (University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago), 34

[4]Fannie Hurst, “The Vertical City”, 48-62 in The Vertical City,2015, (Jefferson Publication: USA)

[5]Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London,2016, (Vintage: London)

Get to know the TLW team: Kari and the Hollywood Novel

Hello everyone! Over the summer, each member of the TLW team will be writing a post to tell you a little bit about what they’re reading and researching at the moment. Today it’s our resident film buff, Kari Sund!

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I hope you’re all having a great summer and that everyone has had the chance to enjoy the rare Scottish sunshine! My reading is strictly taking place outdoors now (even in rain – I’m stubborn!) so I thought I would focus this blog post on one of the novels I’ve been reading over the last few weeks, Dorothy B. Hughes’ In A Lonely Place (1949). I’ve just re-read this thrilling American crime novel, and I’m hoping that a small taster will convince anyone who hasn’t encountered it before to give it a read.

In a Lonely Place is both a fitting and an unconventional summer read. It’s set in sunny Los Angeles in the 1940s, and the location plays an important role as we follow the main character, Dix Steele, driving around Hollywood, Beverley Hills, and other well-known West Coast locations. We find out very early in the novel, however, that Dix is a serial killer, and many of these routes are the same ones which he uses at night to stalk his victims before raping and murdering them. What might initially be perceived as a sunny and glamorous setting for a novel quickly becomes an extremely dark and disturbing place.

Dix Steele is an ex-World War II fighter pilot. He is originally from the East coast, was based in England during the war, and now lives in Los Angeles. The opening chapter sets the scene for the rest of the novel: Dix reconnects with Brub, his wartime best friend who is now a detective in the LAPD, and he stalks two girls through the dark streets of the city, murdering one of them. He also bumps into his stunning neighbour Laurel Gray, for the first time, immediately falling for her. The rest of the novel follows Dix’s inner narrative as he juggles his secret life as a serial killer, with the seemingly normal persona of a young man falling in love with a girl, and socialising with his best friend.

What seems like love to the outsider, is arguably a desire to possess and control a woman who commands more respect than him. This is obvious from the first time Dix meets Laurel;

“The girl didn’t move for a moment. She stood in his way and looked him over slowly, from crown to toe. The way a man looked over a woman, not the reverse. Her eyes were slant, her lashes curved long and golden dark. She had red-gold hair, flaming hair, flung back from her amber face, falling to her shoulders. Her mouth was too heavy with lipstick, a copper-red mouth, a sultry mouth painted to call attention to its promise.” (21)

It is evident that gender roles are being reversed in this encounter with Laurel, and Dix’s overbearing need to possess her after this is akin to his urge to kill. It is this element of Hughes’ writing which lead to it being interpreted as a feminist story.

Hughes makes no secret throughout the novel that Dix and “the strangler” are one and the same. Many critics have remarked on the nature of the novel as “less a “whodunit” than what we might term a “whydunnit”” (Telotte). I found, rather, that the pleasure in reading this novel came from the experience of piecing together Dix’s history of murder as he gradually unfolds past events to us. It’s like being in a police interview room and hearing a confession, not necessarily of why a man has killed – because Dix never directly reveals this – but of when and how he has killed, and then being able to draw our own conclusions about why.

Some readers may be familiar with the 1950 film-adaptation of the novel, which diverges from Hughes’ storyline in interesting ways. In Nicholas Ray’s film, the viewer is left in suspense about whether Dix is the serial-killer until the very last scene. Though the movie-version of Dix (appropriately played by Humphrey Bogart) is a flawed man with severe anger issues, he is ultimately **!spoiler warning!** innocent of murder. On first watching the film, I assumed that the reason for this change was due to the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code. The Hays Code laid out industry moral guidelines which American-produced movies had to adhere to. These guidelines dictated what could and could not be depicted on screen. Amongst the many topics prohibited were miscegenation, sex, drug use, and it was also not permitted to show or encourage sympathy for a criminal. This meant that the hero of a film could not be allowed to get away with a crime, especially not murder! The impact that the Hays Code had on scriptwriting, adaptation, and film production during this era was huge, so it was surprising to learn that this plot divergence was completely unrelated, and a directorial preference. In Film Noir, Alain Silver advises that the original script saw Dix trying to strangle Laurel, and claims that it was Ray’s decision to change this, with Ray allegedly saying “I just can’t do it. Romances don’t have to end that way . . . They don’t have to end in violence” (474).

I’m not going to try and argue that this novel is overly transatlantic, but there are definitely aspects of relevance which struck me. The war preoccupies much of Dix’s thoughts and memories, and Hughes juxtaposes the overseas experiences of men like Dix and Brub, who have both killed in a way which was accepted and unquestioned by society, with the difficulty that they often experienced trying to integrate back into “normal” society and behaviour. Furthermore, as we see with Dix, many men experienced a completely different quality of life during the war. Dix reminisces about the days when he was a well-dressed hero who commanded respect regardless of what his social background was. When he returns home, he struggles to move back into the social class he belongs to. Though he is not poor, he is also not wealthy, and is required to work for a living. As an alternative to this, Dix prefers to scrounge off a comfortable uncle under the pretence that he writing a book, all the while longing to have the leisure-class lifestyle which he constantly sees promoted around him in California. By basing Dix in England during the war, Hughes makes the chasm between these two lives even more pronounced. The men’s time in the air force seems completely disconnected from their lives at home in America, and they know very little about each other.

If you have an interest in crime, detective, Los Angeles, or Hollywood fiction then I would highly recommend In A Lonely Place. Not only was it a gripping page-turner on the first reading, but like all my favourite works of literature, it was even better on a second reading. When we think of American crime fiction, we tend to automatically think of authors such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and the hard-boiled style. It’s certainly not a genre often associated with women writers, but Hughes’ work stands at the top for me.

Though quite different from the novel, the film adaptation is also fantastic, and now regarded as a classic film noir. If you are interested in seeing it on the big screen, then the Glasgow Film Theatre have screened it around November-time for the last two years, so do keep your eyes peeled if you think it’s something you might enjoy!

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Next week we’ll be introducing one of our new committee members, so stay tuned!

 

Additional reading:

You can read a free excerpt from In A Lonely Place here.

I also enjoyed this take on the novel as a feminist story, from Glasgow Women’s Library.

 References:

Telotte, J. P., ‘The Displaced Voice of “In A Lonely Place”’ in South Atlantic Review, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan 1989), pp. 1-12.

Silver, Alain, James Ursini et al. Film Noir. Ed. Paul Duncan & Jürgen Müller. Taschen, 2012.

 

Get to know the TLW team: Laura’s Summer So Far – And a Reading Spotlight on Josephine Johnson

Hello everyone! Over the summer, each member of the TLW team will be writing a post to tell you a little bit about what they’re reading and researching at the moment. Today it’s our founder, Dr Laura Rattray.

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At TLW HQ, we’re busy working on events for the new session – and we’re excited about them! We’ll be sharing full details later in the summer, but we can tell now you we already have six events in the pipeline, including teaming up with some awesome people and organisations in Glasgow and beyond. We hope you’ll join us in September for what we’re calling our first team road trip, and next month we’re looking forward to introducing two fab new members to Team TLW. We welcome your ideas, so if there’s an event you’d like to see, be part of, a theme you’d like to propose, as always please get in touch with us via twitter or at the email address on this site. All events are free and open to all.

What else am I up to (apart from the regular summer work of dissertation and theses supervisions, new teaching prep, programme convening, externalling, planning a programme for the university’s Centre of American Studies)? Well, I’m recently back from a conference in Dublin on Transatlantic Women, taking part in a panel on Edith Wharton’s Transatlanticism.  I know colleagues who are dismissive of/ tired of conferences, even if costs are covered by their universities, but for me they remain one of the fun, enjoyable parts of the work. And they’re valuable, sometimes in unexpected ways. Two years ago it was our conversation at a conference that led my US colleague, Mary Chinery, and I to realise that in 1901 Wharton had written a play called The Shadow of a Doubt, a play that none of us had been aware of. Fired up by that conversation we determined to see if we could track it down. And we did, publishing the play and our article in the Edith Wharton Review. It’s been energising to see professional readings of the play in the US this year as a result of that work, and there are more in pipeline, including, fingers crossed, a full-scale production. That simply wouldn’t have happened without the conference.

This week saw the offer of a contract for a new project I’m excited about, and over the summer I’m finishing a book on Wharton, which I’m really enjoying working on. I’ve made a pact with myself in terms of research that I will only do work I care about. I’m not always great at the life/work balance, so if I’m working I figure it better damn well be on stuff I love.

And some of that work I care about is drawing attention to women writers who have been neglected, side-lined, or forgotten. It was one of the reasons I started the Transatlantic Literary Women Series in the first place and one of the reasons I run a course on modern American women’s writing. This summer I’m revisiting the writing of Josephine Johnson. Josephine Who? Exactly! Here’s some more information on the first of my summer reads:

In September 1934, at the height of America’ s Great Depression, twenty-four-year-old Josephine Johnson published her first novel, Now in November. Without giving away any plot spoilers (and there are dramatic events) the story is seen through the eyes of a young protagonist whose family, like millions of Americans, was badly hit by the Depression, and they move out of the city to try and scratch out a living from the land:

We left our other life behind us as if it had not been. Only the part that was of and in us, the things we’d read and the things remembered, came with us . . . We left a world all wrong, confused, and shouting at itself. . .

Reviewers were swept away by the novel, exclaiming somewhat bizarrely that the country had found a talent worthy of comparison to Emily Dickinson, Katherine Mansfield, Willa Cather, and Emily Bronte (all of them? really?). Now in November was even called ‘the American Wuthering Heights’. The novel was both timely and timeless, politically astute without resorting to polemics, and written in a beautifully lyrical prose style.

The following year, Now in November won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and Johnson seemed set. Publishers were clamouring to represent her. A collection of stories, Winter Orchard, swiftly followed. Some of the publicity undoubtedly patronised Johnson – because she was a woman, and because she was young. She was depicted a young naïf, living miles from anywhere, and to an extent Johnson played along with this, claiming in a local interview she was as happy in the kitchen as she was writing, as though she had tossed out a Pulitzer novel between baking pies. In reality, Johnson was a committed activist, involved with unions and groups fighting for the victimised and dispossessed. In June 1936, she would be arrested under suspicion of encouraging cottonfield workers to strike.

Johnson’s eagerly awaited second novel, Jordanstown, published in April 1937, brought the political convictions that were largely on the fringes on Now in Novemberto the fore. Its male protagonist buys a local newspaper to expose injustice and mobilise workers in a protest that is brutally supressed by the police. Reviews, at best, were mixed. Bernard de Voto, writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, concluded: ‘The loss of a first-rate psychological novelist is too high a price to pay for a second-rate sociological novelist, or even for a first-rate one…[I]f she returns to the kind of fiction that she was unquestionably destined to write, she may be the foremost woman novelist of her generation.’[i]

In some ways this was the beginning of the end for Johnson. She would not become the foremost novelist of her generation – woman or otherwise. For a time it seemed that she had abandoned fiction in the 1930s, but when I looked at the records in her archive, there in a box were four surviving chapters of a novel that in 1939 was rejected outright by the publishing house that had nurtured her – along with the advice to ‘take a break’ from writing altogether.

Wounded by the criticism Johnson would do just that and take a prolonged break from her writing career, directing her energies to other concerns: politics, unions, mural painting, government rehabilitation farms, marriage and children. A single novella, Wildwood, would be followed by a publishing hiatus of almost twenty years.

Johnson’s work drifts in and out of print (including re. the latter, *sigh*, an edition for which I wrote a preface years ago). Currently the book is available though, so if you’re looking for a different read, are interested in the 1930s, the Depression from the point of view of woman, or in shining a light on another writer who in many ways has fallen by the wayside, Now in November comes highly recommended. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, wonderful as it is, doesn’t have a monopoly on indelible pictures of the Depression and Dust Bowl years.

Happy summer!

Laura Rattray

[i]Bernard de Voto, ‘In Pursuit of an Idea’, Saturday Review of Literature, 3 April 1937, pp. 6-7.

Get to know the TLW team: Sarah talks transatlantic speechwriters

Hello everyone! Over the summer, each member of the TLW team will be writing a post to tell you a little bit about what they’re reading and researching at the moment. First up is our resident historian, Sarah.

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Hi TLW readers,

I’m currently writing my Masters dissertation here at the University of Glasgow, while simultaneously preparing for a move back to Edinburgh to start my PhD in September, so I’m having a busy summer! Excitingly, we’ve also started the planning for TLW Season 3, and it’s shaping up to be a fantastic series of events (if we do say so ourselves).

My Masters dissertation explores the transatlantic trip Ronald Reagan made to Europe during the summer of 1984. During his visit Reagan toured Ireland (his ancestral home), then visited London and Normandy, making plenty of stops for photo opportunities along the way. Of course, 1984 was also the year that Reagan ran for re-election, and I’m hoping my dissertation will demonstrate how Reagan used this trip to his political advantage as he sought a second term in the White House. This tactic of implicitly campaigning simply by appearing ‘presidential’ is known as the Rose Garden Strategy, and is one side-effect of the US President being both an elected politician and the head of state. Ultimately, my aim is to offer a contribution to the wider field of presidential studies, by offering a case study of this relatively short episode during Reagan’s presidency.

Though my focus will be on Reagan, while I’m on the TLW blog I’d like to give a quick nod to a different sort of writer than the ones we normally talk about at TLW HQ. Peggy Noonan was one of Reagan’s speechwriters, and she wrote the most famous speech that Reagan delivered during this trip, his remarks commemorating the 40thAnniversary of the Normandy Invasion. She wrote the speech with two audiences in mind, the American people who heard the speech on the breakfast news, and the audience of veterans who served during this mission and accompanied Reagan to Pointe du Hoc for the commemoration.[1] Noonan said of this speech:

“I wanted to sum up the importance of what happened on those Normandy beaches forty years ago, to show its meaning on the long ribbons of history […] I wanted people to have pictures in their mind of what the past had been like. I wanted the president vividly to describe what these men did forty years ago. “These are the boys who took the cliffs” and the TV showing those men” [2]

It’s an incredibly moving speech, which I’d highly recommend you watch to get the full effect of its staging as well as its language. Regardless of how you feel about Reagan, it’s hard to deny that he had a phenomenal team of people around him, and that’s very apparent when you examine the meticulous planning that went into all of Reagan’s public remarks.

Though I’m mostly reading non-fiction works for my dissertation, I’m trying to make time to read some fiction. At the moment the books on my bedside table are Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but I’m embarrassed to admit how long they’ve been there for… But, as you can probably tell, my fiction reading tends to complement my non-fiction reading!

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Thanks for reading! Next week we’ll have a blog post from our founder, Dr Laura Rattray of the University of Glasgow.

[1]William Ker Muir, Jr. The Bully Pulpit: The Presidential Leadership of Ronald Reagan (San Francisco, CA: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press, 1992), 27.

[2]Ibid.

Kari joins the TLW team

Hello! I went along to quite a few of the Transatlantic Literary Women events last year so some of you may already know me. For those who don’t, I’m looking forward to meeting you soon! As an introduction, I thought I would provide a little background on myself and my interests, pinpoint some personal highlights of the series so far, and touch on a few of the topics that I would like to explore in the 2017/18 series.

Like my fellow newcomer Sarah, I’m an Americanist! My joining the TLW committee also coincides with beginning a PhD in American Studies at the University of Glasgow, where I will be researching the Hollywood novel genre. My interest in American literature began during an undergraduate module in 20th century literature, and the often-contradictory depiction of America in the texts prescribed left me intrigued. Works like John Dos Passos’ USA and E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime evoked a country relentlessly expanding and advancing, while works like Toni Morrison’s Beloved portrayed a country constantly struggling to come to terms with the past. Having ignited my passion for American literature, I went on to complete an MSc in US Literature at the University of Edinburgh, where I specialised in F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Attending the TLW series last year was a fantastic experience. It’s difficult to choose a favourite event from such a varied programme. The series of talks given by visiting lecturers were all thoroughly enjoyable, and I particularly enjoyed Dr. Heidi Yeandle’s “Angela Carter’s Female America: Apocalyptic and Artificial.” Though I knew very little about Carter, I found Yeandle’s paper really engaging, and it inspired me to start reading Carter’s work. And, of course, the Symposium at Glasgow Women’s Library was a wonderful way to end the year, on a high note and with a full house! The highlight for me, though, was probably the day-trip to visit Digging In’s reconstruction of the WWI trenches for Transatlantic Women in the Trenches. Women’s war effort during WWI is always an excellent topic for discussion, and Pollok Park happens to be one of the best reading spots in the city, so I was delighted that the series incorporated such a beautiful location into the programme.

Being obsessed with all things Hollywood novel, it’s not surprising that I’m keen to explore the connections between Hollywood writing, the film industry, and transatlantic literary women. This is an incredibly transatlantic topic: the impact that film had on Europe and the rest of the world from the early twentieth-century onwards was immeasurable. Film created a new way of communicating different cultures and behaviours across the Atlantic, a new lens through which people were viewing the world. Even if this view wasn’t always realistic, the power of the movies was very real. As with many genres of literature, however, research on the Hollywood novel has a habit of focusing largely on male contributions. What more fitting a place to explore women’s contribution to Hollywood writing than the TLW series?

I think I’ve rambled on for long enough, so I’ll wrap it up now. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic to be part of the team this year, and looking forward to seeing old and new faces at the events that we have lined up. Watch this space for more information!

Kari

International Women’s March Fortnight: March 16th, The Gryphon at Bay by Louise Turner

Today, we add some prose to our series, with an excerpt from Louise Turner’s historical novel The Gryphon at Bay. Many thanks to Louise, and to her publisher for letting us put this passage on the blog.

Enjoy your reading!

16th-march-louise-turner-by-kath-warren-courtesy-of-the-scottish-writers-centre
Louise Turner by Kath Warren, courtesy of the Scottish Writers’ Centre

Excerpt from The Gryphon at Bay, a historical novel by Louise Turner

(to be published by Hadley Rille Books in March, 2017)

 

A spider lurked high in the arch over the window. It had been there four days now: craning his neck, Matthew Stewart could just catch sight of it, crouching patient by its crevice as if it, too, weathered a siege…

Matthew slumped back against the wall with a sigh. He was bored beyond belief. And frustrated, too. His hand itched to hold a sword again, he was sick and tired of being caged in this lofty prison.

“My poor old place,” Lady Lyle said, from where she was sitting by the empty fireplace, bent over her sewing. “You should’ve seen the mess they left it in. They knocked a big hole through the wall of my chamber. Why, the birds’ll be nesting there by springtime.” She shook her head. “And all my precious things. All gone.”

“I know,” Matthew’s mother, Margaret Montgomerie, Countess of Lennox, agreed without even looking up from her needlework. “It’s a dreadful shame.”

Matthew picked irritably at a loose thread on the cushioned seat beneath him. Sometimes he envied the womenfolk, who found comfort in their mundane tasks. Sitting still for hours on end just wasn’t in his nature: if he loitered too long, all his hopes and fears crowded up close like hellhounds and he had to move in order to escape them.

Rising to his feet, he muttered his excuses to the ladies, then headed out to stretch his legs.

Matthew strolled along the battlements, relishing the solitude. Far below, the waters of the Clyde stretched calm and enticing, dotted with a few tiny ships.

Over the last few months, his life had settled into a routine that had by now become second nature. He’d rise early from a troubled sleep and pace the wallwalk, halting on the seaward side to look in vain for English ships.

Then he’d move on, pausing again on the landward side. He’d count the ever-growing cluster of tents and pavilions that made up the King’s host, springing up like toadstools on an autumn morn near the town of Dumbarton.

And once this ritual was complete he’d retreat to the chapel. He’d pray to God for strength and succour. But God never sent arms or men to relieve the stranded garrison. He didn’t even grant Matthew peace of mind.

They were running short of fodder. And short of the luxuries that a man became accustomed to: fresh meat, salt, spices. But they were hardly starving. Every week or so under cover of darkness, a ship would slip into the boat naust at the base of the rock, bringing bread and wheat and barrels of ale.

 

When he’d finished his patrol, he returned to the hall. Though he’d stalked out in disgust, despairing of the women’s trivial talk, he knew deep inside that he needed the comfort of their presence. It reminded him that there was a world beyond these walls, a world that someday they might all return to.

In his absence, the ladies had been joined by others. Robert, Lord Lyle had settled there, along with Matthew’s younger brother Alex. Lord Robert had taken the boy under his wing, making sure he worked hard at his fighting skills, doing his best to raise the youth’s spirits. Right now they were confronting each other across the table, frowning over a chessboard: grizzled knight and untried youth, channelling their concentration into games of strategy and deception.

“A shrewd move, perhaps,” Lord Robert said. “But only time will tell if it proves to be a sound one.”

Matthew glanced round, mildly interested. He sat back down in his regular space by the window, allowing himself a sympathetic smile as he heard the clack of ivory hitting wood.

“Ah!” Alex dropped his head in his hands. “My queen is lost…”

“Don’t whine, Alex.” Margaret Montgomerie countered swiftly. “You’re far too old for that.”

The door opened, a servant ventured inside. “My lady, you have a visitor.”

The countess looked up, perplexed. “Here?” She exchanged a bewildered glance with Matthew. “We’re not expecting anyone.”

“It’s Elizabeth Sempill.”

“Goodness!” For a moment, the countess’s composure wavered. “Show her in!”

When his gude-sister Elizabeth entered the hall, Matthew hardly recognised her: she’d replaced her usual velvet with a plain grey gown of wool and a white starched hood. She was an imposing woman: tall, rather haughty in demeanour. She must have been thirty-three years of age by Matthew’s reckoning, but she didn’t look it. She seemed ageless, with clear bright skin and glorious grey- blue eyes.

She curtsied before the countess. “Countess Margaret.” “We’ll have no such formalities, Elizabeth,” Setting down her

needlework, the countess rose to her feet. She grasped the younger woman’s arms and kissed her on both cheeks. “It’s a delight to see you!”

“And a surprise,” Matthew added. “I thought the Archangel Michael more likely to grace our place.”

“Mattie!” his mother snapped.

“I understand why I’m not welcome,” Elizabeth countered swiftly. “But I can scarcely be blamed for your circumstances.”

“Don’t listen to Mattie,” the countess said. “He’s weary of this. We all are. How did you pass the gates?”

“They think I’m a midwife,” Elizabeth replied. “I’ve brought gifts.” She drew a leather bag out from beneath her cloak. “Salt. Two pounds of it. And a flask of aqua vita.”

“Oh, how very thoughtful. Thank you!” The countess grasped the bag, smiling. “We’d love you to stay, but…”

Elizabeth waved her hand in haughty dismissal. “I’ve lodgings in the town.”

Matthew laughed inwardly, satisfied by her response. Elizabeth’s name and lineage might have been a source of contention, but there was no denying that she was a bold woman, and resourceful, too.

As a youth he’d often lain awake in his bed for hours, lovestruck and miserable, wondering why a woman of her quality had been granted to his bastard brother William, and not himself. But at long last he was cured. These days when he looked upon her, he was reminded of her brother, John Sempill of Ellestoun. The straw-headed, angel-faced wretch whose defiance had caused all this trouble in the first place.

Matthew yawned and stretched out his legs. “Your timing was impeccable,” he said. “We were talking about your kinsman: he’s Sir John Sempill now. And Sheriff of Renfrew, besides…”

“Oh?” Her reply was non-committal.

 

“He’s thrown poor Lady Lyle out of her place,” Matthew added. “And seized all her belongings.”

“I’d heard,” she said. She paused, face troubled. “Have you any news of my husband?”

“He rode north with Father. He was well enough last time I saw him.” “Ah.” She seemed wistful.

“Until they return, we’re beleaguered,” Lord Robert said.

“You must keep good heart,” Elizabeth said, firmly. “The path that brought you here’s of little consequence. What matters now is that you’re on the side of righteousness.”

“What news from Renfrew?”

“All’s quiet. They haven’t troubled the lesser households.”

“Not yet, at any rate,” Matthew said. “They may change their minds. One of these days, your brother might come calling,”

“Then I’ll beat him with a skillet, and chase him from my place,” she retorted. “He’s profited enough from this.”

“That’s no way to talk about your brother.”

“Forgive me, please, if I can’t spare a kind word for him. I was supposed to receive the final portion of my dower on my father’s death. There’s still no sign of it.”

“Perhaps you should try grovelling. He’d like that, I’m sure.” “I’ll be dead before that day dawns.”

“Ah, such sweet words,” said Matthew. “You’re more Stewart than Sempill, there’s no denying it.”

“I thought Sir John was very gracious,” Lady Lyle spoke out. “He took your books,” Matthew reminded her.

“Not all of them. And he didn’t take my jewels.”

“Daft woman,” muttered Lord Robert. Lifting his head, he regarded young Alex serenely. “Checkmate,” he said.

 


Louise Turner is a professional archaeologist, born and educated in Scotland (where she’s lived all her life), and she writes historical fiction set in late 15th century Scotland.  She originally started out writing science fiction:  she won the ‘Glasgow Herald New Writing in SF’ short story competition in 1988 with a story entitled Busman’s Holiday which has since been republished 4 times.

Louisa’s debut novel Fire & Sword was published by US small press Hadley Rille Books in 2013, and she continues to work closely with Hadley Rille, who are due to publish her second novel (a follow-up) in March this year. Her publisher is very keen both to promote women writers and also to publish work in which women play a major role, and although working within a transatlantic partnership has its challenges, she’s certainly benefitted from Hadley Rille’s support and is very proud and delighted to be a part of their literary stable.