MEN OF LETTERS, WRITING LIVES
In this fascinating new study Trev Broughton explores developments within Victorian auto...
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MEN OF LETTERS, WRITING LIVES
In this fascinating new study Trev Broughton explores developments within Victorian auto/biography and asks what they can teach us about the conditions and limits of male literary authority. She focuses on two case studies from the period 1880–1903: • the auto/biographical theories and achievements of Sir Leslie Stephen, one of the century’s most revered exponents of the written life; and • the debate surrounding James Anthony Froude’s account of the marriage of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. The author examines the proliferation of the professions with a vested interest in the ‘written life’; the speeding-up and institutionalization of the Life-and-Letters industry; and the consequent spread of a network of mainly male practitioners and commentators. She argues that these elements all contributed to a new ‘auto/biographical’ subjectivity. Men of Letters, Writing Lives will be of great interest to students and scholars of literature, cultural history, gender, and auto/biography. Trev Broughton teaches Women’s Studies and Literature at the University of York, specialising in auto/biography. Her previous publications include Women’s Lives/Women’s Times: New Essays on Auto/ Biography (edited with Linda Anderson) (1997) and The Infernal Desires of Angela Carter (edited with Joseph Bristow) (1997).
MEN OF LETTERS, WRITING LIVES Masculinity and Literary Auto/ Biography in the Late Victorian Period
Trev Lynn Broughton
London and New York
First published 1999 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.” Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 © 1999 Trev Lynn Broughton All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Broughton, Trev Lynn, 1959– Men of Letters, Writing Lives: masculinity and literary auto/biography in the late Victorian period. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. English prose literature—19th century—History and criticism. 2. Men authors, English—19th century—Biography—History and criticism. 3. English prose literature—Men authors—History and criticism. 4. Great Britain—History—Victoria, 1837–1901—Historiography. 5. Stephen, Leslie, Sir, 1832–1904. 6. Froude, James Anthony, 1818–1894. 7. Biography as a literary form. 8. Masculinity in literature. 9. Autobiography. PR788.B56B76 1999 98–30505 820.9'492–dc21 CIP ISBN 0-203-16841-0 Master e-book ISBN
ISBN 0-203-26361-8 (Adobe eReader Format) ISBN 0-415-08211-0 (hbk) ISBN 0-415-08212-9 (pbk)
PART 1 Stephen’s Stephens Introduction: ‘Some little employment’: letters, Lives and Leslie Stephen
On the wire: Leslie Stephen, Life-writing and the art of forgetting
Missing her: the Leslie Stephens, Anny Ritchie and the sexual politics of genre
PART 2 Froude’s Carlyles: anatomies of a controversy
Dust-clouds and dissonances: married life as a literary problem
Froude: the ‘painful appendix’
‘Revelations on ticklish topics’: impotence, biography and Froude-Carlyle
I am indebted to the following for, in various proportions, advice, help and encouragement: David Amigoni, Linda Anderson, Vicki Bertram, John Bicknell, Joseph Bristow, Betty and Keith Broughton, Julie Charalambides, Aileen Christianson, Norma Clarke, Richard Collier, Joanna de Groot, Christien Franken, James Hammerton, Robin Hart, Dayton Haskin, Ludmilla Jordanova, Nicole Ward Jouve, Ann Kaloski, Hermione Lee, Jude Nixon, Jane Rendall, Anne Skabarnicki, Pat Spallone, Liz Stanley, Ruth Symes, John Tosh, Dale Trela, Jean Wall, Roy Wallington and Sheila Wright. Mr Wilson Huck of Thomas Butler and Sons, Solicitors, Broughton-inFurness, provided invaluable bibliographical assistance with the legal aspects of Chapters 3 and 5; Neil Johannessen of the British Telecom Museum responded swiftly and thoughtfully to calls for help with Chapter 1; Lesley Hall of the Wellcome Institute was, as always, a fund of knowledge on matters medical-historiographical. The members of the VICTORIA discussion group were entertaining and apparently omniscient fellow-travellers. John David and Karen Young provided a retreat in the early stages of this project, and Jean Hodgson helped out with reviving games of Scrabble; Michael and Christine Cass of Arbutus House, Clapham, Yorks, were generous and tolerant hosts in the last phase. For stimulating discussion and early responses to my work I am grateful to the ‘Auto/Biography’ Study Group of the British Sociological Association; the Women’s Studies work-in-progress group at York University; the participants of the ‘Women’s Lives/Women’s Times’ Dayschool (University of York, 1991); the delegates and organizers of the ‘Carlyle at 200’ Conference (Memorial University, Newfoundland, July 1995); the ‘Gender and Autobiography’ Conference (University of Edinburgh, April 1996); the ‘Literature and Legality’ Conference (University of the West of England, June 1996).
I would like to thank the editor of the journal Auto/Biography for permission to reproduce parts of my essay ‘The D.N.B.: The Gendering of a National Monument’ in my introduction; the chapter ‘Missing Her’ first appeared in Trev Broughton and Linda Anderson (eds) Women’s Lives/ Women’s Times (SUNY Press 1997); I am grateful to Indiana University Press and the journal Victorian Studies for permission to reproduce a revised version of ‘Married life as a Literary Problem’; and to the editors of Carlyle Studies Annual for ‘Froude: The Painful Appendix’. A version of ‘Ticklish Topics’ appears by kind permission of The Journal of the History of Sexuality (© 1997 University of Chicago, all rights reserved). Passages from Sir Leslie Stephen’s Mausoleum Book, ed. Alan Bell, appear by permission of Oxford University Press. Extracts from Leslie Stephen’s letters to Charles Eliot Norton appear by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Part I STEPHEN’S STEPHENS
Introduction ‘SOME LITTLE EMPLOYMENT’ Letters, Lives and Leslie Stephen
I This book is driven by curiosity about the relationship between late Victorian developments in the writing of Lives and the history of gender. In particular, it asks what we can learn about the conditions and limits of literary authority, especially male literary authority, from two closely connected phenomena: the professionalization of biography as exemplified in the writings of Sir Leslie Stephen, first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, and the controversy generated by James Anthony Froude’s work on Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. For many years I have been puzzled by this question: why did Leslie Stephen, connoisseur and revered exponent of the art of Life-writing, never write his own Life? Stephen balked at the prospect of self-disclosure so volubly and so insistently that the prospecting and the balking appear to be two parts of a single action. The closest he came to overcoming this reluctance was in the pages of what became known to his heirs as the Mausoleum Book. This handwritten album of reminiscences, appended to a meticulous ‘calendar’ of his late wife’s correspondence, is written in the form of a letter to her children. It begins: 22 Hyde Park Gate, 21 May 1895 I am about to try to write something for my darling Julia’s children: George Herbert, Stella, and Gerald de l’Etang Duckworth; and Vanessa, Julian Thoby, Adeline Virginia and Adrian Leslie Stephen. I can as yet think of nothing but the beloved wife who died on 5 May, scarcely more than a fortnight ago. I have been going over old letters and putting themin order. They have revived many old thoughts and memories of the past. Although I am, as far as I know, in good health physically, I do not yet feel equal to taking up my old tasks again. Yet as I am strong enough for some little employment, I think that I
4 STEPHEN’S STEPHENS
cannot do better than to try to fix for myself and you some of the thoughts that have occurred to me. (Bell  1977:3)1 The ‘little employment’ Stephen chose was to write an account of the events leading up to his second widowhood. The main body of the text is a searingly painful story of love and loss. Thereafter, the album consists of jotted memorials: records of family events, personal achievements and, above all, more deaths. The epithet Mausoleum Book is apt in many ways, not least because, as Stephen himself noted with some consternation, the narrative eventually degenerated into a ‘series of obituary notices’ (101). To Julia Stephen’s children, however, the nickname may have accumulated harsher overtones. The album may have come to represent a version of Victorianism from which they were in flight. It exuded the melancholy selfimportance of a passing generation. It was redolent, moreover, of the grim atmosphere of a home in mourning: a home whose grief-stricken head made known his paternal resolutions, his hopes and fears, by letter. Stephen’s letter to his family is partly an apostrophe to the future and to his children as adults. Adrian, the youngest, was only twelve when his mother died. Their mother, Julia Prinsep Stephen, had left few recognizably literary remains.2 This, in Stephen’s view, was fitting. The Mausoleum Book would supply a frame for her letters; more importantly it would insist that her memory should properly survive not in her writing but in the memories and conduct of her descendants, the beneficiaries of her care, and in her husband’s records of her life as mother, wife, muse and benefactress.3 The impression Julia had made on others would outlive her: would outlive, furthermore, the mere worldly achievements of her husband. Yet the album was also intended to be read during Stephen’s own lifetime: it was addressed both from and to the 22 Hyde Park Gate of 21 May 1895. This transmission of letters from one realm of the house to another can be seen as a way of gendering space, regulating and remarking boundaries. As ‘Virginia Hyman has commented, the Stephen household had for some years reversed the conventional post-industrial pattern. ‘[S] ince Stephen worked at home and Julia was often away, his was the constant presence in the home’ (1983: 205). As a fiat issuing from that haven within a haven, the father’s study,4 Stephen’s letter tohis family both problematized the much-vaunted ‘separation of spheres’ and reconstituted in interesting ways the vivid emotional architecture of the Victorian professional home.5 In effect the Mausoleum Book does not so much grant—or deny—its readers access to the private life enacted at Hyde Park Gate as attempt to
dictate the conditions and meaning of privacy itself. Stephen frets at great length about the uses to which his letter might be put: I am so much of a professional author that I fear that what I am about to say may have the appearance of being meant rather for a book than for a letter. That, however, will be accidental if it happens—at any rate it will be unintentional. I am writing to you personally, my beloved children—for you are all beloved children to me—and I want simply to talk to you about your mother. What I shall say, therefore, is absolutely confidential between you and me. I mean to speak freely of things which are not only confidential now but which must always continue to be confidential. I have a sort of superstitious dislike (or is it the reverse of superstitious?) to giving any orders about what is to happen after I am dead. I think that the living should settle all things without having their hands tied. Consequently I will not say positively that I forbid you to make any use of this when I am dead. Indeed it might possibly be worth while for somebody to look through what I have written and make some use of it, if anything at all has to be said about me. I intend however that this document shall remain absolutely private among us eight as long as I live. I mean further to write in such a way as to put out of the question any larger use of it than I have indicated, even after my death. Having said so much, I leave the whole matter to you. (Bell  1977:3–4) The passage is a bewildering mixture of pellucid simplicity and extreme, hairsplitting prevarication. Nothing, surely, could be more amiably straightforward, more natural, than a wish to talk to one’s children about the mother they have so recently lost. Yet Stephen, a professional Lifewriter of nearly two decades’ experience, ties himself in mesmerizing knots in the attempt. He quibbles over his own motives (will his manuscript look publishable by accident or merely unintentionally? Is his attitude to its fate superstitious or the reverse of superstitious?); he veers from reasoned hope to resignation; he exhorts and cajoles where he might, like his late father-inlaw WilliamMakepeace Thackeray, ‘positively forbid’ any attempt at a biography of himself.6 For all his insistence that he would speak ‘freely’, ‘privately’ and ‘personally’ (the word ‘confidential’ appears three times in swift succession), a counterimpulse careers inexorably from ‘some little employment’ to ‘professional author’ and hence towards ‘larger use’ and the not-at-any-cost-to-be-thought-of ‘book’. And if, by any chance, ‘anything at all has to be said about me’, a discreet footnote volunteers Frederic W. Maitland, his protégé and nephew-in-law, as the ‘only living person who could say anything to the purpose at present’ and who ‘understands me’.
6 STEPHEN’S STEPHENS
The footnote goes on to warn that even Fred Maitland would only be able to write ‘a short article or “appreciation” or a notice in a biographical dictionary. No “life” in the ordinary sense, would be possible.’ Fair enough, perhaps: the understandable precautions of a realist who, having spent many years commemorating both great and ‘third-rate’ lives for the Dictionary of National Biography, knew he could hardly expect to escape the fate he had meted out so liberally to others.7 In a final twist (and with another sidelong glance towards Maitland) Stephen alerts his readers to two further sources of information about himself. For an indication of the ‘general character’ of the ‘external circumstances’ of their father’s early life, the children might consult his biography of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, his brother. For an account of his own life at Cambridge, they could turn to his biography of Henry Fawcett, his closest friend at the time. For now, Stephen will just ‘fill up a gap or two’(4–5). The Mausoleum Book does not extend a free hand to Fred Maitland any more than it ‘leave[s] the matter’ of publication ‘entirely’ to Stephen’s heirs. Its readers are immediately faced with a blizzard of caveats and cautions: I wish to write mainly about your mother. But I find that in order to speak intelligibly it will be best to begin by saying something about myself. It may interest you and it will make the main story clearer. Now I have no intention of writing autobiography except in this incidental way. One reason is that my memory for facts is far from a good one, and that I really remember very few incidents which are at all worth telling. Another reason is that I could give you none of those narratives of inward events, conversions or spiritual crises which give interest to some autobiographers. I was amused lately by reading Horatio Brown’s life of Symonds, virtually an autobiography, and reflecting how little of the same kind ofinternal history could be told of me. My mental and moral development followed a quiet and commonplace course enough. I do, indeed, remember certain facts about myself. I could give a history of some struggles through which I had to pass—successfully or otherwise: but I have a certain sense of satisfaction in reflecting that I shall take that knowledge with me to the grave. There was nothing unusual or remarkable about my inner life; although I may also say that without a knowledge of the facts to which I have referred, nobody could write an adequate history of my life. As the knowledge is confined to me and will never be imparted by me to others, it follows that no adequate history of my life can ever be written. The world will lose little by that. (Bell  1977:4)
The original intention to ‘speak simply’ about Julia Stephen has shifted to a more qualified wish to ‘write mainly’ about her. For the intelligibility of the ‘main story’, the story of their mother, will rest on the children’s knowledge of their father. As this book will demonstrate, the late nineteenth century saw significant upheavals in what was understood by the ‘main story’ of a Life: upheavals in which issues of gender, sexuality and literary authority were implicated. To sum up, the Mausoleum Book presents itself as an account, though not a formal biography, of a wife. It is intended to demonstrate the influence of that wife on the writer, her husband. It is not, however, the husband’s autobiography, nor should it be used as such by any putative biographer. Indeed, no one would be able to write the husband’s Life because they would lack certain vital materials. Those materials relate primarily to, on the one hand, incidents he cannot recall, and on the other, spiritual struggles he alone can recall, the narration of which would characterize and might enliven a true autobiography, but which in his case will remain secret. Whether these secrets and silences, so elaborately and repeatedly flagged, matter or not, Stephen leaves his children to decide. Both an invitation to and a refusal of biography, the Mausoleum Book presents its readers with the challenge of enigmatic surfaces and the promise of hidden shallows in a way more reminiscent of one of Browning’s dramatic monologues than of a ‘high’ Victorian Life and Times. Why should a professional biographer such as Stephen have become so exercised by the prospect of writing about his married life? Why did an account of his own life seem to him a prerequisite for the task of writing about his wife? And why did Stephen feel the need to enmeshhis own posthumous reputation in so copious a web of disavowal? These are among the leading questions of this book. II It has become a cliché of auto/biographical studies that bourgeois modes of subjectivity, or properly of literary subjectivity, conditioned and impelled the ‘rise’ of biography and autobiography in the nineteenth century. There have been many accounts of this subjectivity and its relationship to narrative, but Regenia Gagnier’s thumbnail sketch will suffice: a meditative and self-reflective sensibility; faith in writing as a tool of self-exploration; an attempt to make sense of life as a narrative progressing in time, with a narrative typically structured upon parent/ child relationships and familial development; and a belief in personal creativity, autonomy and freedom for the future. (Gagnier 1990:39)
8 STEPHEN’S STEPHENS
In so far as they cleaved to prevailing stories about this subjectivity, histories of literary Life-writing have offered narratives, either triumphalist or elegiac, of the development of individualism, the birth (and sometimes death) of ‘the author’ as a cultural category, and of the evolution of, and evolving ways of interpreting, the modern ‘self’ (Weintraub 1978; Fleishman 1983; Peterson 1986). Until recently, the primary subject of these narratives has almost invariably been assumed to be male unless proven otherwise (and sometimes even then). Either this propertied, implicitly white, explicitly male subject was accepted unquestioningly as the rightful owner and author of the genre, fashioning it in his own image and according to his own criteria of success, or else his control of it has been taken to be a problem: a problem for the aesthetics of Life-writing and/or for those subjectivities disqualified, by virtue of gender, class or ‘race’, from access to representation. In either case, the domination of the written Life by men of letters has generally been taken for granted. Where they have not been ignored altogether, other voices—the voices of workingclass men (Vincent 1982), of middle-class and working women (Jelinek 1980, 1986; Swindells 1985) and of ethnically marginalized and/or colonized subjects (Smith and Watson 1992: xiii–xv) have been portrayed as at best constrained, at worst repressed by (and thus in need of rehabilitation from) a ‘mainstream’ understanding of how a Life should go. While the identification of this unproblematically masculine, bourgeois life-story has enabled commentators to call, more or less successfully, for alternative maps of the auto/biographical corpus, it has had both theoretical and practical shortcomings. First, there is a certain circularity in the attribution of great Lives to great subjects, since the marks of greatness have a tendency to migrate between the two. Hence Lives are read for the insights they afford into the narrative priorities and personal myths of eminent men of letters, and as the templates of Victorian prestige; in turn the typologies so derived come to define the ‘classic’ Life. This mesmerizing de Manian revolving door is to some extent structural to the texts themselves, and is one of the ways Romantic myths of authorship generated at the end of the eighteenth century come to have such a strong hold on popular conceptions of the literary vocation at the end of the twentieth.8 More pertinently, this circularity has had a centrifugal effect on auto/biographical studies, rigidifying a canon of frequently cited texts, and casting much Life-writing—including not only overtly counter-hegemonic narratives but also popular best-sellers and even, in some cases, nonstandard Life-writing by or about canonical authors—into literaryhistorical darkness.9
This realization has important implications for feminist and postcolonial critics, for whom the canonical life has been something of a stalking-horse. There has been a strong recuperative tendency in recent auto/biographical scholarship: an insistence that alternative myths and narratives of selfhood needed to be appended to or even substituted for the dominant history of Life-writing to take account of ‘other’ (relational, fragmentary, non-linear etc.) ways of experiencing and—by arguable extension—narrating lives. This project has succeeded in bringing to light an inexhaustibly rich seam of cultural activity—from African-American slave narratives to Anglo-Indian missionary tales, and from Latin-American political testimonios, to the Lives of British suffragettes—otherwise in danger of omission or erasure from the historical record (Stanton 1987; Smith 1987; Benstock 1988; Brodzki and Schenck 1988; Bell and Yalom 1990; Neuman 1991; Smith and Watson 1992; Ashley et al. 1994). Taking for granted the existence of normative Lives, such accounts typically demonstrate the ingenuity and resourcefulness of subjects excluded from, yet often bound to engage with, that norm’s assumptions about value and meaning. Neither the literary-historical nor the political impact of this enterprise can be exaggerated. At the same time, however, it has in some ways reinforced the paradigmatic, unmarked status of canonical narratives so that ideals such as autonomy, transcendence, authenticity, subjecthood, authority,literary heroism, expertise, self-possession and so on have gone unquestioned and unchallenged. My point, then, is not that individualist, writerly, goal-centred, self-important Lives were rare, but that their intertextual valences were not as straightforward, their influence as irresistible, nor their relationship to male power as direct as is commonly supposed. What are we to make, for instance, of the Mausoleum Book’s bizarre preamble, and of the palette of emotions and desires on which Leslie Stephen draws?10 Stephen elsewhere called the book ‘a little treasure’ (Bicknell 1996: II 444), and certainly his opening pages are shot through with cloying sentimentality. Nor can it be denied that there are elements of manipulativeness and ill-concealed amour propre in Stephen’s apologetics. But there is also harrowing grief, violent love and radical uncertainty about what he should say and to whom. All this seems very remote from the ‘mealy mouthed’, decorous style of English biography famously deplored by Carlyle and supposed to be dominant in the nineteenth century. Nor does it square with Stephen’s freely acknowledged expertise as a writer of Lives. Is Stephen’s scuffle with the conventions and etiquette of Life-writing an isolated case; an exception to the rules by which biography and its practitioners were routinely governed? If not, how does it modify our understanding of the history of the genre?
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And what of Stephen’s circumspection, his almost obsessive vigilance over the terms of his own posthumous reputation? Does he secretly find in the possibility of biography, of Life after death, a saving grace—a glimmer of hope on an arid secular horizon? Or is its likelihood an irritating reminder of his own foibles, compromising both to self-esteem and manly autonomy? The writing of Lives was not only one of his professional credentials, it was also a kind of family tradition stretching back to 1819, when his grandfather James Stephen began a volume of Memoirs ‘for the use of his children’.11 Biography was in any case an inescapable feature of Stephen’s day-to-day existence at this time: he had been seeing the proofs of his Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen through the press as recently as 20 April, and could not think of the book without remembering Julia’s ‘interest and…pride in it’ (Bicknell 1996:II 445). His work for die Dictionary of National Biography linked him horizontally to a generation of historians and literary scholars trained (many of them by him) in the art of biography, and vertically to robust biographical pedigrees a century old and longer. Think of Froude’s biography of his mentor Thomas Carlyle (1882–4) and Carlyle’s of Schiller (1823–4), or Lang’s of Lockhart (1897), Lockhart’s of his father-in-law Sir Walter Scott (1836) and Scott’s of Dryden (1808), topursue just two of a myriad Life-lines that span the Victorian period and beyond.12 For most of the century, literary sons, sonsin-law, nephews, admirers and intellectual protégés, and, more rarely but increasingly, daughters, wives and nieces produced biographies as part of the fabric of social obligation. By the end of the period, however, the role appears to have become less a direct extension of trusteeship and more a means of regulating and profiting from what Richard Sennett has called the ‘market exchange in intimate relations’ ( 1988:8). Stephen spent much of his working life at the forefront of these developments, earning a substantial proportion of his income from biography and its by-products, while remaining more profoundly immersed in the traditional obligations of literary kinship than was perhaps convenient. Set in such contexts, his concern about the fate of his memoir looks less precious, less paranoid and more like an occupational hazard. Even so, further questions arise. How did living within such a dense grid of biography shape the subjectivity of a man of letters? How was that subjectivity gendered? Conversely, how did a literary subjectivity lived in and between ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces— spaces at the time both aggressively demarcated and fiercely disputed— affect Life-writing as a cultural practice? Broadening the intertextual field in which Lives are written and read, and acknowledging the existence and historiographical salience of women as authors and subjects of auto/biography, permits us to consider the possibility that, far from being a male domain to which women have had
no or restricted access, Life-writing has been contested terrain. In Victorian Britain, at least, debates over the nature and value of autobiography and biography as recognizable genres were of a piece with struggles over the construction of gender, class and nationality—which is no more than to say that identities and representations are theoretically inseparable. It should be possible, therefore, to trace the operations of gender in Life-writing by and about canonical male authors as well as by and about women. This means looking at the Victorian Life in new ways: looking beyond the aesthetics of the ‘classic’ text and construing even literary auto/biography as a broad realm of cultural production and reproduction. Certainly it means looking beyond the ‘images of men’ and ‘images of women’ present in Life-writing. Instead we must attend to the strategies Life-writers deploy to manage difference: difference within as well as between genders; within as well as between genres. Leslie Stephen’s hesitance over what to do about his wife’s Life is a good starting-point. Do we dismiss as mere lipservice Stephen’s stated—though consistently waylaid—intention to commemorate his wife? Ifnot, how would such an intention nuance the masculinist history—and historiography—of Life-writing? ‘Feminine influence’ was a familiar trope to early Victorian Life-writers, and could be safely consigned to a chapter on childhood (mother’s tender care), to an admiring Dedication to a grieving widow and perhaps to a human interest chapter on ‘Domestic Ties’. But the Life of a wife, mother or sister, addressed candidly and in earnest, would surely test the biographer’s narrative resources to the limit. Though it was unlikely ever to displace the central story of Victorian achievement, might not the exigencies of a woman’s story have made a difference to the practice of biography? Is it possible to talk of the influence of women on the literary Life-writing of Victorian men? Taking my bearings from the Mausoleum Book, then, and from the puzzles posed to me by Stephen’s dithering, I have attempted to consider late nineteenth-century Life-writing as a social and cultural activity rather than exclusively as a literary event: as context and intertext rather than simply as text. Of course, it could be argued that Leslie Stephen’s mode of self-disclosure was bound to be too special a case to be representative of anything: even his staunchest admirers concede that, though lovable in many ways, he could be difficult, hypersensitive, and was frequently overbearing in private life. Yet he was also, demonstrably, the doyen of late Victorian biography, and, as editor of the DNB, standard-bearer and standard-setter of a national project of self-accounting. It is this combination of personal defensiveness and public boldness that makes Stephen so absorbing a figure to the historian of Life-writing, and one of the arguments of this book is that the self-deprecation and the self-assertion
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may be two sides of the same socio-cultural coin. Here, however, I claim no more than that if Stephen expounded the theory and practice of Lifewriting to an emergent generation, he also exemplified the ideological contradictions of the genre(s) played out across a single late Victorian subjectivity. III Coming across George Ives in the Authors’ Club in 1892, Oscar Wilde is said to have asked ‘Why are you here among the bald and the bearded?’ (Ellmann 1987:364). It is a question I have often asked myself, worried lest to study the Lives of men of letters be to squander energy on an already oversubscribed topic. Why reread Leslie Stephen’s Life when one could reread Virginia Woolf’s? And what of those existences, still for the most part ‘hidden from history’, which the Lives of the eminent—Stephen’s and Woolf’s—help to obscure? Why grapplewith Stephen’s attitudes to Lifewriting when, as Woolf herself pointed out, ‘no lives of maids…are to be found in the Dictionary of National Biography’? (Woolf 1938:296 n.36). Yet it is precisely this acknowledgment of obscured lives—of actual life stories needing to be valued, of possible life stories waiting to be written— that compels me to return to the Memoirs of the so-called Eminent Victorians. Just as her reading of the diaries of Hannah Cullwick, maid of all work, enabled Liz Stanley to ask new questions about the life, and writings, of Cullwick’s patron and eventual husband Arthur Munby (Stanley 1992:167–71), so I hope to suggest that the testimony of those whose Lives he did not care to write may yet have inflected Leslie Stephen’s auto/biographical theory and practice, and could enhance our own understanding not only of the history of Life-writing, but of the mechanisms of celebrity, authority and scandal of which it formed, and still forms, a part. Julia Swindells spells out the political dimension of this return to the patriarchal text succinctly: ‘Whilst the men have undoubtedly been overexposed, has it been to the type of critical argument which would show and challenge the intricate workings of male claims to authority?’ (1995:5) My contention is that close attention to, say, Stephen’s Mausoleum Book—to the context it invokes and to the collectivity of readers it imagines for itself —may help us to understand the conditions and the limits of his rhetorical power, and is thus a valid, even a vital task for the historian of gender. Oscar Wilde’s interrogation of Ives, however, was not pure devil’s advocacy, although Ives’s overt campaigning for homosexual rights was in some ways antipathetic to Wilde’s own modes of sexual dissidence (Dollimore 1991:39–80). Rather, it was intended to bounce off the walls of the club and into the ears of an eavesdropping audience. In the guise of a
difference of opinion, in other words, Wilde strove to implicate both Ives and his auditors in the open secret of their sexual difference. For Wilde was not saying, ‘Why are you here among the men’, but ‘Why are you here among these men: the dull, solemn, respectable, elderly Men of Letters’. He was staking out the possibility of another literary masculinity—decadent, ironical, iconoclastic—the more subversive for being already a member of the club. It is impossible not to be impressed by Wilde’s bravado, especially as three years later another scene of provocation, in another gentleman’s club, the Albemarle, was to set in motion the events that led to Wilde’s conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency. So epochal, so shattering does Wilde’s sentence now appear, catalysing not just a generation, but a society, into the patterns of homophobic and homosexual identification we now recognize, rightly or wrongly, as thedecisive parameters of modern sexuality, that it is easy to overlook the continuities of gender, class and homosociality that made the Victorian gentleman’s club so resonant a setting for both bald-and-bearded clannishness and Wildean mischief. Leslie Stephen’s Mausoleum Book was penned in the summer of 1895, at a time when even a grieving widower in his study could scarcely have ignored the popular furore surrounding the Oscar Wilde trials, nor the shadow of homosexual panic they cast (Cohen 1993). On the surface Stephen’s text appears innocent of the scandal playing itself out only a short distance from Hyde Park Gate. Yet the garrulous way in which the Mausoleum Book performs its privacy, its irony, its knowingness, is curiously reminiscent of the club as Wildean mise-en-scène. The auto/biographical culture Stephen himself had helped to create took on many of the lineaments of the late Victorian metropolitan club, and as such existed at the cusp between bourgeoisdomestic and élite-homosocial knowledges. The DNB, as we shall see, was a club of sorts, engendering its own forms of homosociability as well as its own attenuated versions of family. An old boys’ network is liminally present in the Mausoleum Book, too, in the genial intertext Stephen establishes for his own undertaking: Dictionary-work; the Lives of Henry Fawcett and Fitzjames; the putative efforts of Fred Maitland. As will become clear, an even more palpably Wildean atmosphere is evoked by Stephen’s reference to the publication, a few weeks earlier, of the biography of another friend: ‘I was amused lately by reading Horatio Brown’s life of Symonds, virtually an autobiography, and reflecting how little of the same kind of internal history could be told of me.’ The incongruity of this allusion rests partly in Stephen’s amusement; whatever else it is, the Mausoleum Book is seldom gay. But Stephen was not alone in deriving a quiet chuckle from the appearance of Horatio Forbes Brown’s John Addington Symonds: it had prompted wry remarks
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and raised eyebrows throughout literary London. Symonds had begun his autobiography in 1889 for two overlapping reasons: to offer himself as a case history for the new sexologists (he had already collaborated closely with Havelock Ellis, contributing his own life history as Case XVII to the volume Sexual Inversion)13 and to gain a hearing, as an ‘invert’, on behalf of inversion. His aim had been to gain sympathy for others like himself: the ‘not ignoble victims of a natural instinct reputed vicious in the modern age’ (Symonds  1984:183). ‘You see,’ he had written, ‘I have never “spoken out”’ (Grosskurth 1964:277). The manuscript he had produced was thus sharply different from the Life-writing with which the Victorian literary world was familiar: not only as a moving and detailed study of homosexual subjectivity within an increasinglyhomophobic society, but, with its emphasis on dreams, fantasies and formative sexual experiences, as an exploration of consciousness at a time when histories of conscience were the biographical order of the day. Needless to say, the text which made Stephen smile even in his grief was not Symonds’s homosexual apologia but the version with which Brown, his biographer, had thought fit to replace it: a ‘pious and workmanlike memorial’ (Smith 1970:14) in which Symonds’s militantly frank narrative had been smothered with sufficient anecdote and correspondence to throw the ignorant off the scent, and which had then been brutally cut, probably by self-appointed censor Edmund Gosse. By these means, the emphasis was ingeniously shifted from Symonds’s sexual history to his moral and spiritual conflicts, with the result that, as one witness put it: ‘[t]he proofs, already bowdlerized, were completely emasculated, so that frank “Confessions”, which might have made some little stir in the world (indeed that was generally expected), emerged as pure commonplace.’14 The published version was thus characterized by the systematic curtailment of Symonds’s sophisticated sexual psychology into the more conventional, but equally sophisticated language of honest doubt, moral quest and spiritual conversion. Where, for example, Symonds had narrated his arrival at ‘Stoical acceptance of my place in the world, combined with Epicurean indulgence of my ruling passion for the male’ ( 1984: 173), Brown’s Symonds combined stoicism with ‘epicurean indulgence’ full stop ( 1903:254). One of Brown’s rare authorial interpolations gives a sense of the narrative structure to which he had aspired. It also illustrates the febrile tone to which such a structure lent itself and which in this instance Stephen and many of his contemporaries seem to have found diverting: This terrible and lonely communing of his spirit face to face with the widest abstractions which his intellect could compass, seems to me to
contain the essence of Symonds’s psychological quality. He had carried speculation in the abstract, and the audacious interrogation of the Universe, to their utmost limits. It was inevitable that, if he survived the strain, he would ultimately abandon the vacuum of abstractions in which he was stifling, for the concrete world of men and things about him. (Brown  1903:256) Brown’s biography abounded in literal, and literal-minded, echoes of that style of Life-writing initiated by Thomas Carlyle much earlier inthe century. Like Carlyle’s Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, hero of Sartor Resartus ([1833–4] 1987), Brown’s Symonds confronts, endures and moves beyond ‘entire negation’ to something approaching a stoical acceptance of the ‘concrete world of men and things’. (Teufelsdröckh, we remember, ultimately made his name as a ‘Professor of Things in General’.) The assumption that the coherence of an autobiographical subject—and hence the success of a Life— depended on the construction and resolution of a highly schematic narrative of ‘conversion’, whether secular or spiritual, had and still maintains a powerful hold on the aesthetics of the genre (Fleishman 1983).15 It is perhaps not surprising that, as an agnostic, Stephen should wish to challenge that hold, and that aesthetic. Yet his repudiation here of Brown’s Symonds, and of the kind of subjectivity it purports to represent, seems at once overdetermined and ambiguous. Other early readers, who, like Stephen, had counted themselves among Symonds’s friends, expressed similar reservations. Noting sundry nods and winks between Henry James and Edmund Gosse, both of whom were certainly aware of Symonds’s ‘passionate subterranean crusade’ on behalf of homosexuals, Phyllis Grosskurth, Symonds’s twentieth-century biographer, goes on to quote a bewildered T.E. Brown: I confess that I had not known Symonds. That is, I had not known what an important part of his life was borne by the sceptical agony, or rather agonising…. I fancy I can recollect a different Symonds, full of enthusiasm for favourite authors, outspoken, critical, of course, but brimming with love for those he preferred. What has become of this rapture? I think it was the normal mood, & the other the abnormal. (Grosskurth 1964:322) Margaret Oliphant, struggling in January 1895 to complete the narrative of her own Life, recorded a strikingly similar response to Stephen’s and T.E.Brown’s:
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I have been reading the life of Mr Symonds, and it makes me almost laugh (though little laughing is in my heart) to think of the strange difference between this prosaic little narrative, all about the facts of a life so simple as mine, and his elaborate self-discussions. I suppose that to many people the other will be the more interesting way, just as the movements of the mindare more interesting than those of the body, or rather of the external life. (Oliphant 1990:99) ‘Good Mr Symonds,’ she sighed, ‘a pleasant, frank, hearty man, as one saw him from outside! God bless him!’ (81) Branded by (what Oliphant calls) its ‘strange difference’ from the acceptable life, Brown’s Symonds had worked so hard to appear authentically ‘inner’ that it had neglected the salutory marks of exteriority. From the responses of these early readers an intriguing set of distinctions begins to materialize: Ultimately Brown’s Symonds succeeded in performing to the point of excess the conventions of auto/biographical depth and interiority. In a sexual-political atmosphere in which the notion of the commonplace was taking on the ideological burden of the normative, the man of letters was in danger of being despoiled of that heroic aspect which justified the production of, and guaranteed the market for, the Lives of writers. This loss of hard-won cultural capital can be felt in the changing—though not necessarily diminishing—role of inner struggle as a marker of masculine authority, and in increasingly fraught disavowals of the necessarily intimate relationship between the narrator and the subject of the literary Life.16 Challenged either to reject the conventions or reject the Symonds such conventions had produced, commentators such as Stephen, Oliphant and T.E.Brown hovered uncomfortably between diagnosing the problem as too much and too little knowledge: between admitting ‘I did not know this man’ and asserting ‘I knew him better’. As my discussion in Part 2 of the fate of Carlyle’s biographer James Anthony Froude will show, this anxiety
about the proper bounds of biographical knowing was at the heart of much late Victorian Life-writing, and was responsible for producing and reproducing the ideology of the ‘set Life’. In his preface to the second edition of Symonds, Horatio Brown apologized for the gloomy impression his narrative left, quoting the view of a schoolfriend, Gustavus Bosanquet, that Symonds ‘gives an entirely wrong account of himself, describing himself as an unlovable, unclubable boy; he was anything but this’ ( 1903: vii). Twenty years later, in a supplementary volume, Brown was still apologizing Symonds’s battle with his dypsychia had been fought but never finished; the resultant ‘introspective diathesis’ inevitably appeared morbid to a public convinced that ‘in the region of psychology, scepsis is sepsis’ (1923:viii–ix). As if responding to the objections of Stephen, Oliphant, T.E.Brown and Bosanquet, he stressed Symonds’s vitality, elasticity, physical courage and joie de vivre. He concluded this preface with Symonds’s comment on a portrait of himself: ‘I would like to go down to posterity with that apprehensive yet courageous look upon the wrinkled features. It has the merit of psychological veracity, this photograph’ (x). Still, Brown was missing the point: to (appear to) care about one’s image was suspect in itself. The literary biographer’s task had long been, in part, to contain and manage the literary remains of his or her subject so as to preserve them from the taint of self-consciousness. In the late Victorian era, the growing suspicion cast over the expression of ‘morbid’ introspection and over the temperament of the ‘genius’, meant that this regulatory function underwent a new twist. Brown fatally lacked the knack of balancing interiority with externality, and of providing an inobtrusive backdrop of commonplace fact—of robust friendships, quiet domesticity, cheerful, self-forgetful work—against which the drama of genius might safely be enacted. This lack of compositional equilibrium alone was enough to raise suspicions about both Symonds’s wisdom as self-historian and his choice of friends. In other words, without uttering a word about Symonds’s homosexuality, Brown’s biography impugned Symonds’s homosocial continence. Even so, it is worth noting that the sexual politics of Symonds’s crusade remained subterranean. Although it is scarcely plausible that friends such as Oliphant and Stephen should not have guessed the ‘secret’ of Symonds’s sexuality (Symonds had written extensively on homoerotic themes, and after his death Swinburne had attacked him in print as ‘the Platonic amorist of blue-breeched gondoliers’ [Smith 1970: xxii n.]), their qualms were expressed in terms of questionable genre rather than sex. Only our own retrospective knowledge, the tone of their protestations and Oliphant’s hastily corrected appeal to the testimony of ‘the body’ justify us
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in considering the bemused reception of the biography as an instance of gender trouble. That it was sononetheless is confirmed by Stephen’s Some Early Impressions (1903), in which yet again the aestheticism and studious self-contemplation of Brown’s Symonds forms a pretext for muscular selfassertion on Stephen’s part: [Symonds at Davos] was keenly interested in all manner of literary and philosophical questions, and ready to discuss them with unflagging vivacity; he was on cordial terms with the natives, delighted in discussing their affairs with them over a pipe and a glass of wine, and not only thoroughly enjoyed Alpine scenery aesthetically, but delighted in the athletic exercise of tobogganing Far from libraries, he turned out a surprising quantity of work involving very wide reading, as well as distinguished by an admirable literary style. His weakness was perhaps his excessive facility; but no man ever encountered such heavy disadvantages with greater gallantry. His remarkable biography [i.e. Brown’s] contains some revelations of an inner life which would not suggest this side of him. Readers would hardly expect to find that the aesthetic philosopher had the masculine vigour which made him the most buoyant of invalids. (Stephen  1924:148–9) Where Brown’s volume had emphasized Symonds’s over-wrought conscience, his finely tuned sensibility and his humanism; where Symonds himself had focused on the origins and consequences of his homosexuality and on the democratizing effect on him of sexual contact with workingclass men (Symonds  1984:276 and passim; Bristow 1995:138–41); Stephen chose to play up an entirely bluffer John Addington Symonds. Building on his cryptic aside in the Mausoleum Book, Stephen counters Brown’s efforts by arming Symonds with the full kit of late Victorian heterosexual manliness: chivalry, ingenuity, industry, tenacity, athleticism. His Symonds, in explicit contrast to Brown’s—and oblique contrast to Symonds’s own—is a jovial pipe-smoking ban viveur with the common touch. The itch such tributes scratch was, as we have seen, the survival of Symonds’s own testimony in the form of letters and memoirs. Published at length if not in full by Brown, these documents bore witness to a luxury of self-consciousness, an extravagance of inner life. In however diluted and censored a form, such evidence posed a direct affront to the late Victorian ideology of manly reserve. Tellingly in an otherwise enthusiastic sketch, Stephen concedes the ‘excessive facility’ of hisfriend’s literary powers.17 As we shall see in Chapter 4, the accusation of facility was frequently levied
against another notorious biographer, Froude, and figured prominently in the debate about his work on Carlyle. In an economy of meaning in which effort and reserve (think labour and capital) were frequently mystified as ends in themselves, writing should not come too easily, especially when that writing was by and about men. Yet as a biographer and hence as a professional reader of autobiography Stephen could not help but be captivated by Symonds’s self-probings, however he might lament their publication. One of Stephen’s most endearing traits as a critic is his consistent refusal to moralize away the complex voyeuristic pleasures of the self-revealing text.18 His Mausoleum Book lucubrations suggest that, though compromising to his memory of his friend, for Stephen, Symonds’s ‘revelations of an inner life’ were both a source of fascination and a hostage to fortune. It is possible, therefore, that Stephen’s own auto/biographical moods swing on an eroticized Wildean axis of epistemological pleasure and danger. According to Joseph Bristow, Stephen’s gesture towards Brown’s Symonds in the Mausoleum Book suggests that ‘a respectable patriarch must publicly insist that certain facts about his life have to remain unrecorded because…a man’s homosexual/private life has been written down elsewhere’. Bristow is right, I think, to infer that the existence of Symonds’s testimony—whether locked in the vaults of the London Library or encoded in the labyrinthine self-analyses of Brown’s hypersensitive aesthete—breached ‘a much-needed silence about male sexuality in general’ and that Stephen’s repugnance had as much to do with the supererogatory expression of desire per se as with the sexual identity, closeted or otherwise, of his good friend (Bristow 1995:130– 31). Yet the distinction this interpretation assumes between a public sphere mediated by published records and a private sphere characterized by unpublished and unpublishable writings needs qualifying. What Stephen’s narrative seems to affirm is that certain discursive spaces—the club, the professional father’s study and biography itself—exist precisely to adjudicate the boundaries of, and hence themselves help to construct, the so-called separate spheres enjoined by compulsory heterosexuality. In this way late Victorian Lifewriting produces, even as it discredits, the privacies it purports to protect. This is its mainspring, the locus of its pleasures and dangers. As such, of course, it operates analogously to the notorious Labouchere Amendment of 1885 which, by criminalizing acts of ‘gross indecency’ between men in private as well as in public, fostered an atmosphere in which the policeman, the blackmailer and homosexuality as a dissident identity all thrived.
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Did literary Life-writing undergo the ‘crisis of masculinity’ we associate with the Wildean fin de siècle? Certainly it responded, though not always directly, to that cluster of interrelated changes we attribute to the late Victorian period: feminist challenges to gender relations, fears about the collapse of the Imperial project, and the convulsive tightening of attitudes to the body, sexuality and sexual difference. In other ways, however, Lifewriting, like the gentleman’s club, had long functioned as a highly regulated site of masculine pleasure and exchange, and as such anticipated and to some extent contributed to the crisis of the 1890s. As we shall see in Part 2, the ‘sexualization’ of masculine biography did not follow on in a straightforward way from, say, the publications of Havelock Ellis, or the 1880s debate about marriage, or the Wilde trials, though it shares genealogies with all these. IV The claim that notions of the self and representations of a Life are implicated in the workings of capital, state and hetero-patriarchy is not new, though the realization that Life-writing might best be understood as a social rather than a personal form has lagged behind. One reason for this has been the bifurcation along gender lines we have noted in the study of Lives. If classic (i.e. usually male, bourgeois, literary) texts and selves are regarded as paradigmatic, exemplary or even transcendent of social values, while marginal (often female) texts and selves are read for the ways in which they are at odds with those values, then the mutually constitutive relationship between notions of ‘self’ and of ‘society’ may be occluded (Swindells 1995:1–7). Another reason has been an assumption—the result in part of unreflexive territorial battles between ‘literary’ and other disciplines—that certain modes of candour and authenticity are transhistorical tokens of aesthetic prestige and/or ethical purity (Gilmore 1994:ix–x; Marcus 1995) at the expense of, for instance, ritualized, collective, coded or interlocutionary inscriptions of a life or lives. A good example of both these critical tendencies can be found in Paul Murray Kendall’s chapter on Victorian Life-writing in The Art of Biography (1965). Kendall sees the nineteenth century as a time when the flood of great English biographies dwindled, after a Romantic efflorescence, to a trickle of noteworthy texts. In the earlier category he cites Scott’s Life of Dryden, Southey’s Lives of Nelson and Wesley, Moore’s Byron, Lockhart’s Life of Scott. After 1840, he claims, the ‘procession thins out’ to Carlyle’s Sterling (a ‘slight’ work); Mrs Gaskell’s Charlotte Brontë; Trevelyan’s Macaulay; Froude’s Carlyle; Forster’s Dickens: a ‘mere handful of titles over a span of sixty years. And we end withMorley’s monumental, that is,
stone-cold, Life of Gladstone’ (103).19 Kendall attributes this decline to Victorian reticence: In the Victorian Age, what was known to be important in a life had become enormously enlarged; but what was permissible to acknowledge had shrunk to the innocuous, padded with didactic observations. Whereas life-writing demands candor, candor is the essential condition of its being, the age insisted on a simulacrum of life, and the more famous the man, the more varnished the exemplum: the husband, devoted; the father, loving; the citizen, public spirited; and the gentleman, Christian. (Kendall 1965:104–5) In this climate, he argues, biography was ‘silenced’ and what he calls ‘pseudobiography’ took its place. Fostered by the arrival of the steam press, the spread of literacy and the burgeoning of ‘domesticated’ periodical journalism, the pseudobiography ‘hid the Victorian heart’ as securely as whiskers hid the Victorian face. That this shift represents a feminization of biography is implicit throughout Kendall’s analysis: ‘Just as the age enjoyed vast meals, long sermons and heavy whiskies, it consumed with relish the marmoreal two-volume pseudobiography, commissioned, sometimes written, by the widow’ (105). Even this concession leaves a great deal unaccounted for, and Kendall must resort to the idea of a displaced or repressed biographical drive to explain what remains: There is no question that Victorian biographical energies were turned to all manner of industrious busy-work, of varying worth, from the classifying of information, to the large-scale accumulation of materials: Lives of the Lord Chancellors; Lives of the Lord Chief justices; The English Men of Letters series; The Dictionary of National Biography; Camden Society, Early English Text Society, and other ‘Society’ publications; reports of the Royal Manuscript Commission…. Nothing like such extensive biographical excavation had been known before—awareness driven underground to mine for ore. (Kendall 1965:109) The trajectory of Kendall’s argument leads him to the rather absurd conclusion that the more monumental the project (Morley’s Gladstone or his Men of Letters series) the more clandestine the impulse behind it. Yetif this is wildly off-beam as an explanation of the DNB, it does seem uncannily apt as a description of Stephen’s crypto-Mausoleum. The task,
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then, must be to make sense of the coincidence, historically, of Froude and Morley and the dutiful biographical widows; of the Mausoleum Book and the DNB; to make sense, to put it another way, of Leslie Stephen. Partly as a result of the perceived inadequacy of accounts which relied upon an embattled auto/biographical ‘impulse’ to explain the changing fortunes of Life-writing, we have witnessed a return, in the 1990s, to what Thomas Carlyle in 1832 called the ‘sociality’ of man’s (sic) engagement with the biographical ( 1869:51). This has involved, on the one hand, renewed attention to its uses20 as a medium of cultural exchange, pedagogy and political contestation (Swindells 1995), and on the other, an examination of the roles auto/biography, and attempts to distinguish its constituent parts, have played in wider socio-cultural formations such as liberalism, nationalism and professionalization. So, for example, Martin Danahay (1993), Leigh Gilmore (1994) and David Amigoni (1996) have adapted and developed Bakhtin’s notion of discourse as in potentially reciprocal relationship between speaker and imagined social audience, arguing that studies of Life-writing have hitherto failed to illuminate ‘with whom many men were discursively engaged—neither whom they were addressing, ultimately, nor whom they were not’ (1994:5). Certainly, the patient reconstruction of shifting and mutually activating constituencies can enable us to collapse the ‘embarrassed distance’ at which some Victorian Lives now appear to stand from the controversies they engendered (Amigoni 1996:137). Liz Stanley, for her part, draws on the techniques of feminist cultural politics to observe Life-writing as ‘ideological accounts of lives which in turn feed back into everyday understandings of how “common lives” and “extraordinary lives” can be recognised’ (1992:3). In common with other contemporary xcommentators, Stanley argues that individuals’ lives and behaviours are more intelligible when ‘located through their participation in a range of overlapping social groups’. She also notes the interplay of biography and autobiography in the evolution of individual Lives (214). Regenia Gagnier, influenced by socalled Critical Legal Studies, adopts a ‘pragmatic’ approach to representations of subjectivity, which, ‘[i]nstead of evaluating the truth of a statement…considers what it does. Thus pragmatism seeks to locate the purpose an autobiographical statement serves in the life and circumstances of its author and readers’ (1990:4). Meanwhile in their work on, respectively, nineteenth-century autobiographical criticism and Victorian biography, Laura Marcus (1994) and David Amigoni (1993) have attempted to revive the social dimension ofLife-writing by relocating it within on-going battles between the emergent disciplines of literary criticism and, in the former case, the social sciences; in the latter, history. In these disputes, Marcus notes, auto/biography figures variously as a topic for
study, as a resource and as an epistemological issue (1994:9–10). Other scholars have attributed Victorian anxieties about biography and autobiography to the professionalization of letters and the development of literary celebritism (Poovey 1989; Hamilton 1993); to the passing of copyright legislation in 1842 and the consequent intensified pressure on the widows and children of well-known authors to commission (or write) a biography as part of their management of a literary estate (Hamilton 1993:vii, 144);21 and to the congealing of the Victorian cult of respectability and the ideology of individualism (Kijinski 1991:213– 15). Stefan Collini has contextualized the conception and compilation of the original DNB, along with similar large-scale biographical projects such as John Morley’s ‘English Men of Letters’ series, within an important phase in the construction of ‘Englishness’. Such enterprises, he claims, were part of the evolution of new forms of nationalism based on cultural specificity and historical continuity rather than, as before, on the cult of imperial might (Collini 1991:311–74; Erben 1993). While all these new ways of thinking about Lives will prove to be relevant to the auto/biographical theories, practices and debates discussed in this book, they do not, either separately or together, unsnarl the rhetoric of the Mausoleum Book, nor exhaust the fears and desires so profusely unleashed by my other case study, the publication of Froude’s Carlyle. However, a significant consequence of this shift of focus has been a relaxation of efforts satisfactorily to define the various genres of Lifewriting, in favour of an investigation of the role such efforts might themselves play in legitimating and challenging what counts as knowledge, truth and authority. Whether they function as history of ideas, literary criticism or sociology of knowledge, what these approaches have in common is a concern to historicize and repoliticize, not only privileged signifiers of expertise, but also categories such as privacy, experience and the personal, in a way that attends to the relations of power within which such categories operate.22 In effect they ask what connections are being forged, and more importantly what repressed, by the ‘and’ in ‘Life and Times of (Broughton and Anderson 1997:xi). Accordingly, my interest here is not in ascertaining whether the Mausoleum Book is ‘virtually an autobiography’ or only ‘incidentally’ an autobiography, nor whether it represents an ‘adequate history’ ofeither Leslie Stephen or his wife. Instead, I wonder what was at stake in Stephen’s efforts to construct and control such boundaries. I have suggested that one of the stakes was heterosexual masculinity, and how, if at all, to represent it. If the soul-searching and spiritual tumult of Brown’s Symonds could perform so faithfully the routines of auto/ biographical subjectivity without finally securing the masculinity of its
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subject, what future was there for Life-writing as a manly endeavour? Would the particular character of late Victorian masculinism, with its emphasis on virtuoso athleticism and virtuoso reserve, prove fatal to male self-history? Was biography a viable alternative? Certainly, the ‘epic’ history of the DNB resounds with the language of manly endeavour, and both Leslie Stephen, and his successor as its editor Sidney Lee, tended to view biography as an expression of national ‘virility’ (Lee 1911:4). That Stephen invested so liberally in the biographical while only ever flirting with the autobiographical may indicate that the threshold between the two had come to mark, for him, one of the limits of homosocial propriety. Yet flirt he did, suggesting that the first person was too pleasurable or too powerful a vantage point to yield up entirely. This should give us pause. For an explicit ideology of masculinity, such as that framed by the idea of ‘manliness’ or of ‘national virility’, may not necessarily give directly on to the scene of male power. This is one of the reasons why, until recently, studies of Victorian manliness and gentlemanliness have as a rule been curiously unhelpful as explorations of gender (Newsome 1961; Girouard 1981; Vance 1985; Hilton 1989). John Tosh makes the point that the best-publicized ideologies of masculinity may, paradoxically, provide least insight into the workings of gender within society, precisely because of men’s social power: ‘As a general rule, those aspects of masculinity which bear most directly on the upholding of that power are least likely to be made explicit. More specifically, men have seldom advertised the ways in which authority over women has sustained their sense of themselves as men’ (Tosh 1994:184).23 For Stephen, as for many of his contemporaries, the act of reminiscing about others was inextricable from the process of remembering the self, even if such memories arose only to be repudiated or belittled. Yet both acts, in this case, were compromised: personal disclosure because it threatened manly self-containment, and biography because its positivist valences seemed ill-matched to the topic ‘wife’. Of the recent studies of the Victorian Life, Martin Danahay’s A Community of One (1993) comes closest to accounting for Stephen’s genre-trouble as a gendered predicament. Like many theorists of the sociality of Life-writing, Danahay sees his subject, autobiography, not as an empiricallyobservable genre with its own rules and conventions, but as a way of understanding the author’s perceived relationship to his/her text. The autobiographical ‘figure of reading’, he argues, can be distinguished from the instances of personal utterance that preceded it by its adherence to the philosophical, legal and social sanctions implicit in the idea of a title page (39–41). Following De Man and Foucault, Danahay argues that a title page assumes the existence of an ‘author’ as an economic category and the possibility of copyright;
hence it defines the text as ‘the property of a single, unique and identifiable individual’ (41). Unlike earlier self-historians such as Augustine or Bunyan, the modern literary autobiographer does not see the didactic force of imitability as the cardinal virtue of the confessional text, attempting instead to distinguish his or her own self from that of all other writers. In order to capitalize upon the surplus value so generated, the autobiographer asserts his or her individuality at the expense of shared values. In the face of the loss of community this involves, the autobiographer strives to ‘discover, or perhaps create, his or her own social context. …Autobiography is founded on the basis of the redefinition of community as society and the creation of a space for the autonomous individual’ (46). At the same time, however, the autonomous individual, bent single-mindedly on the selfish pursuit of its own self-refinement, represents a potential source of anarchy and social disruption. Hence the pattern Danahay discerns in mid-nineteenth-century representations of the masculine subject: The exclusive concentration on the inner workings of a single mind came increasingly to seem dangerously like narcissism or solipsism, so that by the Victorian era writers such as Carlyle, Arnold, and Mill followed an explicit programme of anti-self-consciousness; that is, they deliberately tried to repress the self in favor of what they saw as wider social claims on the individual. (Danahay 1993:19) Implicated as they are in the ideology of masculine autonomy and individualism, however, these authors—in so far as they identify themselves and are identified as authors—can only invoke ‘social claims’ in terms dictated by that ideology. Theirs can never be a real, interdependent community, only a misrecognition of society from the vantagepoint of the (ideal of the) autonomous self. For this reason, autobiographies ‘reduce the social horizon to the interplay of a self and an other’ (14), and in doing so construct the world around an artificialdichotomy between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ realms. To fulfil this misrecognized vision, a lost lover or some other fantasized, feminized image of unalienated labour is invoked to represent the ‘excluded principle of the social’ (3). The debate rehearsed in autobiography between inner and outer, between self and other is, he notes, ‘irreconcilable except at the level of faith. Once you have accepted the premise of an inner as opposed to an outer experience, only a magical fusion can reconcile the two’ (26–7). This leap of faith, this magical fusion, is what Danahay, after Carlyle, denominates ‘anti-self-consciousness’. The autobiographer appears to turn outward towards his ‘other’, only, in effect, to intensify the illusion of his own inwardness: ‘The paradoxical
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nature of this effort is captured in the term [anti-self-consciousness],…since it is an attempt to use the self to overcome the self. Self-consciousness is not denied but reinforced by anti-self-consciousness’ (29).24 Stephen’s ambivalence about the biography of Symonds—his desire both to claim and to reject the quality of inwardness so extravagantly afforded by Brown’s text—offers a crude example of this curious figure of mind. So too do Stephen’s symptomatic gestures of self-effacement, and in particular his almost invariably self-serving accounts of Julia his wife. Although his text is to serve as a gloss on their correspondence to each other during courtship and marriage, providing ‘an authentic record of the most interesting part of my [Stephen’s] life’ (Bell  1977:50), Stephen seldom quotes from Julia’s letters. When he does so, it is usually to illustrate the depth of her devotion to him, and to show how the fact of their love resolved on a spiritual plain their sense of alienation from the world: ‘The letters written in April represent an early stage. She already loves me tenderly; she dreams of me and thinks of me constantly; and declares that my love is a blessing which lightens the burthen of her life’ (51). ‘My darling says in one of her early letters that my love of her is as great a miracle to her as any of the miracles in which I declined to believe’ (95). In many ways, then, the Mausoleum Book richly confirms Danahay’s observations. In its all-too-self-conscious professions of ‘anti-selfconsciousness’; in its validation of masculine autonomy in the guise of a celebration of interdependence; in its laboured disavowal of the self apparently in favour of, but actually at the expense of, a virtually voiceless feminine ‘other’ (Julia); and in its translation of social connections into metaphysical bonds of love, Stephen’s text enacts the dynamics of Danahay’s bourgeois subject almost to the point of parody. Almost, but not quite. Stymied by the conditions of his own subjectivity, Stephen’s plan to commemorate Julia is nevertheless poignantly fulfilled. For once, though only once, Stephen quotes directly and atlength from one of his wife’s letters. Here she reflects on the death of her first husband and her widowhood: ‘You see, dear’ (she says, before our marriage), ‘though I don’t feel as if life had been hard or as if I had not a great deal in it, still it has been different from yours and from most people’s. I was only 24 when it all seemed a shipwreck, and I knew that I had to live on and on, and the only thing to be done was to be as cheerful as I could and do as much as I could and think as little. And so I got deadened. I had all along felt that if it had been possible for me to be myself, it would have been better for me individually; and that I could have got more real life out of the wreck if I had broken down more. But there was
Baby to be thought of and everyone around me urging me to keep up, and I could never be alone which sometimes was such torture. So that by degrees I felt that though I was more cheerful and content than most people, I was more changed.’ (Bell  1977:40)25 It is an extraordinary passage for Stephen to bring to his children’s attention. Julia has achieved the ‘cheerfulness’ of the anti-autobiographer, but not through the struggle with and triumph over the self that marks the anti-self-conscious subject. Rather, she emerges, however briefly, as what I have called elsewhere a ‘failed martyr’ (Broughton 1993). Denied, as a new mother, the luxury of ‘breaking down’, denied even the time and space for self-communing, Julia emerges not into Danahay’s autobiographical ‘community of one’, but into a space of critical difference: she ‘got deadened’ yet is ‘more changed’. The trope of survival, of continuation despite the self, links Julia intertextually to that small company of Victorian women writers who wrote self-histories: to Harriet Martineau (1877) and Annie Besant (1893), for instance. It links her to Margaret Oliphant, whose heart-rending cry after the death of her last surviving child in 1894 was suppressed by her editor in 1899: This morning I said I was dead and felt nothing, now I am all wildly alive, suffering and aching and hardened in my sins, but of my mind not my body, my body is well, well, the horrible thing. I could turn to and work or write a love story or draw or skate or walk a mile— anything, anything—but my burden is more than I can bear. (Oliphant 1990:86) In turn, Stephen’s decision to represent Julia’s consciousness in this way links him—alone in his study, bereaved but ‘strong enough for some little employment’ for the sake of his family—to those faithful widowbiographers so despised by literary history. Bringing Julia back to life is the task Stephen, as husband and now as Life-writer, sets himself. As we shall see in Chapter 2, his strategies are often self-defeating, his efforts misplaced and his results uneven. In this sense he conforms to the Danahayan pattern. Yet the Mausoleum Book is the more fascinating for the failure of Stephen’s efforts to contain and manage the various significant others in his life. His success, ultimately, is less in his own terms than in Julia’s: in allowing her, if only for one brief, shattering paragraph, to be ‘by’ herself. We do not need to appeal to the idea of an ‘autobiographical impulse’ to affirm the difference women’s personal writings made to the Victorian
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masculine Life (Amigoni 1996:136). Lives were written and read dialogically, and the very existence of women’s testimony tended to disconcert the ‘community of one’. Their testimony took many shapes, from personal correspondence to published memoir, from political activism to courtroom deposition. The majority of these interventions survives in highly mediated, often discontinuous forms, forms not obviously recognizable, and certainly not easily legible, as ‘Life and Times’ in the high Victorian sense. Yet it seems clear to me that the proliferation of new modes of Life-writing in the late nineteenth century, and the accompanying anxiety about what ‘autobiography’ and ‘biography’ could and should be, were in part a product of women’s challenges to their ascribed role as forgotten benefactor, redeemer and muse. V We have seen how Danahay’s model of a solipsistic masculine self, though helpful, falls just short of Stephen’s Mausoleum Book subjectivity if only because it cannot account for the disruptive effects of ‘other’ voices. Furthermore, Danahay’s slightly earlier focus means that his model cannot encompass changes Stephen himself helped to pioneer in the 1880s in the relationship between Life-writing and gender. By the time of writing, the Dictionary of National Biography had become a fact of literary life: a fact with enormous consequences for the status and practice of biography. For the span of its active existence, the DNB installed what we might call an ‘auto/biographical mentality’ within a significant swathe of the (mainly but not exclusively University-) educated élite. The new premium on biographical wherewithal—information, skills of historical scholarship, knowledge of genealogy—not only enhanced the cultural capital associated with membership of the ‘aristocracy of intellect’; it also accelerated the chase for resources, subjects and reputations. The phenomenon of ‘birds of prey’ circling over the remains of the literary dead had long been familiar; the difference wrought by the DNB was that they now hovered by appointment, as routine, and took their victims in strict alphabetical order. This atmosphere exacerbated what Andrew Lang called the biographer’s ‘general sense of injury’ (1897:II 3) in the face of potential and actual rivals for the ‘truth’, and attenuated the autobiographer’s sense of selfdetermination. In this context, auto/biographical subjectivity was frequently dispersed across heterogeneous understandings of genre, as well as across multiple and sometimes contradictory versions of the family. By the end of the century, in effect, autobiography was seldom just a ‘figure of reading’, rather it was a transferential relationship: a figure of reading and being
read. Stephen’s concern for his fate should he ‘die before the dictionary reaches [his] name’ is simply an acute expression of a more general apprehension. Of course, to interpret the Dictionary as an instrument of paranoia one has to read against the grain of DNB legend, which has, understandably, stressed its positive and positivist complexion. Michael Erben’s recent claim that the DNB is ‘the single finest achievement of nationally representative collective biography ever produced’ is indisputable. Celebrating this ‘monument to Victorian industry and urbane scholarship’ (1993:121), Erben recounts the story of wealthy publisher George Smith, whose combination of business acumen, affability and literary taste led him to give vital early support to many struggling writers (most famously to Thackeray and the Brontës); whose dream was to make a lasting contribution to English literature by defraying the vast expense of a great national reference work; and whose friendship with and employment of Leslie Stephen as editor led to one of the most impressive collaborations between commerce and art in literary history. This story has become part of the mythology of Victorian letters, and most descriptions of the Dictionary as a social practice and as an institution take their keynotes from its ‘heroic’ genesis in generosity, industry and team work. Contemporary tributes to Smith emphasized his contribution to an idea of national identity independent of, or rather disarticulated from, party, sect or state: a form of orchestrated anti-self-consciousness. Chapter 1 will examine the ethics and aesthetics of Dictionary work from Stephen’s point of view. His extraordinary achievement as editor,however, was to some degree the result of his success in maintaining a reputation for liberality and fairness—indulgence even—towards the views and idiosyncrasies of both contributors and their subjects, however unsympathetic he might find them personally. As Fred Maitland pointed out, this suggested a broad—even pluralist—conception of the kinds of opinion that ‘might fairly claim to be national’, even if the result reflected ‘the confusion of the national mind’ (1906:368). This reputation for irreproachable fairness extended to Stephen’s own Dictionary writing, which was acclaimed as a model of judiciousness and grace. If a man’s life was worth writing, so the afterdinner joke went, let Mr Leslie Stephen survive him. Let them imagine what a glow Mr Leslie Stephen would cast over his vices—(laughter)—so that posterity would say, ‘What a charming fellow this man must have been in spite of his faults!’ (Laughter) Then his virtues would have been reproduced in such pleasing colours that they would have said,
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‘What a noble fellow this man must have been! What might he have done if he had had greater opportunities!’ (Anon. 1894:10) Such traditions are as interesting for the light they cast on the DNB as a collective fantasy, as for the insights they provide into Stephen’s editorial expertise. The image of Stephen training a generation of scholars ‘in the Dictionary, by the Dictionary, for the Dictionary’ enabled commentators to visualize the enterprise in the familiar imagery of the homosocial: ‘just as [Stephen] “made” the Trinity Hall boat that “went head”, though he was a poor oarsman, so I believe that he would have “made” a good historical crew even had he been a poor historian’ (Maitland 1906:366–7). Sporting and military metaphors abound in authorized versions of DNB history, and in many ways this is a viable representation of what we might call Dictionary ambience. The public face of the DNB—the face presented at public events and in the press—was overwhelmingly masculine, uppermiddle-class, university-educated and steeped in the higher journalism of the day. Addressing the group of prominent (male) contributors at the Jubilee dinner, Edward Maunde Thompson quipped that: ‘They might be quite sure that whilst they had been talking to their friends they had been taking mental notes of what they had said, with a view of some little anecdote to be handed down to posterity.’ When he entered the room, his speech went on, he noticed certain glances directed towards him, and he involuntarily directed certain glances towards those whom he observed. As he sat down a peculiar glance proceeded from the eye of the Dean of Westminster, such as he had not seen since the days when he sat under his lash. (Laughter.) He meant when he sat under his eyelash in the fifth form at Rugby. (Renewed laughter.) He also saw a truculent glance proceeding from the eye of Sir Theodore Martin. He was sure that they had all found the same thing as they sat by their neighbours. A man looked into the face of a man and said, ‘shall I have your life or will you have mine?’ (Laughter.) They did not address their friends with the conventional courtesy of the highwayman, ‘Your money or your life,’ but it was, ‘Your life, and I will make money by it.’ (Anon. 1894:9–10) The dinner, and Thompson’s speech, attest to the self-conscious deployment of a gratifying image of Dictionary culture as united and self-selecting: the spectacle of two generations of a public school, Oxbridge and clerical élite meeting with a common national purpose. We sense the strong element of
clubability and the homosocial—even faintly homoerotic—satisfactions of DNB involvement: satisfactions cut across by the disreputable fact that money changed hands between members of the club. Finally we sniff the collective paranoia generated by a notion of national identity and pride based on the past, and, by extension, on the dead. As one wit put it, the DNB was ‘Who’s Who (the undertaker intervening)’ (‘Stephen and Lee’ 1901:4). The ‘grand storehouse of national reputations’ may have been a monument to Victorian endeavour and British achievement, but like many another grand edifice, it had defensive as well as commemorative functions. Although most of the DNB business papers and letters were destroyed after George Smith’s death in 1901, the production of the Dictionary was a huge, well-organized cultural event lasting over ten years, and as such it was extensively discussed in the periodical press and in private correspondence. Because of this, it has been possible to reconstruct many of the editorial practices adopted by the Dictionary team, including how they arrived at a list of candidates, and what criteria they developed to narrow down that list into a manageable and representative set of names for inclusion. For the first volume, the ‘A’s, existing reference works were scoured for possible names (encyclopaedias, for instance, and the results of preliminary research on an earlier, abandoned dictionary under the auspices of publisher JohnMurray) and a list was agreed among the team (the editors and their assistants). For subsequent volumes, a preliminary selection of about a thousand names was mooted in the periodical the Athenaeum and further suggestions and emendations were solicited from its readership. (A characteristic anecdote is of a list for inclusion of fourteen hundred hymn-writers sent by a clergyman.) The results were then boiled down again by Stephen and his successor Sidney Lee, and matched with relevant experts (Maitland 1906; Fenwick 1989, 1990). Some of their criteria were explicit and commonsensical. To summarize, entrants had to be dead, had to have been ‘real’ rather than legendary, and had to qualify as ‘noteworthy’. As a general rule, this meant that they had to have done more than just write a book about something. Lee spoke of operating an ‘Aristotelian’ definition of potential eminence, arguing that no man’s life should be admitted to a collection of national biography that did not present at least one action that was ‘serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude’ (Lee 1896:24). ‘No statistics are needed,’ he added, ‘to prove that women’s opportunities of distinction were infinitesimal in the past, and are very small compared to men’s— something like one to thirty—at the present moment’ (28). That there is something cyclical about this definition of distinction should not surprise us:
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Victorian women were not expected to achieve the sort of recognition which DNB entry requires. Scholarship, creativity, preeminence and fame were not the realm of the angel in the house, and personal qualities, the feminine ideal, were not the stuff of a work of reference. (Fenwick 1994:23)26 Flexible in many other ways, the Dictionary necessarily remained tied to historically specific, and profoundly gendered assumptions about work, effort, achievement, heroism and sacrifice. Such assumptions informed the myth of the Dictionary as well as its contents. The DNB, so the narrative went, was the outcome of an epic struggle in which Stephen triumphed over impossible deadlines, quelled the ‘insane verbosity’ of contributors, curbed the pedantry of antiquarians and rooted out the errors and lies of impostors, finally working himself into an early grave. Stephen’s own Dictionary rhetoric, faithfully preserved by his biographer, casts it as a monster: a ‘diabolical piece of machinery, always gaping for more copy’ (Maitland 1906:394). That the Dictionary was the result of a giant donation of essentially selfless but innately heroic labour—on the part of Stephen himself, and on the part of theteam as a whole—was very much part of its mystique. (In their preface to DNB spoof Lives of the ’Lustrious, the editors proudly boast that ‘No pains have been taken by the editors to make this Dictionary at once authoritative and exhausting’ [‘Stephen and Lee’ 1901:3].) The effect of this narrative of selfless labour, intentionally or not, is to distract attention from other aspects of the Dictionary as a production: biography as paid work, for instance, or as negotiated text. Gillian Fenwick’s invaluable bibliographical work on Leslie Stephen, and on the DNB and its Supplements, disaggregates this bland public image, and, by affording us access to the micropolitics of Dictionary work, enables us to glimpse its seamier side. This version finds the editorial team, Stephen and his coadjutor and successor Sidney Lee, and the legions of contributors they co-ordinated, bumping up against recent developments in a range of fields: the regulation of intellectual property through the passing and enforcement of copyright acts; the increasing specialization of research inside and outside the reformed universities; the employment of women as ‘typewriters’, and so on. George Smith’s philanthropy and Leslie Stephen’s selfless devotion to the task are important parts of the story, but Fenwick reveals much more that deserves investigation. For one thing, Fenwick’s research indicates that a considerable number of the more prolific DNB writers made ‘something of a living’ from the project (Fenwick 1994:8). For another, her work throws up a fascinating array of quantitative data concerning the role of women in the project: the numbers of entries by women along with their subjects,
dates and so on; the number about women, and their historical spread; the number of entries on women by men; and the occupational breakdown of female entrants. Of the 696 contributors to the first series of the Dictionary and its 1901 Supplements, forty-five were women. From circumstantial evidence, Fenwick argues that in at least one case (that of Elizabeth Lee, Sidney’s sister) a female contributor may have published under the name, and perhaps the guidance, of a male relative (1994:5–6). For the most part the female contributors, as we might expect, seem to have been responsible for the Lives of personal connexions: titled ladies memorializing titled ancestors, or close female relatives of Dictionary men offering the Life of a distinguished woman of their acquaintance. Thus, Stephen’s wife Julia ‘did’ her aunt, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, and, as we shall witness in Chapter 2, his sister-in-law Anny Thackeray Ritchie undertook Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But there are tantalizing exceptions to this pattern: Mary Bateson wrote 108 entries, Elizabeth Lee at least 81, Lydia Miller Middleton 207, Kate Norgate 44, Bertha Porter 156, Mrs A.Murray Smith 81 and Charlotte Fell-Smith astaggering 231. Some women contributors were professional writers in fields other than biography; some specialized in biography; most wrote one or two Lives only. Fenwick’s evidence suggests that female contributors were by no means a unified group or community, and as far as I can establish, women did not attend most public Dictionary functions. Unlike the self-conscious networks of male contributors, women contributors conformed to no standard profile. Some were self-educated, others had attended one or other of the new schools and colleges for women. Only a very few seem to have had feminist allegiances. When one considers that Stephen’s insistence on ‘brevity, scholarship, punctuality and businesslike precision’ was said to have provided the first induction in research skills to a generation of future professors of history (Maitland 1906:370), one is bound to ask, not why so few women, but how so many women—women who were, as far as we can tell, often relative strangers to publication—were emboldened to offer their time and effort to the Dictionary, and to submit to Stephen’s exacting editorial scrutiny. Fenwick’s calculations show that women wrote proportionately fewer of the articles on women than did their male counterparts. From this Fenwick infers, with evident reluctance, that the majority of women who wrote for the Dictionary did not do so because they felt passionately about women in history or about their female contemporaries. Most women contributors wrote only a few articles, and those articles were on men. (Fenwick 1994:6)
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Disappointing as this pattern might be from a feminist perspective, Fenwick’s work nevertheless provides an intriguing three-dimensional diagram of the gendered construction of eminence in the late Victorian period: three-dimensional in that it charts not only who designed, and who executed, that construction, but also who was so constructed, and by whom. More importantly, it helps us map some of the ways these planes— the aesthetic, the ethnographic and the historiographic—were, and were not, linked along gender lines in the (re)writing of Englishness. If there was such a thing as Dictionary culture, then, it was profoundly and asymmetrically gendered. More men wrote for the DNB, and at greater length, than women, and the vast majority of their subjects were male. Until the early years of the twentieth century, the editorial team was also male. What was clearly for men mainly a homosocial experience among a relatively uniform, if geographically dispersed, élite, was for women a predominantly heterosocial process. Spread more thinly both in terms of geography and numbers, women contributors tended to focus on male subjects, often male relatives, dealt with men as sponsors and editors, and wrote according to masculinist biographical paradigms. It is worth pointing out, for instance, that both the editors regarded ‘private affection’ for one’s subject—such as one might have for a relative—as a serious disadvantage in the writing of biography (Lee 1911:16). Given their structurally eccentric relation to the project as a whole, it is remarkable that these women undertook what was often their only—though sometimes their first—foray into print in such a very public medium. It was perhaps because Dictionary work was so intensively mediated by men that it appealed to inexperienced women writers. Whereas an eminent male historian such as T.F.Tout could opine of a female contributor (in this instance Newnham academic Mary Bateson) that she was ‘unduly modest in postponing continuous literary composition’, spending instead ‘many years in editing, calendaring and compiling’ (DNB Supp. 2 I:111), a middle-class woman may have been inclined to find safety in the supposed ‘modesty’ of Dictionary work. Indeed she was more likely to say, as Lady Huggins did of another DNB writer Agnes Clerke, that ‘[Clerke] understood that the half may be better than the whole; that the art of doing, consists, greatly, in—not doing’ (Huggins 1907:7). Huggins went on to sketch the credentials of a new kind of ‘special worker’: Their mission is to collect, collate, correlate, and digest the mass of observations and papers—to chronicle, in short, on one hand; and on the other, to discuss and suggest, and to expound: that is, to prepare materials for experts, and at the same time to inform and interest the general public. (Huggins 1907:16–17)
Contributing to the DNB involved much calendaring, compiling, collecting, collating, correlating, digesting and editing: tasks commonly seen as inferior, because auxiliary, to the processes of literary composition. For this reason, it may have been seen as a form of professional activity compatible with ideologies of middle-class femininity. That such work, however modest, helped to forward an explicitly patriotic endeavour may also have enhanced its appeal. Ironically, Stephen as editor was continually immersed in such tasks, and many of his essays strive to reclaim them as manly (see Chapter 1). And as a commentary on a calendar of a correspondence, the Mausoleum Book itself could not but appear a demure handmaiden of biography. VI This book investigates the dialectical relationship between late nineteenthcentury developments in Life-writing and changing forms of cultural authority, especially in so far as that relationship illuminates the way hegemonic masculinities work. John Tosh has argued convincingly that ‘masculinity, considered as a social status, demonstrated in specific social contexts’ rather than as ‘a set of cultural attributes’, depends on the public affirmation of male power in three interconnected areas: home, work and allmale associations. By the first he means a man’s ability to set up and provide for his own household, and his authority over the conduct and labour of its inhabitants, paid and otherwise. The second involved, in the nineteenth century, not only the power to maintain an appropriate standard of living for oneself and one’s dependants, but also an ideal of self-determination and freedom from patronage. And the third, all-male associations, embodied ‘men’s privileged access to the public sphere, while simultaneously reinforcing women’s confinement to household and neighbourhood’ (Tosh 1994: 184–6). More importantly, he claims that ‘the precise character of masculine formation at any time is largely determined by the balance struck between these three components’ considered as a linked, and inherently unstable, system (187). Tosh notes a shift between the early Victorian period, when, for the middle classes, the ‘ideology of domesticity raised the profile of home life far beyond its traditional place in men’s lives, and hence posed in an acute form the conflict between the private and public constituents of masculinity’, and the two last decades of the century, when ‘domesticity was increasingly associated with ennui, routine and feminine constraint’. The results, he suggests, are detectable in a renewed interest in homosocial activities such as sport and gentlemen’s
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clubs (188). The point of this configuration is that increased stress on one area of masculine authority, whether by its proponents or opponents, could lead to stress in the other(s), and hence to shifts in the character—and experience—of male power. This triangular way of thinking about masculinity seems to me a way out of the impasse characteristic of much work on Victorian men: the tendency to see gender only in locations where women are specified presences (such as the domestic sphere); never in the places which appear to exclude them yet are often the ‘bastions’ of male power (public schools, for instance); and only in contested sites (such as the workplace) in so far as they are, explicitly, contested by women. As paid work, usually conducted within a heterosexual domestic context yet conforming to a fantasy of homosociality, Life-writing by and aboutmen of letters offers abundant scope for a study of literary masculinity along the lines Tosh sketches. So, for example, Stephen’s opening gambit in the Mausoleum Book both enacts and alludes to several different understandings of the term ‘Life’, from the hefty Life and Letters à la Brown’s Symonds, to the brief Dictionary entry and the informal reminiscence. The very fluency with which Stephen deploys these terms and the distinctions they embody is a marker of his expertise in a rapidly expanding field. Another such marker is his ability to regulate the circulation of biographical information—both within the family and between the family and putative biographers. Such credentials secure his rights as breadwinner and head of household, while proclaiming his domination of his profession, and hence, by extension, his merits as potential biographee. At the same time, however, we find Stephen struggling to balance his conscious mastery as biographer with the anti-selfconsciousness required of him as private autobiographer and clubable friend. As Tosh notes, however, his model’s emphasis on social status poses a number of challenges to the historian of gender. One is the problem of relating any given constellation of masculine ideals to the subjective identity of men as mediated by conscious and unconscious experiences (such as those associated with having, or lacking, gendered parents), and as informed by the contestatory dynamics of hegemony. Another, related problem is that of conceiving of ‘the relation between the discursive and the social when dealing with structures of power that often remained hidden’ (Tosh 1994:194–8). For these reasons I have found it useful, while keeping in mind this tripartite understanding of masculinity, to supplement it with paradigms derived from the study of literary texts: with Mary Poovey’s account of masculinity as narrative outlined in Uneven Developments (1989), for instance, and with Eve Sedgwick’s re-working of the idea of gender relations as ‘erotic triangles’ (1985). I am assisted, too,
by the inherent complexity of the phenomenon under discussion. As we have seen in the opening of the Mausoleum Book and the fêting of the DNB, the scene of Life-writing dramatized both the subjectivity incurred in the transaction of auto/biographical contracts, and the pressure exerted by that subjectivity on the social construction of authority. The need to relate the social to the subjective has informed my decision to juxtapose the auto/biographical writings of Leslie Stephen with the controversy generated by Froude’s work on Carlyle. As Chapters 3–5 reveal, Stephen, like most literary Life-writers at the turn of the century, found himself mesmerized by the fall from grace of the ‘Sage of Chelsea’. Thomas Carlyle was the archetypal self-made man ofletters, whose heroic celebration of work, and whose trajectory from a household of rural artisans to metropolitan artistic and aristocratic circles, and from relative poverty and obscurity to fame and influence, had made the story of his life seem indestructibly poetic. Yet after his death in 1881, Carlyle’s reputation deteriorated amid a squabble over whether ‘he had any right to indulge in the delight of a witty wife, and yet indulge in his idiosyncrasy of only having one cheap servant’ (Ellen Gully, quoted in Ireland 1891:221). Plunged into grief and remorse after Julia’s death, Leslie Stephen found himself weighing many of the issues of domestic accountability and propriety that had obsessed Carlyle in his own widowhood, and which now kindled the debate around his biography. I would suggest, however, that the analogy between the Froude-Carlyle controversy and the Mausoleum Book is more fundamental than mere similarity of mood, theme or circumstance. The struggles over gender, class, profession and homosociality we shall see played out at a social level in and through the Carlyles’ biographies condition Stephen’s auto/biographical ‘I’, so that the tensions and generic revisions accommodated by the controversy as a whole are here enacted as subjectivity. Leslie Stephen’s writings exemplify at the level of individual subjectivity what the Froude-Carlyle controversy was suggesting of middleclass masculinities more generally: that Life-writing was as much about improvising gender identities as it was about commemorating manly men. VII Neither Stephen’s express wish for privacy, nor the fact that his children respected it, need discourage us from circumventing that privacy by regarding it as socially shaped and historically conditioned. As we have seen, the Mausoleum Book’s injunctions to confidentiality contained loopholes, and those loops linked both the text, and the injunctions, to specific social practices (the writing of obituaries; the transmission of wills, estates and trusteeship; the commissioning of literary biography; the giving
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and receiving of paternal advice) as well as to prevailing beliefs about reputation, discretion, eminence, expertise and authority. These in turn linked Stephen’s intimate, grief-stricken ejaculations to debates about professionalism, nationalism and the family. The ‘private’, in other words, was even then contingent upon, and only provisionally separable from, the ‘public’. For the record, however, this was the fate of the Mausoleum Book. Shortly after Sir Leslie Stephen’s death in 1904, Frederic Maitland was granted access to the ‘document’ about whose fate, ten years earlier,Stephen had been so perplexed. Maitland was to be undeterred by all the disapproving hints or by the supposed lack of materials for a Life. The five hundred pages of his Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen (1906) contributed substantially to the already considerable volume of articles, appreciations and notices about his mentor. What is more, the Life and Letters is perfectly recognizable as the very ‘set Life’ against which Stephen had claimed to be so implacably opposed. Sensing, no doubt correctly, the presence of a gauntlet behind the Stephen’s muffler, Maitland dipped into the Mausoleum Book while researching his biography and quoted from it as cautiously as Stephen could have desired; so did Noël Annan for his 1951 Leslie Stephen; so did Stephen’s grandson Quentin Bell when writing the Life of Virginia Woolf for the (Woolf-founded) Hogarth Press in 1972. Maitland’s Life and Letters was issued by Stephen’s stepson’s publishing house Duckworth and Co.; the Hogarth Press in turn reissued Stephen’s reminiscences Some Early Impressions in 1924. The Mausoleum Book itself was sold to the British Museum for the benefit of the London Library in 1973 (Bell 1977:v) and was finally published in full in 1977. Until then, Stephen’s memories were kept more or less where he wanted them: in the family.
1 ON THE WIRE Leslie Stephen, Life-writing and the art of forgetting
I A biographer has, of course, to lay down his framework, to settle all the dates and the skeleton of facts; but to breathe real life into it he must put us into direct communication with the man himself; not tell us simply where he was or what he was seen to do, but put him at one end of a literary telephone and the reader at the other. The author should, as often as possible, be merely the conducting wire. (Stephen  1956:140) Wire, wires and wiriness were as arresting to the nineteenth-century imagination as wirelesses would be to the modernists—and as the Internet is today. When, in the Mausoleum Book, Leslie Stephen tried to describe the physical prowess he had enjoyed in his student days, he placed the perfectly respectable and elderly word ‘wiry’ in scare quotes as if conscious of a certain modish slanginess. ‘Wiry’ captured for him the surprising paradox that he had been spare, even frail, in body, yet capable and commanding where stamina was required: ‘I could walk and run long distances and I coached the boat till it became head of the river’ (Bell  1977:6). Today we take it for granted that something as fragile as a wire can conduct electricity and can communicate over long distances, enabling things to happen at great remove. For Stephen it was remarkable. The wider cultural resonance of wire can be glimpsed in its use, from the mid-century onwards, as a colloquial metonym for ‘telegraphic message’. As Iwan Rhys Morus has shown, the telegraph had had a profound effect on the Victorian culture of communication, requiring new norms of linguistic interaction, commodifying information, and,like the railways to whose destiny it was originally yoked,1 redefining time, space and the relationship
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between the centre and the periphery. The wiriness of early telegraphy had, furthermore, provided an exciting new way of imagining the body’s nervous system, which in turn generated novel metaphors for the bodies politic and commercial (Morus 1996:372–5). Like ‘wiriness’, the phrase ‘sending a wire’ retained for Stephen a faintly racy air, as Susan Buchan’s reminiscences of childhood reveal: I wish that I could recall more of the brilliant things [Leslie Stephen] said in his low sad voice. I can only recall that he often talked of his children and that one day he said to me, ‘my daughter Virginia is a great purist about language, she does not like us to use the word “wire”. We always have to say “telegram”.’ ‘What a shocking little prig I must have been’ was Virginia Woolf’s comment (Buchan 1954:77).2 Even so, the anecdote suggests that many years after its invention and proliferation as a system of message-sending, ‘the wire’ refused to freeze as a metaphor; refused to shed its aura of novelty and modernity. How striking, then, that Leslie Stephen should have chosen to symbolize biography—his own profession at the time—as a ‘conducting wire’ between reader and subject. More startling still, perhaps, is his choice of telephony, an even newer technology than telegraphy, as his model of ‘direct’ biographical ‘communication’. This chapter will ask what the telephone might have meant to Stephen’s early readers, as well as to Stephen in particular, and hence what his use of the metaphor signified for his theories of biography. I will then explore the implications of all this for his own auto/biographical practice. The sense of mastery and confidence that enabled Stephen so readily to coin metaphors for biography seems, at first glance, quite at odds with the distracted meandering we have found in the Mausoleum Book. I want to suggest, however, that these two modes of ‘thinking biography’ represent for him two ends of the same generic wire. First, however, the image of the biographer-as-literary-telephone needs to be set in its immediate context. II The essay in which the telephone metaphor appears, ‘Biography’, was first published in the National Review in 1893. Two years earlier, Stephenhad retired as editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, and the essay was one of a number written around this time in which he reviewed his work on the Dictionary and reflected on the years he had spent reading and writing Lives.3 Stephen seldom lost an opportunity to expound his thoughts about biography, and his opinions have been preserved in many
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forms: in editorial advice and directives to other, often junior, practitioners of the genre; in private letters to intellectual peers; in reviews; in autobiographical reminiscences of a laborious life and, by implication, in his own biographical practice. But it was in the ersatz repose of literary journalism—in the essays collected as Studies of a Biographer (1898–1902) —that he allowed himself the luxury of meditating on biography from the vantage point of an acknowledged expert. As we witnessed in the Introduction, Stephen’s strong sense of biographical taste had fulfilled many different roles in his life in the preceding decade. As a means of disseminating good practice and ensuring evenness of approach and tone among multitudes of contributors, it had helped him to run the cumbersome machinery of the Dictionary efficiently As an aesthetic it had formed the basis of his professional mystique, lending a certain cachet to his own literary verdicts. Precisely because biography was so deeply and intricately embedded in many of his masculine identities (as jobbing editor and servant of the nation, professional literary historian, traditional man of letters, leisured private reader, and as memorialist of friends, family and literary peers) his ideas about the genre often seem flexible to the point of inconsistency rather than strictly systematic. Certainly they grew more elaborate over time and varied in emphasis depending on their intended audience. For all that, they make up a body of work that oozes genial know-how. Only Leslie Stephen could get away with the assertion, however tongue-in-cheek, that his own masterwork, the Dictionary of National Biography, was the ‘most amusing book in the language’ ( 1956:128). In article after article, Stephen wielded this kind of authority, appealing to his reputation as practitioner, his experience as editor and his personal enthusiasm as reader of biography to justify a series of edicts on the rights and wrongs, the pleasures and dangers, of Life-writing. As biographer and dictionary-maker, then, Stephen codified an aesthetic whose power was so pervasive as to seem like common sense. Unquestionably his pronouncements drew on some of the most powerful normative discourses of the day: on patriotism, realism and manliness, to name but the more obvious. As we shall see from his essay ‘Biography’, however, apparent truisms such as that ‘[t]he book shouldbe the man himself speaking or acting, and nothing but the man’ or that readers need ‘something, with a beginning, middle, and end, which can cheat us for the time into the belief that we are really in the presence of a living contemporary’ (Stephen  1956:142, 144) were actually the culmination of painstaking argument. In this essay he muses on the particular challenges of ‘Biography in the dictionary form’, comparing it for delicacy and economy to the work of the
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sonneteer. Reflecting on the advantages of Dictionary discipline, he on the one hand exhorts would-be Dictionary biographers to aim for meticulousness, concision and rhetorical restraint, and on the other encourages them to endeavour, through careful selection and emphasis, to recreate the ‘little drama’ of a human life (130). Biography is, in other words, both a science and an art. Stephen employs an intricate web of metaphors to link the scientific and artistic aspirations of the Dictionary biographer. Chief among these are the motifs of condensation, concentration and compression. Dictionary biography, like the sonnet, entails attention to detail and technical mastery, and as such requires a similar temperament and skills –and yields comparable rewards—to other forms of precision engineering. Other metaphors, from myth, medicine and industry, are invoked to reinforce this central idea: unlike the ‘smart columnist’ who knows how to ‘beat out a single remark into a column of epigrams’, the Dictionary-maker, by ‘condensation of the less important parts’ should ‘coax the column of smoke back into the original vase’ (130); he should read all the existing Lives of his subject and ‘boil them down into the necessary limits’. Stephen as editor would take hold of an exuberant biographer and ‘condens[e] his sentiment by a little cold water, and squeez[e] his half-dozen pages into half-a-column’ (131). Some have even professed gratitude for this ‘surgery’. The imperative to condense is of course vital to Dictionary work, but has a much wider application in an era of proliferating information: In these days, when we have decided, as it seems, that nothing is to be forgotten, two things are rapidly becoming essential—some literary condensing machine, and a system of indexing. Our knowledge, that is, requires to be concentrated and to be arranged. (Stephen  1956:131) Warming to his theme, he describes a panicky Carlylean nightmare of more or less trivial facts: a world increasingly overshadowed by ‘gigantic piles of “shot rubbish” ’: a ‘chaos of materials‘ from which the Dictionarybiographer must ‘sift the relevant’ (132).4 The biographer’s task of refinement involves reorganization, filtering and reconstitution: He is trying to bring into some sort of order, alphabetical at least, the chaos of materials which is already so vast and so rapidly accumulating. To write a life is to collect the particular heap of rubbish in which his material is contained, to sift the relevant from the superincumbent mass, and then try to smelt it and cast it into its natural mould. (Stephen  1956:132)
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Biography, for Stephen, exists at the interface of the material and the ideological: it consists of ‘matter’ which has a ‘natural’ form; but to arrive at something approaching that form the biographer must decide ‘what matters’. Once again, the liminal status of biography is suggested metaphorically: industrial-sounding language blurs with Cellini-esque images of artistic creation. What such metaphorical slippages make clear is that, despite having been the editor of a great work of reference, and in an important sense a champion of referentiality, Leslie Stephen was as familar as anyone with the epistemological crux of the biographer. As Graham McCann has put it, ‘For a fact to exist in a biography it needs an imaginative as well as a referential dimension which the process of writing provides. For a biography to refer to other constituents of society, a turn to other disciplines must occur, a divining of generalities’ (McCann 1991:329). Hence, for Stephen, the task of the biographer is only partly one of information management, of the selecting and re-ordering of facts from ‘out there’ according to agreed criteria. Extracting the really ‘telling’ fact from the mass of inessential ones requires artistic vision and ‘fine tact’ (Stephen  1956:142). But Stephen goes further than simply appealing to the aesthetic dimension of the genre. His is no Romantic notion of artistic creation; rather it is, in its own way, as austerely technological as his view of biographical materialism. In so far as the practice of biography involves reconciling the individual with the universal, it is a process of disciplining both the materials at hand and the biographer himself. If ‘fire were a discreet element’, able to tell the petty and contemptible from the valuable, then Stephen might consider letting it loose upon that ‘externalised memory of the race’, the British Museum. Since it is not, the biographer must learn to ‘forget’ most of what he knows about his subject. Again the task of the Dictionary biographer is exemplary: ‘Now, the writer of an ideal dictionary life would…manage to say everythingwhile apparently saying nothing; to give all the facts demanded from him; to give nothing but the facts; and yet to make the facts tell their own story’ (130). This question of narrative reticence is related to what Stephen sees as the ‘great crux’ facing all biographers: whether to give a pure narrative of his own, or to let the hero ‘talk’ to the reader through contemporary documents and evidence. His own preference is for the latter: for the vocal immediacy of Boswell’s Johnson or Carlyle’s Cromwell. Ideally, the narrator himself should be as little in evidence as possible; indeed his ‘main purpose’ should be ‘the construction of an autobiography’. The biographer ‘should sternly confine himself to his functions as introducer; and should give no more discussion than is clearly necessary for making the book an independent whole’ (129,141).
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It gradually becomes clear that, for Stephen, the ‘natural’ element of biographic portraiture—its ring of authenticity—is a function of the biographer’s skill as a mediator rather than simply a quality of the materials. Authencity, it transpires, is the result of a complex technology of the biographer-as-subject for which the appropriate metaphors are not aesthetic but forensic. Like the ‘skilful advocate’, the biographer should appear to be simply relating a plain narrative ‘when he is really dictating the verdict’ (130). The regime of the courtroom is a bracing one. ‘If facts are wanting’, the ideal biographer refrains from exuberant ‘might-have-beens’, trusting to his reader to read the moral lessons between the lines of what is actually known. By stringently adhering to ‘the facts and nothing but the facts’, in the defendant’s own words, the biographer-cum-advocate can ‘tacitly insinuate’ his verdict to the reader.5 Fidelity to nature is thus, paradoxically, integral to the act of interpretation: ‘matter’ and ‘what matters’, objectivity and subjectivity, are effects of the same biographical discipline. Like a discreet fire sweeping through the British Museum, the Dictionary biographer takes possession of the collective memory, ruthlessly sifting the telling from the trivial: We have to learn the art of forgetting—of suppressing all the multitudinous details which threaten to overburthen the human memory. Our aim should be to present the human soul, not all its irrelevant bodily trappings. The last new terror of life is the habit of ‘reminiscing.’ A gentleman will write a page to tell us that he once saw Carlyle get into an omnibus; and the conscientious biographer of the future will think it a duty to add this fact to his exhaustive museum. (Stephen  1956:140–41) It becomes clear that the Dictionary biographer’s primary requirement to ‘concentrate’ epitomizes the challenge of biography in general. Biography is a discipline involving two distinct but related phases: comprehending information and dispensing with most of it–what Stephen calls ‘forgetting’. Only when the biographer has mastered both skills will his subject appear in his or her ‘natural’ form. Who the writer should be presents another set of problems. Distance in time, space and sympathy disqualify most candidates from the task of biographer, for ‘[n]obody, as Johnson somewhere says, could write a satisfactory life of a man who had not lived in habits of intimacy with him’. But the nature of this intimacy is carefully circumscribed: school friends, school-master and father have agenda of their own and ‘the mother
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—[is] a mother’ (133). The ideal biographer for Stephen is one who has ‘intimate’ knowledge but who is prepared to subordinate the claims of relationship to the need to represent his protagonist as an independent subject speaking for himself. This, as we have seen, means purging his consciousness of ‘bodily trappings’ and ‘reminiscence’. Attainment of this ideal produces that effect of which Carlyle often made such powerful use, the sudden thrill which comes to us when we find ourselves in direct communication with human feeling in the arid wastes of conventional history; when we feel that a real voice is speaking out of ‘the dark backward and abysm’ of the past, and a little island of light, with moving and feeling figures, still standing out amidst the gathering shades of oblivion. (Stephen  1956:136) The passage expresses something of the erotics of Stephen’s ideal biography: we, the readers, ‘feel’ we are in communication with the ‘human feeling’ of ‘moving and feeling figures’ because the biographer has reproduced a ‘real voice’. Once again forgetfulness—this time the ‘gathering shades of oblivion’—is the biographical mise en scène. Like many of the essay’s metaphors, the passage has an eerily modern, almost televisual, air. More fantastic still is this science-fictional description of the biographer as Frankenstein: A biographer has, of course, to lay down his framework, to settle all the dates and the skeleton of facts; but to breathe real life into it he must put us into direct communication with the man himself; not tell us simply where he was or what he was seen to do, but put him at one end of a literary telephone andthe reader at the other. The author should, as often as possible, be merely the conducting wire. (Stephen  1956:140) This startling image, offered almost in passing, sums up the model of biographical subjectivity engendered by the essay as a whole. The apparently straightforward business of putting readers into ‘direct communication with human feeling’, or, as here, into ‘direct communciation with the man himself’, actually depends on a complex process of suppression. The ‘man himself’ must be disembarrassed of ‘irrelevant bodily trappings’ and of the traces of casual reminiscence. He must be reduced to a ‘skeleton’ of facts. The biographer can then administer the kiss of life by becoming…a telephone wire.6
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It is only within the essay’s imagery as a whole that the full force of the telephony metaphor can be felt. Biography, like telephony, should give us access to the subject’s own story in the subject’s own voice, affording the ‘sudden thrill’ of ‘direct communication’. This is, however, no casual or accidental broadcast, but ‘something, with a beginning, middle, and end, which can cheat us for the time into the belief that we are really in the presence of a living contemporary’ (144). It is an effect of immediacy, a disembodied, metaphysical intimacy achieved through the mediation of a technology—the biographer—able to collect the primary data, filter out irrelevant signals or interference, and represent what Stephen calls a ‘speaking likeness’ (141). III So much for how biography could be like telephony. But how and why did telephony itself acquire this particular set of associations for Stephen? In the context of the essay ‘Biography’, as we have seen, Stephen’s literary telephone possesses quite specific connotations. Most of these have to do with the relationship between biographical subject and reader: ideally biography transmits voice, or more accurately the illusion of voice; it affords an effect of closeness, understood both as the annihilation of distance and as a carefully circumscribed mode of intimacy. In a sense the metaphor can be seen as crudely ideological: a way of anchoring the potentially disturbing effects of difference (between subjects, between eras). In other words, it is a way of interpellating (hailing with messages from ‘out there’ and thus calling into being) the reader as an autonomous, liberal individual.7 At the same time, the metaphor articulates a three-way relationship in which the biographer, as medium, has both a role and an interest. Thebiographer-as-wire cuts out extraneous noise and, by a rigorous process of suppression, allows the disembodied communication of feeling from biographee to reader. But there is more to it than this: the ideal biography thrills and surprises by its quasi-magical powers. It may seem perverse to ask how telephones came to have these meanings for a particular man at a particular moment. Surely telephones just ‘are’ all this? As Michèle Martin reminds us, however, a technology may exist as matter in time and space, but does not have predestined uses; rather it has a valence, based on a range of material, ideological and scientific factors (1991:4). In trying to understand Stephen’s allusion, in other words, we must cast aside many of the associations that have subsequently accreted around the telephone—including the assumption that in its formative years it had obvious uses and meanings.8
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For reasons which happen to be obliquely relevant to my larger claims, the permeation of British social life by the telecommunications industry was slow and halting, with the result that for several decades the telephone attracted a relatively attenuated set of connotations. Even though the technology had been invented in the United States in 1876 and was commercially available in Britain very soon afterwards, in the 1890s, when the essay ‘Biography’ was written, the telephone was still unfamiliar and futuristic to most people, and capable of evoking a nervous frisson.9 Stephen was not, therefore, employing a hackneyed metaphor. Social meanings for telephony were still being coined, and several of the applications we take for granted today—the telephone as a medium of casual gossip or erotic confidences—were virtually unthinkable.10 Among its potential uses, broadcasting, surveillance and the efficient sending and receiving of orders and urgent messages prevailed in the public imagination.11 Exclusive and expensive in relation both to other means of communication (the telegraph, the postal service) and to prices in other countries, the telephone of Stephen’s day hardly promised to democratize distance. It seemed more likely to regalvanize existing social distinctions. Moreover, although there is evidence that the apparatus itself—the mouthand ear-pieces—was popularly gendered feminine,12 and although the telephone system was, from quite early on, operated by women, telecommunications, and the relationships upon which they were predicated, had a masculine image.13 Yet for all its apparent conservatism as a social technology, the telephone necessarily challenged existing ways of imagining relationships between speakers and listeners, of thinking about presence and absence, and of conceptualizing time and space.14 Though the public image oftelephony was still unstable, Stephen as a philosopher would have been drawn to the more abstract speculations to which it gave rise: its implications for identity, for instance. As it turns out, by a coincidence that was not an accident, telephony called Leslie Stephen.15 Telephony called Stephen when, as I have intimated, it was interpellating only a minute proportion of his countrymen and women. No single factor can be adduced to explain the slow take-up, and poor image, of the telephone in its early years in Britain. The ‘primitive’ state of the technology was clearly influential: until the batteries were improved around 1894 (Young 1991:32), all talk over the telephone had to be uttered in deafening shouts, often against a background of interference from the atmosphere or from other lines. Other problems—characteristic of most local and national telecommunications networks in their early days—had to do with conflicts of interest between the developers and the potential consumers of the technology.16 But a third set of factors, specific to the
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British case, concerned the highly fraught interaction of a large number of groups with vested interests: between local and national government; between these and the commercial manufacturers and distributors of telephony; between the main political parties and relatedly between the Treasury and Parliament; between the various interested ministries (in particular, the Treasury and the Post Office); and between powerful individuals with a financial, political or ideological stake in the new technology.17 Each of these determinants was shaped by, and shaped in turn, a fourth factor: the early intervention of the state in the definition of British telephony. It was this juncture in the story of the telephone dial caught Leslie Stephen’s attention. When, in 1885, he was commissioned by Millicent Fawcett to write her late husband’s biography, one of the tasks Stephen faced was to summarize his old friend’s achievements during his short period as PostmasterGeneral. Henry Fawcett had come to the job at a particularly volatile moment in the history of the Post Office. The government had, at enormous expense, acquired the monopoly of telegraph business in Britain in 1869, only to find, a decade later, that the spread of the newer voice-based technology, the telephone, was likely seriously to undermine telegraph revenues. In 1879 Fawcett’s predecessor as Postmaster-General had commenced an action against Bell and Edison, the two main telephone companies, on the ground that their activities constituted an infringement of the State monopoly on telegraphic communication. The better to confront this threat, the two companies amalgamated on 13 May 1880, one day before Fawcett’s appointment as Postmaster-General. As Leslie Stephen explained in his Life of HenryFawcett (1885), this matter was ‘amongst the most difficult and delicate of all that engaged [Fawcett’s] attention’. Stephen takes up the story: It became his duty to apply to the courts, who decided (3 December 1880) that a telephonic message was a kind of telegram, and that, consequently, the monopoly was infringed by the companies. The judges added an expression of an opinion, the justice of which was obvious, that companies which had introduced so beautiful an invention into public use, without intentional breach of the law, deserved consideration from the Postmaster-General. They had obviously a moral claim either to compensation or to a license. Fawcett decided upon the latter course, and the companies received a license on terms of paying a royalty of ten per cent, on their gross receipts and restricting themselves to a given area. At the same time, the Post-Office acquired a supply of telephones from other sources and established telephonic exchanges in many large towns. (Stephen 1885:424)
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As Stephen recounts, the consequences of this episode were farreaching. Subsuming telephony within the monopoly on telegraphy allowed the Post Office to accrue revenue from any spread in telephony without sharing the financial risk incurred by the companies themselves. Meanwhile, its hold over the telephonic exchange system tended to discourage competition and ‘crush enterprise directed to the development of the new invention’ (425). Although, in the face of public pressure, Fawcett soon relaxed the Post Office’s more draconian restrictions on the licensing of telephone companies, there remained structural disincentives to the penetration of new regions and the establishment of ‘trunk’ connections. Eventually the amalgamated Bell and Edison companies dug their heels in, and, buying off competitors, refused to extend their business beyond existing boundaries, thereby forcing Fawcett to abandon all restrictions bar the royalty payment and the undertaking to deliver no written messages (426). As Stephen recalls: The companies were at once satisfied, and almost his last official act was the approval of a license embodying these terms. It was signed without alteration by his successor, Mr Shaw Lefevre. [Fawcett’s] last interview at the office was with a gentleman who begged for protection for a small company in which he was much interested, and which would probably be drivenout of the field. Fawcett listened patiently and kindly; but was compelled to refuse decidedly. …Fawcett could feel that his action extended the utility of the PostOffice, and called out increased energy in private enterprise. If the Government should come to monopolise the services, it would be only because experience had proved that it could discharge them most efficiently. (Stephen 1885:426–7) The point of the affair was that the contingencies of public office could corner even the most vehement adversary of State monopoly into awkward and unworkable compromise. As biography, the telephone episode provide something more: the difference, one might say, between a ‘message’ and a voice on a telephone. It revealed Fawcett, public servant, earnestly struggling to reconcile the seemingly countervailing claims of different ‘publics’: the state, the consumer and the marketplace. The ‘telling’ detail of the business man’s personal appeal to Fawcett finds the latter scrupulous to the end, subordinating private feeling (compassion, as well as instinctive opposition to monopolies) to public good even when that ‘good’ was a
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sorry compromise based on a law not of his own making. The obscurity of the unfortunate entrepreneur throws into necessary relief the dignity of Fawcett’s patient and polite rebuttal: sitting, listening and refusing are not, after all, heroic actions according to most canons of masculinity. The ‘gentleman’s’ anonymity, in other words, is in part a biographical strategy to provide those ‘garnering shades of oblivion’ against and amidst which Fawcett will stand out as a ‘moving and feeling figure’. This is confirmed by the fact that another of the episode’s anonymous supporting cast was well known to Stephen. As Leslie would have been aware from conversations at the time, and later from his research into the telephony case as biographer, it was his own brother James Fitzjames Stephen who handed down the judgment that the telephone, that ‘beautiful’ invention, was nevertheless really a version of the telegraph. The coincidence justifies us in pursuing further what, and how, the telephone meant to Leslie Stephen and his circle. The Telegraph Acts of 1863 and 1869, as summed up by Fitzjames, declared that the Postmaster-General is to have the exclusive privilege of transmitting messages or other communications by any wire and apparatus connected therewith used for telegraphic communication, or by any other apparatus for transmitting messages or other communications by means of electric signals. (Bulwer 1881:VI 248–9) Given the extraordinary compass of this definition,18 the legal representatives of the telephone company had been reduced to arguing that the telephone’s ability to produce recognizable and distinguishable ‘voices’ neither was nor could have been envisaged by those framing the definition of telegraphy as ‘electrically transmitted messages or other communications’. In riposte the Crown maintained, inter alia, that the telephone did not actually produce a voice, but an artificial representation of a voice analogous to, but distinctly different from, the sounds uttered from the mouth. In summing up, Fitzjames reminded the court of an experiment carried out by Mr Cromwell Fleetwood Varley and Varley’s brother, in which they used parabolic sounding boards to project their voices to each other over a distance of more than two miles, thereby measuring the velocity of sound. Since the telephone operated at the velocity of electricity rather than of sound, Fitzjames suggested, it would have been possible for the brothers to hear each other’s voices over the telephone measurably (indeed eight seconds) sooner than they would have heard their ‘real’ voices. The illustration seemed to him to raise serious
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questions about the nature of the telephonic voice: ‘Can it be said that the two sounds were one and the same sound?’ (Bulwer 1881:VI 253). Despite all the arguments he had heard that the telephone carried ‘voice’ in a way unimaginable to the inventors of telegraphy, Fitzjames found the presence of wires and the use of electricity to be sufficient to make the telephone a telegraph. The debate about the nature of the telephonic voice was left hanging, tantalizingly, in the air. ‘We do not think it necessary’, he maintained, to express any opinion on a controversy which is more scientific than legal, and perhaps more properly metaphysical or relative to the meaning of words than scientific, as it seems to turn upon the nature of identity in relation to sound. (Bulwer 1881:VI 253) When, ten years after recounting Fawcett’s involvement in the telephone case, Leslie Stephen set about his Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen: A Judge of the High Court of Justice (1895), the case of the ‘Attorney General v. the Edison Telephone Company’ was one of only two of Fitzjames’s civil judgments to which Leslie referred.19 And of the dozens oftechnical, scientific and legal points debated during the trial and presented by Fitzjames in his summing-up, it was the Varley brothers’ sounding boards that provided the hearing with its animating detail: It was argued that the telephone transmitted the voice itself, not a mere signal. Fitzjames pointed out that it might be possible to hear both the voice transmitted through the air and the sound produced by the vibrations of the wire. Could the two sounds, separated by an interval, be one sound? The legal point becomes almost metaphysical. On this and other grounds Fitzjames decided that a telephone was a kind of telegraph, and the decision has not been disturbed. (Stephen 1895:450)20 Taken together, the various accounts of the case begin to illuminate not only what Stephen—a nonspecialist and (as far as we know) non-telephoneusing21 member of the public—should have understood by telephony, but also why the telephone figured in his account of biographical subjectivity. In the ‘dark backward and abysm’ of legal and political history, Stephen as biographer found in this obscure legal crux an ‘island of light’ that caught his imagination. The definition of the telephone as a technology, couched though it was in the language of the physical sciences, fused the legal opinion of his brother with the political and economic concerns of one of his
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closest friends to produce an argument that was ‘almost metaphysical’. As an exercise in metaphysics the telephony lawsuit could not fail to attract him. It saw his brother debating with the elder scientists of the day, in elegant and learned prose, a series of technical questions that veered inexorably towards the philosophical: how far apart could two brothers be and still detect each other’s voices? Did the involvement of a wire, or of electricity, change the human voice into something else? Was a telephone communication a ‘message’ or something more? What was the relationship between voice and identity? The hearing saw his brother and his friend agreeing —against their own political inclinations—that a voice transmitted over a telephone wire was intrinsically different from a voice transmitted through the air or through a wall. And in taking on the tone of detachment proper to the trial itself and to the biography of a judge; by rendering the other parties (Fawcett, the Varleys) anonymous; and by suppressing his own familiarity with the case, Stephen became his own ideal: a ‘conducting wire’.
IV Stephen’s model of biographical subjectivity materializes, as we have witnessed, amid a matrix of metaphors: artistic, artisanal, professional, technological. Many of these metaphors are not new. Dry-as-dust antiquarianism, for instance, and the image of the British Museum as paper dystopia both have a distinguished pedigree in Carlyle’s Cromwell (1845). But Stephen gives this iconography a self-consciously modern twist. Biography should be like telephony. It must be disembodied, disinterested, yet must allow for intimations of ‘human feeling’ across time and space by engineering the accurate, though artificial, representation of a voice. The result will be a mode of biography which can celebrate influence, uniqueness and even fallibility in the great tradition of Boswell and Carlyle. It will facilitate intimacy while preserving distance, thus reconciling the rival claims of individuality and normative masculine reserve. And it will do all this without jeopardizing (by exposing) the circulation of information among experts, the dynamics of élite male homosociality or the relationship between the intellectual aristocracy and the State. Telephonic biography thus emerges as a complex feat of nescience and science. If, as in Martin Danahay’s account of mid-Victorian autobiography, masculine anti-self-consciousness serves to shore up an illusion of independence and autonomy, it does so now, at the end of the century, within a proliferating network of biographical texts, professional
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rivalries and mutual surveillance, and as part of a heightened sense of the need to regulate the value of biographical information.22 Like telephony, this kind of biography functions as (what Foucault has called) a ‘spatial’ technology: a new way of situating objects of knowledge in relationship to each other and to the knower, and hence of organizing knowledge as power (1986:255–6). Crucial to both technologies was the role of the intermediary or ‘wire’, as vital for what it elided as for what it conducted. My claim, then, is that in his reading and writing of biography, Leslie Stephen can be found improvising a sort of ‘metaphysics’ of intimacy: a way of knowing and relating whose efficacy depended on certain strategic abstentions. Both the vitality of the biographical narrative and the autonomy of the biographical subject were guaranteed by the selective nescience of the biographer; conversely the animating power of the biographer depended on the disembodiedness and detachment of the subject. As a literary journalist and critic, he showed how the principles of reading and writing biography involved this metaphysics; in biography he put them into practice. Eschewing the inwardness of the mid-Victorian autobiographer, Stephen systematically disclaimed his own memories and became a ‘stranger’ to his motives; he forgot the facts of his own life. In one sense, of course, his proficiency as forgetter made the practice of autobiography both unnecessary and unappealing. Hence the Mausoleum Book’s symptomatic forgetfulness, which my Introduction diagnosed as an attempt to regulate the flow of intimate knowledge between men, must also be seen as a positive constituent of Stephen’s aesthetic. Stephen does not just forget: he has perfected the ‘art of forgetting’.23 This image, too, has a Carlylean, even a classical provenance, but where Carlyle, in the person of Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, implies a rejection of the trap, and trappings, of selfconsciousness, Stephen’s forgetting is more often a credential, a marker of expertise, than a purely ethical gesture.24 He constantly invokes his forgetfulness whenever his mettle as Life-writer is at issue, or whenever he wishes his readers to remember (without reminding them of) his own virtuoso repression. In his letters and essays forgetfulness functions as a kind of signature. It distinguishes the biographer from the historian—in the person, typically, of the omni-remembering Macaulay; it speaks of a robust anti-selfconsciousness and of the alienation of biographical labour, even as it underscores a professional disdain for mere accumulation of knowledge. He opens the essay ‘Biography’, for example, by repudiating any suggestion that his work on the Dictionary of National Biography must have made him a ‘profound psychologist’: ‘I find that I forget all about the A’s before I
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have got well into the C’s’ (Stephen  1956:128). Such disclaimers punctuate the argument as a whole, becoming part of his own mythology: I found out once from an old letter that I had taken a decision, of great importance to me, upon grounds which I had utterly forgotten, and of which I had unconsciously devised a totally different (and very creditable) account. I burnt the letter and forgot its contents, and I now only know that my own story of my own life is somehow altogether wrong. (Stephen  1956:139) Faced with the task of writing his own story, Stephen would be ‘reduced to mere guessing as to my motives…almost as though I were writing of a stranger’ (134). His capacity to be a stranger to himself, to be a ‘mere conducting wire’, qualifies him as biographer and disqualifies him as autobiographer—while simultaneously inviting the interpretive efforts of others. Stephen’s habit of forgetfulness functions as an individuating personal trait, an aesthetic trope and an ethics: it represents the effort to balance complexity with clarity, individualism with social responsibility. It involves a move away from biographical deference (biographer as respectful son-inlaw) to a model of biography as formal intimacy. The cameo of the Varley brothers speaking to each other over a distance of two miles suggests one version of this ideal, though in practice Stephen often found biographical liberty, equality and fraternity difficult to reconcile. While writing his brother’s Life, Stephen complained in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton (23 September 1894): I have very abundant materials for the early years of my brother’s life but in the later part, I shall be on difficult ground in speaking of his legal career. That, of course, is rather awkward; but another more perplexing matter is the relation between us. Boswell showed his genius in setting forth Johnson’s weaknesses as well as his strength. But if Boswell had been Johnson’s Brother? I cannot be simply eulogistic if the portrait is to be lifelike; but I find it very hard to speak of defects without either concealing my opinion that they were defects, or on the other hand, taking a tone of superiority and condescension…the bare mention of such things about a brother sounds brutal in print besides suggesting the question, do you, the writer, take yourself to be much his superior?… And then, I have to consult my poor sister-in-law; who has been most considerate & sensible but can hardly appreciate my point of view. (Bicknell 1996:II 433–4)
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If, according to his model of biography, forgetting, ignoring and not knowing immured individual subjects from each other, they also ensured the circulation of certain carefully regulated kinds of information and desire. For all his dislike of the task, it was his research for the Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen that inspired Leslie Stephen’s most sustained, and in some ways most personal, analysis of the ethics of oblivion. His lecture ‘Forgotten Benefactors’ was published in 1896 and began: I was reading not long ago some remarks which impressed me at the time, and upon which, as it came to pass, I have had reason to reflect more seriously. The writer dwelt upon the vastservices which have been rendered to the race by men of whom all memory has long since faded away. (Stephen 1896:15) The writer in question was Fitzjames, whose Essays by a Barrister Stephen read only months before the death of his own wife, Julia Duckworth Stephen, challenged his own powers as a writer of Lives. ‘Forgotten Benefactors’ posed a series of crucial questions for the biographer: does the individual effect change or progress in society, or is change brought about by blind historical forces? ‘Is the hero whom we are invited to worship everything or is he next to nothing?’ (226). The essay culminates in a thinly veiled tribute to the family as an institution, and to Julia in particular: [To] those activities which knit families together, which help to enlarge the highest ideal of domestic life, we owe a greater debt than to any other kind of conduct. And to this I add that, as I believe, the highest services of this kind are rendered by persons condemned, or perhaps I should say privileged, to live in obscurity; whose very names will soon be forgotten, and who are entirely eclipsed by people whose services, though not equally valuable, are by their nature more public. To prove such an assertion is, of course, impossible. (Stephen 1896:245–6) Here, as elsewhere in Stephen’s writing, the ‘public’ individual survives the analysis precisely to the extent that private ‘persons’ are obscured, forgotten and eclipsed. Exactly as in Danahay’s account of Victorian autobiography, Stephen solves the problem of the individual’s relation to society by making use of a ‘feminized other’ who ‘stands for the excluded principle of the social’ (Danahay 1993:3). This feminized or ‘forgotten’ benefactor marks the boundary between the artificially polarized worlds of undifferentiated humanity on the one hand and pure heroic will on the
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other, producing each in relation to the other. To be a hero, it transpires, it is necessary to be ‘next’ to ‘nothing’.25 However, the pattern of binary opposition and repression is not quite as neat as this sketch might suggest. Stephen, apparently in passing, identifies a third term between his remembered heroes and forgotten saints. En route to his eulogy for Julia, Stephen almost incidentally defends the claims of ‘second rank’ men—the diffusers as opposed to the originators of ideas and social movements—as an important tier of ‘forgotten benefactors’ (1896: 246).26 The middlingrank of intellectuals, it implies, does not claim a right to be remembered, for such a claim would be contrary to its professional calling. Yet their place in, or as, the national conscience, regulating both what gets remembered and what forgotten, renders such workers crucial to the cultural scene. The biographer’s own place, Stephen implies, is at this humdrum mid-point between the heroic and the saintly, undeterred by either but borrowing a little reflected glamour from both. V In a discussion of Victorian manliness and its relation to the liberal temper, Stefan Collini points to the importance of ‘exemplary’ biographies such as Leslie Stephen’s Lives of Henry Fawcett and James Fitzjames Stephen. ‘Such biographies’, he observes, ‘constituted the devotional literature of Individualism’ (Collini 1991:195). The claim seems irrefutable. Inviting not mere sympathy towards, but admiration for, the struggles of their heroes, such biographies celebrate individual achievements at the expense of interdependence and contingency. Yet in his rhetoric of ‘faithfulness’ and in his appeal to the ‘authenticity’ of the represented object, Stephen as biographer appeals to a divergent set of values: anti-self-consciousness, selfrepression and by extension certain forms of altruism. What the telephony story dramatizes is the way the two ideals, distributed across what we might call ‘biographical subjectivity’, depend on and maintain each other. In thus playing on Stephen’s ‘wiriness’ as a biographer I am not, of course, suggesting a secret complicity between himself, his brother and his friend in the social construction of English telephony. As the telephone case itself confirms, the relationship between the state, the government and private enterprise was far too convoluted to sustain anything so straightforward as a conspiracy. It is a nice irony, however, that the decision of 20 December 1880 made the telephone companies reluctant to extend their existing services, and thus for a short while rendered the ‘mere conducting wire’ between two sites a very valuable asset indeed.
2 MISSING HER The Leslie Stephens, Anny Ritchie and the sexual politics of genre
I I wish to write mainly about your mother. But I find that in order to speak intelligibly it will be best to begin by saying something about myself. (Bell  1977:4)1 Many of my explorations of late Victorian Life-writing have been indirectly provoked by Leslie Stephen’s Mausoleum Book. As my introductory chapter suggested, the indirection is the point. With its sidelong glances at alternative auto/biographical forms—at the Symonds memoir, the conversion narrative, the Dictionary of National Biography, the Lives of Fawcett and Fitzjames Stephen and the debate over Froude’s Carlyle— Stephen’s text illustrates how disconcerting the narration of literary life could be for even its most practised exponent. In this chapter, however, I will attempt to resist Stephen’s deflecting gaze, and look full-square at the Mausoleum Book itself. This is easier said than done. At once biographical, autobiographical and anti-autobiographical, confessional and self-justifying, touchily private and knowingly public, the Mausoleum Book represents literary masculinity at its most refractile. The physical appearance of the manuscript has been described by Stephen’s grandson Quentin Bell in terms that anticipate the paradoxical qualities of the narrative itself: It is a heavy leather-bound volume with metal clasps which once used to lock. Upon its face in gilt lettering is the word ‘PRIVATE’ and within it there are about sixty thousand wordswritten, all save the last paragraph which was dictated to Virginia Woolf, in Leslie Stephen’s precise yet nervous hand. (Bell 1965:9)
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Nervous precision and voluble privacy: such, as we have seen, are the keynotes of the Mausoleum Book, along with an exorbitant bid for selfdetermination the more poignant for its evident failure. Bell continues: The text…was begun on 21 May 1895, sixteen days after the sudden death of Julia Stephen, and finished in six weeks; thereafter Stephen made a fair copy with additions recording family events and the death of friends until the time of his own death in 1904. (Bell 1965:9) Of course the redrafting and fair-copying of personal manuscripts, and even the meticulous preservation of copies of one’s own letters to others, were commonplace in this period, especially among such professional writers as saw their autograph as part of their literary estate. Letters between friends and relatives were not, in any case, the strictly intimate documents some literary histories suggest. The habit among eighteenthcentury literary côteries of seeing letters as semi-public documents survived in attenuated (and often apologetic) form in the nineteenth century: correspondents often saved time and postage by writing letters destined for circulation or reading aloud.2 However, as I indicated in my Introduction, the Mausoleum Book’s intercalation of public into private modes of address —and vice versa—represents something more than a fudging of boundaries or broadcast intimacy. Its careful rigmarole of auto/biographical disclosures and concealments encodes a performance for which blackmail is too harsh, and flirtation too forgiving, a term. It represents a form of competitive self-assertion the more persuasive for being couched in selfabasement. The Faustian bargain Stephen strikes with posterity acknowledges the claims of the present—the interdependence of self and other—in a way untypical of Victorian patriarchy as it is commonly understood. Yet the text’s informal elements and confidential tone are only part of the story. Its density of intertextuality, its conscientious footnotes, its studied obliviousness and its semantic quibbling place it firmly within the discipline of Life-writing. As such, the Mausoleum Book constitutes an active renegotiation of the very generic norms Stephen had helped to institutionalize in the course of his career. As I have outlined, the book is addressed to his children and stepchildren. Most of it was composed during the darkest hours of his grief over the death of his second wife, though Stephen made additions, amendments and postscripts over the next few years until his death in 1904. It is generally accepted that, far from being a simple outpouring of
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emotion, the Mausoleum Book is a very complex document. Explicitly or obliquely, it partakes of a number of literary genres and sub-genres: hagiography, letter, elegy, biography, confession, apologia, mémoire d’outre tombe, anti-conversion narrative, reminiscence. In one sense the generic mix is intentional: the Mausoleum Book is Stephen’s letter to Julia’s3 children in memory of their mother, and is to serve as a gloss on the correspondence between himself and Julia he has been re-reading and organizing since her death. It is thus, at its simplest, an amalgam of commemoration and commentary. Yet this functional ambiguity does not fully account for the narrative’s generic innovation. Some readers have attributed its sliding between apparently incompatible forms to Stephen’s determined agnosticism and to his reluctance, in the face of mortality, to do without some vestige of a redemption narrative. Others have ascribed the generic bumpiness to the twists and turns of Stephen’s conscience as he reviews what has been politely called his domestic ‘exigence’—his history of moodiness, especially about money matters. Noel Annan, for instance, argues that the Mausoleum Book is an ‘electuary of sentimentalism’ and that the sentimentalism ‘concealed [Stephen’s] fear—that people would blame him for Julia’s death or put it about that he had brought her unhappiness’ (1984:127). Stephen himself points to another possible reason: he has always been deeply insecure in his profession, and because of this is unable to write in an ‘unliterary’ way even in an avowedly private, personal document.4 I would not wish to dispute any of these interpretations as far as they go. The Mausoleum Book is indeed a painful and sometimes embarrassing testament to violent love and grief, spiritual unease, writerly qualms, domestic neediness and guilt. The cocktail of emotions was a familiar one: no British widower could lock himself away with his wife’s letters in the 1880s or 90s without recalling Thomas Carlyle’s penitent ‘Reminiscence’ of his long-suffering wife (1881), nor James Anthony Froude’s allegation that Carlyle had every reason for remorse. In Stephen’s case, as we shall see in Part 2, the precedent was especially forceful: Stephen was as involved, both personally and professionally, in the Carlyle débâcle as anyone. Whether or not Stephen himself was a paragon or a bully at home is not at issue here; nor, for that matter, is his veracity as Life-writer.5 I want to discover not why, but how Stephen’s narrative of his marriedlife mattered, and to examine how he set about reconciling, or at least co-ordinating, the rival claims of literary reputation and family loyalty, or, to put it another way, ‘auto’biography and ‘alter’biography. I want to trace some of the Mausoleum Book’s submerged patterns of association: to map connections between the professional, the personal and the generic as they figure in Stephen’s self-representation, and to argue that it is in these taut and often
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brittle links that we can understand the gender of Victorian eminence in its latter days. The character and intricacy of these connections, and their relationship to the cultural construction of literary masculinity at the turn of the century, can, I suggest, best be glimpsed across a matrix of texts: not only because texts in the broadest sense are our sole aperture on the distant past, but because the late Victorian sage, the hero as man of letters, was in many ways a self-consciously textual—and ultimately a biographical— construction. This chapter pursues two personal contexts for Stephen’s narrative—that of his immediate domestic setting and that of his patrilineage—before going on to evaluate more obviously literary influences. It should be emphasized that this division into ‘personal’ and ‘literary’ contexts is a matter of emphasis—a convenient way of highlighting the Mausoleum Book’s main themes—rather than a pitting of ‘life’ against ‘letters’. In any case, what I have called Stephen’s personal contexts—his relationships with his family, for example—were often textually mediated at the time, through letters or within an ever-expanding cottage industry of biography, memoirs and reviews. Conversely Stephen’s literary contexts—in this instance contemporary debates about matters of biographical etiquette—were among the elements from which Stephen forged both his own identity and the terms of his domestic authority. The distinction between the personal and the literary is useful, however, if it brings into focus Stephen’s efforts to harness Life-writing in the service of masculine authority and vice versa. For it is the very slipperiness of this project—the fact that, for the man of letters, gender is inseparable from writing—that makes Stephen’s plea for understanding and care so poignant. His claims as widower, brother-in-law and father turn out to be both inextricable from and profoundly compromised by his claims as a professional writer. As a result, Stephen’s most movingly intimate text is about what we now recognize as sexual/ textual politics: about hierarchies of genre, about the sexual division of (literary) labour, about the problem of the woman writer and of ‘womanly’ writing. What the Mausoleum Book demonstrates, among much else, is the significance of local and historically specific configurations of gender and genre in the production of literary reputations. I begin, though, with a more modest enquiry: how and why does a document claiming to be ‘mainly’ about Julia Stephen contrive to be ‘mainly’ about other people— about Stephen’s first wife, her sister, his in-laws, his friends and, above all, himself?
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II I want simply to talk to you about your mother. (Bell  1977:3) Biographers of both Stephen and his daughter Virginia Woolf have noted that the Julia of the Mausoleum Book is a distinctly unreal personage.6 Almost intimidating in her purity and perfection, she is the Angel in the House of Victorian domestic ideology: a pedestalled saint whose destiny it is to be venerated rather than cherished. Straining to capture her qualities, Stephen hazards a series of extravagant comparisons. Julia is at one moment a ‘sister of mercy…most tender, skilful and judicious’; at the next her attraction is the uncanny allure of a great work of art: the Sistine Madonna, or a masterpiece of Greek sculpture, or Wordsworth’s ‘phantom of delight’. What makes his late wife so compelling a subject, and yet so elusive to description, is that her beauty ‘implied’ her spiritual qualities without—and Stephen labours to make his point—excluding bodily or ‘material’ beauty. Her appeal was that she embodied (and temporarily resolved) the contradiction at the heart of domestic femininity: the sexiness of the sexless Angel. She represents for Stephen ‘the complete reconciliation and fulfilment of all conditions of feminine beauty’ (30–37). It is on this vision of a woman at once bewitching and virtuous, at once spiritual and emphatically corporeal, that Stephen wants his children to focus their gaze: ‘Ah! my darlings, try to fix her picture in your minds. To see her as she was is to me to feel all that is holy and all that is endearing in human affection’ (33). Mary Poovey has drawn attention to what she calls the ‘self-consistency’ of this ‘Angel in the House’ image, by which she means the apparently effortless selflessness of the ideal woman, and hence her exemption from the strife of the public world of market relations. The domestic Angel’s freedom from internal conflict was necessary to a ‘binarized’ sexual division of labour, rights and duties—the so-called ‘separate spheres’. It was also, according to Poovey, integral to a model of male identity whereby the contradictions inherent in the capitalistmode of production were recast as a personal drama of alienation and self-mastery through work: a narrative ‘which one woman inaugurated and another rewarded’.7 The image of the Angel in the House and the master-narrative of male development were thus mutually constitutive tropes within bourgeois culture. Poovey has also noted the persistence at the heart of the domestic ideal of a seemingly incompatible image of woman: woman as fleshly desire, as the residual ‘other half’ of Enlightenment man’s divided self. Concern over this ‘loose’ woman was only partially displaced on to the
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figure of the prostitute or the exoticized racial ‘other’. She surfaces in cultural debates much closer to the middle-class home: in concerns over the fate of governesses and supposedly surplus single women, for instance, and later, as we shall see in Part 2, in fears about the dissolution and annulment of marriage.8 These were what Poovey calls ‘border cases’ in the functioning of Victorian ideology: debates which blurred in some way the sexual opposition upon which all other oppositions were supposed to be based, because they ‘threatened to relocate difference—either to move it from the sexual to some other, cultural division (such as class) or to uncover it in woman, the very subject upon whose self-consistency the ideology rested’(Poovey 1989:12). There are signs throughout the Mausoleum Book that such anxieties are invading the Angel’s House, and are fracturing the self-consistency of the Angel herself. One reason seems to be that Julia fell in love and married not once but twice. Surveying Julia’s letters to Herbert Duckworth and to himself, Stephen must confront the possibility that women might change, and that heterosexual desire—supposed to secure difference by guaranteeing the complementarity of the sexes at all levels of society— might actually imply a more contingent, dialectical kind of otherness. Of Julia’s letters to Herbert, he admits that ‘there is often something alarming in the sight of a noble and pure minded young woman accepting a husband with complete confidence… One might read such language used by a thoughtless or impulsive girl, and fear that it might turn out to be the prologue to a tragedy.’ Such a reading would, of course, be incompatible with the Julia myth; yet the alternative is equally unnerving: ‘What I seemed to read in her letters is the opposite of this. The strength of her passion seems to be a guarantee not only for its purity but for its thorough insight’ (Bell  1977:37). One of the stranger elements of Stephen’s account of Julia is the sensation he conveys that she is reading him rather than he her. Further misgivings arise from Stephen’s understanding of the nature of authority, and of the relative efficacy of domestic and literary ‘influence’. Comparing his own achievements as a writer and thinkerwith Julia’s legacy as a woman, Stephen claims to find his own life wanting. For where his work will have made ‘no perceptible difference to the world’, Julia’s life has been ‘the outpouring of a most noble and loving nature, knitting together our little circle, spreading its influence to others, making one little fragment of the race happier and better and aware of a nobler ideal’. Had Stephen succeeded in all his ambitions as a writer (which he insists he has not) his books would have merely ‘expressed a little better than other books thoughts which were fermenting in the minds of thousands’ and would have survived at most a generation before becoming ‘obsolete’ and
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‘superfluous’ (95–6). Julia, on the other hand, had only to be herself, a pure-minded English-woman, to express the best desires and aspirations of a whole culture. Despite all this, it is Julia, the ‘beloved angel’, who alone drives Stephen back to what he sees as his losing battle as a professional writer: he is left with a memory ‘diat will, I can even now hope, encourage me in time to work for you [her children]’ (97). The paradox embodied in the image of Julia—that she is both the pretext for and an indictment of his efforts as a writer—is never far from the surface of the text. Her very perfections seem to imply a criticism of him, and he is haunted by ‘[h] ideous morbid fancies…which I know to be utterly baseless, and which I am yet unable to disperse by an effort of will. I must live them down’ (57– 8). So the simple task of ‘fixing’ Julia in her children’s memories, and hence of installing a narrative of redemption based on the ‘holiness’ of ‘human affection’ rather than on, say, divine intervention, founders on an image of domestic perfection that is already unheimlich. Gradually the process of ‘writing about Julia’ threatens to dislocate difference from its secure moorings in heterosexual marriage and to relocate it within Julia, within writing and even, critically, within the auto/biographer himself. An enterprise more fraught with ideological perils would be hard to imagine, and the tension shows everywhere—in the digressive structure, in startling asides, as well as in the strings of tortuous disavowals we observed in the Introduction. That Stephen should risk exposing the cracks in the mausoleum would seem foolhardy, were it not for his ulterior rhetorical purpose, which is to invite sympathy and secure support from Julia’'s children. In the face of the death of his wife and so many of his contemporaries, Stephen braves reopening the narrative of his life so as to claim the children as the consolation prize of his old age.9
III Puzzling over Julia’s father’s unobtrusive personality, Stephen comments that ‘[s]omehow he did not seem to count—as fathers generally count in their families’ (Bell  1977:26). At this point in his life the problem of whether—and how—a father should count is an urgent one. As a newly widowed father it is necessary for him to establish claims on his children’s energy, time and affection. In practice this means appealing to different constituencies in slightly different terms: his own children, his step-children; his sons and his daughters. (As a consequence the ‘you’ of the Mausoleum Book slides almost imperceptibly between these overlapping groups.) Most importantly for his own welfare, it means securing the attention of his
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eldest step-daughter Stella, who is still unmarried at almost twenty-six, and who he hopes will take her mother’s place as mistress of the house.10 The effort he devotes to this end suggests that this is not a sacrifice that can be taken for granted in the New Womanly 1890s. Proclaiming himself—now —worthy of Stella’s devotion is a complicated manoeuvre, for it involves admitting the possibility of insufficiency (or, at least, difference) in their former relationship. He executes this manoeuvre by constructing a new narrative of step-fatherhood: I used to think it rather strange that, young as you were at the time of our marriage, the instinct of fatherhood did not become fully developed. I was sensible of a something different in our relations. And yet, my dear ones, I love you now like a father… (Bell  1977:66) If the narrative of ‘becoming a loving father’ is likely to unleash even more unmanageable contradictions than that of ‘becoming a husband’, it has, at least, a potential dividend. His peace of mind depends on his success in reasserting his role as paterfamilias in relation to his daughters generally, and, more tendentiously, in relation to their future husbands. He attempts this by drawing on another, much older story of fatherhood: the story of the exchange of daughters between fathers and husbands that Gayle Rubin has called the ‘political economy of sex’. He links his own predicament— his need to question or even renegotiate the terms of his domestic authority with his daughters and their future spouses—with the fate of his two fathers-in-law: with his first wife Minny’s father, William Makepeace Thackeray, whose own wife was left in a lifelong state of ‘dreamlike incapacity’ by a bout of puerperal fever,and with Julia’s father, Dr Jackson, who, as we have seen, seemed to Stephen ‘something of an outsider’ in an otherwise closeknit family. Working with some fairly unpromising materials, Stephen improvises a genealogy for his own story in which fathers of daughters count. Stephen goes to some trouble to establish ties, however tenuous, of filiality and loyalty between himself and these dispossessed fathers-in-law. In each case he launches into one of the Mausoleum Book’s complex anecdotal digressions, each of which belongs in different ways to the prehistory of Stephen’s household. The anecdote concerning Julia’s parents, Dr and Mrs Jackson, is relatively straightforward, if incongruous in the context. The Jacksons spent the early years of their marriage in Calcutta, where Mrs Jackson, falling ill, was successfully treated by a medical colleague of her husband’s called Rankin. Dr Rankin declined to accept payment from a fellow physician’s wife, so Mrs Jackson made him
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the present of a watch. The two doctors subsequently quarrelled over Rankin’s ‘grotesque’ attempts to convert the staunchly Anglican Dr Jackson to agnosticism, and, by way of ‘symbolically shaking the dust off his shoes’, Rankin returned the gift of the watch. Matters were eventually put on a more satisfactory footing when, years later, Rankin returned to London ‘very poor and very ill’, and was ‘soothed’ through his last days by his old adversary Jackson and by Stephen himself. Mrs Jackson, whose body, after all, is the story’s point of departure, rapidly becomes incidental to the main plot, which is about one good turn (curing Dr Jackson’s wife) deserving another (forgiving and nurturing Dr Rankin). Debts of honour are paid off, professional dignity is restored, and reasonable relations between the two are reestablished. By the same token, Jackson, the life-long believer, and Stephen, the convinced agnostic, are conjoined in their sympathy for ‘poor old Rankin’ who is portrayed as socially marginal and naïve. The sense of continuity from one homosocial friendship to another, and from one generation to the next, is underlined by Stephen’s conclusion to the story: ‘[Rankin] died very soon afterwards, and is buried at Kensal Green, just outside consecrated ground, with a queer inscription on his tombstone—I often look at it—saying that he was “neither theist nor atheist”.’ Only the watch, kept ‘in a kind of limbo of suspense’ during the intervening years, and handed over by Mrs Jackson to Stephen on Rankin’s death, betrays that anything in the story remains unresolved. Stephen firmly dispenses with any uncomfortable or superstitious associations that might cleave to it: ‘When I am dead, let it go to the one who is most in want of a watch’ (27–8). Stephen’s transaction with his first father-in-law, the novelist Thackeray, is yet more oblique—necessarily so, as Thackeray had died in1863, twentyfour hours before Stephen was due to be introduced to him at Trinity, and some time before he (Stephen) became part of Minny Thackeray’s social circle. The story concerns the proper circulation of cash, a subject about which Stephen admits he is chronically anxious and to which he returns several times, despite preening himself on his reticence (90, 24).11 On his marriage to Minny, Leslie found himself having to deal, not with a fatherin-law, but with Minny’s elder sister Anny. Anny is ‘reckless’ with money, over-spending both her private income and her earnings from writing (‘As soon as money came into her purse it flowed out’), and even after her sister’s marriage Anny continues to dissipate both her own and Minny’s money. The result of this is that Minny’s income from her father’s estate—her ‘dowry’ in effect—regularly evaporates before it reaches her husband. (This seems less unreasonable when one realizes that Leslie had moved in with the sisters rather than the other way round.) Stephen recounts how he gained the financial upper hand by diverting Minny’s income to himself, in return
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for which he takes initial responsibility for the household expenses. This means of course that the spendthrift Anny is now regularly in debt to him: a situation he compounds much later by helping her buy her own marital home. Stephen’s self-construction as creditor is a characteristic piece of sophistry: he ‘boasts’—his word—of his self-imposed silence about these debts, and proclaims to his children his intention to write them off. They, in turn, are exhorted to refuse any repayment that Anny might offer in the future (‘which, I confess, strikes me as improbable’). All in all, Stephen is satisfied that despite her profligacy, he has ‘no cause of regret for any of [his] pecuniary relations with Anny’ (24,25). Having pecuniary relations with Anny, however, is a poor substitute for the legal, economic and above all symbolic transaction between a bride’s father and her husband. A footnote added three years later (1898) affords a more complete resolution to the story. Having protested he would never countenance repayment from Anny, Stephen admits he has accepted £400 from her, as Minny’s portion of the £4,000 Anny has earned by using their joint property (Thackeray’s unpublished papers) as the basis for Prefaces to a new edition of her father’s complete works. By this convoluted means, Leslie Stephen is able at last to establish symbolic relations with a father-inlaw who died a quarter of a century earlier. To clinch his deal with the future, then, Stephen supplements his histories of ‘becoming a husband’ and ‘becoming a father’ with dark hints of an ancient patriarchal trope: social life as the exchange of women between men. At stake in both the father-in-law anecdotes,beyond their testimony to Stephen’s good humour and reasonableness, is women’s ability to give and receive property in their own right; or, to put it another way, women’s right to symbolize rather than always to be symbolized. The resolution of the stories depends on this ability having been short-circuited or bypassed. The narrative of the Mausoleum Book ends with Stephen’s birthday gifts to Julia’s eldest daughters on 30 May 1895: for Stella, a chain he had given to her mother on their marriage; to Vanessa, a photograph of Julia by Mrs Cameron. The bargain is sealed. ‘We will cling to each other’ (97). IV Within and between the many narratives of Stephen’s masculine selfhood— the bourgeois narrative of redemption by heterosexual marriage; the patriarchal story of the exchange of women; the story of ‘developing’ fatherly instincts, to name but three—ironies and inconsistencies proliferate as difference migrates from one site to another. Tug at any loose end and the pattern dissolves. In the rest of this chapter I will disentangle one of
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these threads to suggest that, in 1895, issues of gender and sexuality are interwoven with questions of Life-writing. One of the Mausoleum Book’s most piquant ironies concerns Stephen’s token settlement with the Thackeray estate outlined above. Until the 1890s no biography of Thackeray had been authorized because Anny Thackeray Ritchie had adhered faithfully to her father’s command: ‘When I drop, there is to be no life written of me; mind this and consider it as my last testament and desire.’12 This portentous embargo was not simply a ‘non du père’; it was part of a Thackeray mythology his daughter had herself helped to construct and perpetuate. Deferring to it seems to have allowed her to annex her literary patrimony—her father’s papers—to her own memories of him in profitable ways. While Leslie was writing the Mausoleum Book, Thackeray Ritchie had been using the format of ‘Biographical Introductions’ to dodge this prohibition on biography, and to earn money to repay her debts. These Introductions or Prefaces were short essays situating each of her father’s works in the context of what she knew of his life. Cumulatively they made up a critical biography of Thackeray: one which made full use of Thackeray Ritchie’s own memories and of her ‘inside knowledge’. Thackeray Ritchie’s auto/biographical efforts may have represented a conscious circumvention of her father’s will or a circumlocution in the face of social convention. Either way, it seems probable that Stephen’s assumption in the Mausoleum Book of the name, and law, of the father,was in this instance contingent on Thackeray Ritchie’s own subversion of it. That Stephen’s own settling of accounts should depend on Thackeray Ritchie’s conversion of her father’s ‘last testament’ into her own magnum opus neatly illustrates how closely Stephen’s self-construction as a man was implicated in the selfrepresentation of his significant others, and of his sister-in-law in particular.13 And depending on Aunt Anny, as Stephen never ceased to remind his young readers, was a risky business. As a living woman, and as part of Stephen’s kinship network, Anny was supposed to anchor the epistemological structure of the Mausoleum Book. She was at one end of a complicated chain of associations designed to ‘fix’ their mother in the minds of Julia’s children. As we have seen, Stephen thinks he must ‘say something about himself’ in order to write about Julia. This involves speaking of his own ‘domestic history’ with Minny; and to describe Minny, whom none of them knew, he must first describe her sister Anny, whom they all knew (4, 8, 12). This patterning of associations is not fanciful either on my part or on Stephen’s: as Gillian Beer has pointed out, such associational thinking was fundamental to Stephen’s Enlightenment scepticism, foregrounding the perceptor (Stephen, and through him his children) as the provisional guarantor of meaning (Beer 1993:71–86).14
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Independently of—but in tension with—this associative chain, Anny has an interjacent, more thematic role in the Mausoleum Book, which derives from her frequent appearance in Stephen’s correspondence with his wives, and which has to do with her independence, her refusal to settle into the role of ministering Angel: I have digressed a little: partly, perhaps, because, as I find from my letters, when Anny lived with me, I was constantly framing theories to account for her. You see the result, but it is also true, as I said, that anything I can say of Minny must start by reference to Anny. (Bell  1977:7) Why this need to ‘frame theories’ to ‘account’ for Anny? Why return to her again and again? She is, as we have seen, the ‘other’ against whom Stephen measures his own prudence, sagacity and self-restraint, not just in matters of domestic economy but in professional terms too. This double role is crucial. Partly as a rival for his wives’ attention, but also as a competitor for literary reputation, Thackeray Ritchie is pivotal within Stephen’s selfjustifying rhetoric. For in her dual aspect as ‘woman’ and ‘writer’ we see colliding the two carefully separated assertions I havecharted in the Mausoleum Book—what we might call its agnostic and apologetic axes: ‘Life will have meaning if we all fix our eyes on perfect, self-less femininity’ and ‘I have a right to be cared for because I am Leslie Stephen’. Whenever he thinks of Thackeray Ritchie (professional writer, head of household, spendthrift), these quite unrelated assumptions jostle jarringly into his text. And because she effectively functions as a hinge between these incommensurate claims, Anny continually sends Stephen’s prose off at unpredictable tangents, launching him into the dangerous territories of difference he is at such pains to avoid: Now you know Anny and I think that I can best tell you what I care to tell about Minny by first speaking of Anny. Her influence upon my life, too, was great enough to require some notice of her. Anny inherited no small share of her father’s genius, but with differences which I attribute, or think attributable, to her Irish blood. She is still, she was, I think, still more obviously when I first knew her, the most sympathetic person I ever knew.… Some of the prejudices, fancies and so forth which she had accepted, as it were, by reflection from other minds faded when the object was no longer in front of the mirror. (Bell  1977:12) The identical qualities Stephen prizes in Julia—the ‘instincts’ that put to shame his ‘ratiocinations’ (95)—seem in Thackeray Ritchie to lead in the
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direction of discord and contention. Where Julia’s compassion yields a beneficial, redeeming ‘influence’, in Thackeray Ritchie it is symptomatic of mercurial thinking and results in unreliability. Stephen’s half-hearted attempt to code Anny’s excess of sympathy as ‘Irish’ only partly camouflages its femininity: a potential genius on her father’s side, she is Irish on her mother’s, and her mother, as we know, spent fifty-three years in a state of ‘dreamlike incapacity’ (19). Clearly, Thackeray Ritchie’s combination of ‘her father’s genius’ and her mother’s ‘sympathy’ puts at risk the Mausoleum Book’s implicit claims about both the heterosexual division of labour and the political economy of gender. For this reason, she figures as a disruptive presence in the Mausoleum Book’s domestic idyll, a fly in Stephen’s ointment.15 It is mainly as a writer, though, that she discomposes him. In a long and seemingly unnecessary passage, Stephen rehearses his objections to her work and working methods. Because of her habit of pinning together fragments of ideas as they occur to her (‘with literal not metaphorical pins’), her manuscripts, like her personality, are a ‘chaotic jumble,maddening to printers’. ‘Once,’ he claims, in an aside typical for its tone of exasperated affection, ‘when a story of hers was published in Australia, the last chapter got into the middle and nobody found it out.’16 In contrast Stephen stresses the laboriousness of his own literary life, its regularity, meticulousness, craftsmanship and sheer, crushing volume. In this way he establishes his credentials as a writer, even as he affects to deprecate his place (will he be a footnote? a whole paragraph?) in the history of nineteenth-century English thought. The comparison turns out to be neither neat nor conclusive, however. At intervals throughout the Mausoleum Book Stephen becomes distracted by the way Thackeray Ritchie’s unsystematic, confused, absurd, muddled, vague, unfocused, contradictory and intricate methods of thinking and writing (he uses all these epithets and more in quick succession) generally enable her to ‘work round’ to ‘sound conclusions’ and ‘sound opinions’ (14).17 Thackeray Ritchie’s ability to get away with it—to flout literary convention, to make work look like leisure (or more accurately to make professional work look like domestic work)—is profoundly troubling to Stephen. If Thackeray Ritchie can work round to sound conclusions by such haphazard means without sacrificing her impact, or income, as a writer, then the vocation of letters is effectively deskilled and devalued. Women are supposed to be ‘beloved angels’ whose mere existence ‘encourage [s] me even now to work’ (97): not competitors for work. Thackeray Ritchie, in other words, poses in an especially vigorous way the questions of class and gender difference supposed to be resolved by Stephen’s own narrative of self-mastery.
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V Though something of a loose cannon in his rhetorical arsenal, Thackeray Ritchie was an inescapable part of Stephen’s literary milieu. Her career as a writer, like Stephen’s, got under way in the 1860s, and by the last decades of the century she was sharing with him a desire to mark the passing of an era. In obituaries and dictionary entries, in biographies and reminiscences they commemorated, and mourned, the deaths of Tennyson, the Brownings, Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot and a multitude of similarly eminent acquaintances. For all its painful intimacy, the Mausoleum Book was part of this much wider project of reappraising and reaffirming the Victorian achievement at the end of the century. Debates about biography, autobiography, letters and the relations between them were central to this process. As a more or less professionalbiographer, Stephen had considerable ideological and material interest in all this: his reputation as a judicious, scholarly but generous writer of Lives allowed him to be exacting with DNB contributors, who were sent his own entry on Addison as a pattern to follow. In 1891, exhausted by the strain of enforcing brevity, punctuality and accuracy on his unruly hordes of contributors, he had handed over editorial responsibility for the DNB to his assistant Sidney Lee in order to devote himself to ‘more congenial subjects, and at my own time’—only to have his time hijacked by the task of writing a biography of his brother Fitzjames. Of this book he complained to his friend Charles Eliot Norton, in a letter of 23 December 1894, ‘it is the stiffest piece of work I ever undertook. It will, however, have the merit of shortness. Lives are really becoming overpowering.’18 How and where (not, of course, whether) to erect a barrier between ‘private’ and ‘public’ discourses; how to draw the line between writing self and biographical subject, how to filter out the significant from the ephemeral and accidental: as we have seen in the Introduction and Chapter 1, Stephen’s power to arbitrate on such questions defined him as professional biographer. At the same time, his continual reminders that any solution must be arbitrary defined him, residually, as philosopher.19 Questions of biographical expedience, propriety and adequacy are never far from the surface of the Mausoleum Book, whether in fleeting allusions to causes célèbres (89, 102), or in bouts of textual self-reflexion. During the time Stephen had been absorbed in ‘doing dictionary’, Thackeray Ritchie had been experimenting with auto/biography herself. In biographical fiction and essays, in introductions to and biographies of women writers, in reminiscences of famous acquaintances and as a contributor to the DNB, Thackeray Ritchie had been engaged with many of
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the same philosophical and literary issues as Stephen, though in characteristically lighthearted fashion.20 Inevitably, her approach was one Stephen found unsettling. Witness his response in 1885 to her draft of an entry on Elizabeth Browning for the DNB. While twice conceding the piece to be ‘very well done’, Stephen allows himself some ‘savage criticisms’. Army should avoid phrases such as ‘the little maiden’, should steer away from compliments to the living (to the works of Tennyson in particular, which, however ‘pretty’, are ‘maudlin’, ‘sickening’ and of a ‘keepsake flavour’); she should omit any reference to Browning’s ‘ “spiritisms”— damn it—’ and, P.S., ‘What on earth is a “mutual grandmother?” ‘In case we had missed the gender subtext, Stephen concedes that Army has made the best of a bad job. ‘After all I can’t believe much in Mrs B. She shrieks too much.’ In other words,Elizabeth Browning was lucky to be in the Dictionary at all. It is hard to resist the conclusion that the business of managing women as contributors and as subjects by casting them as slippery feminine ‘other’ fed into Stephen’s representation of his editorial self as orderly, objective and precise: ‘Too much sentimental reflection looks terribly out of place in our dismal work,’ he warned Anny.21 The desire vested in, and shored up by, the idea of a ‘Dictionary’ of ‘National’ ‘Biography’—the desire to forge links between ways of knowing, strategies of representation and national identity—is openly expressed in gender (and implicitly in class) terms. Professional biography, he implies, must result from, and in, masculine alienation in the face of a sexual division of literary labour. Nothing could be further from the ‘dismal’ world of the DNB than Thackeray Ritchie’s Chapters from some Memoirs, her most overt experiment in auto/biography and her preparation for the magnum opus of the Biographical Prefaces. First appearing at intervals in Macmillan’s Magazine, Chapters was published in book form in 1894, only months before Julia’s death and Stephen’s writing of the Mausoleum Book. Bouncing back from the trauma of her own mother’s death in January 1894, Thackeray Ritchie embarked on a series of ‘Notes on family history’ for the next generation, and watched the appearance of Chapters with undisguised relish: ‘I love my recollections, and I now understand why everybody writes them. One begins to dance again, and lark, and frisk, and thrill, and do all the things one can hardly believe one ever did.’22 It is easy to see why Anny Ritchie, then in her late fifties, rubbed Stephen up the wrong way. Chapters recalls a childhood and youth spent shuttling between her father’s literary London and the genteel émigré world of her grandparents’ Paris. The text picks its way skilfully between two taboos—Thackeray’s forbidden Life and his wife’s mental illness—by blurring the boundaries
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between memory and fiction and between the trivial and the significant. In other words, Thackeray Ritchie turns the problems of biography into its poetic: a strategy that lends the narrative its curiously familiar, modernist air. ‘How odd’, she remarks, ‘those mysterious moments are when nothing seems to be happening, but which nevertheless go on all the rest of one’s life’ (Ritchie 1894:166). In her approach to time past (‘that very disproportion which passing impressions most happily take for us, and which they often retain, notwithstanding the experience of years’) and to time present (‘that present which is quite apart from time and dates’) she joyfully eschews the chronological and the cumulative mode of biography, offering us instead a ‘witch’s caldron’ of memory, consisting of ‘heterogeneousscraps’ (87, 93, 67). Her sense of significance is equally anarchic: she delights in the fact that things strike children ‘oddly, partially, and for unexpected reasons’ (1). Her childhood landscape may have been full of eminent men, but, surreally enough, ‘they were men walking as trees before us, without names or histories’ (14). She remembers a fleeting image of Trelawny scowling at his reflection in the looking glass (58); the Duke of Wellington’s back and trousers as he walked up Piccadilly (68); the soles of Gladstone’s boots seen from the ventilator of the House of Commons. Her memories are of ‘odds and ends happily harmless enough…the back of one great man’s head, the hat and umbrella of another’ (67). She celebrates the quirkiness of the child’s-eye view, preferring to the disembodied, panoptical vista of the Arc de Triomphe the view from the curbstone below, ‘where much more human impressions are to be found’ (33). And to eke out the pleasure of her reminiscences, she supplements her half-memories of half-heard music and of momentary glimpses of someone who may—or may not —have been, say, George Sand by turning to her collaborator in nostalgia and ‘faithful confidante’: the Biographie Générale (4). VI Just as, in the 1840s and 1850s, the debate about writing as a viable professional occupation for men had been a test case of the limits of bourgeois ideology (Poovey 1989; Clarke 1991), so, in the 1890s a great deal was at stake in the delineation of biography as productive work. Leslie Stephen did Lives for money,23 and, as we observed in Chapter 1, went out of his way to stress the difficulty and craftsmanship of his work. Yet in tandem with the professionalization of Life-writing, and to some degree enabling it, there burgeoned a more or less informal domestic industry of family memoirs, letter books, travel journals and reminiscences. Situated on the threshold between ‘proper’ biographical labour and homely pottering-
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about, such auto/biographical writing seemed to Stephen to jeopardize the manliness of letters as thoroughly as it did the womanliness of domesticity (though of course in opposite directions). Stephen’s own Mausoleum Book polices, even as it exposes the arbitrariness of, the border between professional work and other kinds of productive activity, between employment and domestic life, the public and the private, the masculine and the feminine. Anxiety suffuses the text at a structural level, and persists at the level of content in a tissue of coded messages about matters apparently far removed from the book’s object of writing about Julia: about the nature of fatherly authority, and about the role of independent women, especially womenas writers. These in turn are connected to a crisis of representation—a crisis over the very ‘narrative of personal development’ upon which the bourgeois subject so precariously balanced. Stephen had taken it upon himself to train a generation of scholars, some of them women, in the discipline of biography. His reputation depended on his ability to enforce probity, exactness and self-effacement in his contributors, and to make them take seriously, as a matter of national responsibility, the dignity of certain individual Lives. The irreverence or lackadaisical approach of a single contributor, an Anny Thackeray Ritchie for example, could jeopardize the whole edifice. The DNB should be a reliable friend, could even be an amusing companion; what it could not and should not be was a ‘faithful confidante’ or—to Stephen it came to the same thing—an accomplice in error. In her way of life, in her methods of work and in her approach to Life-writing Thackeray Ritchie played fast and loose with many of Stephen’s assumptions about what it meant to be a professional man of letters. Her presence in the Mausoleum Book is symptomatic of the fractures I have pointed to within Stephen’s portrayal of himself. She is, in effect, one of the links I alluded to between the text’s divergent concerns with gender, genre and identity. As autobiographer, in particular, Thackeray Ritchie represented competing solutions to the epistemological and literary problems that were Stephen’s professional turf. The task of delimiting and regulating written Lives became more absorbing for him the more his reputation– and income —depended on the genre. At the same time, the more strenuously he attempted to ‘frame theories’ to ‘account’ for Anny, the more his own writing, while not exactly frisky, tended to reproduce her digressive, fragmentary style. Chapters from some Memoirs, with its ‘apparently structureless narratives’, has been accurately described as a kind of ‘refracted Autobiography’ which ‘at once establishes and denies a centre’ (MacKay 1990:66, 76). Ironically, this is a fair description of the Mausoleum Book itself.
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Throughout this book I resist taking sides in late Victorian auto/ biographical debates. The Mausoleum Book’s dialogue with Anny Thackeray does, however, have implications for the way we think of both Stephen and his sister-in-law. The first is a kind of health warning over the Anny myth. The insistence with which commentators on Thackeray Ritchie during her life and subsequently have returned to the same tales of her vagueness, her sympathy for others and her disorganization leads me to suspect that she serves an ideological function in the historiography of Victorian letters.24 Stephen’s Anecdotes are invariably designed to cut her, and byextension all ‘uneducated’ women bold enough to have opinions, down to size: ‘ “There are forty millions of unmarried women in London alone!” she once declared to me’ (Bell  1977:14). Her work, both in its weaknesses and its strengths, is still appraised almost exclusively in terms of these qualities of exaggeration and woolliness: indeed the ease with which her personality and writing can be collapsed together seems to be part of her cultural resonance. For Stephen, evidently, Thackeray Ritchie represented not just other ways of being and working, but other kinds of stories and other ways of thinking—or not thinking—about genre. And he was not immune to their seductions. In the Introduction I suggested that feminist reappraisals of Life-writing allow us to see it as a contested genre, rather than one over which some men had unproblematic control. On 29 January 1898, Stephen wrote to George Smith, proprietor of the DNB, that his entry on William Makepeace Thackeray ‘was written under difficulties because I cannot speak freely, writing as I do under Anny’s authority. I had therefore to be dry and cramped for fear of making it too effusive’ (Fenwick 1993:244). If thoughts of Anny could tie Stephen up in knots, they could also precipitate a reshuffle in the division of biographical responsibility. Two months later he wrote to Norton that My greatest helper has been and is Anny Ritchie—the most sympathetic & sociable of beings that ever lived, as I often think. She is bringing out a new edition of her father’s works and certain ‘biographical prefaces’, including many new letters &c and really, as I think, very interesting. I have written a life of him for the dictionary, which is as dry as I can make it; but intended to serve as a kind of table of contents to her quasi-biography &, I hope, to keep her dates & facts a bit straight. (Bicknell 1996:II 489) What the Mausoleum Book demonstrates graphically is that, in the late nineteenth century, Life-writing was not just an inscription but a medium of
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gender relations, both at the level of the micropolitics of daily life for writers, and in terms of professional practices and aesthetic codes. Why it should have been so, and the conflicts to which this state of things gave rise, will be explored in detail in Part 2. I will anticipate those discussions here only to the extent of noting that, in the Mausoleum Book, issues of gender and genre are reciprocally at stake in ways which reflect—and constitute—a crisis of literary masculinity. This crisis, while in important ways specific to the Stephen family and its circumstances, was part of a wider shift in sexual politics in the 1890s inEngland. The last decades of the nineteenth century were not just the era of the DNB: in and through the massive press coverage of the Oscar Wilde trials, campaigns for Social Purity, the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and the so-called Marriage Question, they also witnessed a large-scale reassessment of domestic accountability, a reframing of what it meant to be married and a crystallization of gender identities around what we now think of as the hetero/homosexual divide.25 The relationship between these developments and the writing of literary Lives is the subject of Part 2. For now, I offer up the possibility that the tensions expressed in the Mausoleum Book anticipated, and may even be said to have precipitated, the experiments with sexual and genre we associate with modernism, and with Virginia Woolf in particular. In this chapter I have refrained from reading Stephen from the point of view of Virginia Woolf’s literary development: my purpose has been to examine the operation of gender in the male text rather than the other way round. It is worth remembering, however, that her rewriting of the Victorian age owes as much to Thackeray Ritchie’s as to her father’s style of being and writing. Or rather, as Woolf’s obituary to Thackeray Ritchie made clear, her aunt’s undauntedness in the face of Eminence provided her with a way of looking at, by seeing round, the frock-coats and frowns of the Victorian mausoleum. Very likely the great man has said nothing memorable, perhaps he has not even spoken; occasionally her memory is not of seeing him but of missing him; never mind—there was an inkpot, perhaps a chair, he stood in this way, he held his hat just so, and miraculously and indubitably there he is before our eyes. Again and again it has happened to us to trace down our conception of one of the great figures of the past not to the stout official biography consecrated to him, but to some little hint or fact or fancy dropped lightly by Lady Ritchie in passing, as a bird alights on a branch, picks off the fruit and leaves the husk for another.26
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28 July 1895 Dearest Anny, …I should rather like you to look at the letters to you from me— in 1877 chiefly. They brought back to me very vividly feelings which had grown rather obscure in my memory. I certainly blew you up pretty freely and spoke my mind frankly of other people. Yet, on the whole, I was satisfied that I had substantially done my best to help you. You very probably remember the incidents better than I do; but, as I say, I should like you to refresh your memory. Naturally, at this time I feel as if I might die—though it is not a bit likely—and that suggests a desire that you should distinctly remember what we were to each other. I think these letters show it. Dearest Anny—you have been very kind & sweet to me since this blow. I cant see, and indeed, as yet can hardly try to think, what my future is to be like. I know in any case that you can do more than anyone outside my own household to help me & I know that you will be glad to give me any help you can. I must try whatever else I do to arrange things so as to see you as often as I can. I feel still so tired and weak that I do not try to form any definite plans. Ever your affectionate LS (Bicknell 1996:II 445–6)
Part 2 FROUDE’S CARLYLES Anatomies of a controversy
3 DUST-CLOUDS AND DISSONANCES Married life as a literary problem
I James Anthony Froude’s publication, in the 1880s, of documents by and about his friend and mentor Thomas Carlyle precipitated a controversy that still has its partisans today. The intervening century has seen the debate take a number of forms: sexology, psychoanalysis and a range of feminisms have had their say.1 But in each instance the aim on both sides has been constant: to establish the truth about Carlyle. For reasons that will become clear, this has entailed two further tasks: defining the proper relationship between Carlyle’s work and his marriage; and understanding Froude’s likely motivation in exposing his erstwhile master to the risk of damaging speculation, censure and even ridicule. My own aim in Part 2 is not to resolve any of these issues, but to raise a more basic one: why did any of it matter? An authorized biographer of a contemporary celebrity will always encounter controversy. His or her work must satisfy several, sometimes incompatible, audiences. It must meet the expectations of an extensive and probably variegated circle of personal connections with vested interests. It must appease a body of devotees requiring a commemorative emblem. It must gratify a wider public with an appetite for intimate disclosure and possibly for revenge; and it must submit to a jury of professional biographers concerned to regulate the circulation and value of personal information. The fact that, as we have observed in the person of Leslie Stephen, in the late nineteenth century several of these audiences could, and often did, inhabit the same body at the same time did not make them any less demanding nor any less prone to contradiction. But it takes more than a disagreement between existing constituencies to generate and sustain a scandal. As Ed Cohen has argued,scandal’s capacity to ‘catalyze’ individuals into new alliances, sometimes against their own
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preferences, suggests that its ‘ “content” must in some sense include behavior that confounds the very certainty of basic social distinctions and implies that there are no clear (moral, ethical, legal) boundaries for human action’ (1993:120). The Froude-Carlyle controversy can usefully be read as a struggle to renegotiate scandalized social distinctions. In the vicissitudes of Carlyle’s reputation, in other words, we witness the emergence of biography as a cultural space in which familiar social configurations were unsettled and rethought. In one sense, the controversy’s provenance in an instance of biography simply underlines the suggestion made in Part 1 that social and cultural boundaries—issues of gender and genre, for example—are often coextensive in unforeseen ways. However, that the controversy was about a biography, indeed was about biography, is significant. Subsequent literarycritical and biographical attempts to adjudicate for or against Froude’s construction of ‘Carlyle’ may have obscured the degree to which concerns about normative masculinity were held in common by the various parties. We can learn much from these shared assumptions about the role of biography in late Victorian literary life. We can see how emergent biographical practices, originating as plainly in the popular press, in feminist politics and in the law courts as in strictly literary contexts, were called upon to guarantee a shift in the discursive relationship between the public and the private. In particular, we can see how the first phase of the Froude—Carlyle controversy (1880–1903), from the time of Carlyle’s death until the revelations outlined in Chapters 4 and 5, both reflected and reinforced new relationships between the representation of the man of letters as husband, the surveillance of the middle-class marriage and the regulation of literary masculinity. Conjoining as it does three themes often seen as separable—the professionalization of literature, the reinforcement of compulsory heterosexuality and the rise of Victorian feminism—the episode shows one of the ways in which dissident sexual politics were channelled into the mainstream of Victorian cultural life. After sketching a brief chronology of the controversy I will, as usual, sound out Leslie Stephen’s views. I will then suggest some of the social and cultural factors mat combined to render the debate about Froude’s ‘Carlyle’ so urgent and yet so commonplace an item on the late Victorian cultural agenda. Before doing so I should perhaps point out mat these qualities—urgency and commonplaceness—are also a feature of the rhetoric of the debate itself. From its earliest public utterance in the Reminiscences, the characteristic representation of the Carlylemarriage involved harmless-looking compounds of banal domestic detail suddenly detonated by extreme vehemence of expression.
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‘Oh cruel, cruel!’ Carlyle had groaned, reading his wife’s papers and remembering a passing discourtesy of his own towards her favourite modiste, ‘I have thought of that Elise cruelty more than once.’2 Thomas’s refusal to visit Madame Elise the dressmaker was just one of dozens of slights he was supposed (or supposed himself) to have inflicted upon his wife: his infatuation with the society hostess Lady Ashburton; the way he allowed Lady Ashburton to patronize his wife Jane; the time when Jane was bundled into a train carriage with the maid while Lady A. languished in her own private compartment; the stingy housekeeping money Jane was granted even in the days of their prosperity; the present of five pounds Jane was allowed from her own mother’s estate; and so on (Larkin 1886:310– 25). The obsessiveness with which readers of the Jane Welsh Carlyle papers, from Carlyle onwards, returned to, and dissected, such accusations of neglect suggests that, paradoxically, it was the accumulation of intimate and apparently trivial domestic detail that made the Carlyle story sensational. Clearly, a generation of readers brought up on the doings of Cranford and Carlingford were unlikely to be outraged by seeing domesticity in print. Rather, it was the conjunction of sordid domestic detail with ideals of masculinity that scandalized. Where Carlyle’s writings had asserted a natural fit between the theory of heroism and the practice of hero-worship, his own biography seemed to open up alarming fissures between the two. In other words, the controversy consisted of at least two, mutually informing, debates, the one about the nature of heroism and the other about the practice of biography A discussion about ‘cruelty’ in marriage fed directly into ethical discussions about biographical treachery. Conversely, a literary-critical discourse about the value of ‘gossip’ or the ‘trivial’ as biographical evidence slipped readily into a biographical discourse about ‘pettishness’, and by extension culpable ‘unmanliness’, in men. The wider importance of this kind of slippage will become clear as I proceed, but the reader should, in what follows, bear in mind a few general points about this aspect of the debate as a whole. First, the controversy was very seldom just about Froude as biographer, or just about Carlyle’s work or Welsh Carlyle’s writing, or just about the Carlyles’ marriage. Comments on one characteristically drew in their train opinions about the others. The structure of the cases put forward by the adversaries depended on the relative significance accorded to, and hence the precise relationship between, these various components. Secondly, formal and/or ethical struggles about ‘strength’, ‘autonomy’, ‘forbearance’ and ‘importance’ in biography werepreconditioned from the start by the existence of at least two, differently gendered, versions of events. The survival of Welsh Carlyle’s testimony —in letters and journals and in the pithy sayings handed down in
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memoirs and reminiscences—was from the outset integral to the shape of the discussion, though the way in which it figured in the debate changed over time. Finally, a striking feature of the affair is the level of complexity and sheer hair-splitting pedantry sustained within the broad outlines of a national and international controversy: it was a public scandal fuelled not just by rumour, popular journalism and medico-legal titillation like most Victorian social melodramas,3 but by abstruse footnotes, minute questions of dialect and piddling quibbles about commas.4 The Froude–Carlyle debate, in other words, was as much about questions of biographical evidence and proof as about the Carlyles’ love-life, or lack of it. II Any attempt to retell the story of Froude’s Carlyle automatically invokes, and is implicated in, the genealogy and terms of the debate itself. This makes it virtually impossible to render an ‘impartial’ version of events. For the sake of clarity, however, I will outline the main literary-historical episodes and their impact upon the Victorian literary world. During the 1870s Carlyle had confided the bulk of his and Welsh Carlyle’s private papers to his friend James Anthony Froude, on the understanding that, some time after his death, Froude should either publish or suppress as much or as little of the great mass of materials as he saw fit. The understanding was enshrined in the terms of Carlyle’s will, although, as all sides later agreed, his wishes as to the timing and form of—and profits from—any subsequent publication remained ambiguous and were open to a number of readings. In the last years of Carlyle’s life, Froude devoted himself to sifting and sorting the manuscripts, and to deciding which if any of these documents should be made public. Many of them were personal, since they concerned Thomas and Jane’s courtship and marriage. Some were shocking, in that they appeared to testify to painful marital conflict. It was as if, by leaving behind him an account of Jane’s life and an edition of her letters and journals, Carlyle had hoped at once to commemorate what he now saw as the sacrifice of her talents and hopes to his, and to expiate what he regarded as his sins of ingratitude and neglect. Sensing, no doubt, that with both the Carlyles gone, the sacrificial altar would be badly in need of a scapegoat, Froude several times attempted to elicitfrom Carlyle clearer instructions about the materials but received evasive and seemingly contradictory replies. In the event, Froude bit the bullet, and on 5 March 1881, exactly one month after his friend’s death, published two volumes of Carlyle’s Reminiscences. These were narratives improvised around Carlyle’s memories of loved ones, many of them composed in the bitter aftermath of
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Jane’s death. The backlash was instantaneous. Within days of publication, the Reminiscences were the object of vociferous protest in the national press, and before the month was out Benjamin Jowett reported to Lady Abercromby that ‘All London is talking about the Reminiscences’ (quoted in Lilly 1903:1001). It is difficult, now, to reconstruct the various elements that went into this reaction. Initially it was Carlyle’s (entirely characteristic) swiping at members of London society that provoked the first reprisals. By April, aggrieved relatives of Carlyle’s early patrons were writing to Notes and Queries and the Athenaeum to deplore Carlyle’s ingratitude to their kin and to condemn his rudeness about the circle of privilege and taste into which, at the outset of his literary career, he had been admitted. Other commentators immediately stepped in to point out that it should be no surprise that Carlyle had been in private what he was known to have been in public—outspoken and belligerent; and to generalize from the furore to a double standard in the nation’s treatment of its prophets. Was it not strange that readers who had delighted in Carlyle’s denunciations of unveracity and immorality in public life should recoil when they saw the same peremptory standards applied to dinner-party conversation? In an unsigned obituary for the Cornhill, Leslie Stephen argued that it was precisely because Carlyle was ‘invariably and unflinchingly true to himself’ that, in a profession unremarkable for splendid self-sacrifice, he stood out as a hero (1881:358). Just as public opinion seemed to be congealing around a consensus that Carlyle should be consigned, reverently or otherwise, to the past, a sensational volley of letters in the national press between Froude and Mary Aitken Carlyle raised the stakes. Aitken Carlyle had legal, moral and financial objections to Froude’s management of the remains, and especially to the alacrity and intimacy of his disclosures.5 Now she brought these objections into the public arena. She challenged Froude’s decision to publish the piteous account of Jane Welsh Carlyle with the other Reminiscences, citing a note Carlyle had appended to the manuscript in which he solemnly forbade its publication ‘without fit editing’ and asserted that nine-tenths of it would prove to be uneditable after his death. Froude replied that Carlyle had subsequently delegated the matter to his complete discretion, and that the right to publish thememoir had been the sole condition on which he, Froude, had consented to take on the executorship (Dunn 1930:34–5). Whether it was taken as exposing Carlyle’s reticence and Froude’s impertinence, or indeed Carlyle’s indecisiveness and Froude’s boldness on his behalf, the exchange introduced a new element of doubt into the prevalent picture of Carlyle as ruggedly self-consistent. It was this doubtful space that the Froude-Carlyle controversy was to occupy. Where
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neither Welsh Carlyle nor Froude had figured prominently in the early reactions, they were critical to the debate that now ensued. From now on the publication of the Reminiscences was remembered as the time of Froude’s first disclosures about the Carlyle marriage. The controversy gathered momentum. In 1882 the first two volumes of Froude’s biography appeared, Thomas Carlyle: A History of the First Forty Years of his Life. This was followed, a year later, by the three volumes of Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle which Carlyle himself had annotated for possible publication before entrusting them to Froude. Finally, 1884 saw the appearance of the last two volumes of the biography, Thomas Carlyle: A History of his Life in London. As Froude’s task reached completion, he returned the Carlyle manuscripts to Mary Aitken, who immediately authorized the preparation of alternative editions. Soon rival publications began to appear which were intended to ‘rehabilitate’6 Carlyle and to contest Froude’s interpretation of the story: Charles Eliot Norton’s two-volume collection of the Early Letters of Thomas Carlyle (1886), his version of the Reminiscences (1887), and his edition of two further volumes of Letters of Thomas Carlyle (1888). Froude died in 1894, but both his scholarship and his discretion remained under fire until 1903, when the publication of allegations about the Carlyles’ sex life signalled, not a cessation of hostilities, but a change in the rules of engagement. Although the same names recurred often, the controversy was not confined to those who, with whatever justification, regarded themselves as the rightful trustees of Carlyle’s literary estate. From its earliest moments the controversy drew in a much wider circle of pundits, extending from Carlyle’s friends and acquaintances in the literary world (Margaret Oliphant, Henry Taylor and Leslie Stephen, to name but a few) to anonymous newspaper columnists on both sides of the Atlantic.7 Meanwhile, a succession of lesser known biographers availed themselves of the ‘materials for a “Life”’ modestly offered by Froude (1882:I xv), to produce shorter, cheaper digests of the story, at the same time taking advantage of the anti-Froude backlash to press the claims of their own, supposedly more ‘balanced’ assessments of Carlyle’s life and works (Larkin 1886; Garnett 1887; Nichol 1892). This dynamic helpedto render the controversy oddly lopsided, in public at least. Froude had little public sympathy until some years after his death: his self-defence was limited to the volumes already enumerated, and his friends (John Ruskin, George Holyoake and Edward Fitzgerald, for instance) generally confined themselves to private messages of support. On the one hand, even those few personal allies who openly expressed admiration for his efforts, and indignation over the virulent attacks upon him, were careful to distance themselves from his decision to publish the Reminiscences.8 Froude’s
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detractors, on the other hand, were both numerous and verbose, expressing themselves freely in both the popular and the quality press. This more vocal and visible constituency, however, contained significant differences of opinion and approach. Although, as we shall see, the antiFroudians returned compulsively to the same scenes, agreeing that Froude had cruelly betrayed Carlyle’s trust, their strategies for rehabilitating Carlyle were widely divergent. These strategies ranged from denying that the marriage was especially unhappy, to blaming Jane for its unhappiness, to claiming that Carlyle had been at fault but that repentance and private atonement should have sufficed. Interestingly, they would sometimes adopt all three, logically incompatible, approaches in the same article or book. The common denominator among them, lending an appearance of uniformity and coherence to an otherwise motley assemblage, was their voluble outrage at having been compromised by Froude into pursuing the answers to questions that should never have been asked in the first place. As John Nichol put it: ‘No biography can ignore the strange conditions of a domestic life, already made familiar in so many records that they are past evasion’ (1892:42).9 Clearly, Froude’s exposé of the Carlyle ménage had touched a nerve.10 It seems to have raised fundamental questions about the authority of individual men—as celebrities, as husbands and as men of letters—to determine the boundaries of their own privacy. In doing so, it fed deepseated anxieties about the roles of domesticity, love and work in the construction of literary masculinities. What started as a minor dispute about discretion in Life-writing snowballed into a full-scale debate about Lives, writing and the relationship between them. Because of this, the problem of Froude’s Carlyle became a recurrent theme in the correspondence and memoirs of the senior generation of Victorian literati. Attuned as he was to the modulating frequencies of biography, Leslie Stephen was as ready to be scandalized as anyone.
III Ed Cohen has suggested that a scandal differs from news not only in that it precipitates new and often surprising allegiances, but also in that it does so ‘usually in a highly emotional or affective manner’ (1993: 120). In these terms the ‘Froude-Carlyle embroilment’ was quite definitely a scandal. ‘Embroilment’ was the word chosen by Frederic Maitland in his Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, and it neatly conveys the way many late Victorian intellectuals felt implicated in the whole mess. Leslie Stephen was perhaps more embroiled man most. As a biographer he had a professional
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stake in the outcome. As, in a sense, the custodian of ‘national’ biography, he had a political interest. Furthermore he had more than a passing acquaintance with many of the principal parties involved. He had known Carlyle personally, of course, and knew Froude, but he was also a close friend of the vehement anti-Froudite Norton, while his brother Fitzjames, one of Carlyle’s executors, was a friend and staunch defender of Froude. This meant that he was ‘hearing in private both sides of the story’ (Maitland 1906:375). He returned to the matter again and again over the course of more than twenty years, sometimes in his professional capacity as Life-writer, literary historian, critic and editor, sometimes simply as private correspondent and gossip. Two instances of his engagement with the controversy will suffice to give an impression both of the longevity of his puzzlement, and of the uncomfortable questions he found himself asking. Tackling the Carlyle entry for the Dictionary of National Biography in November 1885, he felt the task to be ‘difficult’ and wrote to Norton for advice. His instinct, it seems, was to sidestep the controversy as far as possible. ‘My general idea is to write a highly condensed life, trying to throw the domestic storms into the background, and insisting on C.’s hard struggle for life and independence.’ He was irked at having to rely mainly on Froude’s versions of events and texts: ‘I have cursed the said J.A.F. a good deal, for his nasty spirit about T.C.; his cowardly way of getting behind T. C. to damn things he does not understand and also for his extreme looseness about facts.’ But how could he avoid putting the ‘colouring’ of his ‘raw materials’ into the finished product? Could Norton refer him to versions of the story ‘independent of the obvious ones’? Would Norton’s version be out in time for him to ‘smuggle’ it into the entry? Had Norton ‘any definite facts’—not in Froude’s account—that Stephen might communicate? Should he apply to Mary Carlyle? One can detect a note of panic creeping in as Stephen, professional biographer par excellence, grapples for a way forward: ‘does anythingoccur to you in any way wh. I ought to do or leave undone or look up in any way whatever?’11 Powerless either to counter Froude effectively or to efface him, Stephen’s solution was a compromise. Whatever his original ‘general idea’, in the event he gave a prominence unusual in a DNB entry to the Carlyles’ alleged ‘domestic storms’, but appended a lengthy bibliographical postscript on the charges against Froude, and promised to send the proofs of the article to Norton. Like many commentators before him, Stephen found himself drawn towards a set of questions, and a level of domestic detail, to which he was in principle averse but which were, to borrow Nichol’s phrase, ‘past evasion’.12 Why should Stephen have been so hypnotized by the problem of the Carlyles’ domestic life? A clue can be found in my originative scene: the
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composition in 1895 of the Mausoleum Book. Rereading Julia’s letters shortly after her death, Stephen recalled a sad episode they had witnessed in the early years of their marriage. Julia’s eldest sister Adeline had been married at the age of eighteen to Halford Vaughan, then professor of history at Oxford. Vaughan had been a man of the highest intellectual reputation, and shortly after his marriage he had retired to Pembrokeshire to write the great philosophical work confidently predicted of him by his peers. Once installed in Upton Castle, however, he had become a sort of Casaubon figure: ‘intellectually smoke-dried by his long seclusion from any intercourse with contemporaries of equal ability or familiarity with the course of modern thought’ (Bell  1977:68). Self-obsessed and gloomy, Vaughan had brooded over ‘the sad views of life which…[he was] unwilling to mention to his wife, lest they should disturb her faith’. Over the years, the manuscript of his magnum opus was mysteriously destroyed at intervals—suspicion was cast upon a ‘half-mad servant’—and he had eventually abandoned it in disgust. Meanwhile, Adeline, loyal to the last, had been martyred to an unrealized ideal: ‘Alas!’ Stephen exclaims, ‘I fear that her reward was a poor one…. [H]e accepted her devotion as his due, frankly regarded himself as a superior being and rarely unbent or condescended to caress her’ (Bell  1977:69). Here, writes Stephen, ‘were materials for a domestic tragedy’: This strange, self-willed, proud recluse, absorbed in his futile studies, barely sane in one direction and yet managing all his own affairs, sensibly enough I was told, keeping everything in his hands and ruling his family autocratically, was idolized by his gentle wife, who retained her belief in the genius of theman to whom she had looked up from her marriage at an early age. (Bell  1977:69) When Vaughan died, all that remained in earnest of his great intellectual powers were the beginnings of a first chapter, written and rewritten several times. This sad tale furnished Stephen and his readers with ‘texts for a sermon on the vanity of human wishes’ (70). The lesson was clear, if convoluted: the untrammelled dominance of the patriarch in his own home needed to be offset by association with (male) intellectual equals, otherwise disaster might result. The adoption of a prophetic pose, and the consequent isolation from one’s intellectual community, could render one unproductive as a writer and fruitless as a thinker. Worse still it could end, if not in gratuitous exploitation of, then in unconscious cruelty towards, one’s (female) dependants.
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The point of the story for Stephen was its unnerving similarity to his own domestic circumstances as author.13 ‘She was as devoted to him as my Julia was to me.’ If Vaughan’s life illustrated the dangers of applying a strong self-will to a reclusive profession undertaken at the heart of an autocratic domestic regime, then it epitomized a dilemma facing most men of letters. That predicament had both an ethical and a practical dimension. Since, in its ideal public form, the Victorian moral universe permitted no ambiguity about the nature of duty—duties by definition could not conflict with each other, but could only be misunderstood or misinterpreted—there could be no substantive tension between a genuine vocation as a writer and one’s responsibilities as head of household.14 Just as having eccentric spiritual beliefs (‘sad views’) did not exempt one from showing tenderness to one’s wife, so a test of the rectitude of one’s calling as a writer must be its compatibility with other moral imperatives. If one’s home were unhappy, then either one’s work or one’s government of the home must be at fault. But who was to say which? Here was the practical problem. There was no easy way, in practice, to distinguish between being healthily occupied with one’s vocation and reliant on the loving support of one’s family, and being futilely preoccupied and taking that support for granted. Vaughan’s mistake of becoming too absorbed in his books had led directly to his ‘fault of blindness to a wife’s devotion’. But the difference between mere occupational hazard and moral dereliction had been a matter of degree, not of kind. What was needed in such cases as Vaughan’s, and by analogy Stephen’s, was some reliable way of measuring one’s level ofdomestic impercipience—a kind of marital eyetest—and preferably one that would flatter one’s own sensibilities. Enter ‘Thomas Carlyle’. As we have seen in Chapter 2, when Stephen alluded to failings in those around him it was often in a way calculated to buttress his own self-image. He was nonplussed, rereading his wife’s letters from Upton Castle, to find his own favourite strategy preempted: She tells me too how [Vaughan] talked of Carlyle. She knew that I thought better of Carlyle’s conduct than most people were thinking at the time of the Reminiscences and, I fancy, reported Vaughan’s opinions as confirmatory of mine. I see —now at any rate—that he could hardly be expected to condemn Carlyle’s behaviour to Mrs Carlyle. His own treatment of Adeline was too much of the same kind; and even in one respect less excusable, for Mrs Carlyle must have been more capable of taking her own part than was poor Adeline. (Bell  1977:69)
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Embedded in this seemingly casual aside about Carlyle are a number of important assumptions. The first is that the ‘time of the Reminiscences’ had been a watershed in the history of both Carlyle’s reputation, and the reputation of the man-of-letters-as-husband, to the extent that ‘most people’ in Stephen’s world—even those buried away in Pembrokeshire— could be expected to have an opinion on the subject. The second is that ‘most people’ in the 1880s would have found something questionable in Carlyle’s conduct, apparently differing from each other only in so far as they either excused or condemned it. The third is that Carlyle’s ‘behaviour to his wife’ had become a yardstick of marital (in)competence. And the fourth is that Jane Welsh Carlyle’s ability ‘to take her own part’ somehow made a difference to the conclusions one could draw about her husband. Although, as the passage makes clear, there was no consensus that the Carlyles’ marriage had been a failure, or that if it had been, it was Thomas’s fault, or how any of this affected his reputation as a writer, still, Carlyle biography seems to have provided one of the frames within which the conditions and limits of literary heroism could be safely—because indirectly—interrogated. One can gauge the impact of Carlyle’s domestic biography when Stephen returns to the subject a few pages later: ‘If I felt that I had a burthen upon my conscience like that which tortured poor Carlyle, I think that I should be almost tempted to commit suicide’ (89). Given that Stephen has already hinted that hethought better of Carlyle than most, and making due allowance for Stephen’s characteristic reflex to selfcongratulation, these are strong words. The Carlyles’ literary remains sent the late Victorian world of letters, on both sides of the Atlantic, into a spasm of defensiveness the violence of which went far beyond affronted sensibility. Evidently, more was at stake than the reputation of an individual hero, however influential, the fate of an individual wife, or the motives of an individual biographer. Somehow, by the 1890s, the name ‘Carlyle’ had become a kind of shorthand for the possibility that the vocation of the writer might lead to failure as a husband. It would seem that Carlyle, the Carlyles, their biographies and the controversies raging around them were implicated in new and unsettling ways of thinking about the relationship between authorship, domesticity, self-sacrifice and the conduct of husbands towards wives. One final remark before quitting Stephen’s Mausoleum, however. Even at his most grimly censorious, Stephen leaves open the possibility that Carlyle may have been wrong in his self-accusation (‘If I felt that I had a burthen on my conscience…’). Through a complex mechanism of recognition and repudiation, of identification (Vaughan and Carlyle, Vaughan and Stephen) cut across by dissociation (Stephen/Carlyle), Stephen is able to construe Carlyle as simultaneously worse than himself as husband and potentially
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free from blame.15 It is hardly surprising, then, that the Sage of Chelsea should continue to figure prominently in Stephen’s—and the late Victorian —imagination. IV Why did Froude’s treatment of the Carlyle remains so scandalize their early readers? Carlyle had improvised his ‘monument’ to his wife around her surviving letters, occasional notebooks and journals, and a few recollections submitted by her devoted friend, the novelist Geraldine Jewsbury. Jewsbury’s ‘mythic jottings’, as Carlyle called them, provoked him to set down a more accurate record of his wife’s life. Yet despite his best efforts to annotate her papers so that they harmonized with his own recollections (‘We were not at all unhappy during those three years…’ (Froude 1881:II 175]), they appeared to do him scant credit as a domestic companion, as he was perhaps too retrospectively loyal, or too much of an historian, to attempt to conceal. Indeed, it was their discreditable character that was their point, for it was as an ‘unwitnessed heroine’ that Jane made an engrossing subject (II 169). In many ways, the mass shudder that resulted from their publication seems out of allproportion to what now appear to be relatively unspectacular revelations of domestic discontent and remorse. Carlyle’s determination to ‘atone’ for his behaviour towards Welsh Carlyle, by celebrating her literary gifts and by exhorting others not to make the same mistakes as he, seems uncontroversial enough: Blind and deaf that we are: oh, think, if thou yet love anybody living, wait not till death sweep down the paltry little dust-clouds and idle dissonances of the moment, and all be at last so mournfully clear and beautiful, when it is too late! (Froude 1881:II 260–61) But from the start the Welsh Carlyle papers presented Froude and his readers with a complex biographical problem. Instead of one he had two subjects—subjects frequently in counterpoint if not at odds with one another. However appealing as fiction, such dialogue necessarily stretched to breaking point the structural resources of the conventionally eulogistic Life and Times. For one thing, the inclusion of Welsh Carlyle’s letters and journals in any memorial of Carlyle precluded triumphalism, since they gave the strong impression that Carlyle’s most productive and innovative phases often corresponded with periods of acute domestic turbulence. Furthermore, unless the uncomfortable episodes were to be disposed of discretely by ‘the same fallacy of division that has attempted in vain to
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justify the domestic career of Henry VIII’, some theory of the marriage as a whole would have to prevail (Nichol 1892:129). As Phyllis Rose has pointed out, Froude solved the structural problem by organizing his materials according to a principle of tragic irony which she summarizes thus: ‘Carlyle sees to the heart of society but not into the mind of his partner for life’ (1985:253).16 His thematic and narrative choices— successively to publish Thomas’s and Jane’s versions of their life; to alternate primary material and biographical comment; and to let confusion and dissonance give way ultimately to realization and the restoration of harmony—correspond more or less to the working out of this dramatic principle. For reasons elaborated recently by Stefan Collini, tragedy was not the most congenial of genres to the Victorians, whose ‘pre-emptive commitment to harmony…was hardly a promising basis for a profound understanding of the irresolvable conflicts which must be at the heart of tragedy’, and who were temperamentally inclined to reduce all misfortune to failure of character (1991:80). As it turned out, Froude’s readers almost universally rejected his ‘tragic’ plot, preferring, by the ‘fallacy ofdivision’, to dissect individual incidents in their struggle to localize blame. The same questions, and scenes, recur again and again. Did Jane marry beneath her? During their early ‘exile’ on the Craigenputtock farm, did Thomas impose on Jane a life of physical labour and solitude for which, as a lady of gentle birth and means, she was unfitted? Did Carlyle flirt with Lady Ashburton, alternately leaving his wife at home while he attended on her ladyship’s pleasure, and then insisting Jane accompany him, thus exposing her to unwanted patronage? Was Carlyle really ‘ill to live wi’ ’, as Froude maintained, or was this a misquotation of a misunderstood family joke?17 Rightly or wrongly, and in the face of mounting opposition, Froude developed as his tragic motif the idea of the incompatibility of literary genius and marital happiness. In the fourth volume of his biography (the ninth and last installment of the whole project), he sums up his conclusions thus. Literature was not the employment best suited to a person of Carlyle’s disposition. ‘Active’ life, he points out, involves working alongside others, and necessarily entails the disciplining of the character, the development of patience and the curbing of moods. ‘The man of letters’, in contrast, ‘has no such wholesome checks upon himself’: He lives alone, thinks alone, works alone. He must listen to his own mind; for no other mind can help him. He requires correction as others do; but he must be his own school-master. His peculiarities are part of his originality, and may not be eradicated. The friends among whom he lives are not the partners of his employment; they share in it, if they share at all, only as instruments or dependants. Thus he is
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an autocrat in his own circle, and exposed to all the temptations which beset autocracy. He is subject to no will, no law, no authority outside himself; and the finest natures suffer something from such unbounded independence. (Froude 1884:II 231–2) The idea of the intellectual as eccentric genius detached from worldly ties and sublimely or ferociously indifferent to convention—and the fantasy of ‘unbounded independence’ it sanctioned—had, of course, a respectable pedigree, not least in Carlyle’s own writings.18 So too, and again with Carlylean support, had the characteristically mid-Victorian suspicion that such isolation was not entirely conducive to ‘healthy’—which was to say socially and morally responsible—thought.19 Froude’s innovation was to admit the possibility that the‘instrument’ of genius, the wife, might have her own legitimate, and potentially conflicting, expectations of marriage. In articulating this possibility, Froude was able to draw on a political discourse already adapted to the context of married life, if to rather different ends. In 1869 (two years before Carlyle first handed the Jane papers to Froude [Dunn 1930:12]), John Stuart Mill published The Subjection of Women, thereby counting in the public forum of philosophical debate the moral cost of women’s legal disabilities within marriage. The noble ideal of domesticity—calculated to promote all that was humane and civilizing in men and women by bringing them into closer and more frequent proximity within the sanctity of the home—had had the unforeseen effect of exposing incoherences in the relations between the sexes. By according him ‘almost unlimited power’, the institution of marriage as it stood tended to promote in the husband ‘wilfulness, overbearingness, unbounded selfish indulgence, and a double-dyed and idealized selfishness’. Ironically, these were the very traits domesticity was supposed to subdue and which ‘in all other relations he would have found it necessary to repress and conceal’ until repression became second nature (Mill  1986:42–3). Denied legitimate channels of resistance, wives could only ‘retaliate’ by using the ‘power to be disagreeable’—a power that was demeaning to all concerned and in any case only marginally effective (43). Nor was the damage confined to the home. Anything that distorted ‘character’ necessarily had consequences in and for public life: ‘A man who is morose or violent to his equals, is sure to be one who has lived among inferiors, whom he could frighten or worry into submission’ (42).20 Needless to say, Mill’s transposition of the liberal critique of autocracy into the domestic sphere provided a rich vein for later feminists eager to redefine the reciprocal duties of the sexes.21 But that James Anthony Froude and later Leslie Stephen, opponents in the Carlyle
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controversy and neither of them known for their feminist sympathies, should both find themselves debating the sexual politics of marital failure, and should both echo Mill’s critique of masculinity in doing so, requires some explanation. By what route, and in what guise, had the desires and protests of unhappy wives come within the purview of biography? If one can answer these questions, one can begin to understand why Froude’s revelations about Carlyle so aggrieved his readers. Mill’s argument, however path-breaking politically and philosophically, did not emerge in a vacuum, but within the context of a vigorously promoted ideal of married life, the corollary of which was an already festering disenchantment in some quarters with the experience of middleclass domesticity.22 By shedding light on this phase of thehistory of the family, A. James Hammerton has provided new ways of understanding the dynamics of the Froude-Carlyle controversy. Hammerton suggests that the middle-class ‘companionate’ ideal of domestic harmony raised many women’s expectations of married life and hence eroded their willingness to put up with what they saw as their husbands’ abuses of their legal authority. At the same time, this ideal of wedded life demanded ever more from men by way of time, effort, negotiation and consideration. In such circumstances, the ideology of the companionate marriage soon threatened to buckle against the patriarchal framework on which it was still legally and doctrinally based. While this tension catapulted some men and women into direct confrontation with each other, another result seems to have been what Hammerton calls an ‘adaptation of patriarchy’. The case made by Mill and others that to save the companionate marriage one would have to redress women’s legal disabilities prompted the rejoinder—less explicitly theorized but nonetheless widely believed—that one would do better to preserve the legal structure of marriage by mitigating its worst excesses. This could be achieved, it was thought, by more effective intervention in and surveillance of domestic life, and especially by better management of men’s behaviour in the home (Hammerton 1992:134–63). Many of the apparently incongruent changes in Victorian attitudes to marriage—the coincidence of conservative and liberal elements in the reform of matrimonial legislation, for instance; shifts in the differential treatment of men and women within the law; the upsurge in criticism of marriage by both feminists and anti-feminists alike23—can be located on a continuum between these two radically different responses to the tyranny of male domesticity. Denounced by some and renounced, or repudiated, by others, the husband who was ‘ill to live wi’ ‘necessarily stirred conflicting emotions. Hammerton points to several sites in which these emotions can be seen to erupt into public discourse—many of them, as we shall see, directly relevant to Froude-Carlyle. These include the renegotiation of
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acceptable standards of male behaviour in the home, and the gradual redefinition of ‘cruelty’ in marriage. My reading of the Froude–Carlyle debate suggests that other, more obviously ‘literary’, debates may also have played a part. I am thinking of changes in the popular opinion of genius, and a somewhat begrudging reconsideration of the place of domesticity— and of women’s voices—in the hitherto decidedly manly genre of ‘Life and Times’. Linking all these issues, and becoming more and more urgent as the century drew to a close, was the question of the proper balance between hetero- and homo-sociality in the life, and in representations of the life, of the man of letters. V It is within the cultural dynamics of the ‘marriage question’ as a whole, then, rather than as a simple reverberation of Mill’s feminism, that Froude’s Carlyle, and the Carlyle of his opponents, can best be understood. This context encompassed popular as well as literary interventions, and legal as well as political struggles over the right to regulate married life. Prescriptive writings had traditionally and monotonously implored wives to submit to their husbands and to restrain themselves from nagging on the one hand and covert manipulation on the other. As, during the nineteenth century, the issue of men’s participation in and enjoyment of home life came to be of ‘symbolic importance for the health of companionate marriage’, the duties of self-restraint and forbearance were increasingly extended to husbands (Hammerton 1992: 151). In her anonymous A Woman’s Thoughts about Women (1858) Dinah Craik had, like Mill but to opposite effect, drawn on the language of political philosophy in order to underline both the separation of spheres and the sexual division of (middle-class) labour. ‘[T]n families the only safe form of government is autocracy,’ she had argued, ‘and that autocrat should decidedly be the lady, the mistress. The master, be he father, husband, or brother, has quite enough to do without doors’ ([Craik] 1858:148–9). Only a small-minded gentleman, she went on, ‘muddled about’ at home, meddling with the management of the house, poking over the weekly bills or interfering with the housework and dinner menu: A lady of my acquaintance gives it as her sine quâ non of domestic felicity, that the ‘men of the family’ should always be absent at least six hours in the day…. A house where ‘papa’ or ‘the boys’ are always ‘pottering about,’ popping in and out at all hours, everlastingly wanting something, or finding fault with something else, is a considerable trial to even feminine patience. ([Craik] 1858:152–3)
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For Craik, as for other mid-century defenders of bourgeois domesticity, masculine presence in the home was a luxury to be taken in strict moderation. However, as campaigns for matrimonial reform intensified, such scrutiny of masculine behaviour came increasingly to be framed as a critique, rather than a mitigation, of gender relations (Hammerton 1992: 151). In 1883 one popular advice writer, William Landels (1883),devoted chapters to ‘mutual forbearance’ and ‘mutual consideration’, and told the painful tale of an otherwise loving husband who ‘was so absorbed withal in his little troubles that he had no conception of the trouble that his fidgetiness gave to others’. His wife makes herself ill trying to anticipate, prevent or soothe her husband’s distresses (151). The idea that ‘companionate’ and ‘patriarchal’ models of marriage could coexist peacefully required discreet, ‘hands-off’ husbands. The demanding, selfish husband, blind to the efforts and sufferings of his wife and unwilling to bite his lip over small inconveniences, became a cautionary commonplace in the literature on marriage. Froude adapted this trope so persuasively to his narrative of the Carlyle marriage that, by the 1880s, the cautionary figure in the advice literature was as likely to be Carlyle as like him. Thus the defensively titled How to be Happy though Married by ‘A Graduate in the University of Matrimony’ deplored the way Carlyle would fuss over a missing window-wedge, ignoring, in his self-absorption, all Jane’s ministrations: ‘When a great and good man gives such inordinate prominence to trivial worries, how intolerable to live with must be the baser sort, who scarcely know the meaning of self-control!’ (1885:237). As in Stephen’s subjective response, the ‘Graduate’ solves the problem of incoherences in the ideology of marriage by casting Carlyle as more to blame than the norm while in the same breath exonerating him as above the norm. The ambivalence Froude had written into his critique of Carlyle is faithfully reproduced here (‘When a great and good man…’); indeed, the Carlyles, who feature more frequently in How to be Happy than any other couple, are as often cited for their wisdom, brave struggles and underlying devotion, as for their faults and failings. In this sense, Froude’s depiction of Carlyle as great (man) but flawed (husband) touched a popular chord. What Froude seems to have underestimated, however, was the power of his disclosures, and of Carlyle’s expressively volatile mode of masculinity, to disconcert and ultimately polarize many of his readers. Aghast at the spectacle of the architect of Victorian ideals of patient endurance responding in a ‘soft, shrinking, puling tone’ to the ‘paltry discomforts of life’, many of Froude’s
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earliest readers abjured Carlyle out of hand as unmanly and hypocritical: ‘He mentions an instance in which there was no danger of a “quarrel about the fare” of a cab, “which was always my horror in such cases.” This does not match with the spirit which inspired “The Everlasting No”’ (Morison 1881:459).24 Those who refused to forswear their allegiance to Carlyle altogether simply denied that he was at fault, either by reinterpreting the evidence as the quasi-erotic skirmishing between well-matched sparring partners, or, when the publication ofthe Letters and Memorials made Welsh Carlyle’s distress only too plain, by blaming Welsh Carlyle herself. In the former camp we find Margaret Oliphant, whose review of the Reminiscences debunked the ‘jargon about gentle wives and feminine influences’ as ludicrously inapplicable in this case, and celebrated the way Jane contemplated him, her great companion in life, with a certain humorous curiosity not untinged with affectionate contempt and wonder that a creature so big should be at the same time so little, such a giant and commanding genius with all the same so many babyish weaknesses for which she liked him all the better! (Oliphant 1881:488) Formidable inhabitants of the latter camp, Alexander Carlyle and James Crichton-Browne paid lip-service in 1903 to the fact that ‘Married life is not at its best without its little asperities’, before launching into a full-scale attack on Jane Carlyle’s reasoning—and ultimately on her reason.25 Knowing that ‘nothing pays like a succès de scandal’ Froude, according to his opponents, had seized on the ‘penny novelette’ revelations of Jane’s friend Geraldine Jewsbury (writer of ‘vapid fiction now long forgotten’); had ‘set himself to find some explanation of his dead friend’s “remorse”, which should titillate the prurient palate of a public nourished on society journalism and Divorce Court reports’. He had pitched his biography at the level of ‘ladies’-maids‘ (Lilly 1903:1005).26 No reviewer I have come across managed, as Froude’s complete Carlyle oeuvre arguably did, to accommodate the possibility of Carlyle’s domestic misbehaviour into a generally favourable survey of his life’s achievement.27 An almost unique middle line was taken by Herbert Cowell, one of Froude’s few even-handed reviewers, who declared that [Froude] underestimates the gravity of [Carlyle’s] faults and wholly exaggerates the consequences, at least as regards Mrs Carlyle, which he attributes to them… But without in the least disparaging the virtue of that complete subjection of [Carlyle’s] whole life and prospects to
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whatever he may have regarded as his ruling purpose, it is quite clear that no effort at all was made to recast his own character, temper, and habits in accordance with those views of duty which he was perpetuallyinculcating upon others… But Mrs Carlyle was no victim. She knew exactly what she undertook. ([Cowell] 1882:26–30) Tellingly, Cowell commented that Carlyle’s reminiscences ‘elevated his married life to the dignity of a literary problem’ (29). That the faults Froude had attributed to Carlyle should, often within the same commentary, have been dismissed as venial on the one hand and vehemently denied or condemned on the other, is less surprising when one realizes that such ‘paltry’ abuses of power betrayed the autocratic regime behind the middle-class companionate idyll. Masculine forbearance and deference had a greatly amplified significance within late Victorian sexual politics as part of a much broader strategy of waiving one’s immediate rights in the longer-term interest of the preservation of the status quo. Because of this, the habit of holding one’s tongue, yielding a point or humouring a weakness could no longer be regarded as just a gratuitous embellishment of married life: it also represented a refashioning of masculine hegemony along more flexible, and hence potentially more durable, lines. The new significance accorded to masculine forbearance in the late nineteenth century is directly relevant to the politics of the Froude– Carlyle controversy. Paradoxically, and this is crucial to the debate as I read it, it was not the magnitude of Carlyle’s offences that outraged public sensibility, but their pettiness, their pointlessness. Jane Carlyle may have been unreasonable, resentful, even shrewish, as some commentators were only too pleased to suggest, but a kind word or a caress in season might have appeased her. Carlyle had squandered his authority as a husband over trivialities. Paradoxically, too, it was within the context of a reaction against feminist challenges to male autocracy that Jane Carlyle’s ‘voice’— her protests and complaints—began to attract serious, if not always approving, attention. Carlyle may have had his appointed work, as Henry Larkin reminded his readers, but we could not expect ‘his Wife to forget that she had a woman’s heart, and such wifely claims on his consideration as perhaps few Wives in these superlative days of universal independence and self-assertion could have any pretension to’ (1886:305). Much hung, in the Victorian imagination, on the consideration accorded to those ‘few Wives’ prepared to keep faith with the institution of marriage. If Thomas Carlyle, one of the foremost advocates of stoic virtue, could be shown
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routinely to lose his temper over a missing window wedge, then the future of matrimony was parlous indeed.
VI It is this suspicion that marriage was genuinely under threat from within, from the carelessness and thoughtlessness of those who were supposed to be its beneficiaries, that makes sense of the obsessive, finicky attention to detail characteristic of the Froude-Carlyle controversy Hammerton’s analysis of another set of biographical accounts—the records of Victorian divorce and separation proceedings —and in particular his account of the evolution of the concept of matrimonial ‘cruelty’, help to render this pickiness intelligible both as a sexual-political strategy and as a biographical aesthetic. For Froude’s revelations, and contemporary reactions to them, echo with the newly intensified wrangling of the divorce hearing. As is well known, the Victorian period saw a series of overlapping campaigns to iron out the anomalies inherent in, and mitigate some of the harsher effects of, legal couverture: campaigns against the sexual double standard, wife-beating and the expropriation of married women’s property, for instance. An important group of reforms concerned the streamlining and rationalizing of divorce procedure, one effect of which was an opening up of the possibility of certain kinds of divorce to a slightly wider section of the populace.28 What is less well known is the fact that the new Divorce Act of 1857, and the procedural apparatus around it, retained many of the discriminatory elements of the earlier system. Unlike husbands, a wife could obtain absolute divorce only if she could prove ‘aggravated’ rather than just ‘simple’ adultery (the aggravations including such offences as bigamy, incest, cruelty or desertion). Unless she could do so, her only resort was judicial separation, a state which precluded remarriage, but which could be obtained on grounds of cruelty alone. These circumstances, however inauspicious, combined with the determination of a small but growing number of desperate women to obtain relief from their sufferings at whatever cost to their kinfolks’ purse or privacy, focused judicial, press and public attention on the nature of matrimonial cruelty to an unprecedented degree. Although throughout the period the legal definition of cruelty explicitly excluded ‘[m]ere austerity of temper, petulance of manner, rudeness of language, a want of civil attention and accommodation, even occasional sallies of passion, if they do not threaten bodily harm’,29 Hammerton shows that, in the light of mounting evidence, a judge could occasionally be persuaded to rule in
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favour of a wife where her husband had exercised his patriarchal authority in non-violent, but still ‘unreasonable’ ways. Such judgments entailed a slow but perceptible evolution of case law to accommodatethese nonphysical forms of cruelty.30 As more and more middle-class women brought their husbands’ oppressive behaviour before the courts, the condition of ‘threat of bodily harm’ was gradually stretched to include apparently ‘venial’ acts which, when performed systematically over time, might threaten to ‘injure…health and render a serious malady imminent’ (Geary 1892:176–7).31 The legal developments charted by Hammerton are relevant to the Carlyle case on a number of fronts. Even more plainly than the prescriptive literature discussed above, they confirm that middle-class husbands were becoming publicly accountable in new ways for unreasonable behaviour in the home, and that negligent acts, dismissible as crotchets when seen in isolation, could, when viewed as part of a pattern, take on new, sinister meanings. (This change of attitude may explain why Froude’s posthumous hints that Carlyle was occasionally violent towards his wife had little impact on the debate: his allegations already amounted to a charge of brutality.) The evidence adduced in divorce hearings to establish —or deny—cruelty was extremely various, and often included excessive physical violence, but Hammerton perceives a common theme to have been divergent assumptions about class and economic proprieties. His case studies suggest that marital conflict was frequently expressed as class resentment or humiliation: for instance, husbands ‘punished’ wives by depriving them of their social ascendancy vis-à-vis servants; wives accused their husbands of failing to provide a sufficiently genteel standard of living or of shaming them by ‘low’ conduct. Given the complex of desires and fears invested in bourgeois domesticity in this period, such insults were understood by both parties as slurs on class and gender identity. Revealingly, judges appear often to have allowed the social status of wives to condition the gravity of the offence (Hammerton 1992:86–7, 90–91, 129). The reciprocal relationship between class and gender anxieties in the breakdown and renegotiation of marital norms helps us understand the vehemence with which commentators debated the precise social stratification of the Carlyle marriage. The anti-Froudians, for instance, typically caricatured Froude’s version as ‘uncouth peasant marries refined heiress’ and challenged it minutely on grounds of education, aspirations and regional understandings of class.32 The dynamic also explains why the same images crop up time and again in the controversy: Jane on her knees washing the floor at Craigenputtock; Jane outside Lady Ashburton’s carriage with the maid; the mock-heroic scenes of haggling over the housekeeping money; and so on.33
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More generally—and here social and cultural modes of representation coalesce—Hammerton’s findings bear witness to an increasedwillingness on the part of the courts, and through them the press and the public, to devote time and effort to the minute scrutiny of domestic quarrels. As the eminent judge Sir Cresswell Cresswell pointed out in 1863, the changing nature of divorce litigation challenged the very shape of the forensic process: In the common run of cases, the inquiry is spread over a limited range of time; the conclusion depends upon the converging effect of independent facts and witnesses, often largely fortified by written documents, and illustrated by the daily practice of trade or the ordinary events of life… But in cases of conjugal dispute, where cruelty is the issue, it is far otherwise. The domestic history of years is poured forth by husband and wife in alternate streams of opposite colours; the memory of each is ransacked for the most trivial details; the posture of each mind is antagonistic in the extreme… Events are often misplaced in date, and always exaggerated in aspect. Corroboration is seldom forthcoming. (quoted in Geary 1892:325) That this perfectly describes the shape (or shapelessness) of the FroudeCarlyle controversy need not imply a simple model of cause and effect — with Carlyle’s biography ‘informed’ by changes in matrimonial legislation. What we see in Cresswell’s analysis, and in the Carlyle embroilment, is an adversarial mode of reporting marriage evolving in uneasy counterpoint with what we might call, with due irony, a matrimonial mode of establishing probity. As, through the 1880s, the alternating viewpoints of Thomas and Jane were presented to the public, critics found themselves forced to weigh marital testimony with new subtlety. As the Times review of the Letters and Memorials ruminated on 31 March 1883, if the neglected wife did not actually do well to be angry, we must remember the circumstances of her marriage and the ambitions of her life… She had a ‘spirit of her own’, or she could never have endured as she did endure; though a singularly long-suffering woman, she made no pretensions to be an angel. Horrified by Carlyle’s wish that his wife holiday with her rival Lady Ashburton, the reviewer concludes: ‘[s]imilar conduct is precisely one of those pleas we see continually brought forward when a wife is suing fora separation on the score of cruelty’ (4).34 The legal theme is taken up by Henry Larkin in 1886. Larkin recounts at length how Froude has played ‘Devil’s advocate’ for Carlyle in his early volumes, and has then ‘burnt his
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brief…and accepted a new one: not from Carlyle this time, but from,— perhaps from public opinion, and a laudable desire to be impartial’. ‘But’, asks Larkin rhetorically, and in a gesture of disavowal typical of the controversy, ‘is it not really too bad that two such characters should be used as make-weights for a rhetorical see-saw?’ (1886:317–18). To locate Froude’s work and its aftermath in the context of the Victorian redefinition of marital cruelty is to begin to explain how the Carlyle remains came to fuel ‘the last new scandal of our “common clay” ’ (Larkin 1886:297). It is also to highlight one of the ways in which nineteenth-century biography was informed by contemporary sexual politics. That biographical representations of masculinity were constitutive of as well as responsive to sexual-political debate is less easy to demonstrate. Yet the Carlyle controversy, and the questions it raised about manly behaviour in the home, resonate throughout the late Victorian ‘marriage question’. This was a wide-ranging discussion of marriage inaugurated by Mona Caird and the New Women novelists of the late 1880s and 1890s, and pursued with incredible vigour in the daily press. When, in 1888, Harry Quilter came to edit a single volume from the 27,000 multifarious responses to the Daily Telegraph’s question ‘Is Marriage a Failure’, he confessed by way of preface that he had classified somewhat in a court of law fashion, and being as innocent of briefs as an old barrister well can be (and that is very innocent indeed), enjoyed dividing the matter under the legal headings of the Case for the Plaintiff and for the Defendant, the Plaintiff here being the lady who accuses Marriage of being a failure. My readers are the judges, the correspondents the witnesses. (Quilter 1888:5) Like the Carlyle debate itself, the Telegraph correspondence attests to a detailed and searching re-evaluation of marriage among the bourgeoisie: a discussion in which the minutiae of married life had as much purchase as liberal notions of rights on the one hand, or dogmatic appeals to biblical or statutory authority on the other hand. Many of the letters are eerily reminiscent of Froude’s narrative. ‘We are “too disputatious” for each other’s company’ writes a ‘Tired Wife’: there is not a subject under ‘this majestical roof,’ or beyond it for that matter, on which we can agree, and surely we’ve had enough of it. My husband has a liver, and I’ve got nerves, both, I firmly believe, the result of this mismatching. (Quilter 1888:137)
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‘True,’ writes another, ‘I was not ill-used in one sense of the term—I was not struck, knocked down, or kicked; but to a sensitive nature there are worse cruelties than absolute ill-usage’ (58). Another correspondent, Amicus Curiae’ (whose advice coincides suspiciously with that of the author of How to be Happy but who might equally pass for either James Froude and Leslie Stephen, those other ‘graduates of matrimony’), makes a series of recommendations to husbands. They should absent themselves for at least six hours every day (‘except Saturday, when you can try four’); they should try exercise for ‘the demon dyspepsia’; and should temper autocracy with a healthy respect for public opinion: It is unfair to blame the institution of marriage when no pains are taken to make it work smoothly. There are, I am convinced, hundreds of cases of so-called incompatibility where the judicious advice of a friend, really acted upon, would soon mend matters; only we men are too proud to accept outside advice, and often too lazy or too exacting to give it to ourselves. (Quilter 1888:162–3) The maxims of Amicus Curiae bespoke a widespread conviction that patriarchal marriage was under threat, and that it could only be revived if husbands mended their ways, swallowed their pride and accepted the intervention of other men in their private conduct, for many Victorian readers, the Carlyle papers seemed to testify that the threat to male hegemony was not only real, but emanated from the same source as many of their most cherished nostrums about masculinity: from the great Thomas Carlyle himself. Ironically, however, this localizing of the problem in the figure of an acknowledged genius simultaneously allowed most readers to feel exempt from the general malaise. ‘We men’ might be lazy, but ‘we’ were also exacting. Such readers could observe, pity, arbitrate and pass judgment secure in their sense of ordinariness. The Froude-Carlyle controversy, then, had a sort of talismanic function. This helps to explain the public’s tolerance, even appetite, for minute biographical detail and endless repetition of the same apparently trivial incidents in the lives of the Carlyles. It also clarifieswhy the debate about the Genius of Cheyne Row fed so readily into popular understandings of both marriage and literary heroism. A skit in The Book-Buyer reported the establishment of a ‘Society for the Protection of Genius’, an association devoted to the preservation of that endangered species through ‘the extermination of the impression, now held by many young women, that irritability always accompanies genius’ (quoted by ‘Graduate’ [1897:8–9]). Other echoes of the controversy can be heard in the accounts of ‘Love
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Affairs of the Eminent’, which enjoyed a minor vogue between 1890 and 1910. This genre specialized in tantalizing its readers with hints of domestic scandal (‘There are two species of husbands difficult to live with— the genius and the fool’), while at the same time reassuring them that ‘properly handled’, preferably by a wife who was not herself a genius, ‘a man with the divine afflatus will not infrequently…make as good a husband as the stupidest plodder in existence’ (‘Graduate’ 1897:3).35 The Carlyle affair, needless to say, provided both a rich source of material (they invariably had a chapter to themselves) and the rationale for such anthologies. Here is the ‘Graduate of Matrimony’ again: There was a time when the possession or supposed possession of ‘genius’ was held to justify a man being irritable and everything that a husband should not be. Now, however, we have come to the conclusion that men of intellect ought to have a law in their lives not less but even more than stupid people. (‘Graduate’ 1897:2)36 Represented as the antitype of the considerate, forbearing and obligingly absent middle-class spouse, the Carlylean genius-as-husband lent a little reflected glamour to less than perfect marriages, even as he reminded other couples how lucky, how civilized, they were. VII Froude’s handling of the Carlyle literary estate did not, as is sometimes assumed, deal a lethal blow to Carlyle’s reputation. The picture, even at a superficial glance, is more complicated: Carlyle was talked about more, and more heatedly, in the years after his death than he had been for over a decade. Any diminution of Carlyle’s intellectual or personal prestige coincided with a proliferation of discussions of him as a character, as a husband and as a literary stylist, as well as with a consolidation of ‘Carlyle’ as a national institution.37 My reading suggests that the drastic reappraisal of Carlyle that took place in the lasttwo decades of Victoria’s reign partook of, and contributed substantially to, a re-evaluation of the man of letters as domestic partner. Central to this re-evaluation was the inception of a new mode of biography. It had the capacity to represent both the dailiness, and the tensions, of married life, and, at its best, the capaciousness to accommodate the voices of both partners in the marriage. This mode of biography employed what I have referred to as a matrimonial mode of
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establishing probity, and in doing so echoed the language, and the anxieties, of the divorce hearing. Like Mill, Froude had put his finger on tensions inherent in the structure of bourgeois marriage, and had visualized their repercussions in the daily life of the Carlyles. Unlike Mill, but in concert with the new apologists for marriage, Froude had attributed these tensions, not to marriage itself, but to Carlyle’s professional life-style. It was as a married writer, rather than simply as a husband, that Carlyle’s behaviour was problematic. As an author he perforce spent his days ‘alone’ at home, exempt from the ‘wholesome checks’ of ‘active’ life: a law unto himself. And it was as an author that he could and should be forgiven. After all, a writer’s ‘peculiarities are part of his originality, and may not be eradicated’; they are but ‘the vapours which hang about a mountain, inseparable from the nature of the man’ (Froude 1884: I 6). The domestic storms, Froude intimated, might even underline and reconfirm Carlyle’s genius. In many ways this was an inspired move. It made sense of such marital strife as might be inferred from the Welsh Carlyle papers. At the same time it transposed the whole question of conduct to the register of aesthetics, where it could be resolved as fidelity to Carlyle’s own models of biography and literary heroism—his defence of Boswell’s Johnson, for instance. Froude had trusted to Carlyle’s status as a genius to explain and acquit him as a husband. In the event, his confidence that readers would countenance unreasonable domestic conduct in the short term as the price of Carlyle’s achievements in the longer term seems to have been misplaced. Although the 1890s stereotype of the sexually ambiguous, morally bankrupt aesthete is far removed from the conventional image of the Sage of Chelsea, all the evidence suggests that by the time Froude published his account of Carlyle even genius of the rugged-bearded-prophet variety attracted no moral amnesty. In 1895, James G. Kiernan devoted his leading article for the Alienist and Neurologist to the question ‘Was Carlyle Insane?’. Running through the usual indictments of Carlyle—Welsh Carlyle’s ‘farm drudgery’, Carlyle’s ‘brutally dictatorial’ handling of the household finances, the Ashburton episode—Kiernan found symptoms of the ‘race egotism’ ofthe lowland Scots in Carlyle’s refusal to recognize the justice of Welsh Carlyle’s complaints. Giving a new twist to a now familiar theme, he generalized that ‘Sex equality in evolution is an expression of advance not degeneracy. Recognition of defects implies exaction of strict responsibility in both sexes, and hence elevation in evolution. Where sex autocracy exists it results like all autocracy in degeneracy’ (Kiernan 1895: 250–51).38 Recent work has shown that evolutionary anxieties, fostered in the disciplines of anthropology, psychiatry and criminal law, converged by the
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end of the century in a deep-rooted suspicion of genius. The future, it was held, could no longer be entrusted to a species of man whose constitution, mental and physical, rendered him ill-qualified to reproduce himself, let alone the fortunes of the ‘race’.39 While Froude’s thesis about Carlyle seemed less and less tenable as the fin-de-siècle devaluation of genius accelerated, its fate had been sealed long before, in the divorce courts and the popular press. Yet Froude’s opponents were just as likely to find themselves wrong-footed by these developments. If the domestic tendencies of the literary genius smacked of degeneracy, Carlyle’s defenders had little choice but to minimize his differences from other men, even at the expense of his mystique.40 Hence Crichton-Browne’s attack on Froude relied heavily on ascribing to Jane the role of household lunatic, and on some masterful point-missing on the score of Thomas’s ‘neglect’: ‘On the whole he spent much more time with her than the average husband is wont to spend with his wife. He did not dine at his Club on dainty dishes and leave her to fare on cold mutton at home’ (Carlyle 1903: 1xxi). As we shall see in Chapter 5, Crichton-Browne was a key figure in the transformation of the Froude–Carlyle controversy from a debate about conduct to a debate about sex. It is, of course, for the early twentieth-century allegations about Carlyle’s sexual potency that the uproar over his biography is known, in so far as it is known, today. Contextualizing the Froude–Carlyle affair within the late Victorian debate about marriage enables us to account for the fact that the dispute about Carlyle had been underway for twenty years before Froude’s suspicions about Carlyle’s virility were made generally known. Hence Carlyle’s metamorphosis from omnipotent to impotent husband was less dramatic than it might appear. The wholesale translation of the debate into the language of psychiatry, eugenics and medical jurisprudence which took place at the turn of the century in some ways simply confirmed and underlined a sense of public dissatisfaction with the figure of the openly autocratic husband. In the 1880s, when Froude developed and published his account of the Carlyles, marriage was, as Hammerton suggests, a ‘confused amalgam of inconsistent ideals—patriarchal authority and companionate marriage— each based on an illusory identity of incompatible interests’ (1990:292). There was a sexual-political climate in which the possibility that women might resist their husbands’ unreasonable behaviour was at least countenanced; a climate, moreover, in which it was feasible for women to gain a public hearing for their complaints without necessarily forfeiting their respectability. Husbands’ unbending and gratuitous insistence on their rights was being scrutinized as potentially counterproductive. Marital relations were subject to intensified surveillance. The vitiating effects of absolute power on moral health in general, and the aggravating effects on
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matrimony of unrelieved domesticity in particular, were being canvassed. Histories such as Carlyle’s and Halford Vaughan’s seemed to confirm the argument put forward by Mill, Frances Power Cobbe and other Victorian feminists that ‘companionship’ without legal and economic equality simply increased men’s opportunities for intrusion and abuse of power. Most commentators, however, diagnosed the wrong kind of companionship rather than the wrong kind of power. In effect, Froude’s narrative and the controversy to which it gave rise conforms closely to the pattern Mary Poovey has discerned in Victorian discussions about marriage and divorce: one of ‘repeatedly returning to the same issues, repeatedly turning away from the possibility that men and women could be equal under the law’ (1989:53–4). As Poovey also argues, and as we saw illustrated in Chapter 2, the midVictorians represented literature as a special kind of work, at once embedded in and ‘transcending’ the contradictions of market relations, and hence as ‘the site at which the alienation endemic to all kinds of labor under capitalism simultaneously surfaced and was erased’. Poovey goes on to show that this portrayal of literary labour depended reciprocally on the representation of women’s domestic work as a ‘nonalienated expression of a selfless self’ (1989:13–14). From its inception, however, this fantasy coexisted precariously with a fantasy of identity between the career of letters and the private sphere: writing was special because it shared with domesticity the privileges of retirement, passivity and quietude.41 The Froude-Carlyle controversy suggests that by the end of the century neither myth of writing was fully tenable. In the courts, in the press and in their literary works women were challenging their roles in the drama of the male vocation: the reciprocity, as Jane Carlyle would have said, was all on one side. At the same time, literary husbands were on the defensive, examining —andusually exempting—their own domestic conduct and volunteering each other for public scrutiny. VIII On 31 December 1894, Leslie Stephen launched the Carlyle Memorial Fund, with the aim of purchasing the house on Cheyne Row for use as a Carlyle museum. ‘I need not’ he wrote in the Times, ‘speak of the constant references to the house in the voluminous Carlyle literature, which, whatever else may be said of it, contains the most graphic portraiture of a man of genius that has ever appeared in our language…’ (The Times, 31 December 1894, p. 6). After a long and occasionally embarrassing campaign of lobbying and fundraising the museum finally opened, neatly
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illustrating the paradox that one could preserve the sanctity of domesticity —even unhappy domesticity—by offering it as public spectacle.
4 FROUDE The ‘painful appendix’
I Some few months into the new century, a ‘bright, alert, middle-aged, and intelligent Scotswoman’ crossed the threshold of the Carlyle House on Cheyne Row. The ensuing incident was reported by the custodian of the museum to Mr Reginald Blunt, who in turn recounted it to the readers of the Cornhill Magazine in September 1901. Having signed the visitors’ book as ‘Mrs Broadfoot of Thornhill, the woman ‘went all over the house with keen interest and obvious familiarity, remarking the changes which had taken place in its arrangements, and recalling, as she passed from room to room, the old positions of the furniture and belongings’. Tipped off, no doubt, by Jessie Broadfoot’s tell-tale knowledge of the innards of the house (who else would set store by the ‘arrangements’ and the position of furniture?) the custodian drew from her the fact that she had worked there as housemaid in the months just before and after Jane Welsh Carlyle’s death. The ‘discovery’ of Jessie Broadfoot added further fuel to a controversy that, as we have seen, had already been under way for twenty years. The charges levelled at Froude as biographer of the Carlyles had been, from the start, as much to do with issues of method and approach as with interpretation, and one of the most frequent allegations made against him was (and still is) that he had embarked upon the Carlyle story as an archival historian might rather than as a biographer should; that he had focused narrow- and literal-mindedly upon the manuscripts in his immediate possession rather than seeking out the testimony of surviving eyewitnesses, reassembling the Carlyles’ multifarious correspondences, or reconstructing their networks of friends.1 The result, according to this view, was a picture of the Carlyles as isolated figures in a stark Greek tragedy rather than well-loved, well-connecteddenizens of Chelsea. The quest to
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track down alternative testimony—the testimony of everyone from close friends to casual acquaintances—generated an entire sub-genre of Carlylean reminiscence,2 of which Blunt’s relentless pursuit of the Cheyne Row servants was a minor but significant branch. Though couched as a question of professional discipline rather than ideology, the accusation of exclusivity, like most critiques of Froude’s methodology, was invariably harnessed to competing understandings of the scene of biography itself, and hence to issues of power and pleasure. This chapter will examine in more detail the erotics of the controversy as they involved both Froude and his opponents. For now, however, we return to Jessie Broadfoot. In the course of her ‘chat’ with the curator, it transpires that Jessie had many interesting and intimate little recollections of her year at No 5 to recall: memories of the almost incessant illness of Mrs Carlyle; of many kindnesses from Mr Carlyle, who had always liked and thought well of her; and of the friends and visitors of the house, amongst whom she remembered Ruskin, Froude, Tyndall, Forster, Darwin, Huxley, Tennyson, the Duke of Argyll, Miss DavenportBromley, Dean Stanley, the Marchioness of Lothian, the Countess of Airlie, Geraldine Jewsbury, Mr Whistler, and others. Rather a notable galaxy for the modest doorstep of a Chelsea ‘Row.’ (Blunt 1901:456) Her anti-Froude credentials are established immediately. Not only is she in possession of just the kind of contextualizing reminiscence Froude had neglected, but these recollections conform obligingly to an anti-Froude metonymy: Mrs Carlyle’s illnesses, Mr Carlyle’s kindnesses, Number 5’s visitors. When she happens to mention that she possesses ‘several letters of Mrs Carlyle’s, written at the time of entering her service, and that she had thought of burning these’, the custodian ‘raise [s] her voice in horrified protest’. Jessie Broadfoot accordingly forwards the letters to the custodian, who passes them to Blunt. Before proceeding to publication, Blunt elicits from Broadfoot sundry ‘interesting memories’ of her time at Cheyne Row. Naturally, these are ‘kindly and honourable memories, very different from those which some who did not know him might expect to have heard from her’ (467). Very different, that is, from Froude’s. Finally Blunt obtains the crucial anti-Froudian imprimatur. ‘It should be mentioned—if only by way of muchneeded example—that the permission of Mr Alexander Carlyle [nephew of Thomas and husband of Mary Aitken] has been sought and given to the publication of these letters’ (457).
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The letters, four in all, show Jane Welsh Carlyle undertaking the delicate and hazardous business of hiring a servant at a distance. Known to Welsh Carlyle as an industrious and well-brought-up young woman of Thornhill, Jessie was the latest of three generations of her family to serve Jane’s, and thus came with the added recommendation of ‘breed’. The negotiations were tricky nonetheless. Jessie was apparently used to a lively house in Edinburgh boasting many servants, and might well balk at the terms of the offer: What my Housemaid has to do is just, I suppose, what other Housemaids have to do, where there are only two servants kept. She has to do the House work, to answer the door, to wait at table, to be the least bit of a Lady’s maid to me, and the least bit of a valet to Mr Carlyle.… I give my Housemaid twelve pounds a year, and one pound ten for beer money, which she may drink or save—as she likes; tea and sugar of course is given. (Blunt 1901:458)3 Nevertheless, after some minor adjustment to the salary, a bargain is struck and Jessie briefly joins the Carlyle household. One of the striking aspects of the Froude—Carlyle controversy as a whole is the way what started as a project of literary biography developed into the kind of domestic voyeurism we see in Blunt’s essays. There is a clear echo here of Victorian social exploration: of the efforts of an Arthur Munby or a Henry Mayhew to document working-class lives (Walkowitz 1992; Hudson 1972; Stanley 1992:158–80). The Cornhill article narrates an encounter whose distended class and gender relations locate the women’s work as ‘evidence’ and the men’s as ‘research’; women’s words as ‘chat’ (for the housemaid) or ‘charming letters’ (for the mistress), and men’s as ‘permission’ and ‘explanation’ (Blunt 1901:457). Yet the episode’s staging as a scene of biography subtly shifts the relations of power and subordination implicit in either the bourgeois household or, for that matter, the practice of social investigation. Blunt’s difficult task of disclosing intimate domestic detail without becoming implicated in either its intimacy or its domesticity is evident in the lengths he must go to re-contextualize what are, according to his own evaluation, ‘not documents of any historic importance’ (456). Jessie’s letters from Jane Welsh Carlyle are instantly recategorized as ‘letters of Mrs Carlyle’ which must be ‘rescued from’Jessie (457) in order to be written up (and copyrighted) by Blunt, and authorized for publication by the husband of Thomas Carlyle’s literary heir. Claiming the letters as literary estate is a way of disclaiming any taint of gossipmongering that might accompany their publication: for the delicious
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prospect of descending, with Froude, to the level of ‘ladies’-maids’ is never far away (see Chapter 3 note 26 above). At the same time, however, Blunt must establish Jessie’s status as a respectable and reliable witness, and he hints more than once at the embourgeoisement of this ‘quondam “maid” ’ (456). The result is a doubled voyeurism, in which the erstwhile housemaid ‘does the tour’ of her former employers’ lives, while the biographer watches her from a safe distance. The dramatic tension of the report derives from whether, from their spectacularly different vantage points, the scholar and the maid will be able to ‘see’ the same thing at all.4 Fortunately, Mrs Broadfoot is pretty sharp, and Blunt is able to show her seeing exactly what he wants to show her seeing. The climax of the piece is provided by Jessie: I could have lived with him all my days, and it always makes me angry when I read, as I sometimes do, that he was ‘bad tempered’ and ‘gey ill to get on with.’ He was the very reverse in my opinion. I never would have left him when I did, had I not been going to get married…. I took great pride in attending on him at all times and studying his wants and wishes. (Blunt 1901:467) Blunt’s appropriation of Jessie as anti-Froudian is a triumph. Even so, his essay fails to solve the problem of making the housemaid’s evidence conclusive. This is partly because the bulk of it—Welsh Carlyle’s letters of appointment—dramatizes nothing if not Jessie’s displacement. She is shown migrating from her native country to another where she has ‘nobody of [her] own’ (459). Her own testimony affirms that she soon left Carlyle to marry, and hence shifted between three households and three masters within a matter of months. Yet to counter the image of Thomas Carlyle as ‘ill to live wi’ ’, this body of evidence has to be mobilized in the service of an image of unalienated female labour (‘I could have lived with him all my days… I never would have left him… I took great pride in attending on him’). Furthermore, despite Blunt’s insistence on her brightness and intelligence, it is Jessie’s supposed insensibility, in failing properly to value the documents in her possession, which animates the episode in the first place. Finally, the imperative to document a frenzied and illustrious social life for the Carlyles is at odds with Blunt’s own need as anti-Froudian biographer to preserve a senseof respectful distance between himself and his subjects; so while Jessie’s meniality at least places her within doors, Blunt is left loitering on the threshold of his own story. The danger that Jessie might (indeed must) know more than is narratively proper for a biographer, or the reader, to perceive makes the narrator’s position distinctly precarious. Ultimately,
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Blunt’s unnecessarily far-fetched excuse for publishing the letters—that they represent ‘the unintentional contribution of a highly gifted woman towards one solution of the great servant problem’ (457)—only serves to draw withering attention to his quandary. In Chapter 3 we observed that at the heart of the reaction to Froude’s revelations was a profound anxiety about the role of men in the home: an anxiety legible in terms of contemporaneous developments in the politics of marriage and divorce. Many commentators had responded to the ideology of the companionate marriage, not by celebrating a new, egalitarian family, but by promising a new family romance: one in which the reward held out to women for their selfless labour was the greater leniency and self-regulation of men. If the Froude-Carlyle controversy joined other social movements in exerting pressure towards domestic surveillance, disclosure and accountability, the jury was still out over who should do the watching, who the telling and who the totting up. In the scramble to manage Carlyle’s posthumous reputation two main questions emerged: what had the Carlyles’ marriage really been like, and why did Froude, of all people, describe it as he did? These two questions were treated as virtually inseparable, and it is the historical and discursive conditions that allowed or forced them to overlap, and that encouraged the migration of terms and assumptions between them, which interest me here. These conditions had to do, on the one hand, with the authority newly attributed to the testimony of wives in the analysis of marriage, and on the other, with new pressures on the kinds of exchanges permissible and desirable between men. II Reginald Blunt’s insistence on authenticating and ratifying documents for which he claims only the most modest signficance, highlights a recurrent preoccupation of Carlyle biography: the question of property. The very first words of the first volume of the first installment of Froude’s biographical and editorial work on the Carlyles had been an assertion of ownership: In the summer of 1871 Mr Carlyle placed in my hands a collection of MSS. of which he desired me to take charge, and to publish, should I think fit to do so, after he was gone. They consisted of letters written by his wife to himself and to other friends during the period of her married life, with the ‘rudiments’ of a preface of his own, giving an account of her family, her childhood, and their own experience together, from their first acquaintance till her death. (Froude 1881:I v)
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Almost every subsequent intervention in the debate, whether by Froude, the Froudians or the anti-Froudians, included some version or other of this momentous handing-over of the Carlyle manuscripts. Deceptively simple at face value, the spectacle of Thomas Carlyle’s offer, and Froude’s acceptance, of Jane Welsh Carlyle’s private papers, and with them of a mandate to manage the public’s knowledge of their private lives, posed a number of complex and interrelated questions to both Froude and his readers. What should be the literary and biographical status of Welsh Carlyle’s personal papers, both in relation to her own and her husband’s posthumous reputations? Did Carlyle have the right to transfer, or Froude to arrogate control of, Welsh Carlyle’s private thoughts? And by extension, what should be the relationship between men’s networks in the public sphere—the contract, for instance, between a man of letters and his authorized biographer—and the governance of the home? Compulsively rehearsed in every new version of the affair, the episode seems to have constituted a case of indecent exposure, not just of the sacred privacies of domesticity, but, just as provocatively, of the moral dynamics of legal couverture. As such, it is the controversy’s primal scene. The term ‘primal scene’—the child’s witnessing of sexual intercourse between its parents—may seem a perverse one to apply to a biographical circus that took in everything but sex, and which culminated, as we shall see in Chapter 5, in a showstopping display of chastity.5 One of my main arguments in this chapter, however, is that, insofar as the controversy represented a cultural working-through of the relationship between homosocial and marital masculinities, the structure and dynamics of this original scene, as of the controversy as a whole, were virtually independent of any explicit or definite sexual ‘content’ until as late as 1903. At the same time, by dramatizing the two-way commerce between epistemology and desire, or more accurately between the unknowable and the unspeakable, Carlyle biography presaged its twentieth-century translation into a fullblown sex scandal. In arguing thus, I shall draw liberally, though often tacitly, on the theoretical models developed by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in her pioneering volumes Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet. Sedgwick has demonstrated the crucial role of women, or rather of the exchange of women, in mediating and delimiting the kinds of co-operation and competition admissible—and inadmissible—between men (1985:3 and passim). The so-called ‘trafficking’ of women between male heads of household characteristic of most modern social formations, and symbolized
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in Western culture in the figure of the erotic triangle, has implications, according to Sedgwick, not just for gender relations and the subordination of women, but for the experience and regulation of male-male relationships. Differences in or changes to the relative status (class, gender, ‘racial’) of the three members of an erotic triangle will have a discernible effect, not only on its internal regulation of heterosexual desire, but on the patterns of homosocial desire acceptable outside it (Sedgwick 1985:21–7). Homophobia, one of society’s primary methods of regulating men’s relationships with each other, and heterosexuality, one of its primary engines of gender management, are thus reciprocally constitutive and reciprocally adaptive. This model, it should be noted, does not depend on any fixed meaning either for ‘sexuality’ in general or ‘homosexuality’ in particular: indeed it assumes that the meaning and status of the erotic will be socially ascribed and ultimately negotiable. As Chapter 2 demonstrated, the typical Victorian biographical contract was patriarchal in a very precise sense. As the transmission between generations of the authority, and the wherewithal, to represent a household, and as a matter of election rather than heredity, the biographical transaction replicated that between father and son-in-law: the paradigmatic relationship in the renewal of male power over time.6 To suggest, however, that biography—from the weighty Life and Times to the obituary—was the genre through which Victorian literary patriarchy both inscribed itself as such and attempted to reproduce itself is not to say that women were not invoked or involved in the process. As we witnessed in Part 1, many were themselves engaged in the practice of biography. As survivors and legatees women frequently contributed to the administration of literary estates, and commissioned, collaborated with and endorsed—or, as in the Carlyle case, discredited—the biographical enterprises of men. Increasingly, male biographers resorted to women’s spoken and written reminiscences, letters and journals in their efforts to establish the domestic credentials of their subjects as husbands, fathers and sons. The Carlyle case testified to many of these developments: in Thomas’s annotation of Jane’s writingsand Froude’s publication of them; in the various uses to which both put the ‘jottings’ of Geraldine Jewsbury; in Mary Aitken Carlyle’s attempts to rise from the position of amanuensis to her uncle to author in her own right, and in her struggle to wrest the hermeneutic initiative, not to mention a bigger share of the profits, from Froude. To adapt Sedgwick’s formula, one might say that women’s oblique but significant role in the late Victorian ‘biographical continuum’ as providers, and potential guarantors, of one of the currencies of masculine status, had a diacritical bearing on the kinds of rivalry and identification—of what Sedgwick calls ‘homosocial desire’—imaginable and permissible between a
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male biographer and his male subject. Just as upheavals in the open market have repercussions for the ‘black’ economy and, less legibly, vice versa, so pressure on, or from, the circulation of women’s testimony might entail a renegotiation of the terms of the biographical transaction itself. And this is the site of another of my borrowings from Sedgwick: her explanation of the way tropes of ‘knowledge’ and ‘ignorance’ serve discursively to regulate both desire between men and its corollary, institutionalized heterosexuality (1990:7–8 and passim). The biographical problem of the Jane Welsh Carlyle papers and their fate forcibly drew attention to the question, discussed in Chapter 1, of the circulation of knowledge and power in the homosocial body more generally. How and where should the channels of confidence and intimacy between literary men—the conduits of meaning and value across generations, for instance—intersect with the seams of reticence and nescience which served to insulate them from one another, and to distinguish the Briton from other social groups?7 From its earliest moments the Froude-Carlyle controversy was as often about the pleasures and dangers of the relationship between Carlyle and his biographer as about the Carlyles’ marriage. What Sedgwick’s work proposes, and what this chapter will pursue, is the possibility that the two themes are structurally interdependent. For now I would note in passing that, contrary to later psychoanalytic readings, in the first twenty years of the controversy Froude was more likely to be portrayed—indeed ultimately to portray himself—as identifying with Jane Welsh Carlyle than as desiring her. III Inherent in the debate from the start was the problem of who should monitor the behaviour of men in the home, and how. Froude as biographer found himself unwittingly positioned as stalking-horse. ‘Ifnot to a trusted friend, in the symbolic realm of biography’ his work seemed to ask, ‘then to whom should the task be assigned?’ Yet this way of posing the question generated tensions between the private office of friend and the public role of biographer. What right had Froude as friend to publicize the Carlyles’ failings? What right, on the other hand, had he as biographer to suppress what might be incriminating but morally productive evidence? Finding his licence to arbitrate between the Carlyles challenged on all sides, Froude became ever more emphatic that his prerogative rested on private knowledge legitimately obtained. It rested, in other words, on his hard-won insight into the ‘secret’ of their lives together, and on his responsible deployment of the discretion such knowledge entailed. Knowing and not knowing, confidence and ignorance, intimacy and secrecy: these were
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fundamental values at stake in the Froude-Carlyle controversy, values independent for the most part of what was or was not known. In order for the gendered implications of these values to come into view, I shall for now bracket off the ‘content’ of the Carlyles’ ‘secret’. Carlyle’s theories of silence, secrecy, reticence and human unknowability were central to his system of thought generally and to his poetics of biography in particular.8 So much is well known. So too is Froude’s conscientiousness both in respecting Carlyle’s ultimate unknowability and in struggling with it as a philosophical crux (Gilbert 1991:312). At every stage Froude had hemmed his work around with qualifications and demurrals, prefacing each new publication with some version of Carlyle’s twin challenge to biography: his insistence on, and immunity from, the regime of biographical truth. The apologetics began with the first volume of Reminiscences: Carlyle had deplored the idea of a Life of himself, and only with reluctance conceded that one—possibly several—would be attempted willy-nilly after he was gone. ‘A true description of it he did not believe that any one could give, not even his closest friend; but there might be degrees of falsity; and since a biography of some kind there was to be, he decided at last to extend his original commission to me’ (Froude 1881:I vii). Introducing the first volume of the Life itself, Froude paraphrased an entry from Carlyle’s journal to the effect that ‘[n]o one…was likely to understand a history, the secret of which was unknown to his closest friends’ (Froude 1882:I v). Of course the biographical dilemma Carlyle committed to Froude was not identical to the philosophical problem with which he himself had, for the most part, been engaged. Carlyle was still alive when Froude undertook his commission; the reverent nescience Carlyle advocated in the face of spiritual mystery was quite different from Froude’s not knowing answers to questions he could, in theory, simplyask. What Froude faced was the practical problem of how unknowability fitted in—and could be represented as having fitted in—to a biographical contract that had also been a living social relationship. He had a range of strategies at his disposal. One was to transfer the problem to the reader: to insist, contrary to all evidence, that he was offering only the ‘rudiments’ or ‘raw materials’ for a Life, not the Life itself, and that it was for his successors to reconstitute the truth.9 A second was to suggest that Carlyle could only truly be known through his writings, and a third was to assert that he might best be understood through the writings of his wife.10 Another of Froude’s strategies was to suggest that nescience, ignorance and unknowability were fundamental to his intimacy with Carlyle: a suggestion entirely consonant with Carlyle’s own rhetoric. As the examples above show, Froude consistently portrayed Carlyle affirming his own
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unknowability by appealing to the ignorance of his ‘closest’ friends, so that proximity and not-knowing became interdependent terms. It was not that the closer one got the less one knew, but that the better one knew Carlyle the better one knew one couldn’t know. Froude, then, constructed his own hero-worship of Carlyle on two fundaments: intimacy and basic ontological nescience; and on the basis of his hero-worship, in turn, he constructed his entire biographical edifice. No matter how far Froude might choose to delve into the hitherto obscure region of domestic masculinity, for instance, his disclosures would be interesting because their subject was great, and they would fall short of the whole truth for exactly the same reason. The immediate consequences of this strategy devolved upon Froude’s successors and rivals, who found themselves torn between ignobly perpetuating and pointlessly omitting narratives that were already irrevocably public. How, as Richard Garnett asked rhetorically, ‘can Carlyle’s biographer [i.e. Garnett], having no wish and no right to treat of his most intimate affairs, find it his duty to treat of them nevertheless?’ Garnett supplied the answer: ‘Carlyle’s trusted friend has made it so’ (1887: 136). But what did it mean to be ‘Carlyle’s trusted friend’? What did it mean, legally, ontologically, sociologically, psychologically, for one adult male to represent, or be represented by, another, when the prerogative to represent oneself was a key marker of independent subjecthood? Most of Froude’s immediate successors were committed to discrediting his revelations about the unhappiness of the Carlyle marriage: no easy task since, insofar as they aspired to supplant him as biographer of Carlyle, they inherited his materials, the predicament those materials entailed, and the rhetoric of ‘secrecy’ and ‘confidence’—what Sedgwickcalls the ‘ignorance effects’ and ‘privacy effects’—with which he had attempted to resolve it. Unable, because of their own investment in the Carlyle mythology, to relinquish either Froude’s revelations or his rhetoric of privacy, they perforce remained radically ambivalent as to whether Froude cared, knew, or told too much or too little. The harder Froude’s opponents tried to evacuate the Carlyle story of dark imputations, the more they depended on the language of secrecy and privacy to safeguard their own air of manly reserve. Trading on the teasing effect of Froude’s rhetoric, Henry Larkin waded in and called his biography Carlyle and the Open Secret of his Life (1886). The ‘open secret’, known, apparently, to everyone but the unfortunate Froude, was that Carlyle had been inwardly committed to practical rather than literary ends. To compensate for this encroachment, Larkin replaced Froude’s motif of ‘unknowability’ with his own ‘privacy effect’: the hidden ‘depth of tender sympathy’ Froude had failed to detect in Carlyle’s character.
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Garnett took up the theme, excluding both Froude and Welsh Carlyle from Carlyle’s secret: The truth is that, fortunate as their union proved in many respects, Mrs Carlyle was not the ideal partner for Carlyle. Whether he ought to have married at all is a serious question, not to be raised here. But if he was to marry, his need was a woman who could unseal the hidden tenderness of his nature. (Garnett 1887:134) Nichol took the process a step further, reiterating and exploding the discovery, and thus turning it into yet another ‘open secret’: ‘We require no open-sesame, no clumsy confidence from attachés flaunting their intimacy, to assure us that there were “depths of tenderness” in Carlyle’ (1892:152). In 1895, George Bernard Shaw, then dramatic critic for the Westminster Gazette, gestured wickedly to the showy intimacies of the Cheyne Row museum, and offered his own version of the disappearing-skeleton-in-thecloset sketch. He confessed to his own, personal Carlyle Secret, ‘a poor thing, but mine own’: We have guarded it jealously for thirty years. When the sage died, we held it inviolate; when Mrs Carlyle’s letters were in everybody’s mouth, we hugged it, and gave no sign. Even when Mr Reginald Blunt came to call upon us, we kept one door closed, behind which he might not look, (of course we speak in metaphor). We loved to think, privately, and in thebosom of our family, that we possessed one link of rapport with the Carlyle household which was unshared and unguessed by all the world—a link of such astounding nature, too, as made us positively akin with the sage of Chelsea. Tables and chairs, a hat, and a hip bath were all very well, but we—we had Carlyle’s cook. (Shaw 1895:3) ‘Mrs N.’, caricatured as a homely Lincolnshire Malaprop, is at first tantalizingly discreet about the ‘somewhat ruffled home life’ to which she has been privy, but is at last prevailed upon to reveal what she knows. She turns out to know two things. The first is what everybody already knows: I’m born, though I ain’t buried yet, mum, but I don’t never expect to see such a saint as Mrs Carlyle in this world or the next; as for marster [she always called him that], he was the justest man I ever knew Make him see the reason, and he’d give in—but not till he was consalvent of his indigestion. (Shaw 1895:3)
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The second is what nobody needs or wants to know: that while composing Frederick Carlyle would eat a whole rice pudding ‘without intervention of private plate or fork’.11 And her verdict, gloriously (hip)bathetic, is that ‘She Approved of Him, on the Whole, but He Paid Too Little Heed to What He Had to Eat to be Really Great’ (3). Shaw’s spoof drew cannily on the more ribald elements of the controversy: the titillating language of concealment; the distant suggestion of a woman, and the intimate knowledge she represents, being trafficked from one household to another; the probability—even necessity—that the truth would be less exciting, and less socially adhesive, than the mystery; and the propensity of ‘the secret’ to migrate in the direction of Carlyle’s notorious digestive troubles. Since the earliest days of the controversy, when the publication of the Reminiscences had exposed all too clearly that his bitter tongue bespoke an acid stomach, his dyspepsia had provided commentators with a shorthand for Carlylean misanthropy, pessimism and wrath. Moreover, as the jeremiad tone of Carlyle’s writings went out of fashion, dyspepsia also came to signify Carlyle’s outmoded Victorian earnestness. Andrew Lang, for instance, reviewing the Reminiscences for Fraser’s Magazine, reminded his readers that Carlyle’s bile had been a necessary antidoteto the ‘washy optimism’ of the 1850s ( 1971:511, 508), but exhorted the ‘ideal whippersnapper’ of the 1880s to take heart. Cakes and ale have not ceased to exist because Mr Carlyle was dyspeptic. The sun is not abolished, nor has life at all left off being worth living, because Mr Carlyle was put on a regimen of oatmeal porridge, and wrote books when perhaps he would have been better employed in playing golf. (1971:507–8) Sly comments about Carlyle’s dyspepsia, meant to connote spoilsportiness, lack of bonhomie, resentment (and, distantly, sexual frustration), were to become increasingly common in Froude–Carlyle discourse as the clubbable young fogeys of the turn of the century sought to set themselves apart from their sombre high Victorian elders.12 The fund of silliness Lang and Shaw found in Froude–Carlyle discourse had its chief sponsor in Jane Welsh Carlyle, whose ‘letters were in everybody’s mouth’. From early in the controversy the best-known instances of Welsh Carlyle’s wit were those in which she exploded key Carlylean themes—silence, unknowability, secrecy, dyspepsia—from the inside. Her best-loved jokes, such as Carlyle’s ‘platonic’ love of silence, were quietly immasculating, and those critics who attempted to defend the Carlyle marriage (against Froude) on the grounds that his wife had
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feistiness and wit enough to stand up for herself found themselves colluding with her in undermining Thomas’s masculinity. In her review of the Reminiscences, for example, Margaret Oliphant relayed a conversation she had had with Welsh Carlyle while researching her biography of Edward Irving. They had been gossiping about the ‘Loves of the Philosophers’ and Oliphant had remarked that ‘alone, of all his peers’ Carlyle appeared to have ‘trodden the straight way’. ‘My dear’, Jane had retorted with an amused quiver of the upper lip, ‘if Mr Carlyle’s digestion had been better there is no telling what he might not have done!’ (Oliphant 1881:489). In female mouths, the controversy’s rhetoric of reticence and nescience could be used to give the masculine game away. In short, both Froude and his opponents trod a fine line between on the one hand claiming to be ‘in the know’ about Carlyle, and on the other denying the necessity of secrecy at all: there was nothing untoward to know. Suspended between the twin imperatives of intimate knowledge and respectful aloofness, successive biographers of Carlyle engaged in an elaborate ritual of collapsing the old, potentially discreditable privacies erected by their precursors, and hollowing outnew, innocent, privacies from which to disbar themselves. As should by now be clear, this dense tropology —what Sedgwick calls an ‘open secret/empty secret’ structure—had much in common with late Victorian camp. With its complex erotic and epistemological investments, the Froude-Carlyle controversy was never far from the naughtiness of music hall or the extravagances of Wildean Gothic. As the debate over Carlyle’s life evolved and ripened, it illustrated one of the key shifts in late Victorian sexual politics. We have seen in Chapter 3 that the disgorging into the public sphere of domestic conflict led to calls for the preservation of gender proprieties and privacies, and that this in turn required, paradoxically, a more insistent and publicly accountable policing of masculinity and men’s relationships. Biography — as a profession and as a culture—was at the forefront of this change. Biographers of eminent men of letters and their readers found themselves unexpectedly ensnared in a relationship of mutual surveillance that threatened, at any moment, to become predatory, or pleasurable, or both. IV Froude’s relationship to his mentor was, as Richard Garnett noted, a ‘painful appendix’ to Carlyle’s life story: a problem at once supplementary and intrinsic to the matter of Carlyle’s reputation (1887:136).13 In other words, the putting into circulation of the Carlyles’ private papers, and the alternative knowledges—and ignorances—they represented, not only set in motion a re-evaluation of marital duty, but also brought about a
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realignment of loyalties and desires between men. This realignment expressed itself in a number of contradictory ways. On the one hand it generated, especially among younger observers, a kind of cultural claustrophobia: literary men should roll back the boundaries of the private, should get out more, play more golf, submit more readily to the surveillance of their peers. On the other hand—and this reaction is more common among elder Victorians—the Carlyle case cautioned one to intensify the boundaries of the private and never to allow even a close friend to take advantage of one’s confidence or compromise one’s manly integrity. What the various reactions had in common was a desire to contain and manage the testimony of women, and an extreme ambivalence about knowing, and being known by, other men. Thus several seemingly unrelated allegations against Froude share a common thread: a sense that his biographical indecencies were to do with a temperamental inability properly to administer his relationships with men. Commentators wavered between contempt and disgust: theyeither saw Froude’s treatment of the Carlyle remains as an unmanly capitulation to a dominant will, or they condemned it as ‘an act of literary cruelty in some respects without parallel’ (Wedgwood 1881: 824). As editor of the Reminiscences he had ‘executed his task with too filial a scrupulosity and piety’ (Morison 1881:456). Living ‘too near the sun to see the sun’ he had become ‘one of the loyallest, if one of the most infatuated, of friends’, with the result that his biography afforded ‘the spectacle of one great writer surrendering himself to another’ (Nichol 1892:130, 150–51). Where a queasily pro-Froude Nichol could admit to sympathizing with such a spectacle, a Crichton-Browne would find it simply disgusting: ‘At first he abjectly prostrated himself before Carlyle as before one immeasurably his superior; at last he constructed a patched and repulsive mosaic, representing him as a gruff and grotesque monster’ (Carlyle 1903: I ix). Though the ‘abject surrender’ complaint was perhaps more common in the early years and among more disinterested commentators, and the accusation of cruelty more prevalent in the later years and among Froude’s deadlier enemies, it is striking that, as here, the difficulty of deciding between the two verdicts was part of the fascination of the case. All roads lead to Rome, and Froude’s supposedly idolatrous (and idoloclastic) leanings led several commentators to nod and wink in that general direction. Carlyle’s ‘atonement’ is recast as popish confessional (‘The shriving of the guilty Carlyle by the virtuous Froude’ [Carlyle 1903:I xxvii]). From there it is only a short step to the trope of ‘Jesuitical’ insinuation—of invading another body to mouth shameful opinions. In Chapter 3 we found Stephen ‘cursing’ Froude for ‘his cowardly way of getting behind T.C. to damn things he does not understand’ (p. 90 above).
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In an essay on Froude for the second series of Studies of a Biographer, however, he seemed to distance himself from this view: ‘I have heard Froude accused of Jesuitism, of insinuating opinions which he would shrink from openly expressing’ (Stephen [1898/1902] 1985:III 221). Yet rereading Froude’s early fiction, Leslie Stephen finds a boy bullied by his father, terrorized at public school, and consequently prey to the fascinations of the Oxford Movement, and of Newman in particular. His ‘mental equilibrium…destroyed’, Froude had then been fatally disarmed by the very harshness, arrogance and despotism others would come to deplore in Carlyle. This disarmament would have dire consequences when he came across the glummer pages of Welsh Carlyle’s journal: Froude ‘could feel, even more keenly than most people, the painful side. But then they illustrated just this masterful temper, which, if sometimes startling, was yet so comfortable a support to a weaker brother’ (Stephen [1898/1902] 1985:III 250). And despiterebutting the same view only a few pages earlier, Stephen ultimately cannot resist re-insinuating insinuation and portraying Froude as ‘shield[ing] himself behind the uncompromising champion’ (249). As in Stephen’s account, the presumed moral contamination of Newmanism is never far from anti-Froude rhetoric, and with it suspiciously unEnglish ways of knowing and being known by other men.14 If insinuation is the point at which the ‘confiding’ friend dissolves into the ‘perfidious’ biographer, then the motif of betrayal marks another faultline between extremes of intimacy and revulsion: Carlyle is betrayed by the ‘Judas’ Froude, and Froude is betrayed by ‘excess of faith and the defective reticence that often belongs to genius’ (Nichol 1892:v).15 Maitland, Stephen’s biographer, summed up the uneasy fascination that held many commentators in thrall: ‘Froude alternately attracted and repelled [Stephen], and, even in his last days, he would sometimes return to Froude as to an unsolved problem’ (1906: 375). The violence with which his opponents castigated Froude for petty slips of spelling, transcription and inaccuracies of detail, may issue from the same murky source. Inaccuracy can betoken either criminal indifference or criminal malice: charges levelled interchangeably at Froude, often within a single sentence.16 Meanwhile, praise for Froude’s ‘facile pen’, implying a talent for literary style at the expense of thoroughness, functioned analogously to these more direct charges of inaccuracy (Lilly 1903:1008). A few extremists such as Lilly and Crichton-Browne openly condemned Froude as a liar (or, in the fashionable jargon, a congenital ‘pseudomaniac’) —after his death at least (Lilly 1903:1009). In general, of course, hints were dropped and accusations lodged so obscurely, so indirectly, that they implicated the reader in the inquisitiveness, and the type of linguistic
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slipperiness, they purported to condemn. The appearance of a rash of puns on Froude’s name (fraudulent, froudacity and so on) illustrates this dynamic perfectly. It was as if the possibility of verbal trickery on Froude’s part somehow licensed linguistic flirtation in his readers. V Froude, needless to say, was no more exempt from the ‘Froude question’ than anyone else. Attempting to escape from the débâcle by travelling to the West Indies, Froude grumbled to his journal for 5 March 1887 that it had travelled with him all the same: ‘Bad Carlyle fit on me. What my connexion with Carlyle cost me…’ (Dunn 1963:550). A week later (12– 15 March), he settled down to write My Relations with Carlyle. This shortnarrative was partly an exercise in soul-searching, and partly an appeal to posterity to hear his side of the story in case, as he had begun to fear, the vendetta should outlive him. My Relations with Carlyle is an extraordinary document, one in which many of the connections between the literary and sexual-political aspects of the Carlyle controversy are clearly spelt out. It is also one in which the homosocial desires expressible within the ‘truthful’ biographer’s relationship to his subject are at once intensively investigated and decisively disavowed. The pamphlet consists of a sustained and often troubled—but otherwise straightforward—meditation on what it might mean to be the biographer of another man. Were ‘admiring’, ‘confiding in’, ‘knowing’ and ‘loving’ one’s hero compatible with each other, and with the task of biography? Pointing out that it was Carlyle’s influence on him as an undergraduate that precipitated his loss of faith and with it of ‘all earthly prospects’, Froude establishes his mentor as a hero whom he had ‘every conceivable motive, spiritual and earthly, to show…in the most favourable of all possible lights…save…that…it was necessary to stick to the truth’ (1903:3). Froude then traces the phases of his acquaintance with Carlyle, pausing at each stage to brood over the impact of familiarity on hero-worship, and by implication of ‘Carlylean’ on conventional ‘panegyric’ modes of biography. When first introduced to the Carlyle household in 1860, he had been too much in awe of his teacher and patron to hold his own against Carlyle’s ‘impatient and overbearing’ manner: his was an ‘admiration too complete for pleasant social relationship’ (4). Faced with the day-to-day reality of life at Cheyne Row, with the incessant rumours of their marital strife and with Welsh Carlyle’s apparent wretchedness, Froude, as he avers, had found his loyalty tested: ‘the thought of (Mrs Carlyle] suffering…through the negligence of one’s own honoured master and teacher was exquisitely
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painful’ (6). Undeterred (though veering perceptibly at this point in the narrative into magniloqence), Froude had refused to allow his ‘reverence and admiration for Carlyle’s intellect and high moral greatness to be interfered with’ (8). Only after Welsh Carlyle’s death, when Carlyle’s frailty, grief and profound remorse made a ‘more human’ friendship possible, had Froude achieved a degree of equality and intimacy with his mentor: ‘My admiration of him had never wavered…but it had become possible to love him—indeed impossible not to love him’ (11– 12). Admitted finally into Carlyle’s confidence, and, as biographer designate, into the confidence of Carlyle’s inner circle, Froude claims to have become privy to the ‘graver aspects’ of the story. He had beenentrusted with the dark ‘secret’ of Carlyle’s life, but ‘taken for all in all’, had loved his friend no less. Indeed: I loved him better for the feeling which he had shown. He was human; he had his faults like other men…. I supposed that what I felt myself would be felt by others, when they had taken time to consider, but I did know that the first impression would be a painful one. (Froude 1903:27) When, on Carlyle’s death, Froude’s situation as biographer becomes the focus of the story, what had previously been dramatized as a process (admiration flowering into love) is recast as a predicament. As a biographer in the bold Carlylean spirit, he has told the whole truth but has made the mistake of publishing too early. He has forgotten that the public is squeamish and prone to succumb to the force of unpleasant first impressions. A victim of his own bad timing, he now sees his mistake—his only mistake—has been to confide in (the confidence of) a contemporary audience. He should, instead, have entrusted his findings to (the future as) history. ‘I was misled by a too confiding admiration of Carlyle’s own heroism. It was unwise of me, and I regret my imprudence too late’ (39). Too soon, too late: the relationship as a coming-to-consciousness is rewritten as knowing-at-the-wrong-time, and hence, by an agonizing twist, as unconscious: I had no secret injuries to resent. I had always admired him, and in his later days I learnt to love him. No one does what he knows to be wrong without some object. If any one will suggest what unworthy motive I can have had, he may perhaps assist me in discovering it. I cannot discover it myself. (Froude 1903:38)
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Something unexpected has happened here. As we have seen, throughout the controversy one of the central problems posed by Carlyle’s biography has been the effective management of truth and secrecy: the necessity of continually exploding (reconstructing as ‘open’) potentially sinister secrets about the biographical subject and sounding new, empty, harmless ones. In My Relations, a document in which biography and autobiography— knowing and being known—are necessarily synchronized, something different seems to have occurred. Up to this point, the narrative has appeared to be a linear tale of realization, and the trope of secrecy and disclosure simply a way ofthematizing increasingly intimate ways of knowing. Now, as when the music stops in the children’s party game, the secret seems to be Froude’s. Froude imagines himself accused of having the secret, and hastens to deny it. The open secret of Carlyle’s married life has metamorphosed into his own, empty secret: ‘no secret injuries…no-one… [no] object’. To begin to understand this we must retrace our steps and look again at the three stages of Froude’s Relations with Carlyle. These relations have been structured around Froude’s growing knowledge about Carlyle’s private life, but within that narrative what it has meant to ‘know’ Carlyle and to ‘know about’ his private life has shifted. From the first, Froude has, he claims, been aware of the existence of a secret, but has initially construed it as empty—devoid of significance outside itself. The first passage concerns his introduction to the Carlyles in 1849. As an infrequent visitor and relative outsider to the Cheyne Row circle, Froude is drawn, against his will, into ‘rumours’ that the Carlyles frequently quarrelled and ‘hints’ that ‘their marriage was not a real marriage, and was only companionship, &c.’. Froude’s studiedly casual ‘&c.’ is followed by an emphatic gesture of dissociation: I paid no attention to a matter which was no business of mine. I have never been curious about family secrets, and have always as a rule of my life declined to listen to communications on subjects which were no business of mine. (Froude 1903:3–4) In this way he attempts to establish his credentials as nescient while suggesting, faux-naïvely, that there was truly nothing to know. Of course, the more determinedly Froude asserts his indifference, the more piquant the puzzle appears, and the more probable it looks that there is a real secret. At this stage of redundant not-knowing, however, Froude indulges in a short flight of fancy about his friend, encoded as a slightly prim confession of courtly love:
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I felt that it would be impossible to live with him on equal terms. One loves those who are not too far removed from oneself. He seemed to me a superior order of being whom one approached with genuine reverence, but could scarcely dare to love. (Froude 1903:4) In a passage which repeats the rhetorical structure of the first, Froude moves to London and is invited into regular and more familiarcompanionship with the Carlyles. The ‘secret’ looms larger and Froude’s ability not to know visibly crumbles. Admitted into ‘closer relations with the life at Cheyne Row, I could not help becoming acquainted with many things which I would rather not have known’ (5). At this moment, when his admiration is under siege and his incuriosity is beginning to look obtuse, Froude allows himself another daydream. A conventional description of Carlyle’s bad temper yields suddenly to a short fantasy in the psychoanalytic sense of the term:17 Carlyle was…evidently a most difficult and trying household companion. All this was very distressing. Mrs Carlyle’s pale, drawn, suffering face haunted me in my dreams. I set most of it down to illhealth… I suppose I considered that to be the wife of such a man was a sufficient honour in itself, and I was more distressed than interested by the bitter things which she occasionally said of him, only I felt that I could never live with such a man. Nothing would do but the most absolute submission to him of your whole being, and then you would do only indifferently. (Froude 1903:8–9) In this startling aside, Froude adopts a series of contradictory and inadmissible subject positions in quick succession. The impersonal ‘one’ of the first daydream gives way to a first person who dreams about Jane, about being Jane, and then about being a reluctant bride who in turn is replaced by a second person who dreams about being a better—more submissive—wife to Thomas than Jane. The harshness of the remembered scene, with Thomas bullying and Jane bitterly resisting, only partly accounts for Froude’s wistful contemplation of the alternative: the moral abyss that total obedience might represent if the slave were as willing as the master was unrestrained. Over the next two pages, Mrs Carlyle sickens, recovers momentarily, then dies ‘without a word or struggle’. This marks the opening of the second phase of Froude’s knowledge of his friend. Carlyle’s devotion to his wife has emerged too late to save her, and he is stricken with grief and
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remorse. Froude, admitted into his friend’s especial trust, takes Mrs Carlyle’s place as his companion and helper. Carlyle is still overbearing, but ‘it had become…impossible not to love him’. It is in this context— Carlyle chastened and Froude chastely loving—that the secret is gradually disclosed. Carlyle allows himself, and forces on Froude, a glimpse of the ‘seamy side’ of his life. Shutting himself up in Cheyne Row with Welsh Carlyle’s papers, Carlyle compels himself to looksquarely at the worst of his own faults: ‘I can conceal them no longer,’ Froude writes. He found a remembrance in her Diary of the blue marks which in a fit of passion he had once inflicted on her arms. He saw that he had made her entirely miserable; that she had sacrificed her life to him; and that he had made a wretched return for her devotion. (Froude 1903:11) In the next sequence, Carlyle’s decision to appoint Froude as biographer— what I have called the controversy’s primal scene—is re-enacted as a violent struggle in which Carlyle’s tacit will to be known is pitted against Froude’s voluble desire neither to know nor to tell: a struggle Froude portrays as a ‘cruel test of friendship’ (13). In a bizarre pantomime of the biographical contract, Carlyle is described as repeatedly imposing ambiguous and darkly self-incriminating documents on Froude, at the same time systematically refusing to co-operate with the process of interpretation. As the unsavoury tale unfolds, Froude finds himself less willing to tell it, and less capable of refusing to do so. Unable to make sense of the cryptic parts of the manuscripts, he turns desperately to Forster, who hints that the secret was Lady Ashburton’s attempted (but failed) seduction of Carlyle. Although this ‘portentous’ story is already in circulation, Froude is unable to square it with the miseries revealed in the Carlyle papers. If Carlyle had not succumbed, why should the episode have caused so much breast-beating? Forster, who might have explained, is dead a few lines later. As Froude continues to pore over the letters and diaries, the secret, as a secret, takes shape: a mystery was communicated to me, if I can call that a mystery, which had forced itself upon me from the study of the papers— something which I would infinitely rather have remained in ignorance of, because I could not forget it.… (Froude 1903:20) Finally Geraldine Jewsbury offers to break the deadlock, by explaining to Froude that the violence of Carlyle’s temper, the furious marital squabbles
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and the strangeness of Mrs Carlyle’s sufferings were all ascribable to the same source: to the fact that ‘Carlyle was one of those persons who ought never to have married’ (21). Two pages later she solemnizes this claim on her deathbed, substantiating it with ‘manycurious details’ and endorsing it as Welsh Carlyle’s ally and representative.18 The daydream has turned into a nightmare, for Froude has found himself inextricably ‘entangled in painful family differences of exactly the kind which I most disliked to hear of ’ (25). As biographer he is trapped, transfixed: ‘It was so weird, so uncanny a business that the more I thought of it the less could I tell what to do.’ Froude considers putting off his decision about whether to publish until after Carlyle’s death, when perhaps he will feel freer, calmer. Maybe, after all, he has been chosen not because of his relations with Carlyle, but because he is ‘not a relation’? (27). At the last moment, however, Carlyle makes one of his mesmerically non-committal interventions: ‘He said I must do as I pleased. He never gave me any order. Then and always he avoided giving any order. He threw the responsibility on me’ (32). Interpreting this silence as a mandate to publish, Froude completes his research. His account will compromise with the truth only to the extent of letting those who wish to remain blind to the meaning of Carlyle’s temper to do so. Froude will euphemize the Carlyle secret as constitutional irritability, and will elide the hint of physical violence.19 He steels himself for ‘the worst’. ‘Carlyle died, and the book came out’ (34). Of course, that was not the end of this story, for, as he bitterly recalls, his work on Carlyle was ‘received with a violence of censure’ for which Froude, for all his forebodings, was ‘wholly unprepared’ (34). The privacy effects he has used to camouflage the secret—the domestic wrangles, the jealousies, the tantrums—have their own ideological momentum, and he stands accused of all kinds of moral and legal impropriety. He may go through the motions of defusing the secret (he claims to have discovered that ‘the nature of Carlyle’s constitution was known to several persons, that in fact it was an open secret’ , and to have found ‘from anonymous letters, written to myself, that the state of things in Cheyne Row was no secret at all’ ), but it is clear that there is little scope left in the narrative for reticence. And failure of reticence will discredit him as roundly as failure of accuracy or frankness. To know and say too much is to forget oneself, to be undone. Froude’s final transferential gesture of hollowing out an ‘empty secret’ within himself simply confirms that his inability to remain nescient and reticent about male sexuality is radically incompatible with manly knowing, and that the damage is as much to his own as to Carlyle’s reputation:
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I had no secret injuries to resent. I had always admired him, and in his later days I learnt to love him. No one does what he knows to be wrong without some object. If any one will suggest what unworthy motive I can have had, he may perhaps assist me in discovering it. I cannot discover it myself. (Froude 1903:38) Froude is willing to concede that the disclosures he has made—and is making even now—appear to hurt the ones he loves, and that his motives, insofar as his actions suggest any, are unknown to him: are, in effect, the province of his own biographer-confessor. Ruminating gloomily on the personal cost of his experiment in Carlylean frankness, Froude seems to sense that, if he has succeeded in passing on the ‘secret’ about Carlyle, it has been exacted from him at the expense of the fantasy of intimacy which drew him to his subject in the first place. What has been ‘forgotten’ in the subsequent debate is his own desire, not to kill, but to love Carlyle. Throughout his Carlyle oeuvre he has represented the marriage as a tragedy, with Carlyle as the hero blind to his own faults. In My Relations he confirms that the tragedy he has had in mind has been that of Oedipus.20 It is clear what he means: as far as Froude was concerned life in Cheyne Row had not been a matter of ‘surface differences’ but a fundamental, irreducible incompatibility discovered too late and expiated through public humiliation (13). But in agreeing to solve the riddle of Carlyle’s temperament and to represent him before the world, Froude finds himself, like Oedipus, accused of symbolically murdering his literary father and violating his father’s wife. The uncanny moment in My Relations is thus not the deciphering of Mrs Carlyle’s bruises as the stigmata of Carlyle’s unnatural state, nor even Carlyle’s indecent exposure of his and Welsh Carlyle’s private life, but Froude’s realization that his own desires and motives might be subject to the same merciless regime of diagnosis as Carlyle’s. VI In the wake of the controversy, a new phrase entered the auto/biographical lexicon. Though its authenticity and precise meaning were challenged on all sides, ‘gey ill to live wi’ ’ swiftly became a watchword in literary biography. If the amplified testimony of wives increased their husbands’ reliance on reserve among men, biographers like Froude and his successors found that their efforts to contain that testimony within a heteropatriarchal economy of knowledge involved them in new kinds of intimacy with their subjects. In this atmosphere, the familiar rubric of
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trust, confidence, respect and sympathy between biographer and [his] subject threatened to modulate into an altogether feebler relationship: one characterized by abjection, intrusion,infatuation, insinuation. In the case of the Froude-Carlyle affair, the thematics of the controversy owed as much to the need to accommodate and manage this threat as to the personalities of the Carlyles. Finding themselves hovering, like Reginald Blunt, on the draughty doorstep of domestic biography, biographers sought ways of reconciling intimacy with deference, private knowledge with public responsibility. Biography, then, was an arena in which the politics of marriage and the epistemology of homosocial desire were in tension.21 In some ways this was a productive pressure. It was now possible to imagine a new poetics of biography based on domestic minutiae and fuelled by homosocial fantasy. Froude may have been ‘more distressed than interested’ by such detail, but once in circulation, it exerted its own leverage on subsequent commentators. Hence, when Crichton-Browne and Alexander Carlyle published their New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, they were forced to include ‘details about spring-cleanings and other housewiferies, trivial incidents of travel, intricate itinerary arrangements and complaints of postal irregularities’, not for their own sakes but because ‘it is undesirable that there should be any avoidable elisions in the letters that are intended to refute [Froude’s] errors’ (Carlyle: 1903:I vi). The domestic may have found its way into literary biography under false pretences, but once there, it refused to go away.22 Again, when Frederic Maitland, Leslie Stephen’s biographer, summed up his old friend’s temperament, he picked up on a word used by George Meredith in his obituary for Stephen. The idea of ‘equability’ offered a solution, Maitland suggested, to the riddle that Stephen’s literary remains seemed to pose—that of ‘one Stephen to be seen in books, while another might be seen in the flesh’ (1906:433). In the character sketch that follows, Maitland uses ‘equable’ in two senses: having (public) virtues to compensate for (private) faults of temper,23 and having faults of temper that are easily managed. Having established his own scale of values, Maitland then takes the bold step of quoting a passage from the (unpublished) Mausoleum Book in which Stephen had measured his domestic conduct on the Carlylometer: I am, like my father, ‘skinless’: over-sensitive and nervously irritable. I am apt also to be a little absent in mind, absorbed in thoughts about my books or my writings, and occasionally paying very little attention to what is passing around me.… At the time of my nervous depression in particular I became fidgety and troublesome in a social
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point of view. I am, I think, one of the most easily bored of mankind; I cannot bear longsittings with dull people and even when alone in my family I am sometimes as restless as a hyena. (Bell  1977:89) Conceding ‘some truth’ to this picture, Maitland nevertheless insists that it is ‘not drawn to scale’. He himself has ‘sat in the “hyena’s backden” often enough—or rather, not often enough, for I would I could sit there now.’ Stephen may have had a ‘low flash-point’, but his explosions were essentially harmless: ‘I can speak for myself. He never said a word that caused me a moment’s annoyance, not to speak of pain.’ If there was irritability at home, Maitland blames the demands of the Dictionary: Intensely domesticated men of letters who have broken down from overwork are, it may be feared, apt to be troublesome at times, and I cannot say that Stephen’s essentially equable mind erred when he said that he had been troublesome ‘in a social point of view’. But if any one inferred from this that he was ‘ill to live with,’ that would be a gross blunder. He was very good to live with, though he may have required a little of that sort of management which is gladly bestowed by the affectionate upon the affectionate. (Maitland 1906:434–5) By mystifying both the gendered division of labour involved in managing Stephen, and his own vantage point as observer, the concept of equability provides Maitland with a way of affirming his subject’s domestic authority while insisting—at one remove—on his amiability. Yet the temptation to inhabit Stephen’s world and to pronounce on his domestic congeniality proves irresistible: ‘He was very good to live with’. One of the more surprising by-products of the Froudianization of biography is the rather touching fantasy of homosocial domesticity it occasionally sanctioned. In other ways, however, biography was a politically expensive medium in which to explore new erotic triangles. As the tendrils of biographical commerce stretched deeper and more pervasively into the literary establishment, and as it became less and less possible to imagine regulating the circulation of stories about oneself, biography was to become more insistently diagnostic. Chapter 5 will explore in some detail the role played by medical and legal discourses in the Froude-Carlyle controversy, and the implications for the gender of biography of the late Victorian drive to pathologize. Meanwhile, I would note that ifthere is a disingenuous side to My Relations, it is Froude’s refusal to assign a single meaning to the ‘secret’ he has so laboriously and painfully disinterred. The revelation that
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Carlyle ‘ought never to have married’ (Froude 1903:21) dangles inconclusively, both mattering and not-mattering to Carlyle’s reputation. It is tempting to deconstruct Froude’s disclosure as the artful troping of his own biographical predicament. As in Shaw’s rice pudding joke, the secret is that there is no secret. However, although Froude’s vague hints would have to wait sixteen years to be translated into the language of deviance and social Darwinism, the fact that he granted so much explanatory power to Carlyle’s ‘organisation’ (21) makes My Relations paradigmatic, almost redundantly so, of the ways in which ‘sex’—rather than belief or genius — would come to be identified as the locus of ‘truth’ in the life of letters. Yet we should not forget that Froude’s culminative assertion that he learnt to love Carlyle is as much an expression of wistful regret as of analytical mastery. For all its chilling exemplariness, My Relations records the mess involved in the sexualization of life-history: the loss, the horror, the waste, the violence. If My Relations marked the beginning of the end of biographical prudery, it did so selectively and inadvertently, so that we must resist a metanarrative of progressive liberalization. For one thing, the metamorphosis was gendered: it implicated Jane, Thomas and Froude differently and at different times. As Froude himself predicted, and as Chapter 5 will demonstrate, the foremost victims of this process were Jane Welsh Carlyle, her reputation and the status of her testimony. From his retreat in Cuba he could see that there was already a tendency to ‘acquit Carlyle and lay the blame (such blame as there is) upon her’ (37). In My Relations he helped this process forward. A second reason for resisting a narrative of sexual enlightenment is that, as we have seen, the conditions for the transformation from literary controversy to sex scandal were present in the etiquette of the Victorian authorized biography. What I have called the epistemological erotics of the biographical contract—the trading of ignorances and unspeakable secrets between ‘trusted friends’—predated and preconditioned the ‘sexualization’ of the Carlyle story, and ensured that knowing silences retained their aesthetic currency. In her article ‘ “To Tell the Truth of Sex”: Confession and Abjection in Late Victorian Writing’, Marion Shaw finds a recurrent pattern in fin-desiècle Gothic narrative. Acts of confession are rehearsed between powerful, perverse fathers and intimidated sons: a cultural exchange in which women figure only as symbols of horror—markers of the indeterminacy of meaning which the act of confession seeks to invoke and resolve into narrative.24 With its thrilling contraband of secrets,wives, letters, ladies’maids and cooks, the Froude–Carlyle controversy brought late Victorian literary biography into the risky territory of the Gothic.
5 ‘REVELATIONS ON TICKLISH TOPICS’ Impotence, biography and Froude-Carlyle
I I have been induced to do a bit of ‘reminiscing’ for the Atlantic Monthly. I am very bad at remembering facts or anecdotes & have declined into a kind of general twaddle. At least I hope to avoid indiscreet revelations. I perceive that you, like me, have been interested in the outbreak of the Carlyle controversy. You have a worse opinion of J.A.F. than I can share. I think anyhow that C. Browne & Alex Carlyle damaged their case by excessive anti-Froudism. The general opinion seemed to be that both Carlyle & his wife might now be let down easily & I was glad to see that the old outcry against T.C. had apparently died out. This last publication of the Froudes, however, will disgust you as it has disgusted me. (Leslie Stephen to Charles Eliot Norton, 15 June 1903)1 But the frank biography has its limits, and has not hitherto been held to include the history of a man’s sexual experiences. It has been reserved for Froude to set a most pernicious example and inflict a stain on English literature by proclaiming abroad a genital defect in the man whose life he has been commissioned to write, and whom he affects to hold up to admiration as one of the noblest and best of his species. (Crichton-Browne 1903:1498) More than twenty years after the Froude-Carlyle controversy first broke, and just as public opinion seemed inclined to let the matter drop, Froude’s name was once again in the news. In 1903 Carlyle’s nephew Alexander and Sir James Crichton-Browne, two of the Sage’s most indefatigable self-
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appointed defenders, had prefaced their New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle with a vitriolic bout of anti-Froudism. Stung by these renewed attacks on their late father, Froude’s heirs Margaret and Ashley were provoked into publishing My Relations with Carlyle, the manuscript apologia he had penned in 1887. The pamphlet effectively rekindled the scandal about the Carlyle household by broadcasting in public what had, according to their father, long been rumoured in private: the possibility that Carlyle had been sexually—rather than, as Froude’s ‘authorized’ biography had implied, merely temperamentally—inadequate to the demands of marriage. It seems clear that this charge dealt a serious blow to Carlyle’s reputation. His status as the architect of Victorian hero-worship, as the poet of work and the prophet of duty in the face of social and spiritual despair, may have outlived him in the minds of some of his adherents, may even have accommodated allegations of personal hypocrisy and domestic unhappiness, but could not at that time survive an accusation of sexual failure. Why should this be? Why was it then, and is it now, taken as axiomatic that questionable virility must dent cultural authority? Norma Clarke sums up the common-sense view: The question of impotence was fundamental for it called into question the institution of marriage itself. If Thomas Carlyle was impotent, then he had not fulfilled his part of the marriage agreement: he had not been the husband his wife and society had a right to expect. Apart from its important symbolic overtones in a patriarchal society, male impotence undermined the very fabric of the power relations between the sexes; a husband who was not a husband in the full sense of the word could not expect a wife to be a perfect wife.… The dreadful prospect Froude and Carlyle—aided by Jane Carlyle— opened up was of male failure. A reluctant reading public had forced upon it a human being rather than a hero. Unable to bear this reality, they dropped Carlyle like a stone; his reputation never recovered. The fact that it was the public —not Carlyle, not Froude, and not Jane Carlyle—who could not contemplate male failure was buried along with his reputation. (Clarke 1990:4) Clarke’s distinction here between the attitudes of Froude, Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle and the ‘public’ response ten, twenty and forty yearsafter their respective deaths is worth pursuing. Virility may have ‘symbolic overtones’ common to all patriarchal societies, and these may play a
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crucial role in naturalizing and essentializing male power, but it would clearly be a mistake to assume that the natures and essences in question were necessarily identical across time. It is not safe to suppose, as most commentators have done, that the consummation—or otherwise—of their marriage would have had the same significance for the Carlyles in the 1830s as for their biographer in the 1880s, for his horrified posthumous audience in 1903, much less for post-Freudian readers of today. Nor is the biographical context of the allegation irrelevant to its impact. Leslie Stephen was disgusted by the publication of Froude’s claims, though he did not go so far as to deny their truth or challenge their significance. Secrecy— the constant fermentation of empty secrets from open secrets—was the brew upon which biography thrived. Froude’s allegation seemed to Stephen to curdle that rich concoction into ‘indiscreet revelations’ on the one hand and ‘general twaddle’ on the other. The sensation it produced was thus not so much of the triumph of twentieth-century candour over nineteenthcentury reticence, as of Victorian biography turning peevishly in its grave. With hindsight we can see that the early twentieth-century refraining of the Carlyles’ reputations within a discourse of sexual pathology in some ways simply confirmed existing trends. It represented a reinforcement of the habits of identification and disavowal we observed in Chapter 4: patterns common within late Victorian literary homosociality in general, and within élite biographical culture in particular. Writers, editors, reviewers and readers were allowing disclosures to be ‘forced upon’ each other with ever increasing frequency, disgust and delight. At the same time, for a writer publicly to claim intimacy with a fellow man of letters—as the ideology of the ‘frank biography’ seemed to require—was to become implicated in what Eve Sedgwick has called ‘the epistemology of the closet’ and to prompt convulsions of homosexual panic (see pp. 119–20 above). In other ways, however, the publication of My Relations did mark a watershed both in attitudes to Carlyle and in biographical etiquette. As Sir James Crichton-Browne’s response indicates, it was probably the fallout from My Relations, rather than Froude’s biography itself, which prompted subsequent commentators to see Froude as the first modern ‘warts and all’ biographer (Cockshut 1974:165; Clubbe 1976:319; Stanley 1992:181). For all its three-decker embossed-leather respectability, Victorian biographical culture liked to see itself as broad-minded enough to accommodate the indiscretions and entanglements of a Swift, a Burns or a Byron. But impotence—and impotence as a keymotif—in the biography of a near contemporary represented a qualitatively different kind of knowledge. The problem was not just that Froude’s pamphlet had expanded the ‘limits’ of ‘frank biography’, but that in doing so it had disclosed the fact—the open secret—that frankness had limits at all.
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What impotence was; what it might mean; whether it might matter and to whom; when and where it should be mentioned: to early twentiethcentury followers of the controversy such questions were inextricable either from each other or from the modern biographical predicament. Yet these questions continue to be ignored or side-stepped by post-Freudian historians of biography and post-Froudian biographers of Carlyle, who remain fixated by the question of whether or not the allegation was true. Hence Cockshut’s 1974 account of Victorian biography suggested that Froude’s ‘biographical instinct’ warned him that ‘Carlyle’s sexual constitution must be an indispensable datum for interpretation of his character’, and adduced in support of Froude’s suspicion ‘Carlyle’s violence, anger and frustration, Jane’s ill-health, the general opinion of those who frequented the house, and the separate bedrooms, together with other less tangible impressions’ (166). Fred Kaplan’s Thomas Carlyle: A Biography rehearses the same argument. He alludes briefly to certain dismayed post-nuptial letters between Carlyle, his mother and his brother Jack, and, though acknowledging the ‘fragility’ of the evidence, nevertheless concludes that the account of the abysmal marriage night, the early retreat to separate beds and rooms, the vehement distaste for children, the constant pressure of ill health, and the general tone of physical repression provide convincing circumstantial support for the claim that sexual intercourse played little or no role in the routine of their relationship during almost forty years of marriage. (Kaplan  1993:118, 119) Kaplan is commendably wary of drawing psychological, much less literary inferences from the possibility of a manage blanc. Yet even so tactful and cautious an account as his incorporates confusion and vagueness. What is a ‘general tone’ of physical repression? Are the ‘distaste for children’, the ‘pressure of ill health’ and the ‘physical repression’ to be interpreted as causes or effects of the celibate routine? What is the significance of the longevity of the marriage? Is the implication that one would expect sexual intercourse to figure ‘routinely’ throughout a marriage? Or only at some point? Is penetrative heterosexual intercourse supposed to be uniquely efficacious for repression and associated ill health? As in Kaplan’s book, comments on Froude’s impotence allegation, including most refutations of it, assume—without examining, contextualizing or defending—shared understandings of both pathological and normal marital heterosexuality and their consequences.2 Such understandings are phallogocentric in the literal sense of the term,
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obscuring both the heteropatriarchal basis and the historically and linguistically contingent features of so-called ‘natural’ sex.3 In the light of this it seems timely to ask, not whether or not Carlyle was impotent, but what it might have meant for the late Victorian literary world to argue that particular biographical toss. II Historicizing male impotence is less easy than one might imagine. In so far as the Victorian ideal of manhood had a sexual component, it was defined not, as in the eighteenth century, as an element of reproductivity (Mumford 1992:35), nor, as it tended to be later, in stark opposition to ‘homosexuality’ on the one hand and ‘female sexuality’ on the other. Instead it emerged among and between a cluster of overlapping notions: effeminacy, celibacy, continence, incontinence, licence and so on. The dominant model of male sexuality was the ‘hydraulic’, and until relatively late in the century the drift of sexual hygiene was in the direction of managing, rather than producing, male potency: this was the era of the socalled ‘spermatic economy’, and of panics about masturbation, ‘spermatorrhea’, nocturnal emissions and the spread of venereal disease (Barker-Benfield 1976; Walkowitz 1980; Sussman 1995: 20). Whatever his own experience of sex, Carlyle seems to have adopted and adapted this trope of male sexuality in the service of his own philosophy. Herbert Sussman has suggested that a mode of virility extrapolated, and then distanced, from the spermatic economy (1995: 17) performed vital ideological work in Carlyle’s fantasy of masculine subjectivity: ‘[I]n Carlyle’s secular and psycho-sexual terms celibacy models a kind of virtuoso manliness, the highest and finest instance of that discipline of desire, that turn from pleasure to productivity that defines industrial manhood’ (27). According to Sussman, absence of sex, expressed as the repudiation of noxious and chaotic (feminine) desire, elevated as continence in the service of productive work, moralized as celibacy in a mythologized and imaginatively distanced all-male community, and symbolized, paradoxically, as phallic hardness,played a central role in Carlyle’s aesthetic of manliness. Implicitly in much of his writing, and explicitly in the unpublished draft essay ‘Phallus-Worship’, Carlyle pitted an austere regime of ‘continence and chastity’ not against sexual profligacy as such but against what he saw as the emergent obsession with fulfilment through love (‘genügende Liebe’ [1848:4]). According to a literary-critical trajectory that led straight from George Sand and the ‘Female Novel’ (3) to moral bankruptcy and grapeshot on the streets, preoccupation with romantic love
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was shown to be anti-social, unproductive and ‘a poor destiny for a man of genius’ (6). In some ways this curbing of male sexual energy in the service of higher duties reconfirmed mainstream medical ideas. The influential William Acton, for instance, counselled intellectuals worried about the effect of their work on their potency simply to avoid marriage: bachelorhood was a small price to pay for the achievements of a Newton or a Pitt (1857:16). In other ways, however, Carlyle’s celebration of chastity went a step further than the hydraulic model dominant in medical discourse. His conception of chastity was not a preparations for love, or even an alternative to love: for Carlyle the silent discipline of chastity seems to have been the only meaningful expression of love: Yes, my friend, I repeat to thee, in this age of brutal corruption, the baleful abominable influences of which, making all the atmosphere thick and fetid, have penetrated to the purest of us, and no pure one of us is discoverable any more, this is yet the fact, and will be forever so: continence, chastity remains a binding law on every mortal, man as well as woman, the Eternal Maker who appointed the paradise of Love has appointed adamantine conditions in it too; and without observance of these its radiance of Heaven will become a blackness of Hell.4 (Carlyle 1848:6.5) If Sussman is correct, Carlyle’s counteraesthetic of masculine chastity— what we might call his doctrine of ‘muscular celibacy’—informed many aspects of his work. Of most relevance to us here are its formal implications. In generic terms, muscular celibacy required the enactment of restraint rather than the outpouring of emotion, and was thus most aptly formalized as the reluctant public utterances of the ‘silent, emotionally opaque’ sage whose manly reserve was celebrated, commented on and discussed—but not ultimately penetrated—by themultiple voices of male disciples (Sussman 1995:43). Sussman cites Past and Present’s portrayal of Abbot Samson as the prototype, but one could equally adduce Carlyle’s invention of extra editorial personae in Sartor and ‘Biography’; his lovehate relationship with the genre of Lives and Letters; or his troubled and troubling patronage of Froude, his own appointed biographer.5 In this sense, Carlyle’s aesthetic of muscular celibacy corresponds to what Francis Hart has described as the Romantic biographical predicament: ‘Biographical theory in the half-century following Boswell seems to turn on a major paradox. On the one hand, the method of compendious compilation excludes the biographic personality; on the other, that
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personality is central and inviolate’ (1971:42). Access, whether through proximity or literary remains, to the uniqueness and heterogeneity of the subject’s individuality, sympathy for the subject’s aims and aspirations, tempered by proper reverence for the subject’s inviolable genius: such were the qualifications of Carlyle’s ideal biographer. For Carlyle, the proper conditions of biography lay not—as they would for Crichton-Browne in 1903—in admiration coupled with carefully monitored frankness—but in reverence for the limits of knowability. Continence (as self-containment) was thus integral to Carlylean biography seen as a highly regulated, ritualized mode of homosocial love. Despite the vigour with which it was maintained—indeed precisely because of the effort it demanded—Carlyle’s phallocentrism could neither fully contain nor entirely dispel the influence of rival understandings of male sexuality, nor the biographies they entailed. Sussman himself notes that Carlyle’s model of ‘industrial strength celibacy’ coincided even within his own work with a distrust of celibate Puseyism (1995:69, 59); neither was he as immune as he liked to appear to the ‘baleful’ seductions of heterosexual romance. (Carlyle’s frequent outbursts against Sand, his mythic Anti-Virgin’, suggest more than a passing acquaintance with her writings.) The presence within his work of incompatible versions of male sexuality acknowledges, without necessarily endorsing, counter-hegemonic struggles against the ‘spermatic economy’. Although, as Sussman demonstrates, celibacy represented the logical extreme of manliness fantasized as self-discipline,6 the rise of Tractarianism in the 1840s and the protestant backlash it engendered placed a vivid question mark over any display of male sexual abstinence (1995:3, 57; Adams 1995:30). More generally, robust folk beliefs about the necessity of sexual relief survived alongside evangelical ideals of chastity and purity. Victorian narratives of middle-class masculinity tended to enjoin compromise, delay and sublimation (think of Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, Adam Bede) rather than permanentabstinence, and, for all their emphasis on the will and selfcontrol, few among Carlyle’s ideological heirs, within the medical profession,7 or even among feminist critics of marriage and the sexual double standard advocated a regime harsher than ‘restraint’ for married men (Bland 1995:61, 166). John Ruskin, of course, was the stubborn exception proving the rule, his fate anticipating Carlyle’s posthumous fall from favour. According to his own and his (non)wife, Effie Gray’s testimony, Ruskin offered religious as well as practical objections to sexual intercourse in marriage. His wife, his in-laws and their allies were able to take advantage of incoherences within the ideology of male sexuality to reconstruct his motives for chastity as ‘perverted’ (in the sense of leaning toward Rome)8 and as ‘villainous’ (in
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the sense of insulting and defrauding his wife). When Effie Gray sued for nullity in 1854, Ruskin’s avowed celibacy was legally rewritten as ‘incurable impotence’. The Ruskin case offers a glimpse of some of the pressures—demographic, personal, scriptural, cultural, medical and legal— that could be brought to bear on male heterosexual performance (Stanley 1994). The fact that Ruskin, though fiercely sensitive, offered to present the ecclesiastical court with ‘ocular proof of his virility while blandly accepting the charge of non-consummation indicates how ambiguous the terrain was within which Carlyle biography found itself. But the ironies, confusions and contradictions involved in being, and being seen as, a manly man were not confined to the demonstrably unhappy: Charles Kingsley, whose advocacy of ‘muscular Christianity’ identified him with a relatively explicit, even celebratory, poetics of the male body, expressed his allegiance to conjugal sex through an awkward medley of anti-Newmanism, asceticism and quasi-pornographic religious erotica.9 If the meanings of marital sex and male potency languished ambiguously within this loose confederation of ideas, what then was impotence; how, if at all, might it have mattered and to whom? The construction of sexual knowledge for both professional and popular audiences in Britain has been extensively investigated.10 Despite this, evidence about attitudes to impotence remains surprisingly scanty: a fact that raises its own methodological problems. Kevin Mumford’s study of the United States suggests that impotence emerged as a sexual disorder (as distinct from a fertility issue) in the early nineteenth century as a result of a number of interrelated factors: the rise of family limitation among the bourgeoisie; anxieties about the migration of young men to the cities; the ascendancy of a new model of sexual difference which ascribed sexuality and rationality to the male and reproductivity and irrationality to the female; and the proliferation ofscientific literature about male sexual disorders (1992:41 and passim). While this model has certain parallels with the British case, and some clear relevance to the childless, migrant Carlyles, it is not entirely applicable. The scientific literature in Britain seems to have been markedly less outspoken and less voluminous than that encountered by Mumford. For most of the Victorian period there existed very little authoritative discussion of impotence as a problem in its own right, partly because, as we have seen, the dominant mechanistic model of male sexuality placed its emphasis elsewhere. The celibate husband represented a logical blindspot in the Victorian ideology of male sexual respectability. He embodied both the hero and the villain of the spermatic economy: Homo economicus, the man who developed his willpower in the service of productive saving, and Homo sensualis, the man whose reckless abandonment to his body left him ‘nerveless’ and debilitated. In many ways impotence as a problem was simply
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unthinkable. Hence William Acton, in The Function and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs, was prepared to concede that intellectual effort could suppress male sexual appetite by making ‘inordinate calls on the blood’, but briskly dismissed this as a temporary state rather than a problem: ‘My reply to such a man is, be thankful that your health is good; finish your studies, and I guarantee that semen, and more than you want, will be secreted’ (1857:63). As Lesley Hall points out, although British clinicians were sometimes prepared to acknowledge to each other that male sexual competency might be precarious and problematic, and that such troubles as sexual anxiety, ignorance, wedding-night nerves and premature ejaculation were widespread and often remediable, they seem to have been reluctant to go public with this knowledge or to follow through its implications. Where an impotent patient presented neither physical malformation, nor evident organic disease, nor advanced age, the assumption readiest to hand was that self-abuse was to blame. Furthermore the symptoms of chronic masturbation were, by a cruel twist, gradually expanded to include feeling worried about virility. This vicious circle was clinched by an anonymous contributor to the Lancet in 1870: ‘the patients [suffering from the effects of long-continued masturbation] belong to a hyper-sensitive class, are usually wanting in fortitude, prone to exaggerate their sufferings of every kind, and constantly on the watch for their own sensations’.11 In other words, if you were impotent, it was probably because you masturbated; if you were worried about impotence, it was likewise probably because you masturbated. Within this discourse the physiological problem of ‘irritability’, defined for these purposes as ‘debility excited’, served as ametonymic link between the over-wrought penis and its hypersensitive, hypochondriac owner (Anon. 1870:224). Impotence, accordingly, tended to be regarded as a moral symptom rather than a medical diagnosis: a state of affairs that cannot have been conducive to cure. As the Lancet intoned, ‘The restoration of generative efficiency to a patient who has thrown it away is, doubtless, a matter of great importance to himself, but of very small importance to the world at large’ (225). For most of the century, the medical profession’s reluctance to discuss sexual problems in the lay press at all left the field open for those more commercially minded practitioners (or quacks) willing to prey on men’s guilt and fear, and on popular prejudices about virility (Hall 1991:114– 16). However, this official reticence gradually and unevenly yielded to more public expressions of distaste and disapproval, as the impotent man evolved into (to adapt Ed Cohen’s definition of the late nineteenth-century masturbator) ‘a biographical entity with “characteristic personality traits” whose existence was anomalous, dangerous and “unnatural”—a hidden
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destructive potential lurking beneath the apparently serene surface of Victorian middle-class domesticity’ (1993: 55). This clenching of the taxonomic grasp on impotence echoed a wider tendency on the part of the medical professions to reframe ‘disorders’ as more or less intractable ‘constitutions’ (predispositions that had to be prevailed against). A byproduct of this shift was that laissez-faire advice about male sexual problems became unfashionable.12 Medical commentators made it their business to distance themselves both from the idea of marriage as a cure for the mutually implicated problems of sexual weakness and masturbation, and from those unenlightened doctors who, according to this rhetoric, were so foolish as to advise the impotent to wed. The suggestion of ‘marriage as a possible cure’ assumed a dated, folkloric aspect, rather like the idea of intercourse with a virgin as a cure for venereal disease. Despite his relatively sanguine attitude towards temporary loss of erection, William Acton was emphatic on this point: Let his parents and advisers consider the position of this inefficient bridegroom; let them picture to themselves the disappointment, chagrin, and shame; and wonder, if they can, that under such circumstances more than one has committed suicide. But, as the professor of Montpellier has nobly observed, ‘What has the young girl, who is thus sacrificed to an egotistical calculation, done, that she should be condemned to the existence that awaits her?’ Who has the right to regard her as a therapeutic agent, and to stake thus lightly her futureprospects, her repose, and the happiness of the remainder of her life? (Acton 1857:83) In 1870 the Lancet was vehement on the subject. Conceding that ‘wellmeaning’ practitioners had some grounds for believing that a ‘natural call’ upon the enfeebled sexual powers of the self-abuser might induce recovery, the writer nevertheless held that ‘to advise a man of questionable powers to marry, in the hope, or even with the probability, that he may gain strength in consequence, is at once immoral, unscientific, and unmanly’.13 Marriage as a solution for impotence was proscribed not, or not only, because it offered an uncertain cure, or because the sufferer had brought the problem upon himself, but because it jeopardized the well-being of the future wife, and hence the internal logic of marriage itself. A number of interrelated suppositions contributed to this conclusion. First, it was assumed that, frustrated in his attempts at coitus, the impotent husband might resort to lascivious practices and thus endanger the virtue of his wife and the sanctity of his marriage bed. Second, his unbalanced constitution might
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lend itself to acts of brutality and violence against his wife. Third, the wife’s sexuality once magically awakened by marriage, she would find herself consumed by her thwarted desire to procreate: It is subjecting the health, the happiness, and even the virtue of a woman to risks she ought not to incur. Family practitioners well know how large a number of uterine maladies are directly traceable to ill-assorted unions; and it would be hardly possible to inflict upon a bride a greater physical evil than a marriage which should awaken her own sexual desires, and then utterly fail to satisfy them. (Anon. 1870:224–5) Based though it was on archaic notions of the duty of procreation, and on a biologistic linking of female sexuality with the instinct for motherhood, such reasoning nevertheless came remarkably close to acknowledging the power and independence of the erotic needs of women within institutionalized heterosexuality. This had particular and paradoxical consequences for the medico-legal construction of marriage itself. The idea of a wife’s inalienable conjugal rights was as fundamental to the idealization of male sexual self-control as the possibility of male incontinence was to the idealization of domesticity and wifely chastity. This was the conundrum that Effie Gray and hercircle were to exploit with great success in the 1850s (Stanley 1994). It remained latent in Froude’s treatment of the Carlyle marriage in the biography proper (in his account, for instance, of Carlyle’s flirtation with Lady Ashburton in the first volume of the Life in London ), but he was to spell it out, two years later, when he penned My Relations with Carlyle. III Of course, the main reason why the motives of the ‘inefficient bridegroom’ figured so prominently in the medical literature on impotence was that the divorce court provided one of the very few contexts in which male (and female) sexual problems could respectably, if rather squeamishly, be discussed. Impotence could be adduced in cases of alleged rape and disputed paternity, but it was in suits of nullity of marriage that the plight of the impotent impinged on the national consciousness. Scandalous and humiliating though the prospect must have been, a declaration of nullity propter impotentiam was, in the pre-1857 context of restrictive divorce legislation, one of the few avenues open to unhappy couples. After the passing of the 1857 Divorce Act, intensified press interest in marital failure only added to the piquancy of these rare proceedings.
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The requirement that husband and wife consummate their bond had been enshrined in canon law for centuries and had remained in secular law one of the fundamental tests of both the formation and non-existence of marriage.14 The assumptions Pierre Darmon has detected in the juridical and theological discourses of the French ancien régime held true for the British context: ‘the impotent man commits an act of larceny, profanes a sacrament, and indulges in an inhumane, cruel and dangerous act’ (1985: 59).15 Within this general outline, however, the association of male potency with the validity of marriage was both biographically discontinuous and historically shifting. An impotent person, for example, was not legally disbarred from marriage; his or her marriage was voidable but not void (Geary 1892:204). Because of this, nullity might not be granted if the marriage contract had been entered into in the full knowledge of both parties (Glaister  1910:373), or if the spouse of an impotent had in some way ‘approbated’ the marriage by accepting benefits from it.16 Another complication was that legally impotence could be absolute or relative: annulment could be declared where a groom found himself, though otherwise virile, to be impotent quoad hanc (i.e. with respect to his wife). Furthermore, while ‘corporeal imbecility’ arising before a marriage annulled it, the samecondition arising after marriage was not grounds for annulment or divorce. Expert witnesses could be called upon to read the bodily signs of ‘disease or malpractices’ (Glaister  1910:368): which latter category might theoretically extend to the full range of masturbatory symptoms. However, where no pronounced malformation was in evidence, male sexual failure posed an acute forensic challenge, capable of being strictly met only by circumstantial or ‘negative’ signs, such as a lapse of time without intercourse having taken place, and an intact hymen.17 The forensic difficulties were compounded, as Richard Collier has pointed out, by discontinuities in the legal understanding of ‘consummation’ itself (1992: 553). By the 1880s, Collier notes, the crude discursive technologies available to monitor potency were giving way to more pervasive discourses of identity; so that measurement in terms of inches of intromission was gradually being superseded in case law by (arguably more subjective) ‘expert’ assessments of the ‘impotent’ and the ‘virile’ personality. Needless to say, the mechanisms for describing and verifying such personalities made for a mutually empowering juncture between the medical profession, the law and the State. Unlike more high-profile perceptual shifts such as the ‘invention’ of the homosexual, the legal construction of the impotent husband occurred slowly and spasmodically as the small number of nullity cases trickled through the courts. They do, however, constitute a significant context for
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Froude’s account of the Carlyles’ marital relationship and his opponents’ response. In particular, the case of ‘G.v.M.’, which reached the London legal press in 1885, provides a useful counterpoint for Froude’s highly emotive revision of the marriage in My Relations with Carlyle. The agreed facts, as reported in the press, were these. G., a man of fortynine, and M., a woman of twenty, had married in Bombay in November 1877, and had lived together first in India and then in Scotland for a total of nineteen months. They then separated, the husband having given up any attempt to consummate the marriage. A little more than three years after the separation, M. gave birth to a child by another man, whereupon, in March 1883, G. sued for divorce on grounds of adultery. Pending the outcome of that suit, M. brought proceedings for a decree of nullity by reason of G.’s impotence. G. appealed to the Second Division of the Court of Session in Scotland claiming that the action for nullity was inadmissible on two main counts. For one thing, there had been an unreasonable delay in bringing the action, and the existence of a child, and by inference another man, cast doubt on M.’s motives in wishing at this late stage to have hermarriage annulled. For another, the couple had not lived together for three years, the period after which the incapacity of one or other party could be presumed in the absence of positive evidence of consummation. His appeal having been dismissed, he took his case to the House of Lords, where Scottish and English doctrines on cohabitation, nullity and ‘sincerity’ were compared, and the appeal once again dismissed. It was at this peak of complexity and ideological ripeness that the case found its way into the Times and hence, it is fair to assume, into the purview of Carlyle’s biographer. As James Hammerton has shown and as Chapter 3 illustrated, lurid accounts of domestic conflict were a staple of late Victorian news (Hammerton 1992:164). A number of additional factors would have contributed to the special interest of ‘G. v. M.’ for Froude: its Scottish/ English dimension, its rare public allusion to non-consummation and impotence, and its high legal profile.18 The case presents many of the features of the ‘matrimonial cruelty’ testimonies common in divorce hearings and influential in early representations of the Carlyle marriage as socially ill-matched (Hammerton 1992:102–33; p. 104 above). Gender conflict is expressed as class difference: such property as the couple possessed came from M. and would be forfeit if her adultery were established. In their lordships’ ruling G.’s perceived failure as a husband is subtly compounded by his evident failure as a head of household and as a breadwinner. Furthermore, as in contemporaneous divorce and separation hearings, the judges manifest a surprising level of support for the ‘wronged’ wife and considerable harshness toward her husband:
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I [Lord Bramwell] put it to Mr Davey, supposing that, after a man and woman have lived together under these circumstances, he being clearly impotent, his regard for her, if he had any, had failed, and he had taken to beating and ill-using her, would it then have been open to the objection of insincerity if the woman had brought the suit for a declaration of nullity?… I think it is impossible that that can be the law…. I really cannot understand how this appellant can have done otherwise than welcome the suit which the respondent has brought for the purpose of making her offence against chastity less grievous than it would have been if she had been his lawful and true wife. I cannot understand how he could have done otherwise than meet her eagerly, to have that decree pronounced which she was praying for, and atone to some extent for thewrong he had done her. It seems to me to have been a most cruel thing for him to have acted as he did. (‘G.v.M.’ 1885:402) The possibility that a man ‘prematurely exhaust[ed]’ by ‘viscous practice’ (sic) might turn nasty is never far from the surface of ‘G.v.M.’ (Moran 1990:166). But their lordships go further than hinting about the possibility of violence. Here and elsewhere the judgment construes as cruelty not only G.’s alleged sexual failure but also his reluctance to free M. to legitimize her child. It accepts, albeit rather begrudgingly, the defrauded wife’s right to look elsewhere for sexual satisfaction. It even hints that the impotent husband’s private failure might warrant ritual—even public—atonement, and that the role of the courts in this instance is to ensure that it takes place. Furthermore all this is vigorously argued rather than presumed.19 Prejudices have to be swept aside and the resources of grammar tested in order to demonize G. and exonerate M.: To some minds it may appear to be a mere question of degree whether a woman is guilty of adultery or of incontinence; but by the letter of the law of Scotland it appears not to be clear that it may not be something more in that country. (‘G.v.M.’ 1885:400) Contrary to everything we might infer from late Victorian bourgeois ideology, the judgment effectively leaves M. free to annul her marriage and to dispose of herself, her property, her child and her fraudulently ‘awakened’ sexuality where she sees fit. Working its way through the courts in the mid-1880s, ‘G.v.M.’ was a leading case in the legal definition of non-consummation (Clive 1982), significant for its extended consideration of both motive and timing. How soon or late, upon whose responsibility and initiative, and in what
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circumstances, should the problem of impotence be brought before the courts? Its significance, however, extended beyond its technical innovations. Les Moran and Richard Collier have shown that the case marked the ascendancy in legal discourse of potent and impotent ‘identities’, in that the propensities and behaviours of the ‘reasonable man’ effectively displaced inches and acts as the dominant legal signifiers of potency. As Moran puts it, ‘By the time “G.v.M.” comes before the court impotence is a pathological state, the key to a man’s constitution, his character’ (1990: 170). Furthermore the particularities of the case lent ‘G.v.M.’ an extralegal frisson. It put dramatically intopractice in the public sphere what had been assumed in the specialized medical literature: the possibility that the impotent husband would render legitimate the incontinence of his wife. The violence of the judges’ censure of G. and their relative leniency towards M. suggest that an example is being set. In failing to consummate his marriage, G. has not only violated canon law and social obligation, but has also visibly jeopardized the agency of husbands in defining and guaranteeing the meaning of the marriage relation itself. IV Though muted and often ambiguous, nineteenth-century understandings of impotence seem to have taken a decidedly negative turn, especially in the case of the impotent husband. They seem furthermore to have spoken to male fears about the female sexual prerogative (or licence) implicit in the ideal of the domestic Angel. When, in 1887, Froude penned his own account of the Carlyles’ sex life, there was much that was reproachful and apprehensive, and little that was placatory or even urbanely dismissive, about cultural attitudes to the ‘inefficient bridegroom’. Such room for interpretive manoeuvre as existed lay within and between medical, legal and cultural constructions of male—and female—sexuality, and it was on this uneven ground that Froude launched his new claims about the Cheyne Row ménage. Chapter 4 suggested that My Relations with Carlyle was of a piece with the paranoid rhetoric of the controversy around it, and thoroughly implicated in the panicky homosociality of late nineteenth-century biographical culture in general, and ‘anti-Froudism’ in particular. The nature of the biographical contract, and its exacerbated role in male homosocial relations, meant that the ‘secrecy’ of Froude’s Carlyle’s ‘secret’ mattered more in the 1880s than the secret itself. By 1903, however, when Froude’s heirs published My Relations, attitudes had hardened. To understand this change, and its significance for the late Victorian man of letters, we need to look more closely at the content of the ‘mystery’. Given
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the parameters within which impotence was typically viewed in the period, what, and how, did Froude’s diagnosis mean? Froude, as we have seen, had begun by presenting himself as the ingenuous liberal, refusing to be shocked by rumours that the Carlyles’ was ‘not a real marriage, and was only companionship, &c.’ (1903:4). It was perfectly understandable, after all, that two such ‘singular persons’ as Mr and Mrs Carlyle should, in the ‘struggling and forlorn circumstances’ of their early married life, choose to practise the only form offamily-limitation universally available and effective. To explain his composure, Froude had only to invoke the cherished ideal of marriage as loving companionship rather than economic and sexual expedient. His membrane of indifference begins to unravel as he realizes that the Carlyles’ relationship was not even companionship: Mr Carlyle was in the habit of retiring to his study for much of the day and ‘Mrs Carlyle was very much alone’ (5–6). This represents a refinement of earlier charges against Carlyle, which found him both neglectful and too much about the house, a thoughtless and obtrusive presence. But solitude is not the worst of it. There are rumours of ‘violent quarrels’ between husband and wife, and, more darkly, of Welsh Carlyle’s view that ‘she had a right to leave him if she pleased’ (6). Since the grounds upon which a woman might legally leave her husband were at that time closely circumscribed, this bodes ill indeed. Evidence mounts swiftly of Carlyle’s erratic temperament. Froude opines that Carlyle possessed ‘a vigorous constitution’, yet notes ‘I never knew him admit that he felt well’ (7). As we have seen, the Victorians took a dim view of hypochondria, regarding it as, at the very least, symptomatic of a ‘morbid’ constitution. So too were other aspects of Carlyle’s personality: he was ‘impatient, irritable, strangely forgetful of others, self-occupied and bursting into violence at the smallest and absurdest provocation’ (8). Even his philosophy, as conveyed to his wife, appeared barren and destructive: deprived of the stay of faith, ‘[s]he looked into her own heart and into the world beyond her, and it was all void and desert’ (8). Furthermore, perusal of Welsh Carlyle’s journals after her death suggests to Froude that her husband’s violence had not been restricted to the metaphorical and metaphysical. Once—at least once, according to Froude—Carlyle had inflicted ‘blue marks’ on his wife’s arms in ‘a fit of passion’ (11). More tellingly still, he had only become conscious either of his loss of temper or its effects long after the event, when faced with the ‘remembrance’ in his wife’s diary. But it was, of course, his reading of the same journal that had prompted Carlyle’s terrible sense of guilt. Observing Carlyle’s self-laceration, Froude finds it necessary to distinguish between the faults caused by his
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‘constitution’ (‘and I did not then know completely what they had been’) and the facts of his ‘real’ nature: ‘A repentance so deep and so passionate showed that the real nature was as beautiful as his intellect had been magnificent’ (12). At length, as we saw in Chapter 4, Froude learns from Geraldine Jewsbury (whom he immediately presumes to call ‘Geraldine’) the true state of things as she understood it:
the explanation of the whole of it was that ‘Carlyle was one of those persons who ought never to have married.’ Mrs Carlyle had at first endeavoured to make the best of the position in which she found herself. But his extraordinary temper was a consequence of his organisation. As he grew older and more famous, he had become more violent and overbearing. She had longed for children, and children were denied to her. This had been at the bottom of all the quarrels and all the unhappiness…. That Mrs Carlyle had resented it was new to me…. [Geraldine Jewsbury] said that Mrs Carlyle never forgave the injury which she believed herself to have received. She had often resolved to leave Carlyle. He, of course, always admitted that she was at liberty to go if she pleased. (Froude 1903:21–2) Here, as in ‘G.v.M.’, relatively recent medical assumptions about sexual dysfunction as a potentially dangerous aspect of male identity blur the starker outlines of canon law. Carlyle’s behaviour, which only gets worse as time goes by, is construed as directly related to the fact of his nonmarriage. Not only has he behaved badly, but his failure to provide his wife with children is so dire an injury that it licenses her to look elsewhere if she so chooses.20 This represents both an escalation and an abbreviation of the previous charges against Carlyle. Such is the explanatory leverage now accorded to heterosexual intercourse or its absence that the ‘whole’ of the Carlyle mystery now devolves on this single fact(or), and the whole projected biography must be designed at once to accommodate it and to obscure it from view. Like the productive negations we have observed in the Mausoleum Book, the possibility of a sexual secret invites (or rather is remembered as having induced) textual indeterminacy. As Froude puts it, his discovery ‘must necessarily influence me in all that I might say, while I considered I must endeavour if possible to conceal it’ (20). Nevertheless, Jewsbury is adamant that Carlyle’s failings were ‘aberrations due to his physical constitution’ rather than essential traits. On her deathbed she repeats her story to Froude, ‘with many curious details’.
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Of these Froude mentions only one, ‘as it shows that Carlyle did not know when he married what his constitution was. The morning after his wedding-day he tore to pieces the flower-garden at Comely Bank in a fit of ungovernable fury’ (23). This passage, much belaboured by Froude’s critics, is highly significant. We have seen that the inefficient bridegroom was a recurrent source of medical and legal anxiety, and that the precise timing of his dilemma was important. Suspect in anyevent for his debilitated state, the impotent man who married in full knowledge of his disorder was a scoundrel according to medical jurisprudence. He was a fraud in knowingly presenting himself for marriage, and a villain in knowingly risking his wife’s physical safety and reproductive fulfilment. In awakening desires in his wife that he could not satisfy, his selfish calculation threatened the very basis of marriage itself. That Carlyle should have ‘awoken’ to his condition on marriage rather than before it was thus crucial to his moral stature. It did not prevent damage, but it did exonerate him of malicious intent: ‘he had his faults like other men. The consequences had been miserable. But he was miserable himself when he thought of them’ (27). And flower-shredding, though senseless, was at least relatively harmless. In My Relations, Froude claims that his strategy as biographer had been to let the supposed ‘consequences’ of Carlyle’s apparent sexual frailty—bad temper, ill health, violence and marital strife—stand in for their psychosexual cause. The trope of ‘trouble and strife’ would, he implies, be legible by those in the know, but would at the same time animate a less sinister narrative of married life intelligible to a wider public and consistent with most of the data. To say something was, he insisted, unavoidable. To his eyes the evidence of marital difficulty was voluminous and in any case ‘Mankind will not rest, and do not rest till they have learnt all that can be discovered about such men. The lives of Swift, of Byron, and a hundred others were standing examples’ (26). Ultimately, he saw his tactic backfire because he had kept back ‘the essential part of the story which had governed my own action, and the world, not knowing the full truth, considered I had made too much of trifles which need not have been spoken of at all’. And to make too much of trifles, as the anti-Carlyle backlash had shown, was incompatible with late Victorian versions of domestic heroism. Froude placed his trust in the forgiveness of an audience figured as posterity. Despite its sexological dimension and its fevered tone, My Relations with Carlyle did not to his mind represent a sensational break from the teleology of his earlier versions of the story. The full truth for Froude lay, as it appears always to have lain, not so much in the nature of Carlyle’s offence—that he had mistakenly married who ought never to
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have done so—as in the cleansing tragic cycle of which it formed a part. Though influenced, as the judges in ‘G.v.M.’ clearly were, by the pathologization of sexual identities, Froude’s My Relations with Carlyle reposed finally in the orthodox pattern of conviction of sin, repentance and atonement:
Of all literary sins Carlyle himself detested most a false biography. Faults frankly acknowledged are frankly forgiven. Faults concealed work always like poison. Burns’s offences were made no secret of. They are now forgotten, and Burns stands without a shadow on him the idol of his countrymen. Byron’s ‘Diary’ was destroyed and he remains and will remain with a stain of suspicion about him which revives and will revive… (Froude 1903:37) His biography, he concludes, ‘will have made concealment impossible’ (40). As we saw in Chapter 4, the curious tenses and pronouns of these revelations d’outre tombe speak obliquely to Froude’s own embroilment in the erotics of biographical knowing If prurient ‘Mankind will not rest’ till ‘they’ have discovered all there is to know about Carlyle, where does that leave Froude, who has belaboured his own labours throughout the pamphlet?21 His very unCarlylean attempt to mystify his involvement in the revelation by deploying different degrees of candour according to the greater or lesser knowingness of his audience only serves to implicate him further. Yet for all its tortuous self-incrimination and disavowal, My Relations is astonishingly vague and Victorian about Carlyle’s actual condition, couching the whole matter of sexual failure in the discreetest of drawingroom euphemisms. Why, then, did its publication in 1903 cause such uproar? V By what sometimes looks like sheer effort of will, Froude subordinated the possibility of sexual failure—even of (heterosexual) perversity—in his subject to his original biographical scheme of triumph over tragedy. He died without having publicly to defend this position vis-à-vis Carlyle. Had he done so, he may well have found even in 1887 that male sexual nonconformity had accrued meanings not easily reconcilable with heroic biography. Certainly his distinction between a man’s ‘constitution’ and his
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‘real nature’ would have sounded more quaint to the early twentiethcentury readers of My Relations than it did to Froude himself. Its publication in 1903 fell at a time when public concern about the state of the British physique in general and about the national reproductive capacity in particular was at fever pitch. As Janet Oppenheim has noted, the period 1902–3 saw claims among senior military officers that ‘as many as three-fifths of the men who either triedto enlist or actually enlisted in the army were unfit for service’ (1991: 266; Shee 1903:797). The outrage generated by this revelation coincided with a much wider debate about the roles of health, sexuality and sexual difference in the fortunes of the British nation and the Anglo-Saxon ‘race’. It is a truism that sexual-political, economic and territorial upheavals all played a part in conjuring the spectre of British ‘racial’ degeneration that overshadowed the latter part of the century. Amid the general hysteria one can identify several themes likely to have been compelling to the immediate audience of My Relations. Most obviously, the blurring of evolutionary and military concepts of fitness, and with them of racial and national phobias, led to increased emphasis on physical health and heterosexual vigour in the construction of masculinity (MacKenzie 1987; Cohen 1993:15–19). This anxiety about national degeneration did not only affect men: with the birth-rate declining, especially among the middle classes, child-bearing and rearing took on a definite political complexion. A national cult of maternity may have advanced feminist campaigns in some directions, but it also revived suspicions that over-education, ambition and celibacy in women could lead to personal and hereditary degeneration (Davin 1978:12; Bland 1995). Such maternalist and pro-natalist thinking, and the attitudes to male potency that accompanied it, was steadily gaining momentum, alongside a modest but significant body of eugenic dogma actively promoting differential breeding patterns in favour of the ‘racially’ fit. Needless to say, public opinion was becoming leery of middle-class childlessness both as jeopardizing national progress and as signifying the ‘extinction’ of a line.22 The healthy middle-class British family may have been the pride of the Empire and the bastion of civilization, but it was also, according to late Victorian social science, a vulnerable link in the evolutionary chain. Along with non-reproductive and extra-marital sexualities, impotence came to connote not just individual pathology but racial decline; its symptoms were to be found among the stigmata of degeneracy. ‘The unit of degeneracy is the family’, claimed physician P. C.Smith in 1906: A degenerate family is one in which there is imperfect heredity, showing itself by a loss that tends to be progressive of racial
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characteristics, anatomical, physiological, and psychical. The losses in the anatomical sphere are manifested as malformations, usually of a minor order, affecting mostly the head, face and hands. Of the physiological defects, the commonest are disorders of the metabolism and vaso-motor instability; themost important is the diminution of sexual or generative power, which leads to the extinction of the family. The psychical abnormalities are impulsiveness, irritability, instability, suggestibility, and a tendency to obsessions, tics, and phobias. (quoted in Oppenheim 1991:277) The litany of faults Froude had attributed to Carlyle in the 1880s (that he was ‘impatient, irritable, strangely forgetful of others, self-occupied and bursting into violence at the smallest and absurdest provocation’ and so on), not to mention physical symptoms such as his notorious dyspepsia and the palsy of the right hand that afflicted him in later years, took on a more sinister accent to ears attuned to degeneration theory. The impotent husband, like other late Victorian perverts, was evolving dialectically with an equally reified ‘real’ husband: a heterosexually virile husband engaged in the reasonable level of intercourse befitting his role as breadwinner, citizen and head of household (Collier 1992:554). Only such a husband could hope to save the family and the ‘race’. The spectacle of the childless middleclass wife, meanwhile, seemed an affront to the institution of marriage and, as an index and agent of national decline, to the well-being of civilization itself. As we shall see, non-consummation scandals such as that precipitated by My Relations fed on—and into—this accelerated medicalization and sexualization of the (British) individual and the (middle-class) family. Where Froude, in squarely Victorian style, was inclined to dismiss as ‘morbid’ Carlyle’s gloomy self-reproaches (1903:25), later readers would come to associate ‘morbidity’ with all kinds of troubling psychological and somatic disorders. Indeed the notion of morbidity began to represent more than mere illness: it beckoned towards a drastically enlarged conception of the medical project itself. The patient was no longer to be seen as a coincidence of symptoms but as ‘a history and a prophecy’ (Gould 1903:11). The medic would be exhorted to consider in his client ‘all of his diseases, past, present, and to come, and what relation they bear to his life and sociologic conditions’ (10). Illness, in other words, was being rewritten as biography. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that this confluence of biography and medicine represented the victory of scientific ideas over all other ways of thinking about the human condition, or of the sexological
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over other aetiologies. Degeneration theory never went uncontested, even within those specialisms—forensic psychiatry, criminology—most addicted to it. The nascent genre of ‘clinical biography’ offered a vehicle for eclectic as well as mainstream ideas.This period, for instance, saw the development of the psychoanalytic case history both as a clinical tool and as a cultural artifact. Many have noted its conscious and unconscious debts to the conventions of fiction (Heath 1985: passim; Hertz 1985:221–3); its debts to biography were at once more concrete and more brazen.23 In an era of professional specialization and competition, library shelves groaning beneath the weight of Romantic and Victorian Lives and Letters offered many branches of medicine and social science, not least psychoanalysis, a body of data with which to illustrate their clinical findings and advertise their diagnostic methods. Hence Carlyle’s literary remains were regularly adduced in support of clinical opinions of one sort or another, especially in the United States. When forensic psychiatrist James Kiernan reviewed the Carlyle literature in 1895, he was able to call on a significant body of medical Carlyleana in support of his conclusion that the Sage suffered from ‘race egotism’.24 Carlyle’s palsy of the right hand was ‘an occupation disease curable or ameliorable by training of the left hand in any but an ex cathedra irritable egotistic prophet reckless of all hygienic and medical advice. The same egotism prevented dictation’ (Kiernan 1895: 259). Even as the My Relations scandal was breaking in 1903, American ophthalmologist George Gould was issuing a British edition of his thesis that all the ‘life-problems’ of De Quincey, Carlyle, Darwin, Huxley and Browning, not to mention those of ‘an abnormally large percentage of criminals’, were due to ‘the eye-strain factor’ (1903:13). While this was ultimately a two-way process—with biography as a genre, and even more more obviously as an industry, profiting from the fascination of the diagnostic gaze—in the short term, medical discourse seems to have been in the ascendance, zealously cleaving the biographical to itself. Where biography provided sexology, criminology and other ologies with a source of data that was plentiful, accessible and cheap, the compliment was not always returned. As Lesley Hall and Roy Porter have noted (1995), cheapness and accessibility were qualities seldom aspired to by medical writers, especially where sex was concerned. Within the profession the possibility that certain sexological ideas might find their way into the middle-class home seems to have been at least as controversial as the ideas themselves. Most medical writers on sex addressed their works to their professional peers, struggled to make their productions look as little like drawing-room reading as possible, and deliberately priced themselves out of the domestic market.
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It is significant, then, that the response of the anti-Froudians to My Relations was spearheaded, not by a professional man of letters, but by Sir James Crichton-Browne, a highly respected psychiatrist andneurologist. In Shattered Nerves, Janet Oppenheim has described Crichton-Browne as a key figure in the burgeoning of Victorian and Edwardian psychiatry, not only for his prominence and success, but also for his simultaneous identification with, and ambivalence towards, trends in medical science. She points out that his seventy-odd-year career, which began in 1862, coincided with the rise of hereditarianism, and that his various professional endeavours were characterized by the effort to reconcile, or at least to steer a satisfactory course between, the ‘crushing pessimism of degeneration theory’ and the belief in moral suasion he had inherited from his father (Oppenheim 1991:62). One solution seems to have been a habit of ascribing to men the ability to reform and to women the tendency to degenerate: he was a fierce opponent of women’s education and of feminism, and Oppenheim cites numerous chilling instances of his misogyny. Another rather paradoxical manifestation of this ambivalence was his advocacy of eugenics. Crichton-Browne became a founder member of the Eugenics Education Society in 1907, and called for the eugenic screening of marriage partners to preclude sufferers from hysteria and neurasthenia as well as more obviously extreme conditions such as insanity and syphilis (280–81). In other ways, too, Crichton-Browne was exemplary of his era and profession. Oppenheim notes that his publishing history followed a trajectory common among successful psychiatrists at the time, in that early experimental research in neurophysiology, made possible by superintendence of a large lunatic asylum, perforce gave way, as his prestige drew him away from asylum work, to more general discourses on the nation’s moral welfare (54). This shift can be partly attributed to his changing research environment, partly to the torrid sexual-political climate of the end of the century, and partly to his gradual acceptance that purely somatic aetiologies might prove incompatible with the cherished notions of will and moral responsibility that formed the basis of his therapeutic praxis (75). For all these reasons Froude’s ascription of sexual failure to Carlyle, the great moral reformer and a fellow Scot, was a red flag to CrichtonBrowne’s bull. His response was immediate and two-pronged. A short review in the British Medical Journal, ‘Froude and Carlyle: The Imputation Considered Medically’, tackled the sexual allegation—the meaning of the charge and the credibility of the evidence. Weeks later a substantial volume co-written with Alexander Carlyle, The Nemesis of Froude, recapitulated the existing case against Froude (his carelessness as a scholar, his treachery and so on), and, circumnavigating the impotence issue by way of an
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elaborate paralipsis,25 proceeded to cast doubt on the reputation and sanity of Jane Welsh Carlyle. Crichton-Browne chooses the British Medical Journal for his immediate response because his primary objection is to the accessibility of Froude’s allegations. ‘[T]he history of a man’s sexual experiences’ should properly remain outside the limits of the ‘frank biography’; the ‘cruel imputation’ with which Froude had crowned his ‘column of calumny’ should not be a matter for public debate but for the ‘judgement of the medical profession’ (Crichton-Browne 1903:1498). It is interesting that Crichton-Browne does not reject Froude’s suggestion that sexuality might prove the ‘key to the lives of Carlyle and his wife’. Indeed he takes it for granted (where Froude does not) that a diagnosis of impotence implies both physical abnormality and inherent faultiness of character: It has been reserved for Froude to set a most pernicious example and inflict a stain on English literature by proclaiming abroad a genital defect in the man whose life he had been commissioned to write, and whom he affects to hold up to admiration as one of the noblest and best of his species. (Crichton-Browne 1903:1498) At a stroke, Crichton-Browne transposes Froude’s claim into a moral accusation (Froude has ‘brand[ed] Carlyle as a Narses’ ), sets that accusation within the politics of racial health and annexes to the medical profession the dual tasks of reaching a verdict and passing sentence. Though his version of Froude’s claims seems at first glance straightforward enough, it effectively translates Froude’s veiled, quasilegal language into nuts-and-bolts physiology: Carlyle was one of those persons who ought never to have married, that he laboured under some physical defect which prevented the consummation of his marriage, and which was the cause of his failings and aberrations of temper and character, and of his wife’s misery. In short, Carlyle was impotent. (Crichton-Browne 1903:1498–9) Spelled out here for the nonce, the Carlyle ‘mystery’ is reconstructed, not as non-consummation, nor as unfortunate sexual disorder, but as genital defect. The strategy renders the question of Carlyle’s sexuality at once more and less visible: more legible to the clinical eye; less fit for public eyes. The possibility that Carlyle might have been taken unawares by some form of ‘relative’ impotence, or by the effects of masturbation, or by first-
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night nerves, is brushed aside as unsubstantiated: the only evidence for it is the flower-garden débâcle, and unfortunately for Froude ‘there was no flower garden at Comely Bank, but only a bit of a border, in which there were not likely to be many flowers in Scotland on October 18th’ (1500). Once the possibility of some ‘occult state of…constitution’ is dispensed with, the whole question of the Carlyles’ sexual health becomes polarized. Either Carlyle was always defective, married in the knowledge he was defective and hence was criminally negligent in a manner consistent with degeneracy; or he was perfectly potent and the reproductive defect belonged to his wife. Ocular evidence for a genital malformation is lacking. Carlyle wore a truss in later life which required occasional adjustment: surely his medical attendant would have noticed anything amiss and reported it to posterity? At the same time there is plenty of circumstantial evidence testifying to impeccable masculinity. In ‘his style, his manner, his voice, his appearance, his conduct’ Carlyle was free from ‘the traits we associate with maimed manhood’: he was ‘every inch a man’. His published works and his letters to Welsh Carlyle are flung at the reader with the question, ‘Is this the language of the eunuch?’ (1501). Finally his remorse— the remorse Froude had attributed to conjugal failure—is adduced as evidence of his unquenchable heterosexual desire: To any one with a spark of knowledge of human nature, Carlyle’s long and passionate mourning for his wife, his lonesome visits to her grave, when he knelt down and reverently kissed the green mound, must betoken a tenderer tie than mere platonic fellowship. (Crichton-Browne 1903:1502) Such, essentially, was the medical case against Froude’s allegation.26 The reader will gather that, as a prose stylist, Crichton-Browne makes a good psychiatrist; yet the ease with which he is able to press literary and biographical judgments into the service of a politics of national and racial health suggests something of the power vested at this time in medicine as a profession and as a discourse. The same confidence that affirms Thomas Carlyle’s manhood despatches Jane Welsh Carlyle and her friend Geraldine Jewsbury to the ranks of the ‘odd women’. Jewsbury is roundly dismissed as a witness on the grounds of her addiction to fiction, her excitable temperament and her excessive attachment to Welsh Carlyle. Crichton-Browne was among the first critics to detect an erotic element in Jewsbury’s letters toher friend, and to deplore it as the perverse expression of a morbid constitution.
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Miss Jewsbury’s feelings towards Mrs Carlyle herself…were highly extravagant, and in some degree perverted…. [T] he language of Miss Jewsbury’s letters to Mrs Carlyle, preserved by Mrs Ireland, is often highly charged and erotic…. Of delicate, nervous, highly-strung constitution, Miss Jewsbury became a morbid, unstable, excitable woman, constantly complaining of headaches and other ailments, and suffering from mental depressio…. (Crichton-Browne 1903:1499) Jewsbury’s ‘feelings towards Mrs Carlyle’, which were ‘well known’ to Froude, ‘were of a nature that should have made him pause before listening to her revelations on ticklish topics’.27 Jewsbury is thus multiply discredited. Her absorption in sexual matters (what Carlyle called ‘phallus worship’), her expressiveness about her own and the Carlyles’ erotic lives, but most of all her own perverse sexuality, all, paradoxically, render her unreliable as a sexological witness (1499). Welsh Carlyle fares even worse. Recapitulating views first aired in his introduction to the New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Crichton-Browne describes her as an only child from a dwindling family line, encouraged by injudicious parents into ‘precocity’, and indulging in exactly the kind of ‘inordinate’ study calculated to ruin a young woman’s reproductive capacity. Sterility and neurosis were the inevitable results. If there was a flaw in her marriage, it was its childlessness: a void ‘the more aggravating because she was conscious that she was herself responsible for it’ (1502). Nor does the attack on Welsh Carlyle end there. In The Nemesis of Froude, a volume that eschews ‘details of physiological functions’ as far as they involve Thomas Carlyle (Crichton-Browne and Carlyle 1903: 81), Crichton-Browne and his collaborator Alexander Carlyle positively kindle to the theme of Welsh Carlyle’s neurotic constitution and difficult menopause. Where Froude had found her resentful of her childless fate, in the Nemesis of Froude her temperament is such that she is incapable either of bearing or of wanting children. An over-educated, ‘worldly’ and ‘fashionable’ woman, she was ‘more alive to the drawbacks than to the pleasures of motherhood’ (Crichton-Browne and Carlyle 1903:31, 65):28 It may be laid down as axiomatic in medical psychology, that when a highly neurotic and childless woman, at a critical period of life, takes to morphia, morbid jealousy will develop itself…. No medical man can look carefully into her case without being convinced that she suffered from neurasthenia and climacteric melancholia, and that the piteous outcries of the Journal, which Froude, guided by Miss
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Jewsbury, accepted as proofs of her husband’s perfidy and cruelty, were really but the empty ejaculations of her disordered feelings. (Crichton-Browne and Carlyle 1903:54–5) The imputation is clear. If degeneracy is to be invoked—and the Carlyles’ childless marriage seems to invite it—then it is to be deployed not by the historian, the novelist or the biographer but by the medical man. If degeneracy is to be assigned, it must be laid at the door of the (delicate, obsolescent) Welshes, not the (robust, fecund) Carlyles. And where potency mattered for Carlyle—as far as we can discern—as part of a poetics of industry and discipline, and for Froude as an element of successful marriage, for Crichton-Browne it constitutes an irrefragable aspect of sexual identity. Nothing less than Carlyle’s reputation as man of letters is at stake: ‘Is the splendid virility of his writings to count for nothing?’ There is an inescapable irony in Crichton-Browne’s treatment of the Carlyles. Even as ‘the history of a man’s sexual experiences’ is annexed to medical jurisdiction on the grounds of its obscenity, two women’s sexual histories are offered to the public by way of explanation. For Carlyle’s sexuality to remain sacrosanct, his wife’s ‘empty ejaculations’ must be offered for all to read. The pattern of disclosure, exoneration and blame closely mirrors that of the notorious Victorian double standard of sexual morality. Yet Oppenheim’s reading of Crichton-Browne’s career offers the possibility of a more sympathetic, or at least a more nuanced, interpretation. Within this framework, Jane Welsh Carlyle bears the burden of Crichton-Browne’s late Victorian hereditarianist anxieties, so that Thomas Carlyle can survive to sanction —by example and by precept—his meliorist aspirations for twentieth-century British manhood. Either way—and the two readings are not mutually exclusive—CrichtonBrowne effectively defeated Froude. Froude’s supporters found themselves attempting the impossible: to rescue Carlyle in terms dictated by forensic psychiatry and by Crichton-Browne himself. They were forced to defend the impotence claim, and by extension Carlyle as impotent, in a world in which male sexual dysfunction was no longer alamentable adjunct to character, but a potentially dangerous and virtually unspeakable identity. Try as they might to stick by Froude’s explanation, his few remaining followers found themselves embroidering his claims with medical jargon, and with the misgivings that invariably accompanied it. A nephew of Froude’s, William Hurrell Mallock, outlined the ‘salient points’ of My Relations with Carlyle for the Fortnightly Review: The most important of these, which gives the key to the rest, and which is interesting as recalling the cases of Swift and Ruskin, is the
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fact that Carlyle congenitally was hopelessly unfitted for matrimony…. Genius, except in exceedingly rare cases —genius even as lofty as that of Shakespeare or Bacon—is notoriously accompanied by want of balance in character; and the physical defects with which, in Carlyle’s case, the finest qualities were associated, will be recognised, now that the whole of the truth is known, as bringing into a true, and most moving and atoning perspective a long series of errors and even brutalities which, because they have hitherto been not entirely explicable, have been by his angry and aggrieved admirers set down as perverse fictions. (Mallock 1903:188, 190) Andrew Lang, a longtime observer of the controversy and a rather reluctant pro-Froudian, reviewed the latest skirmishes for the Bombay Independent. He attempted to meet Crichton-Browne on his own ground, conceding that Welsh Carlyle might indeed have had a difficult menopause, but pointing to Carlyle’s marriage vow to stand by his wife ‘in sickness and in health’ (Lang 1903:1566). He steadfastly refrained, however, from mentioning impotence—only to have an editorial in the same issue spell it out for him: Mr Lang makes no allusion to the latest phase of the dispute, and we feel compelled, against our taste, to add a word of comment. It would be pleasanter to pass the matter over in silence, but the scandal is abroad and will be repeated everywhere despite any protests. It is also true that silence might be taken for acquiescence in the disgusting story. (Anon. 1903:1582) After quoting the now infamous ‘one of those persons’ passage, the Independent denounced Geraldine Jewsbury as ‘meddlesome, unwholesome and untrustworthy’ before concluding, ‘In the end we can only say that Froude’s original portrait of Carlyle holds good, despite the slur on his judgment from this ill-advised publication. Every man of upright judgment will hope that the matter may end here’ (1583). VI We do not need to accept or reject Froude’s interpretation of the Carlyles’ love-life to gain a clearer picture of the conditions and meaning of the debate it caused. Situated within a history of sexuality framework, aspects of the Froude-Carlyle controversy formerly taken for granted—that a revelation of impotence would be shocking, say, or that it should constitute a ‘stain’ on
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‘English literature’—become newly legible, while factors hitherto ignored come starkly into focus. During Carlyle’s lifetime and for twenty years after, the possibility of male heterosexual failure seems to have been enshrouded in a veil of euphemism more diffuse and enigmatic than that enveloping other ‘shameful’ lapses such as ‘self-abuse’ and ‘incontinence’.29 Involuntary sexual inactivity eluded the ‘hydraulic’ model of male sexuality that dominated for much of the nineteenth century. Because of this it challenged the economy of representation within which normative masculinity was supposed, however erroneously, to coalesce. Indeed where impotence did figure, in medical and legal discourse for example, it connoted and was often subsumed within an ideology of male sexual self-control. When, the day after his wedding, Carlyle wrote to his medically trained brother Jack ‘ut cum fratre ut cum medico’, (‘as a brother and as a doctor’), it seems likely that any advice he received in reply would have been within this framework. There is no evidence, however, that Froude had this or any other aetiology in mind when he penned his account of the Carlyles’ sex life in 1886. My Relations with Carlyle is concerned with the conflicting physiological claims of marriage and genius, with the consequences of what he saw as the Carlyles’ discovery, tragically too late, that their destinies were not only divergent but incompatible, and with the implications for the biographer of the possession of intimate secrets. In effect, of course, Froude’s reinterpretation of the Carlyles’ marital conduct—their domestic arrangements, their childlessness, their manners— invokes the impotent man’s symptomatic behaviour towards an equally reified wife, frustrated of her right to children. It uses ostentatious periphrasis to hint at unspeakable perversity (‘one of those persons…’); it subjects polymorphous desires to a harshly Oedipal design and situates the Carlyles’ sex life within an explicitly medico-legal framework. In all these ways My Relations rehearses the classic Foucaultian translation of sexual practice into sexual identity. But Froude was a reluctant sexologist. Certain that impotence mattered, he was yet unsure how or to whom. He seems to have been more concerned with issues of choice and justice, with the legal dimensions of the case, and with the likely effects of abstinence on Jane Welsh Carlyle than with the implications for national culture of symbolic sexual failure or deviance in Carlyle.30 In this sense his excursion into the Carlyles’ sexual history owes as much to the alarming spectre of female self-determination—to Effie Gray, to ‘G.v.M.’ and to the feminist critiques of male sexuality—as it does to fin de siècle medicine or degeneration theory.
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However, responses to My Relations, both pro- and anti-Froudian, medical and ‘lay’, suggest that by 1903 ‘impotence’ had been definitively pathologized within an elaborate diagnostic framework. At a moment of both sexual-political and demographic change, the male body had come into uncharacteristically sharp focus as a site of discipline and a source of fertility,31 so that anxieties about the diminution or loss of male sexual ‘potency’ became conflated with, and inflated by, fears about other modes of potency such as military might. As various interest groups struggled to establish sexuality as the ‘truth’, and heterosexual intercourse within marriage as the yardstick, of human interaction, the significance accorded to male conjugal competence had intensified. In the longer term the effects of this intensification were contradictory. One of the ways impotence had ‘meant’ for Froude was that the spectre of the impotent husband necessarily invoked the possibility of the justifiably incontinent wife. Ironically, the ideology of sexual difference within which impotence accrued its later, harsher meanings—the discourse of hard, athletic men and tender, motherly women—lent itself to misogynistic and implicitly racialist interpretations of the case, and scrutinized female sexuality and reproductivity more zealously and more publicly than it pathologized impotence. Pierre Darmon’s findings for public ‘trials by congress’ in pre-Revolutionary France hold true for the Carlyles’ fate in 1903: the impotence trial developed under conditions which encouraged the expression of misogynistic sentiments. Embroiled in this poisonous system, women were remorselessly crushed by a legal machinery which was at the same time biased in their favour…. Indeed, by mercilessly underlining the marginal status of the impotent, this type of trial served to establish ‘structuresof exclusion’ which operated for women as effectively as for their deficient husbands. (Darmon 1985:97) The Carlyles’ ‘trial by biography’ took a similar course. Although what I called in Chapter 4 the controversy’s ‘primal scene’ assumed that Welsh Carlyle’s papers would ultimately ‘speak for themselves’ (Froude 1903: 20), within the discourse of sexual deviance she was prevented from speaking at all. Her romantic claims on her husband’s affection were reread as biological imperative, and her importance as a witness was no longer based mainly on her wit, the sharpness of her observation or even her social class, but on the meanings attributable to her female body: her bruises, her hymen, her barrenness, her pallor.32 What Crichton-Browne called, significantly, Welsh Carlyle’s ‘penetralia’ (1903: 1498)—her most private
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longings, thoughts and sayings—were subject, after My Relations, to a brutal retrospective necropsy. Paradoxically, the plight of the impotent husband unsettled, only to reinforce, phallic understandings of the family, male power and heterosexuality. With the publication of the impotence allegation, the Froude-Carlyle embroilment ceased to be a recognizably political struggle for justice— biographical, marital, sexual-political—and devolved into an unsavoury struggle for the right to guarantee the meaning of sex: a struggle, finally, for the phallus. Since the possession of such a right opens up gaps within as well as between its possessors, we witness the kinds of curious bifurcation I have mentioned: Andrew Lang and his editors arguing at cross-purposes; James Crichton-Browne and Alexander Carlyle belittling Jane Welsh Carlyle as a ‘worldly little woman’ while advertising their edition of her letters in the same volume. The closely fought battle over domestic responsibilities and duties to which the first phase of the controversy had borne witness was to give way to something more akin to a shouting match over the chasm of sexual difference. In a sense, then, My Relations precipitated a crisis of legitimation for Victorian biography, and marks a faultline in biographical epistemology. Froude’s vision of a biography that could both hide and disclose a sexual secret, that could conceal it and yet ‘make concealment impossible’, may be hubris or pure delusion. Either way it calls a habitually psychoanalytic reader into being. The most lasting effects of the Froude-Carlyle affair were thus not to do with its content at all, but with its audience. Misgivings about male sexlessness on the one hand and female sexuality on the other, that, at the time of Ruskin’s separation from Effie Gray, had been mutteredamong a relatively small circle of cognoscenti,33 were, with the publication of My Relations and the response to it, played out in full public view. The publication of the ‘open secret’ in book form, for the open market, effectively deregulated access to sexual history, translating it from the élite discourses of medicine and law to the readier currency of biography. The fuss it caused, and went on causing, was as much about this fracturing and redrawing of disciplinary and professional boundaries as about the truth, or otherwise, of Froude’s revelations on ticklish topics.
INTRODUCTION: ‘SOME LITTLE EMPLOYMENT’: LETTERS, LIVES AND LESLIE STEPHEN 1 This and all subsequent references to Stephen’s text are to the 1977 edition by Alan Bell. 2 Julia Stephen’s published writings have been collected in Gillespie and Steele (1987). 3 A few months later, on 20 October 1895, Julia Prinsep Stephen would again be commemorated among her husband’s ‘forgotten benefactors’ in a lecture of that name delivered to the South Place Ethical Society and later reprinted in Social Rights and Duties (1896: II 225–67). As we shall see in Chapter 1, forgetting played a significant role in Stephen’s literary repertoire. 4 On the ‘liminal’ significance of the paternal/headmasterly study as affording a glimpse of a ‘delicate equilibrium of public and private realms, and their attendant virtues’ see Adams (1995:86 n.12) and Lewis (1991: 173). 5 Many of his surviving letters witness Stephen evoking the design of his home, and framing enclosures within it, in order to forge a sense of intimacy with his correspondent in spite of physical distance. See, for instance, Bicknell (1996:I 105 and I 66–7). 6 See Chapter 2 below. 7 Stephen took the precaution of writing to Maitland on 31 May—no doubt the day he appended the footnote—effectively to appoint him as his literary executor and to apprise him of the existence of the ‘little paper about my darling’. The letter follows the wording of the Mausoleum Book passage closely:
I am quite clear, for reasons wh. I have more or less stated, that it would be not only silly but impossible to write a life of me. I am an expert in that matter and I know that the materials do
not exist. But I think it possible that something might be said about me—eg if I the before the dictionary reaches my name.… If, then, you should write something about me—not a set life, wh. ought not to be even thought of but a notice—you ought to read the above document. I have said so much in it. Although the autobiography is only incidental, it would give you the key to all that is of any real importance. It could not be published though possibly a passage or two might be quotable. But to you, it would virtually tell the only things that would be necessary. You could not, by any language, overstate the enormous influence of my Julia upon my whole life since I knew her. Nine years later and mortally ill, Stephen was to confirm these views by pencilling in his notebook his conviction that ‘[a]ny sort of “life” of me is impossible, if only for the want of materials. Nor should I like you to help anybody to say anything except… Maitland. He might write a short article or so…and if he liked to do so, you should show him my “letter” to you’ (Maitland 1906:2). Without conceding any ground to ‘superstition’, the agnostic Stephen nonetheless consecrated his biographical wishes by uttering them on his deathbed. Without actually authorizing a Life, Stephen came within a breath of requesting his children to commission Maitland as their father’s biographer. 8 See de Man (1979). David Amigoni has noted a similar problem in Margaret Oliphant’s Life of Edward Irving (1862):
Irving’s writings are held to give the reader immediate access to Irving’s interiority, and as a consequence Irving’s style must express the unity of his being which is in turn a reflection of the integrity and validity of his public actions. Furthermore, constructing Irving in the image of an autobiographical subject is powerfully linked to claims about Irving’s exemplary ‘modern’ status. (Amigoni 1996:133) Marcus notes the same circularity with respect to the trait of ‘originality’ or ‘seminality’ in autobiography and autobiographical criticism (1994:2). 9 One of the many ironies of this cyclical process of canon-making has been that the repository of ‘classic’ texts it accretes are very often self-consciously ‘made-up’ Lives rather than the unselfconsciously realist work that constitutes the vast majority of the Life-writing corpus. Hence the canon of Life-writing is likely to include autobiography at the expense of biography, along with a disproportion of fictionalized or fictional Lives. Hence, too, twentieth-century renditions of the emergence of the genre tend to feature Carlyle’s highly stylized Sartor Resartus (which we might translate as ‘the
maker made-up again’) rather than his Oliver Cromwell or his Reminiscences; and will frequently figure Jane Eyre, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Mill on the Floss and either Great Expectations or David Copperfield rather than, say, Gaskell’s Charlotte Brontë, Forster’s Dickens or Stanley’s Arnold. David Amigoni makes a similar point: that ‘[c]anonically restricted readings would lead to a disregard for the chains of intertextuality —wherein, incidentally, biographies transmutate into autobiographies’ (1996: 137). See Gagnier (1990) for a broad survey of some of the modes of selfrepresentation employed in the period. The passage has been discussed in some detail, though to different ends, by Virginia Hyman (1980). Christopher Dahl (1983) has usefully enumerated key elements of the autobiographical tradition linking James Stephen with his great granddaughter Virginia Woolf. In his essay on Froude, Stephen would remark that he was ‘perhaps the most eminent man of letters of his generation who has not become the victim of a biography’ ([1898/1902] 1985: II/III 220). The omission was rectified by Herbert Paul in 1905. The case study is given as Appendix 1 in Symonds ( 1984:284–8). Sir Charles Holmes, reminiscing in 1936 about his time at the publisher’s, Nimmo, and quoted in Smith (1970:15). The publication history of Symonds’s Memoirs is discussed in Smith, as well as in Grosskurth (1964) and her Introduction to Symonds ( 1984). Conversions and deconversions were, of course, crucial to many of the most controversial and influential Victorian life-narratives: Mill’s Autobiography ( 1944) remains the most often cited, though Newman’s Apologia ( 1945), Froude’s Nemesis of Faith (1849), William Hale White’s Autobiography and Deliverance of Mark Rutherford ([1881, 1885] 1969) or Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son ( 1979) might be adduced. This convention was commonly and feasibly attributed to the embattled state of nineteenth-century faith. For a number of reasons to do with the history of autobiographical criticism, tropes of (de)conversion, and the scriptural hermeneutics which almost invariably accompany them, have come to be regarded as defining properties of canonical self-history. The fact that Stephen’s hints about his own past (implicitly spiritual) ‘struggles’ almost invariably coincided with comments about Froude’s account of Carlyle’s supposed marital misdemeanours (see Part 2) suggests that spiritual turmoil and conjugal delinquency had become associated in Stephen’s imagination. The conflicting accounts of his ‘deconversion’ left by Stephen and other contemporary witnesses are discussed in Annan (1951) and Bicknell (1987). As Margaret Oliphant discovered to her cost, to ‘turn out’ surprising quantities of literary work even in adverse circumstances was to invite derision (1990:16). Stephen’s famous essay ‘Autobiography’, first published in 1881 and reprinted in the Hours in a Library series, opened with a jovial defence of the pleasures afforded by even the ‘dullest’ autobiographers, since they ‘would in spite of themselves say something profoundly interesting, if only by
explaining how they came to be so dull’ ([1874–9] 1892:III 237–8). The same essay also celebrated those writings ‘in which great men have laid bare to us the working of their souls in the severest spiritual crises’ (238). 19 It is still common to describe a decisive break between Victorian reticence and modern candour. See, for instance, Stanley: ‘whatever its precise point of origin, modern biography stands on one side of a divide and hagiography on another’ (1992:7). One of the arguments of this book is that the ‘divide’, if there is one, is less clear cut than is usually assumed. 20 Richard Altick’s early study of literary biography includes an illuminating chapter on its ‘uses’ (1965:77–111), anticipating many of the preoccupations of Swindells, Marcus, Amigoni et al. without, however, pre-empting their interest in the form as a medium of social dialogue and change. 21 The new Copyright Act of 1842 tightened writers’ control over their work by allowing a forty-two year period of ownership from date of publication,or until seven years after their death, whichever date came first. According to Ian Hamilton,
[t]his new legislation had the effect of intensifying the involvement of wives, sons and daughters in the administration of their lovedone’s literary leavings. The prompt issue of a family-controlled biography would, it was perceived, both safeguard the biographee’s good name (by forestalling unauthorised attempts) and also see to it that the good name, was, so to speak, kept warm during the seven-year period of copyright control. (Hamilton 1993:144) 22 Scott (1992) has provided the most influential re-theorization of the category ‘experience’. 23 Anthony Easthope puts the problem bluntly: ‘Masculinity has always tried to be present everywhere as the source of everything, and this is what makes it hard to write about’ (1990:1–2). This difficulty has beset studies of manliness, with consequences too for studies of unmanliness and effeminacy. For analyses of and solutions to this problem, see Roper and Tosh (1991:2– 3), Adams (1995) and Kestner (1995). 24 Danahay is influenced here by John Kucich’s classic account of ‘the nineteenth-century cultural decision to value silenced or negated feeling over affirmed feeling, and the corresponding cultural prohibitions placed on display, disclosure, confession, assertion’ (1987:3). 25 I am indebted to Hugh Haughton for pointing out this passage. 26 Interestingly, Fenwick’s efforts to categorize women subjects according to occupation founder on something like the same paradox: in so far as they achieved fame, women often did so irrespective, or even in spite of, any paid work they might have had. For this reason Fenwick’s own occupational categories tend to blur into the existential: ‘Law, lawyers, police, prisons, victims, criminals, impostors, witches, gamblers’; ‘Society women, mistresses, prostitutes, famous beauties, heiresses, eccentrics’ and so on.
1 ON THE WIRE: LESLIE STEPHEN, LIFE-WRITING AND THE ART OF FORGETTING 1 In its early days as a commercial venture, telegraphy had been marketed primarily as a railway signalling system. Its physical spread was thus preconditioned by the railway network (Morus 1996). 2 I am grateful to Hermione Lee for bringing this episode to my attention. 3 Compare, for instance, ‘National Biography’, first published in the National Review in 1896, and republished as the first essay in the series Studies of a Biographer (Stephen [1898/1902] 1985:I). 4 The phrases recur in ‘National Biography’ where the chaos of biographical fact is also likened to the ‘historical “kitchen middens” ’ (Stephen [1898/1902] 1985:I 4). 5 As we shall see in Chapter 4, however, tacit insinuation would horrify Stephen when practised by others, especially James Anthony Froude. In other hands, it signified a cowardly reluctance to own up to one’s opinions. 6 Stephen would return to this set of images in ‘National Biography’, in which he meditates on the DNB from the point of view of the reader rather than the writer or editor ([1898/1902] 1985:I 24, 25, 36). 7 It is interesting to find Leslie Stephen’s counterpart in Canada, William Cochrane, speaking of his Canadian Album of biography (1891–3) in very similar terms: ‘space is annihilated, and each man visits every other man around his own hearthstone, in the library or the office’ (quoted in Lanning 1995:44). 8 See, for instance, Umble (1992). 9 In a pamphlet of 1891, for instance, William Coldbrook claimed that the telephone fulfilled one of the prophecies of St John in the Book of Revelations ch. 16 vv. 13–14. According to Coldbrook, telephony was represented by St John as the unclean spirits or ‘frogs’ which would travel across the earth and seas to summon the armies for the battle of Armageddon. As Coldbrook ingeniously points out, frogs were associated with the discovery of electricity; they could travel over land and sea like telephony; and they could hop long distances in relation to their own dimensions (1891:7–8 and passim). 10 When such possibilities were imagined, they were regarded as farcical. The protagonist of an early one-act play on the subject, a ‘scientific lunatic’, spoke of sitting down by the fire on a wet night to ‘turn on Mary, and ask her to give me some music or mutter soft nothings by the telephone’. As if to prove how ludicrous an idea this was, he immediately gets his lines crossed and mistakenly proposes to his middle-aged housekeeper downstairs (Clements 1878:4, 5 and passim). A generation later, gossiping on the phone was still an acquired taste. An in-joke in Bloomsbury was to imagine calling up Leonard Woolf, Stephen’s son-in-law, to say ‘I just thought I’d ring you up for a chat’ (Young 1991:148). 11 The dramatist’s claim (see note 10 above) that one might ‘turn on’ a lady friend and request a little light music was less far-fetched than it might now
seem: the idea that one could broadcast down the telephone clung to the new technology. One of the earliest subscribers in this country was Queen Victoria, who was persuaded to sign up by an evening’s entertainment consisting of organ music telephoned from London, a quartet of part singers telephoned from Cowes and a bugle sounding the retreat telephoned from Southampton (Tegg 1878:308–9). Broadcasting by telephony was developed extensively in Paris and Budapest, and transmission of music from a distance to a concert hall was part of the telephone companies’ promotional strategy for several years. As early as 1878 telephones were installed in various parts of the House of Commons, and an early publicity stunt involved the transmission of the Parliamentary Summary from the gallery of the House to the office of the Daily News, for publication the next day (Tegg 1878:311). Inevitably, this stunt formed the basis of a number of (in fact surprisingly prescient) political skits. A pamphlet of 1878, for instance, satirized the idea of universal franchise by prophesying that ‘a year hence’ each Member of Parliament would be connected telephonically with his constituency, as well as, by private arrangement, with his editor, his bookie, his wife or whomever. According to this fantasy, such is the hullaballoo from every corner of the nation after every parliamentary utterance that, after twenty minutes, Prime Minister Gladstone is forced to move ‘in deaf anddumb alphabet’ for the corking of the telephones and an immediate return to limited democracy (Anon. 1878:15). Such spoofs, however lighthearted, suggest that the telephone was popularly imagined as a technology of government in a quite literal sense. Indeed telephony seems to have been conceived of as an instrument of surveillance in the narrow as well as in the more general Foucaultian sense of the term. In The Political Telephone, another satire, telephony was portrayed as a device for eavesdropping on, and thereby profiting financially from, the negotiations and double-dealings of politicians over the so-called Eastern Question (Walters 1878: passim). More generally, however, telephony was marketed to businessmen as a way of checking up on employees and thus preventing absenteeism (United Telephone Company 1887:7). 12 The telephone was often characterized as a feminine version of the telegraph (‘the Telegraph’s younger sister’ [Fitzgerald 1887:2, 10]), apparently on account of folk myths about women’s garrulousness. See also Clements (1878:5). 13 Early diagrams of the use and mechanics of telephony almost invariably depicted prosperous-looking businessmen, the telephone companies’ target clientèle, in communication with employees. See, for instance, Benjamin (1886) and Baldwin (1925). 14 One might cite the learned debates that took place at the time among Roman Catholic priests over the theological propriety of taking confession and granting absolution over the telephone:
Nous trouvons cette question posée a titre de simple curiosité dans la Praxis Confessariorum de Berardi, le savant cure de
Faenza ‘Curiosa fit Quaestio, dit-il, an absolutio data ope telephonii (ita ut sacerdos per instrumentum istud suam vocem pertingere faciat usque ad aures poenitentis) valida sit? (Eschbach 1887:5) 15 More recently, such considerations have attracted the attention of philosopher Avital Ronell, who, in her biography of the telephone (or ‘biophony’), asks:
Why [theorize] the telephone? In some ways it was the cleanest way to reach the regime of any number of metaphysical certitudes. It destabilizes the identity of self and other, subject and thing, it abolishes the originariness of site; it undermines the authority of the Book and constantly menaces the existence of literature. (Ronell 1989:9)
Ronell’s book, which is in large part an extended deconstructive reading of the memoirs of telephony’s inventors, Bell and Watson, consists of a teasing out of the relationship between identity, telephony and biography, and as such can be read as a postmodern revision of Stephen’s essay. (Thanks to Christien Franken for this reference.) For instance, because quicker and surer returns were to be gained by concentrating investment in areas of dense commercial activity andprosperity, many telephone companies initially resisted marketing their services to out-of-the-way places or to domestic dwellings. The saturation of vested interests in the fate of the telephone, and the extent of telephone company lobbying, can be glimpsed in a London telephone directory of 1887. Of only eighty-seven private subscribers to the United Telephone Company in the capital, over a quarter were members of parliament, or barristers, or both. Of these a number had demonstrably direct interests: W.C.Quilter MP, for instance, was the founder of the National Telephone Company, and R.E. Webster, MP, QC, defended the Edison Telephone Company in the crucial legal battle of 1880 (United Telephone Company 1887). The definition appeared to cover any system of communication using wires (regardless of whether electricity were involved) and any that involved electric signals (regardless of the use of wires). Interestingly, the same decision was invoked to regulate the use and spread of Marconi’s ‘wireless’ telegraph, invented in 1895, and was thus partly responsible for the creation of the BBC. According to Leslie Stephen, Fitzjames’s ‘aversion to technicality and oversubtlety’ rendered him less impressive in civil than in criminal cases. This trait may, Leslie speculates, have precluded him from the ranks of ‘great lawyers’, but within the discourse of ‘robust’ manliness it was, of course, something of an advantage. The ‘loving handling of legal niceties’ may have been necessary for the untying of complex questions, but Fitzjames’s
‘summariness’ suggested a judicious husbanding of time and effort, as well as an ‘English’ revulsion for finesse (Stephen 1895:448). It should be noted that, while Stephen’s account of the case in Fawcett is clearly derived from the Times Law Reports, which included the judge’s informal opinion, the account in Fitzjames Stephen refers explicitly to the Queen’s Bench Division Reports. Although the two accounts are in most respects identical, the fact that Stephen acquainted himself with both versions underlines his supererogatory interest in the case. In his later years, Stephen’s hearing became progressively impaired, which may have rendered existing telephonic technologies useless to him (though he did experiment with hearing tubes). Ironically, the telephone itself grew out of its inventors’ interest in hearing and deafness (Ronell). Fawcett himself was, of course, blind: a fact which may have given this hearing about hearing an added resonance. Alexander Welsh describes the dynamics of the late Victorian culture of information, with its arbitrary mechanisms of withholding, concealment and dis/closure, in George Eliot and Blackmail (1985). Yet Frederic Maitland made a point of admiring Stephen’s capacity to remember (1906:435–6, 475–6). ‘Vain was the prayer of Themistocles for a talent of Forgetting’, Sartor Resartus (Carlyle [1833–4] 1987:39). Themistocles was a successful but unscrupulous Athenian general of the fifth century BC. In ‘National Biography’ Stephen would take further the correlation between heroism and oblivion. Quoting Cowper’s ‘unpleasant remark on the old Biographia Britannica’
A fond attempt to give a deathless lot To names ignoble, born to be forgot Stephen muses ‘Why struggle against the inevitable? Better oblivion than a permanent admission that you were thoroughly and hopelessly commonplace. I confess that I sometimes thought as much when I was toiling on my old treadmill [the DNB]’ ([1898/1902] 1985:I 2, 3). 26 This characteristic gesture of self-aggrandizement by self-deprecation is part of the same economy of meaning as his celebration of the Dictionary of National Biography for ‘the adequacy of [its] timid and third-rate lives’ (Stephen  1956:129), or his metaphor of biographer as mere conducting wire.
2 MISSING HER: THE LESLIE STEPHENS, ANNY RITCHIE AND THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF GENRE 1 All references to the Mausoleum Book will cite this edition. 2 Norma Clarke made this point in her paper to the ‘Carlyle at 200’ Conference, Memorial University, Newfoundland, 1995.
3 Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen, née Jackson. With a few exceptions I have, by way of unsatisfactory compromise, used forenames for the women in Stephen’s Life except when I am discussing their literary identities. This serves both to distinguish them from their male relatives and to underpin the ‘literary’ versus ‘personal’ axis around which my argument revolves. 4 All these interpretations are touched on in Bell’s Introduction to the text (ix– xxxi). 5 For a range of interpretations of Stephen’s domestic behaviour see, for example, Maitland (1906); Annan (1984); DeSalvo (1989); Lee (1996). 6 See, for instance, Bell: ‘He speaks of her goodness and it is impossible to believe that she was not, in fact, an extremely good woman…. She was, in short, a saint and because of this one cannot quite believe in her’ (1965: 16– 17). 7 As Poovey puts it:
The paradox of individualism defused the potentially pernicious effects of competition, not only by foregrounding its role in establishing a national identity while implicitly limiting who could compete, but also by rewriting competition as an integral part of the individual—as one of the forces behind personal development. (1989:114)
As the origin, instigator and goal of this narrative of personal development, or story of self-mastery, the figure of the loving mother/perfect wife played a key role in the ‘ideological work’ of bourgeois individualism (9). See Chapters 3 and 5 on the ‘ticklish topic’ of Thomas Carlyle’s marriage. By the time Stephen wrote the Mausoleum Book, Laura, his daughter by his first marriage who was understood to be backward, had been placed in an asylum. Stella married two years later, but died within a few weeks of her wedding. Stephen’s fascination with debt as an element of biography, again in the context of a father- and son-in-law relationship, can be witnessed in his detailed essay ‘The Story of Scott’s Ruin’, a review of Andrew Lang’s Lifeand Letters of John Gibson Lockhart. Here Stephen consistently equates the repayment of debt with ‘manliness’ ([1898/1902] 1985:II 1–37). Along with the anguished Carlyle, the bankrupt Sir Walter Scott can be detected as a pervasive monitory presence in Stephen’s writing about himself. Anny Thackeray Ritchie’s Journal, quoted in Fuller and Hammersley (1957: 94). Of course, several unauthorized books about Thackeray had appeared, much to the disgust of both Anny and Leslie. See Gérin ( 1981:232). Su Reid, in her recent Introduction to Beer’s essay, glosses the philosophical crux thus: ‘whether individuals, and things, exist permanently in themselves and so continue to exist whether anyone is thinking about them or not, or whether that is an illusion and everything exists as it is perceived’. The theoretical debate leads into ‘a series of questions about the identity of the
writer or thinker, his reputation and its survival, and his independence of thought or his dependence on humbler men’ (Reid 1993:9). Stephen goes so far as to drag in his (second) mother-in-law to testify that ‘Anny was always the aggressor and could not keep silence’ (23). The description of Thackeray Ritchie and her work can be found in the Mausoleum Book (13–15). The same refrain can be heard in many of Leslie’s letters to Julia. In a letter of 18 July 1877, he had defended the idea of education for women on the grounds that ‘[i]f (but dont breathe a whisper of this) Anny had been educated at all, so as to have some rudimentary perceptions of what is meant by system or by thinking, she would have done something incomparably more telling than she can ever do now’ (Bicknell 1996:I 214). Ten years later, on 4 October 1887, he wrote, again to Julia, ‘I must say that Anny’s audacity in sewing together a lot of descriptions of scenery and calling it a story rather amuses me. But she certainly has or had a “gift” as they call it’ (letter quoted in MacKay 1987: 69). In effect, Stephen is to Anny as his hero Hume, in Stephen’s History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, appeared in relation to the ‘thousands of inferior thinkers’ who were dealing with the same problems as Hume ‘and, though with far less acuteness or logical consistency, arriving at similar conclusions’. In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf was to spoof this relationship as Mr Ramsay’s irritated consciousness of the interdependence between the great man and the ‘lift man in the Tube’. See Beer (1993: passim). Quoted in Maitland (1906:403, 420). The episode is also recounted in Fenwick (1993:121). Beer notes that ‘Stephen, with Hume, affirms chance and custom rather than order and reason as the basis of perception’. The dividing line between subject and object was, for Stephen, a ‘fiction’ (1993:79). In her early journalism she had remarked that ‘Where a book ends and the reader begins is as hard to determine as any other of those objective and subjective problems which are sometimes set’ (Ritchie  1890:52). Even in her late teens, in a journal entry penned during the Crimean War, she had mused
What a queer thing it is to think that I care more if my father’s finger aches than if the whole Imperial family be extinguished. That to me everything happens only to make part of my existence…. Perhaps these times appear differently to me, to what they do to every other mind? Perhaps Minny sees the trees blue not green, and Anny thinks them red. (quoted in Ritchie 1924:64–5) 21 Letter from Leslie Stephen to Anny Thackeray Ritchie quoted in Fuller and Hammersley (1957:157). In The Mausoleum Book Stephen remembers that ‘Fitzjames and I in those days called [Anny] a “sentimentalist”, a name which in our mouths implied some blame’ (Bell  1977:13). Maitland’s
account of Stephen’s own flirtation with sentiment is relevant to his relationship with Anny Ritchie:
If Stephen does not indulge in emotion for its own sake, that is not because he has not been tempted, but because he has manfully said his Vade retro. To tease him about the sentimentalism displayed in his choice of novels—not the classics but the novels of the hour—was, a lady tells me, an amusing game; and a death, let us say, of some old college friend— might, I think, transport him to the verge of the sentimental abyss, though on the verges of abysses Stephen’s foothold was always sure. (Maitland 1906:437) 22 I am indebted for this quotation, and for clues as to the publication history of Chapters, to MacKay (1990:65). 23 Though it is tellingly difficult to know quite how much money. See Fenwick (1989, 1993). 24 This is not to suggest that Anny Thackeray Ritchie was not infuriatingly scatty. By all accounts she was. Yet tales of her absent-mindedness typically have a revealingly consequential quality. The classic Anny story has her turning up exactly a week early for a visit to Charles Darwin, to his infinite amusement. A week later he was dead. 25 See, for instance, Sedgwick (1985, 1990); Cohen (1993); Bland (1987, 1995). 26 Woolf ’s obituary of her aunt, first published in the Times Literary Supplement 4 March 1919, is appended to Gérin (1981:279–84). Another important literary outcome of the negotiations over auto/biography between Anny and Leslie is, of course, Woolf’s delineation of Mrs Hilbery as biographer in Night and Day ( 1994).
3 DUST-CLOUDS AND DISSONANCES: MARRIED LIFE AS A LITERARY PROBLEM 1 Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the early medical, sexological and psychiatric interventions in the debate. Modern feminist responses include Rose (1985: 252–5) and Clarke (1990:2–6). A terse bibliographical account of the controversy can be found in Tennyson (1973:45–55 and 107–10). See also Origo (1957:117–88), Clubbe (1976), Gilbert (1991), Trela (1992 and 1996a) and Heffer (1995:1–26) for twentieth-century revivals of the controversy. 2 Carlyle, quoted sceptically by Lilly (1903:1006). 3 On Victorian social melodrama, see Walkowitz (1992); on popular journalism, see Cohen (1993). A rather different argument from my own about the relationship between nineteenth-century scandal and the literary is formulated by Cohen (1996:3 and passim).
4 Froude’s opponents frequently dwelt on his apparent inaccuracies of transcription, pointing out gleefully, for instance, that ‘Professor Eliot Norton found one hundred and thirty-six corrections necessary in the first five pages of the “Reminiscences” ’ (Carlyle 1903:I viii). 5 The complicated history of Froude’s commission as Carlyle’s biographer— itself a matter of dispute—was sketched by American scholar Waldo H. Dunn in 1930, during one of the controversy’s many revivals. See also Fielding (1976) and Gilbert (1991). 6 The term ‘rehabilitate’ is used by Gilder (1903). 7 See the relevant years in Tarr (1976). 8 Writing in 1892 for Morley’s prestigious Men of Letters series, John Nichol was unusual in acknowledging his indebtedness to Froude’s work. But see below p. 127. 9 The sense that Froude had rendered the Carlyle remains ‘past evasion’ confirms William Cohen’s analysis of the grammar of popular scandal (1996: 3). Interventions in the controversy often included such disclaimers and disavowals. See, for instance, Larkin: ‘all that we can do is to accept the facts which have been thus freely laid before us, and try whether they cannot even yet be resolved into coherence and human credibility’ (1886: 309). 10 As John Clubbe puts it, ‘the Victorians did not condone lightly open criticism of marriage’ (1976:319). 11 Letter to C.E. Norton, 24 November 1885, Houghton Library bMS Am 1088 (6966). 12 Even now, more than a century later, and within so brief and factual a sketch, it is virtually impossible to ‘tell the story’ of the Froude-Carlyle controversy without seeming to endorse a pro- or anti-Froude line. This is partly because most of the historical ‘facts’ of the case—the various fragments of evidence— are effects of the debate itself. For all my efforts to maintain neutrality, I have been charged with ‘slid [ing] rather quickly into what appears…to be a general acceptance of Froude’s accuracy’ (Trela 1996b:141). My readers should make every effort to counteract any such impression. 13 Although, in the Mausoleum Book, Stephen plays up the Gothic trappings of the story—the legendary ‘half-mad servant’, the castle setting, the innocent, adoring bride and so on—the Vaughans’ predicament had been a day-to-day concern of the Stephens’ married life. Julia spent long intervals away from home nursing Adeline through her final illness. When, shortly afterwards, Julia’s youngest daughter was born, she was named Virginia Adeline. 14 Stefan Collini has described the theoretical and psychological ramifications of the Victorian ‘culture of morality’, showing how ‘in any given situation there was always one moral right answer: all ultimate values are presumed to be compatible, and obligations, when clearly understood, cannot conflict’ (1991:64). As Collini is careful to point out, this certainty about the existence of a hierarchy of duties within which right choices could always be made did not preclude (and indeed could be said to have heightened) awidespread sense of moral perplexity about what that hierarchy looked like at any given moment; and should in any case be seen in the context of philosophical uncertainty about how individuals might best be enabled to recognize, and best motivated to carry out, the highest duty in any situation.
15 A similar mechanism can be detected in Stephen’s letter to Charles Norton of 21 December 1895: ‘Have you read Mat. Arnold’s letters?’ he asks his friend:
I always took his adoption of the oracular tone—the ‘we’ have said so & so—to be intended playfully & ironically. But he speaks in the same tone even to his sister & his wife. I can imagine old Carlyle taking himself to be a prophet, as indeed he was; but Mat Arnold, I should have thought, was too much of a critic even of himself to wear his robes so gravely.
As usual, Carlyle is represented as both more reprehensible than other men, and somehow transcendent of the very standards being invoked. The letter ends with a comparison between Carlyle and John Stuart Mill. ‘Now I agree with Mill in some ways rather than with Carlyle; but as a man, Carlyle seems to me to be worth a wilderness of Mills’ (Bicknell 1996:II 449–50). John Clubbe (1976) has analysed in detail Froude’s use of the conventions and plots of Greek tragedy in the Carlyle biography, in particular his deployment of analogies with Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy and Euripides’ portrayal of Iphigenia. See also Chapter 4 below. Here I follow Dunn (1930:139 and passim), whose identification of the main issues involved in the Froude-Carlyle debate I have generally found to be reliable, though his resolution of them is partisan. There were many disputes over the origin and significance of the phrase ‘ill to live wi’ ’ as applied to Carlyle. See Trela (1992:194). One has only to think of Sartor Resartus’s Diogenes Teufelsdröckh in his tower, waited on by the silent Lieschen (Carlyle [1833–4] 1987:15–21). See, for instance, Carlyle’s essay ‘The Hero as Man of Letters’ ( n.d.: 191), which characterizes the professional writer as ‘a Great Soul living apart in that anomalous manner… Few shapes of Heroism can be more unexpected.’ On the mid-Victorian use of concepts of health in the service of social and literary criticism, see Haley (1978:46–83). The relationship between the ‘private’ cultivation of unselfishness and the ‘culture of altruism’ propounded by the Victorian public moralists is analysed in detail in Collini (1991). Frances Power Cobbe, for instance, found the notion of wifely obedience immoral (that is, irreconcilable with the ‘full and independent moral responsibility of every human being’, and liable to foster ‘selfishness and despotism’ in husbands), and advocated instead an ethic of mutual love (1881:107–8). There is also a discernible lineage between Mill’s liberal language of individual rights and duties in 1869, and the social Darwinist arguments of the 1880s marriage debate. Compare Mill’s position with that of Mona Caird, for instance:
We must not be deluded into the belief that any of the relationships of life, however close, form a safeguard against the abuse of power. As a matter of fact, it is generally the nearest
and dearest over whom the most rigid tyranny is exercised; for here the opportunities are greater, the excuses more numerous, and for some mysterious reason, the desire of rule more eager than in any other case. (Caird 1897:200) 22 As Collini points out, Mill wrote the Subjection in 1861 but deliberately delayed its publication until 1869, when he considered circumstances were more favourable to its reception (1991:150). 23 Helpful recent accounts of the Victorian debates on marriage can be found in Kent (1987:80–113), and in Bland (1995:124–88 and passim). 24 See also Julia Wedgwood’s review of the Reminiscences:
When we say a man should control himself, we do not in ordinary circumstances mean that he should control himself as long as his nerves are in good condition. It is a miserable effeminacy, which no one would have scorned more than the great man who has given so much occasion for it, to plead that when duty becomes difficult it ceases to be a duty. (Wedgwood 1881:828) 25 Crichton-Browne’s attacks on Welsh Carlyle’s sanity will be explored in Chapter 5. Alexander Carlyle and Crichton-Browne were vehement in their denial of any wrong-doing on Carlyle’s part, arguing sarcastically that Welsh Carlyle’s complaints amounted to nothing more than his ‘inappreciation of her gifts’ and ‘want of commiseration with her sufferings’ (1903:I xxx–xxxi). 26 Interestingly, this type of approach tended to characterize Carlyle’s detractors, including Froude, as feminine (see Chapter 4). Here is Larkin in the same vein:
Mr Froude, seemingly in a moment of playful confidence, lets us into the following little secret:—‘An experienced publisher’, he tells us, ‘once said to me: “Sir, if you wish to write a book which will sell, consider the ladies’-maids.”’ Considering the sentimental, three-volume style, in which he dwells upon blighted first-loves and ineffaceable scars; how he treats his readers to all the piquant circumstances of courtship and wedding, and other exquisitely private gossip; and how he first sets off the victim Wife against the blue-beard Husband, and then the meekly forgiving Husband against the shrewish Wife,— it would hardly seem that the hint had fallen unfruitful upon stony ground. (Larkin 1886:318–19) 27 Among the early biographers a possible exception is Nichol, who considered Carlyle ‘a great man, but a great man spoiled, that is, largely soured’ (1892: 151).
28 On divorce see Poovey (1989:51–62); on matrimonial legislation generally, see Hammerton (1992: passim); on later developments see Bland (1995). 29 Lord Stowell, delivering judgment in the case of Evans v. Evans (1790), quoted in Hammerton (1992:120). 30 For a concise statement of Hammerton’s thesis on legal cruelty, see his ‘Victorian Marriage and the Law of Matrimonial Cruelty’ (1990). Robert L. Griswold’s study of nineteenth-century divorce cases in the United States (1990) charts a widening of the definition of cruelty parallel (if somewhat earlier) to that found by Hammerton in Britain:
In these cases women, backed by scores of witnesses, gave voice to a remarkably diverse range of grievances against autocratic male behavior; that local judges affirmed the validity of these complaints, and that appellate judges…greatly expanded the definition of matrimonial cruelty, suggests a growing consensus about the limits of male prerogatives within the family. (Griswold 1990:98) However, Griswold’s exclusive focus on the legal system at the expense of other forms of evidence (such as the press, prescriptive literature and fiction cited by Hammerton, or the biographical debates discussed here) leads him too readily to assert that the law court was ‘one of the few places where Victorian gender ideology and the day-to-day lives of people became publicly entangled’ (96). This in turn leads him to conclude prematurely that ‘the motor of change was a middle-class conception of family authority, not feminist demands for sexual equality’ (97). What Hammerton’s findings and my own study suggest is that ‘feminist demands’ were implicated in the change in a range of ways, both positive and negative—not least in providing misogynists with a pretext for reasserting patriarchal authority in the home. Certainly the anti-Froude backlash suggests that, in Britain at least, consensus over the limits of male autocracy was slow in coming. 31 The case of Kelly v. Kelly (1869–70) established a precedent for a widened definition of ‘cruelty’ to include the non-physical forms of violence possible to a husband (in this case an Anglican clergyman) who placed an exorbitant value on wifely obedience (Hammerton 1992). 32 See, for instance, Masson (1885); Lilly (1903); Carlyle (1903). 33 Designed painlessly to extract a modest housekeeping increase from her husband, Jane’s famous ‘Budget of a Femme Incomprise’ was a witty parody of the Chancellor’s budget speech, in which she managed to shore up her identity as a frugal Scots housewife (in the process distinguishing herself from the spendthrift ‘Lady A.’), while at the same time daringly deconstructing the separation of public and private economies. The episode was discussed by Norma Clarke, unpublished paper for the ‘Carlyle at 200’ Conference, Memorial University, Newfoundland, 1995. It is a fascinating example of the type of evidence adduced both for and against Carlyle. See, for example, Larkin (1886:326–8).
On the mutually constitutive relationship between literary and legal narratives of gender, see Krueger (1994). 34 I am indebted to Dale Trela for this reference. 35 The author continues: ‘One thing, to be sure, is necessary, if a genius is to be happy though married, and that is that his wife should not be a genius’ (4). 36 As usual, the answer was close at hand:
Probably there is nothing in literary work more antagonistic to domestic felicity than there is in other occupations; the trouble is that it is done at home and not put out, so to speak—and one of the necessary conditions of peace in a house is that the master should be absent from it for at least six hours a day. (‘Graduate’ 1897:9) 37 Of course, since his death Carlyle has been a national institution within two— sometimes divergent—national cultures: those of England and Scotland. 38 Interestingly, Kiernan reads Carlyle’s refusal to accept Darwinian theory, and hence to see his own genius as ‘healthy atavism’, as further confirmation of his race egotism (i.e. degeneration). Most late nineteenth-century commentators, from Froude onwards, found Carlyle’s rejection of Darwinism problematic. 39 For discussions of genius as decadence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Cohen (1993:15–18); Battersby (1989:113–22). 40 Compare Larkin: ‘If we are not to give Carlyle credit for the sternest veracity and clearest self-judgment in all this, what are we to think of his sanity? Or what noble meaning could his life have for any of us?’ (1886: 319–20). 41 Norma Clarke (1991) has traced the troubling consequences for Carlyle’s gender identity of the slippage between these two conceptions of writing
4 FROUDE: THE ‘PAINFUL APPENDIX’ 1 For recent, concise summaries of this criticism of Froude, see Ryals (1987: 297), and Clubbe (1976:352). The monumental Duke-Edinburgh Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle has since enabled scholars of the Carlyles to undertake fascinating studies of the social and familial ‘worlds’ both inhabited through their correspondence. See, for instance, Campbell (1987) and Christianson (1987). 2 Blunt’s best known work on the subject was his The Carlyles’ Chelsea Home (1895). 3 Given that, according to the fourth letter in the series written three months later, Mrs Carlyle was too crippled to comb her own hair, Jessie may well have felt that the ‘least bit of a Lady’s maid’ was an understatement (Blunt 1901:461). 4 Carolyn Steedman has explored this problematic in her analysis of the encounter between Henry Mayhew, journalist and social explorer, and an eight-year-old girl selling watercress on the streets of London. The ‘objects’ featured in the girl’s short life-story, ‘pieces of fur, bunches of watercress, the
scrubbed floor’, do not resonate, do not function metaphorically, in the same way as the paraphernalia of middle-class, ‘literary’ life-stories. As a result, according to Steedman, Mayhew cannot ‘see’ the little girl in important ways (Steedman 1986:128–9). 5 Elliot L. Gilbert usefully sketches the role this scene has played in more conventionally psychoanalytic accounts of Froude’s biographical work. Typically, Froude appears as
a kind of parricide goaded into violence by the paternal aggression implicit in Carlyle’s bequest. For the gift to Froude of Jane’s letters and the remorseful account of the couple’s unhappy marital history could be said to have forced on the younger man’s attention just the kind of embarrassing private details which, in the context of the Oedipal ‘family romance,’ the ‘son’ at once most pruriently seeks and most desperately wishes to avoid. (Gilbert 1991:310) Gilbert argues, however, that the more appropriate analogy for the scene is Christian rather than classical, with Carlyle and Froude engaged in symbolic acts of self-sacrifice. 6 Indeed there is a sense in which Lockhart’s biography of his father-in-law Scott, Carlyle’s famous response to it, and Froude’s frequent invocation of both, together constitute lineage, and context, for the conflicting ideals and ambivalences of which the controversy was a latter-day expression. On Stephen’s more whimsical transactions with his late fathers-in-law, see Chapter 2. 7 Sedgwick draws, of course, on D.A.Miller’s excellent The Novel and the Polite (1988). See also James Eli Adams (1992). 8 Ralph Jessop has traced Carlyle’s interest in ‘nescience’ to the Scottish Common Sense school of philosophy, and in particular to the influence of William Hamilton, whose writing for the Edinburgh Review Carlyle read and admired. According to Hamilton, nescience or ‘learned ignorance’ was the consummation of knowledge. Among the characteristics of Common Sense philosphy were, according to Jessop,
a deep core of scepticism which, after exhausting debate, is the realization of the ultimate incomprehensibility and occult nature of things; a nescient scepticism which holds that the highest wisdom is to know the vastness of human ignorance; a silent or agnostic spiritualism which is a deep sense of faith in the unknown and unknowable God. (Jessop 1997:105) In his own writings Carlyle adapted the concept of unknowability to a number of contexts and uses. In particular he stressed the limits of
biography, with especial reference to his own Life. In a journal entry for 10 October 1843, for instance, Carlyle had dismissed the suggestion that he contribute biographical notes to a ‘beggarly “Spirit of the Age” or other rubbish basket’, commenting
The world has no business with my life; the world will never know my life, if it should write and read a hundred biographies of me. The main facts of it even are known, and are likely to be known, to myself alone of all created men. (Froude 1884:I 1) 9 Interestingly, Carlyle identified the same strategy as both the flaw and the virtue of Lockhart’s Life of Scott ( 1872:27). 10 …which, of course, could only be understood with reference to Geraldine Jewsbury’s testimony, which could only be gained through Froude. 11 The question of an author’s ‘mode of devouring his “pudden” ’ was familiar to addicts of Johnsoniana. See Stephen ([1898/1902] 1985:I 123). 12 Chapter 5 will suggest ways in which Carlyle’s dyspepsia came to signify impotence in the late Victorian mind. 13 See also Larkin:
It is a strange supplement to a most untoward destiny, that the most private details of two such sensitive lives should have become, in direct consequence of Carlyle’s own act, as much public property as are the books which he has published. (Larkin 1886:333) 14 The thesis that aspects of nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholicism encoded a homosexual sensibility is explored in Hilliard (1982). 15 Compare Lilly (1903:1006 n.l): ‘What unimagined irony in the testimony to Froude’s “practicality” borne by Carlyle in his will! Practicality! The practicality of Judas covenanting for the thirty pieces of silver.’ 16 Crichton-Browne was especially fluent in the art of shielding Carlyle’s reputation from the ‘taint’ of Froude’s ‘negligent usage and venomous breathings’ (Carlyle 1903:I v). 17 See, for instance, Laplanche and Pontalis (1986). 18 ‘It is as certain as anything human can be certain that what she related to me was what Mrs Carlyle had related to her, and to all who knew Mrs Carlyle that is evidence enough’ (Froude 1903:25). 19 In the Letters and Memorials Froude substitutes an ominous line of black dots for Mrs Carlyle’s complaint about the blue marks on her arms. 20 He refers to the marriage as a tragedy ‘as stern and real as the story of Oedipus’ (Froude 1903:3) and ‘as sternly tragic, as profoundly pathetic as the great Theban drama’ (33). For a thorough account of Froude’s use of the Oedipus motif, and, more tendentiously, an attempt to evaluate Froude’s use of the motif from the point of view of Freud’s, see Clubbe (1976). 21 Parallel developments can be found, of course, in modernist and protomodernist fiction, where the ‘scene of biography’ is used as a crucible of
gender trouble. Henry James’s novella ‘The Aspern Papers’ ( 1984), Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day ( 1994) and Orlando ( 1993) all, in different ways, pit the demands of normative heterosexuality against the homosocial resources of biography. 22 To gauge the impact of these developments on Carlyle biography, see Holme (1965); Rose (1985); Clarke (1990, 1991). 23 Hence Stephen is described as terrified of the dentist, but courageous in the face of death; magnanimous as a critic of literature, but painfully sensitive to criticism. 24 Sedgwick, meanwhile, points to ‘paranoid gothic’ plots in which ‘one man’s mind could be read by that of the feared and desired other’, and notes
the urgency and violence with which these plots reformed large, straggly, economically miscellaneous families…in the hypostatized image of the tight oedipal family; and then the extra efflorescence ofviolence with which the remaining female term [is] elided, leaving…a residue of two potent male figures locked in an epistemologically indissoluble clench of will and desire. (Sedgwick 1990:187) 5 ‘REVELATIONS ON TICKLISH TOPICS’: IMPOTENCE, BIOGRAPHY AND FROUDE-CARLYLE 1 See Bicknell (1996:II 538–9). 2 Simon Heffer briskly surveys the primary sources, retails the contemporary rumours about Carlyle’s potency—up to and including James Halliday’s 1949 surmise that Carlyle was ‘anally fixated, homosexually inclined…and was a sado-masochist’—only to wave the whole subject away with an embarrassed quip: ‘The psychiatrically unqualified must draw their own conclusions’ (1995:89). 3 This point is adapted from Collier, who, in his investigation of the shifting legal definitions of non-consummation in case law, notes that ‘the construction of sexual intercourse in law embodies both the heterosexual imperative and the binding of power/knowledge in a particularly obvious form’ (1992:546). 4 Peter Cominos’s classic essay ‘Late Victorian Sexual Respectability and the Social System’ underlines the prevalence of, but also the internal contradictions within, the ideal of continence (1963:21,24). 5 On the last point, see Gilbert (1991). 6 Pushed to its logical extreme, as Roy Porter and Lesley Hall have pointed out, the dominant sexology of the time implied that ‘[a] condition approximating as far as possible to sexlessness—in which not only was sexual activity limited but as far as possible the slightest arousal was to be avoided —was… the most desirable state’ for men (1995:143).
7 As a state likely to encourage self-abuse and nocturnal emissions, celibacy might have dire consequences. John Laws Milton, admittedly at the gloomier end of Victorian sexual science, opined in 1872 that a continent man could ‘hardly reach twenty-six without becoming partially, if not wholly, impotent’ (cited in Porter and Hall 1995:144). 8 This characteristically ‘Anglo’ form of anti-popery continued to thrive in the twentieth century. In 1965 Gertrude Himmelfarb quotes Waldo H. Dunn’s (1961) view that As a decent family man, Froude naturally objected to a celibate clergy’ (247). 9 Susan Chitty’s The Beast and the Monk (1974) explored these elements of the Kingsley marriage. See also Adams (1995:110); Morgan (1994). 10 See for instance Hall (1991); Porter and Teich (1994); Porter and Hall (1995). Of these, only Hall discusses impotence to any extent. As late as 1980 a work devoted to the topic today commented that ‘impotence eludes any really satisfactory definition’ (Carlton 1980:9). 11 This recursive pattern is evident elsewhere in the medical literature on men’s sexual ailments. As Lesley Hall notes (1991:115), in 1875 Sir James Paget developed the notion of ‘sexual hypochondriasis’ to accommodate the possibility of a psychological aetiology for sexual problems; by 1883venereologist F.W. Lowndes was attributing sexual hypochondria itself to ‘excessive intercourse or self-abuse’. 12 An honourable exception is Paget, who continued to urge trainee medics to instil a ‘virtuous and judicious carelessness’ in ‘sexual hypochondriacs’ (1879: 293). 13 I am indebted to Lesley Hall for this reference. See also Henry Maudsley’s 1868 discussion of ‘masturbatory insanity’:
Certainly marriage need not be recommended to the confirmed masturbator in the hope or expectation of curing him of his vice. He will most likely continue it afterwards, and the circumstances in which he is placed will aggravate the misery and the mischief of it. (quoted in Cohen 1993:65) 14 The most extensive treatment to date of the legal history of nonconsummation is to be found in Pierre Darmon’s discussion of preRevolutionary France, Trial by Impotence (1985). Insights into the Victorian legal construction of non-consummation can be found in textbooks of family law and medical jurisprudence such as Glaister ( 1910) and Geary (1892). Contemporary ‘critical legal’ studies by Moran (1990) and Collier (1992) have also informed my discussion. 15 See Dr Lushington’s landmark judgment in the case of ‘D—e v. A—g’:
Sexual intercourse, in the proper meaning of the term, is ordinary and complete intercourse; it does not mean partial and imperfect intercourse;…! can never think that the true interest of society would be advanced by retaining within the marriage
bonds parties driven to such disgusting practices. Certainly it would not tend to the prevention of adulterous intercourse, one of the greatest evils to be avoided. (quoted in Collier 1992:551–2) 16 Such technical distinctions mattered in cases where collusion was suspected. 17 See Glaister for the forensic problem from the point of view of the ‘expert witness’:
[N]o examiner can positively state, where the usual complement of parts is present in a man, that the virile and procreative powers do not exist; and all that can be stated is that no good reason exists why both powers should not be present.…Since… the examination can only apply to the physical conformation of the genitals of the husband, and since any opinion as to his virility must depend on his being like, or unlike, to other men, and upon the existence of virginity in the wife, which is evidence tantamount to the non-accomplishment of a given and required act, it is clear that the evidence must be of this negative character. (Glaister  1910:373) 18 Judgment was passed by four law lords, including Lord Chancellor Selborne. It should also be recalled that Froude was at this time activelyinvolved in legal discussions over the Carlyle estate, and had a close friend and collaborator in jurist Fitzjames Stephen. See Fielding (1976:268 n.18). 19 The legal notion of the ‘reasonable’ man is extended in cross-examination to include ‘reasonable’ levels of potency. What counts as ‘reasonable’ effort to achieve consummation becomes a salient point:
Has the husband resorted to appropriate attempts to remedy the situation? What would a ‘reasonable’ husband do? What had been his sexual practices when younger? If he did masturbate when younger, why did he give it up?… Would the ‘reasonable man’ consider the wife in question to be attractive? (Collier 1992:554) 20 ‘When the intimacy with the Ashburton house became established, she had definitely made up her mind to go away, and even to marry another person’ (Froude 1903:23). ‘She would not make a scandal by revealing the truth and dissolving the marriage’ (24). 21 K.J.Fielding has pointed out that one of Froude’s strategies for clearing himself of the imputation of treachery towards Carlyle was to exaggerate the length of time he had devoted to the Carlyle papers (1976:256). 22 As late as 1947, for instance, we find Euphemia Gray’s grandson, Admiral Sir William James, gloating over the ‘dying out’ of the Ruskins, and celebrating the fecundity of her life with Millais (James 1947:5 and passim).
23 The most enjoyable psychoanalysis of the Carlyle remains is James Halliday’s serio-comic Mr Carlyle My Patient (1949). 24 Kiernan quotes Popular Science Monthly (1884); Kate Sanborn, The Vanity and Insanity of Genius; Nisbet, The Insanity of Genius; Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius and (on Welsh Carlyle) The Female Offender. 25 ‘Delicacy forbid that we should here discuss Froude’s mystery or Miss Jewsbury’s communication. They have been fully examined in the pages of a medical journal, where alone they could be properly considered…The evidence of their falsity is absolutely conclusive’ (Crichton-Browne and Carlyle 1903:59). And so on, for several pages. 26 Though it should be noted that the correspondence page of the subsequent edition of the British Medical Journal saw a number of objections to Crichton-Browne’s understanding of impotence. These included a denial that impotence was a moral matter at all; a reminder that Narses was a eunuch rather than an impotent; and an assertion (by a female correspondent) that celibate companionship was perfectly compatible with happy marriage: indeed was its ideal form. 27 The phrase is repeated verbatim in The Nemesis of Froude (Crichton-Browne and Carlyle 1903:38). 28 In the British Medical Journal Crichton-Browne cites with satisfaction Jane Welsh Carlyle’s view that ‘a family lying under the doom of a hereditary malady should die out and leave its room in the Universe to healthier and happier people’, adding that ‘Darwin has remarked that the last surviving members of a dying-out family are likely to be barren’ (1903:1502). 29 It is not surprising, perhaps, that as a signifier of genital rather than general powerlessness, the term ‘impotence’ itself occurred very infrequently in the Carlyle literature, even after the publication of Froude’s My Relations with Carlyle. 30 Froude notes in his biography (1882:I 367) that Jane Welsh Carlyle responded with a ‘bright assenting laugh’ to his own view, offered when a relaxation of the marriage laws was under discussion, that ‘the true way to look at marriage was as a discipline of character’. 31 On the shifting significance of the male body see Tosh (1994:6). 32 In the narrative of My Relations, Mrs Carlyle—with whom up till her death Froude has appeared to identify, and whose genteel long-suffering he has so consistently mythologized as ‘neglect’—is posthumously represented as bruised, sexually frustrated, forcibly childless, betrayed, attempting suicide, keeping a madhouse, her ‘entire system shattered’, ‘broken down…with the strangest illness that ever woman died of and, in a final brutal exposure, as a corpse being examined internally by an indiscreet physician (Froude 1903:11– 24). 33 Such misgivings, and the contradictions implicit in them, are nicely illustrated by the diaries of Ruskin’s colleague, Arthur Munby. In November 1860, Munby complains to his diary of a haranguing by Ruskin, in which the latter ‘rising up & down on his toes, after his manner, with his hands in his tailpockets’ had abused the ‘careful work of three generations’ of political economists. Indignant at Ruskin’s ‘oracular’ and ‘condescending’ demeanour, Munby ends his burst of spleen by remarking that ‘doubts of [Ruskin’s]
virility, and his appearance which confirms them, are alone enough to make one feel strangely in his presence’ (Hudson 1972: 81–2). Munby’s private equation of Ruskin’s ‘filliping’ bad manners with his unvirile ‘appearance’ would be turned on its head in the following year’s diary, when he would commiserate ‘poor Ruskin’ for the embarrassing behaviour of Effie and her new husband:
Ruskin was in the middle of his lecture ‘on a Twig’ at the Royal Institution, when these two actually came in, and sat down in a front seat before him… Now, such an act on Millais’s part is atrociously mauvais gout—though he is very absent and careless; but on her part, it is about the most shameless, barbarous, unwomanly thing that she could have done. A divorced adulteress & her paramour would not do it. (Hudson 1972:97) Male sexlessness and female sexuality are here equally, though privately, reprobated for their unspeakable visibility, and for their obtrusive violation of standards of respectability. I am indebted to Liz Stanley for drawing this sequence of events to my attention.
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Abercromby, Lady 82 Acton, William 139, 142, 143 Albemarle Club 12 Amigoni, David 21 Annan, Noël 38, 58 anti-self-consciousness 24, 28, 36, 52 Arnold, Thomas 24 The Art of Biography (Kendall) 19 Ashburton, Lady 80, 91, 128, 145 association 67 audiences 79, 164 authenticity 19, 43 Authors’ Club 11 autobiography 5, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28 autocracy 92, 94, 104 autonomy 24 Bakhtin, Mikhail 21 Bateson, Mary 32, 34 Beer, Gillian 67 Bell, Quentin 38, 57 Besant, Annie 26 betrayal 80, 123 Between Men (Sedgwick) 114 Blunt, Reginald 109, 109, 118, 131 Bosanquet, Gustavus 17 Boswell, James 43, 54, 103 Bristow, Joseph 18 British Medical Journal 157 Broadfoot, Jessie 109, 109 Brown, Horatio Forbes 5, 13, 14, 23, 25 Brown, T.E. 15, 16 Browning, Elizabeth Barrett 32, 70 Browning, Robert 156
Buchan, Susan 39 Bulwer, James R. 49 Burns, Robert 153 Byron, George 153 Caird, Mona 100 Cameron, Julia Margaret 32 Carlyle, Alexander 96, 122, 131, 135, 157, 159, 164 Carlyle, Jane Welsh 81, 88, 89, 97, 113, 115; blame 84, 96, 104, 132, 158, 164; ill health 137; Jessie Broadbent relationship 109; secrecy 118; suffering 80, 99, 100, 124, 127, 150; wit 120 Carlyle, Mary Aitken 82, 83, 115 Carlyle, Thomas 9, 19, 36, 53, 77; ‘anti-self-consciousness’ 24; biographical style 9, 14; Froude relationship 113; impotence 135; marriage 79, 81, 84, 88, 112, 126; ‘genius’ and 88, 91, 93, 102, 103; impotence 135, 141, 143, 162, 163; metaphor 52; narrative 43, 44; sociality 21; widowhood 58 celibacy 138, 139 censorship 14 Chapters from some Memoirs (Thackeray Ritchie) 71, 73
Clarke, Norma 135 class conflict 99 Clerke, Agnes 34 Cobbe, Frances Power 105 Cockshut, A.O.J. 137 Cohen, Ed 79, 85, 143 Collier, Richard 146, 148 Collini, Stefan 22, 56, 90 communications, wire 39, 44, 52, 56 A Community of One (Danahay) 23 condensation, biographical 41 confidentiality 4, 37; see also privacy Cowell, Herbert 96 Craik, Dinah 94 Cresswell, Sir Cresswell 100 Crichton-Browne, James 122, 123, 131; attack on Jane Carlyle 96, 104, 158, 159, 164; impotence 135, 136, 140, 156 Critical Legal Studies 21 cruelty, matrimonial 79, 93, 98, 100, 147 Cullwick, Hannah 12 Daily Telegraph, The 100 Danahay Martin 21, 23, 52, 55 Darmon, Pierre 145, 163 Darwin, Charles 156 De Quincey, Thomas 156 degeneracy 104, 154, 157, 160 Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) 5, 9, 11, 27; biographer’s task 40; forgetting 53; Froude-Carlyle controversy 85; homosociability 13; Kendall 21; masculinity 23; nationalism 22; women 12, 70, 73 difference 10, 61, 68 ‘direct communication’ 39, 44 divorce 98, 145 DNB see Dictionary of National Biography domesticity:
Carlyle 84, 86, 92, 105, 110; masculinity relationship 35, 80; Stephen 58, 60, 131; writer/husband conflict 86 Dryden, John 10 Duckworth, Herbert 61 duty 87 Early Letters of Thomas Carlyle (Norton) 83 Ellis, Havelock 13, 19 ‘Englishness’ 22 Epistemology of the Closet (Sedgwick) 114 ‘equability’ 131, 132 Erben, Michael 28 eugenics 154, 157 evolutionary theory 104, 154 ‘facility’ 18 family 55; see also domesticity fatherhood 63 Fawcett, Henry 5, 13, 47, 56 Fawcett, Millicent 47 Fell-Smith, Charlotte 32 femininity 60 feminism: Life-writing 21; literary criticism 8; Mill 92; Victorian 79, 105 Fenwick, Gillian 32 Fitzgerald, Edward 84 forgetting 42, 43, 53 Fortnightly Review 161 Forster, John 19, 128 Foucault, Michel 52 Froude, Ashley 135 Froude, James Anthony 9, 16, 18, 36, 58, 77 Froude, Margaret 135 ‘G.v.M.’ non-consummation case 146 Gagnier, Regenia 7, 21 Garnett, Richard 117, 118, 121 Gaskell, Elizabeth 19
Geary, Nevill 99 gender: Dictionary of National Biography 33; Life-writing 7, 10, 19, 36, 37; marital relations 92,93, 94, 112; personal/literary dichotomy 59; sexual equality 104; Stephen/Thackeray Ritchie relationship 66; telecommunications 46; see also femininity; masculinity; sexual politics genius: marriage and 86, 91, 93, 102, 103, 161; suspicion of 103, 104 gentlemen’s clubs 11, 12, 35 Gilmore, Leigh 21 Gosse, Edmund 14, 15 Gould, George 156 ‘Graduate in the University of Matrimony’ (Rev. E.J.Hardy) 95, 102 Gray, Effie 141, 144, 163, 164 Grosskurth, Phyllis 15 Gully, Ellen 37 Hall, Lesley 142, 156 Hammerton, A.James 93, 98, 105, 147 Hart, Francis 140 health 153 heroism 80, 102, 103 heterosexuality 18, 23, 79, 114; marriage 138; women’s needs 144 Holyoake, George 84 homosexuality 12, 114, 136; Symonds 13, 17, 18 homosociality 13, 29, 35, 115, 124, 131 How to be Happy though Married (‘Graduate’) 95, 101, 102 Huggins, Lady 34 Huxley, Thomas 156 Hyman, Virginia 3
hypochondria 142, 150 imperialism 22 impotence 104, 135 individualism 7, 22, 24, 56 intellectuals 55 interiority 16, 17 intimacy 44, 52, 115, 117, 130, 136 Irying, Edward 120 Ives, George 11, 12 James, Henry 15 Jewsbury, Geraldine 89, 96, 115, 128, 150, 159, 161 Jowett, Benjamin 82 Kaplan, Fred 137 Kendall, Paul Murray 19 Kiernan, James G. 103, 156 Kingsley, Charles 141 knowledge, biographical 16, 115, 116, 126 Labouchere Amendment 18 Lancet 142, 144 Landels, William 94 Lang, Andrew 9, 28, 119, 161, 164 Larkin, Henry 97, 100, 118 law courts: ‘G.v.M.’ non-consummation case 146; marital conflicts 98 Lee, Elizabeth 32 Lee, Sidney 23, 31, 70 Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle (Froude) 83, 96, 100 Letters of Thomas Carlyle (Norton) 83 The Life of Henry Fawcett (Stephen) 47, 56 Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen (Maitland) 38, 85 Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen: A Judge of the High Court of Justice (Stephen) 9, 50, 54, 56 Lilly, William S. 123 literary criticism 8, 22 literary genius:
marriage conflict 86, 91, 93, 102, 103, 161; suspicion of 103, 104 literary style, Thackeray Ritchie 68, 70, 73 Lives of the ’Lustrious (Stephen/Lee) 31 Lockhart, John Gibson 9, 19 London society 82 love 139 McCann, Graham 42 Maitland, Frederic W. 5, 13, 29, 31, 37; ‘equability’ 131; Froude-Carlyle controversy 85, 123 Mallock, William Hurrell 161 Marcus, Laura 21 marriage: Carlyle 79, 81, 84, 88, 112, 126; impotence 135, 141, 143, 162, 163; ‘genius’ and 86, 91, 93, 102, 103 Martin, Michèle 46 Martineau, Harriet 26 masculinity: Carlyle 79, 95, 159; crisis of 19, 74; domesticity relationship 80; impotence 135, 138, 162, 163; male power 35, 36; manliness 18, 23, 138; marriage 97, 100, 101; physical health 154; representation of 23, 24; self-discipline 140 masturbation 142 maternalism 154 Mausoleum Book (Stephen) 3, 11, 18, 21, 34, 36, 5; anti-self-consciousness 25; domestic conduct 131; failure of 27; forgetting 53; marital tragedy 86, 89; sentimentality 9; wire metaphor 39 Mayhew, Henry 110 medical profession: Crichton-Browne 158, 159;
impotence 141, 146; morbidity 155 memories 71 Meredith, George 131 metaphor, telephony 39 metaphysics: intimacy 52; telephonic communication 51 Middleton, Lydia Miller 32 Mill, John Stuart 24, 92, 94, 103, 105 misogyny 157, 163 money 65 Moore, Thomas 19 Moran, Les 148 morbidity 150, 155, 160 Morison, James C. 122 Morley, John 20, 22 Morus, Iwan Rhys 39 Mumford, Kevin 141 Munby, Arthur 12, 110 Murray, John 30 ‘muscular celibacy’ 139 My Relations with Carlyle (Froude) 123, 132, 135, 145, 149, 152, 161 ‘national degeneration’ 154 national identity, Dictionary of National Biography 28, 30 nationalism 22 The Nemesis of Froude (Carlyle A./ Crichton-Browne) 157, 159 New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle (Carlyle A./CrichtonBrowne) 131, 135, 159 New Women 75, 100 Newmanism 122 Nichol,John 84, 86, 90, 118, 122, 123 Norgate, Kate 32 Norton, Charles Eliot 54, 70, 74, 83, 85, 135 Oedipus 130 Oliphant, Margaret 15, 17, 26, 83, 96, 120 Oppenheim, Janet 153, 157, 160 order 41 ‘other’ 8, 24, 55, 61
ownership 112 patriarchy 12, 93, 114 phallogocentrism 138, 140 Poovey, Mary 36, 60, 105 Porter, Bertha 32 Porter, Roy 156 Post Office 47 power: male 23, 35, 36; marital relations 92 pragmatism 21 privacy 4, 37, 57, 84, 117, 120 ‘pseudobiography’ 20 psychiatry 156, 157, 160 psychoanalysis 156 public-private distinction 10, 18, 37, 57, 70 Quilter, Harry 100 ‘race egotism’ 103, 156 ‘racial degeneration’ 154 Rankin, Dr 64 Reminiscences by Thomas Carlyle (Froude) 79, 82, 116, 119 Reminiscences by Thomas Carlyle (Norton) 83 repentance 150, 152 reputation: Carlyle 37, 88, 102, 112, 121, 135, 160; Stephen 73 Romanticism, Life-writing 8 Rose, Phyllis 90 Rubin, Gayle 63 Ruskin John 84, 141, 164 Samson, Abbot 140 Sand, George 139, 140 Sartor Resartus (Carlyle) 15, 140 scandal 79, 85 Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von 9 Scott, Walter 10, 19 secrecy 116, 120, 125, 132, 136, 149
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky 36, 114, 115, 117, 121, 136 self 19, 24 self-consciousness 17, 18, 24, 25; see also anti-self-consciousness self-disclosure 11, 18 Sennett, Richard 10 sentimentalism 9, 58 sex 104, 113, 132; impotence 135 sexology 141, 156 sexual equality 104 sexual politics 74, 92, 100, 105, 121 sexuality: female 144; male 138, 162, 163; see also heterosexuality; homosexuality Shaw, George Bernard 118 Shaw, Marion 132 Smith, A.Murray 32 Smith, George 28, 30, 32, 74 Smith, P.C. 154 sociality 21, 23 Some Early Impressions (Stephen) 18, 38 Southey, Robert 19 Stanley, Liz 12, 21 State, telephony 47, 56 status, marital conflict and 99 Stephen, James 9 Stephen, James Fitzjames 5, 13, 85; biography 54, 55, 56; telephony case 49 Stephen, Julia Prinsep 3, 6, 25, 55, 58, 60; Dictionary of National Biography 32; Thackeray Ritchie comparison 67, 68; Vaughan marriage 86 Stephen, Leslie 3; Dictionary of National Biography 28; domestic conduct 131; family 58, 60; Froude-Carlyle controversy 82, 92, 106, 122, 135, 136;
Symonds 13; telephony 39; Thackeray Ritchie relationship 66 Studies of a Biographer (Stephen) 40, 122 The Subjection of Women (Mill) 92 subjectivity 7, 10, 28, 36, 45, 52 suffragettes 8 surveillance 93, 94, 105, 112, 121 Sussman, Herbert 138, 139 Swinburne, Algernon 17 Swindells, Julia 12 Symonds, John Addington 5, 13, 23, 25 Taylor, Henry 83 technology, communication 39, 46 telegraphy 39, 47 telephony 39, 44, 52, 56 Thackeray, Minny 63, 65, 67 Thackeray Ritchie, Army 32, 65, 66, 73, 75, 75 Thackeray, William Makepeace 4, 63, 64, 66, 74 Thomas Carlyle: A History of the First Forty Years of his Life (Froude) 83 Thomas Carlyle: A History of his Life in London (Froude) 83, 145 Thompson, Edward Maunde 29 The Times 100, 106 Tosh, John 23, 35 Tout, T.F. 34 tragedy 90 unknowability 116, 118 Varley brothers 50, 51, 54 Vaughan, Halford 86, 88, 105 violence, domestic 128, 129, 130, 150 virility 135, 138 voyeurism 110, 111 Wedgwood, Julia 122 widowhood 3, 37, 58 Wilde, Oscar 11, 12, 19 wire communications 39, 44, 52, 56 women:
Dictionary of National Biography 31, 32, 70, 73; domesticity 35; exchange 63, 65, 114; homosocial desire 115; Life-writing 7, 10, 11, 27; marriage 92, 94, 97, 98, 105; misogyny 157, 163; ‘pseudobiography’ 20; ‘self-consistency’ 60; sexuality 144; Thackeray Ritchie 65, 66, 73, 75; see also femininity; gender Woolf, Virginia 11, 38, 39, 60, 75 working-class writing 7