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12B. Renovating Romance
Elizabeth Fay (Massachusetts-Boston): "The Romance of
Romantic Medievalism: Remembering History"
Elisa Beshero-Bondar (Penn State): "The Eolian Harp of an Exiled Woman: Matilda Betham's The Lay of Marie"
Chris Ann Matteo (Princeton): "Le grand jeu and The Great Game: Chronotopes and the Politics of Play in Sir Walter Scott's Waverley and Rudyard Kipling's Kim"
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Representative of the book-length metrical romance genre popularized by Walter Scott during his poetry writing days, Matilda Betham's The Lay of Marie (1816) feminizes Romantic medievalism by focusing on the production and reception of verse by a woman minstrel. Conventionally framed as an episodic tale sung by a minstrel, it stages the performance of verse, placing an authorial figure immediately before a listening audience. However, as Jonathan Wordsworth notes, Betham's Lay diverges from the usual plot-driven path of Scott's verse romances by focusing on the emotional effusions of its minstrel, effusions which often cloud the details of the story, such as the fate of Marie's father and the reason for his exile from France. Marie's excessive emotion in delivering her fragmented autobiography and her power to move her scornful audience to tears underscore the metadiscursive nature of this poem.. Connecting feminine sensibility with creative genius, Marie draws attention to herself by virtue of her extreme verbal and physical manifestations of sorrow, often delivered in silence as she slumps over her harp. The emotional characterization of the narrator takes center stage in the various scenarios of Marie's lay as she narrates her experiences as a successful court minstrel in both France and England. Although she can never be accepted as a citizen of either nation, Marie is repeatedly able to move hostile audiences in both French and English courts through her expertise in the language of sensibility. Indeed, the structure of the lay is determined by the minstrel's emotional condition, as each canto ends when Marie is too distraught to continue, and each following canto begins as she pulls herself together to confront her audience, whose expressions of scorn, concern and sympathy form a Greek chorus in response to the tragic pathos of the minstrel heroine. Indeed, the harpist is never alone in this poem; like Germaine de StaÎl's artist-heroine Corinne, Marie's identity is represented in context with her various audiences, who, with an eager interest derived from simultaneous alienation and sympathy, both listen to her historical romans and shape the romance of her life story.
Exemplifying a Romantic "'feminine subject position,'" as Greg Kucich calls it, Marie's lay provides a view of identity as permeable and relational rather than isolated and defensive. Stuart Curran has observed that this feminine subjectivity in women's writings led in the Romantic period to a more general poetic engagement with voices susceptible to sympathetic identification with the sufferings of others. Yet feminine Romantic subjectivity also involves a language of emotional reaction difficult for late twentieth-century readers to stomach, an excessive sensibility that in Betham's Lay frequently takes the form of downpouring tears and gushing sobs. In 'The Gush of the Feminine: How Can We Read Women's Poetry of the Romantic Period?' Isobel Armstrong urges us not to take this excessive sensiblity at face value, but to read it as a form of political dissent, the only way for a woman writer to critique ideologies isolating her within a domestic sphere of worldly innocence. A commentary on the power of this feminine form of Romantic critique, The Lay of Marie dramatizes poetry of sensibility in the making. The various vantage points from which The Lay of Marie is narrated and by which it is framed focus attention on the work of a woman artist as it proceeds. The Lay of Marie situates a medieval woman bard in various positions of exile; in singing the story of her career as a minstrel, the difficulty of being a foreigner in England as well as her native France is significantly linked with the power of her emotionally fraught singing to move her audience. Set in Henry III's reign during the contest between England and France over Normandy, Marie's autobiographical lay is conditioned by her coming of age in England and her forbidden marriage to an English nobleman. These circumstances, which place Marie in ambivalent relation with her French audience within the poem, perhaps mirror the uneasy position of the British Romantic woman artist in relation to a masculine literary tradition as well as to waves of insular nationalism in response to the recent threat of French invasion. Perhaps this poem's depiction of hostilities between England and France as unnecessarily tragic are a radical reflection on Betham's early conservativism when, for example, during her youth she criticized Thomas Paine and later dedicated a volume of elegies to an aristocratic patron.
At the very least, the Lay presents a political context for a woman artist's persuasive abilities. Although Betham's exiled heroine is more emphatically removed from the pale of political activity than Scott's aged bard in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marie takes on significance as a poignantly alienated figure whose artistic talents and sufferings in love call national boundaries into question. Thus, Marie's rendition of English legends lands her a position in Henry's court, while in the poem's frame her distress inspires a French woman's decision to enter a convent to exile herself from a courtly sphere ruled by a treacherous father who had done much to aggravate hostilities between the English and French. Such seemingly ineffectual expressions of dissent result throughout the Lay in ripples of sympathetic anger from Marie's Greek chorus--granting political force to the sensibility of alienation. The world of art dramatized here in which Marie repeatedly manages to charm audiences hostile to each other reveals the subtle if maudlin power of feminine sensibility to take on international political significance while paradoxically appearing powerless. Trembling into resonance, Marie's music plays on Coleridge's Eolian harp, subject to an emotion-driven^"intellectual breeze" sweeping over the organic harps of minstrel and audience alike, offering a new harmonic for what was once considered the discordant clash of the outcast voice.
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Earlier in our century, the works of Scott and Kipling would be likely shelf-mates in many a young English boy's library. But the affinity between Waverley and Kim is stronger than a mere coincidence of classification as children's books. Through creation of Waverley and popularization of the genre of historical romance, Scott influenced the deep structure of later novels; and Kipling adapts this Romantic legacy of genre.
In this paper, I use the narrative theory of Mikhail Bakhtin and describe "the chronotope of the game" that informs these two books. Expressed as le grand jeu in Waverley and The Great Game in Kim, the chronotope of the game mediates between two subtypes of fiction, the espionage-adventure on the one hand, and the Bildungsroman on the other. Games and play mark a semantic alliance between the ideologies of these forms. In particular, these novels become unique literary vehicles for allegorizing the political tension of rebellion against an empire-building state, by re-mapping this political tension onto the story of a young man's passage into maturity. This chronotope works as a remarkably effective organ for the British imperial reader of both the Romantic and late Victorian periods, because it tames conflicts between submission and mastery on both the personal and political levels.
This paper counterpoints episodes of disguise and of heraldic imagery to illustrate the process of self-definition as it develops, from mutability in the freedom of dissembling (espionage), to stability in the wise detection of one's real origin (Bildungsroman). The journey of selfhood foregrounds a key Romantic preoccupation that is experienced in concert with discovery on one's place in British colonial society -- Kipling's Victorian theme. The rite of passage for both Edward Waverley and Kimball O'Hara is a necessary, but eventually abandoned, experience of sorcery (romance); this is enacted through the spells of exotic culture and love in Waverley, and through the seductions of danger and mysticism in Kim. These narrative emphases distinguish these works aesthetically, while the period that separates Scott's 1814 publication and the appearance of Kipling's book at the death of Victoria (1901), distances them historically. Yet, Kipling's renewal of Scott's chronotope of the game implicitly allows the protagonist (or reader, as Martin Green has argued ) to explore glamorous otherness even as he creates himself as a member of the dominant British culture, or, to use Kim's words, as "one of us" (Kim 185, 209).
Alexander Welsh, The Hero of the Waverley Novels (New Haven,
CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1962); Georg Lukács, The Historical
Novel (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1962).
M.M. Bakhtin, "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" in The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1981); Gary Saul Morson, and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990); Michael Holquist, Dialogism (London: Routledge, 1990).
Martin Green, Dreams of adventure, Deeds of empire (NY: Basic Books, 1979).
Rudyard Kipling, Kim , ed. Edward Said (NY: Penguin, 1987); Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since, ed. Andrew Hook (NY: Penguin, 1972).
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