NEARLY THERE!

I’m very much looking forward to meeting you all on Saturday. We’ve got 12 speakers and 50 delegates registered and a busy day of discussions and ideas.

Just a reminder that the venue is the Regent Street Campus of the University of Westminster, which is at 309 Regent Street (the nearest tube station is Oxford Circus, a couple of minutes walk away). Registration is from 9.00 and we start at 9.30. The full programme is on the Programme page on this site.

If you have any queries, do get in touch (s.avery@westminster.ac.uk), otherwise I’ll see you on Saturday.

all good wishes,

Simon

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MARIAN AT THE SEMPSTRESS HOUSE

seamstress

EX17124 The Song of the Shirt; by Holl, Frank (1845-88); Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Devon, UK; English, out of copyright

…. through the days and through the nights
She sewed and sewed and sewed. She dropped sometimes,
And wondered, while along the tawny light
She struck the new thread into her needle’s eye,
How people without mothers on the hills
Could choose the town to live in! […]

…      ‘Twas a year from thence
That Lucy Gresham, the sick sempstress girl,
Who sewed by Marian’s chair so still and quick
And leant her head upon its back to cough
More freely, when, the mistress turning round,
The others took occasion to laugh out,
Gave up at last. Among the workers, spoke
A bold girl with black eyebrows and red lips;
‘You know the news? Who’s dying, do you think?
Our Lucy Gresham. I expected it
As little as Nell Hart’s wedding. Blush not, Nell,
Thy curls be red enough without thy cheeks,
And, some day, there’ll be found a man to dote
On red curls. – Lucy Gresham swooned last night,
Dropped sudden in the street while going home;
And now the baker says, who took her up
And laid her by her grandmother in bed,
He’ll give her a week to die in. Pass the silk.
Let’s hope he gave her a loaf too, within reach,
For otherwise they’ll starve before they die,
That funny pair of bedfellows! Miss Bell,
I’ll thank you for the scissors. The old crone
Is paralytic – that’s the reason why
Our Lucy’s thread went faster than her breath,
Which went too quick, we all know. Marian Erle!
Why, Marian Erle, you’re not the fool to cry?
Your tears spoil Lady Waldemar’s new dress,
You piece of pity!’

…    Marian rose up straight,
And, breaking through the talk and through the work,
Went outward, in the face of their surprise,
To Lucy’s home, to nurse her back to life
Or down to death.

(Aurora Leigh, Book Three, ll.1235-1243; Book Four, ll.1-32)

AURORA’S QUESTIONING OF FORM

In this extract from the fifth book of the poem, Aurora starts to interrogate the relationship between form and content – a key point for Aurora Leigh overall.

woman-writing

What form is best for poems? Let me think
Of forms less, and the external. Trust the spirit,
As sovran nature does, to make the form;
For otherwise we only imprison spirit
And not embody. Inward evermore
To outward,- so in life, and so in art
Which still is life.

Five acts to make a play.
And why not fifteen? why not ten? or seven?
What matter for the number of the leaves,
Supposing the tree lives and grows? exact
The literal unities of time and place,
When ’tis the essence of passion to ignore
Both time and place? Absurd. Keep up the fire,
And leave the generous flames to shape themselves.

(Aurora Leigh, Book 5, ll. 223-36)

ROMNEY’S DISMISSAL OF WOMEN POETS

In this extract from Book Two of the poem, Romney reveals his view of women’s abilities and dismisses the idea that a woman can ever be a successful poet.

VIEW OF MANCHESTER 1870

A view of the factories of Manchester. Date: circa 1870 Source: Unattributed illustration.

You play beside a death-bed like a child,
Yet measure to yourself a prophet’s place
To teach the living. None of all these things,
Can women understand. You generalise
Oh, nothing, – not even grief! Your quick-breathed hearts,
So sympathetic to the personal pang,
Close on each separate knife-stroke, yielding up
A whole life at each wound, incapable
Of deepening, widening a large lap of life
To hold the world-full woe. The human race
To you means, such a child, or such a man,
You saw one morning waiting in the cold,
Beside that gate, perhaps. You gather up
A few such cases, and when strong sometimes
Will write of factories and of slaves, as if
Your father were a negro, and your son
A spinner in the mills. All’s yours and you,
All, coloured with your blood, or otherwise
Just nothing to you. Why, I call you hard
To general suffering. Here’s the world half blind
With intellectual light, half brutalised
With civilisation, having caught the plague
In silks from Tarsus, shrieking east and west
Along a thousand railroads, mad with pain
And sin too! . . does one woman of you all
(You who weep easily) grow pale to see
This tiger shake his cage? – does one of you
Stand still from dancing, stop from stringing pearls,
And pine and die because of the great sum
Of universal anguish? – Show me a tear
Wet as Cordelia’s, in eyes bright as yours,
Because the world is mad. You cannot count,
That you should weep for this account, not you!
You weep for what you know. A red-haired child
Sick in a fever, if you touch him once,
Though but so little as with a finger-tip,
Will set you weeping; but a million sick . .
You could as soon weep for the rule of three
Or compound fractions. Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you, must remain
Uninfluenced by you. – Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doating mothers, and perfect wives,
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you, – and verily
We shall not get a poet, in my mind.

(Aurora Leigh, Book Two, ll.180-225)

AURORA FINDS MARIAN IN PARIS

In this extract, Aurora finally catches up with Marian in a flower market in Paris. It is the start of Aurora’s coming to understand Marian’s past.

Flower market

                I could not sleep last night, and, tired
Of turning on my pillow and harder thoughts,
Went out at early morning, when the air
Is delicate with some last starry touch,
To wander through the Market-place of Flowers
(The prettiest haunt in Paris), and make sure
At worst that there were roses in the world.
So wandering, musing, with the artist’s eye,
That keeps the shade-side of the thing it loves,
Half-absent, whole-observing, while the crowd
Of young vivacious and black-braided heads
Dipped, quick as finches in a blossomed tree,
Among the nosegays, cheapening this and that
In such a cheerful twitter of rapid speech, –
My heart lept in me, startled by a voice
That slowly, faintly, with long breaths that marked
The interval between the wish and word,
Inquired in stranger’s French, ‘Would that be much,
That branch of flowering mountain-gorse?’ – ‘So much?
Too much for me, then!’ turning the face round
So close upon me that I felt the sigh
It turned with.

‘Marian, Marian’ – face to face –
‘Marian! I find you. Shall I let you go?’
I held her two slight wrists with both my hands;
‘Ah Marian, Marian, can I let you go?’
– She fluttered from me like a cyclamen,
As white, which taken in a sudden wind
Beats on against the palisade. – ‘Let pass,’
She said at last. ‘I will not,’ I replied;
‘I lost my sister Marian many days,
And sought her ever in my walks and prayers,
And, now I find her … do we throw away
The bread we worked and prayed for, – crumble it
And drop it,.. to do even so by thee
Whom still I’ve hungered after more than bread,
My sister Marian? – can I hurt thee, dear?
Then why distrust me? Never tremble so.
Come with me rather where we’ll talk and live
And none shall vex us.

(Aurora Leigh, Book Six, ll.420-58)

AURORA’S VIEW OF FLORENCE

In this week’s extract, Aurora celebrates the beauties of Florence.

19th century engraving of the Duomo and Campanile, Florence, Ita

19th century engraving of the Duomo and Campanile, Florence, Italy, photographed from a book titled ‘Italian Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil’ published in London ca. 1870. Copyright has expired on this artwork. Digitally restored.

 

I found a house at Florence on the hill
Of Bellosguardo. ‘Tis a tower which keeps
A post of double-observation o’er
That valley of Arno (holding as a hand
The outspread city,) straight toward Fiesole
And Mount Morello and the setting sun,
The Vallombrosan mountain opposite,
Which sunrise fills as full as crystal cups
Turned red to the brim because their wine is red.
No sun could die nor yet be born unseen
By dwellers at my villa:morn and eve
Were magnified before us in the pure
Illimitable space and pause of sky,
Intense as angels’ garments blanched with God,
Less blue than radiant. From the outer wall
Of the garden, drops the mystic floating grey
Of olive-trees, (with interruptions green
From maize and vine) until ’tis caught and torn
Upon the abrupt black line of cypresses
Which signs the way to Florence. Beautiful
The city lies along the ample vale,
Cathedral, tower and palace, piazza and street,
The river trailing like a silver cord
Through all, and curling loosely, both before
And after, over the whole stretch of land
Sown whitely up and down its opposite slopes
With farms and villas.

(Aurora Leigh, Book 7, ll. 515-41)