Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lady Lisa Robertson

Author of City Eclogues:

How simple was I to believe
Delusive poetical dreams!
Or the flattering landscapes they give
Of meadows and murmuring streams.
Bleak mountains, and cold starving rocks,
Are the wretched result of my pains;
The swains greater brutes than their flocks,
The nymphs as polite as the swains.

-from "
The Bride in the Country; a Parody on Rowe's Ballad, "Despairing beside a Clear Stream," &c.

You can hear a bit of bio courtesy of BBC. If you know nothing of Montagu, you'll find it intriguing as she was very unsual indeed, apt to scorn admirers--such as Pope--a lady who achieved much success as a poet in her day, and whom I believe assumed the world to be her salon, robed as you can see above, in Turkish style after her visit to the Ottoman lands. Her last words apparently were "It has all been most interesting..."

Here's an excerpt from the Basset-Table, An Eclogue. It's probably time for a new version of her texts, with a slighty more attuned ear.
Soft SIMPLICETTA doats upon a Beau;
PRUDINA likes a Man, and laughs at Show.
Their several Graces in my SHARPER meet;
Strong as the Footman, as the Master sweet.

Cease your Contention, which has been too long;
I grow impatient, and the Tea's too strong.
Attend, and yield to what I now decide;
The Equipage shall grace SMILINDA'S Side:
The Snuff-Box to CARDELIA I decree.
Now leave Complaining, and begin your Tea.
And a snippet from "In a Paper Called the Nonsense of Common Sense, January 24, 1738.

How many pretty gentlemen have been unmercifully jilted by pert hussies, after having curtseyed to them at half a dozen operas; nay, permitted themselves to be led out twice; yet, after these encouragements, which amount very near to an engagement, have refused their billets-doux, and perhaps married other men, under their noses. How welcome is a couplet or two, in scorn of woman-kind, to such a disappointed lover; and with what comfort he reads, in many profound authors, that they are never to be pleased but by coxcombs; and, consequently, he owes his ill success to the brightness of his understanding, which is beyond female comprehension. The country squire is confirmed, in the elegant choice he has made, in preferring the conversation of his hounds to that of his wife; and the kind keepers, a numerous sect, find themselves justified in throwing away their time and estates on a parcel of jilts, when they read that neither birth nor education can make any of the sex rational creatures; and they can have no value, but what is to be seen in their faces.
Lisa Robertson riffs on Montagu's city eclogues in her second book, XEclogue. Here we meet the razor-tongued Lady M as she speaks to the elusive Nancy:
Dear Nancy,
It's the same day. I had meant to read you the word in my purse--a word like lipstick, petulant and sentimental as a dress, yet complicit with your smudged revolution. But I let the moment pass, and now I must risk censure and speak of my shimmering girlhood--for the politics of girls cannot refuse nostalgia.
To be raised as a girl was a language, a system of dreaming fake dreams. In the prickling grass in the afternoon in August, I kept trying to find a place where my blood could rush...
and later:
When a boy walks into the philosophical, he's on a private earth. He's out of his skin; risk slips into his syntactic cleft then falls out. The private earth dissoolves, blooms, contemplates its horizon....On the blurred selvage we tucked liberty in our cheek like a tongued and rotten diction. Transparency was leaning on our couch. A tempting-looking girl-prince, she whispered to the impalpable frontier 'that's where we belong.'
Was it already two years ago that Robertson made the Poetry Foundation her salon? It was. It was a meandering, connective and expansive entry which I offer you a snippet from.
Much of what writing has become for me unfolded from a chance discovery, deep in the footnotes of a scholarly biography of Lady Mary. I learned that while living in the south of France in the early 18th C., Lady Mary wrote a series of letters, in French, to Marguerite of Navarre, the Renaissance writer of the Heptameron. I burned to read these letters, which are I think in some private archive in England, and have never been published. Suddenly one morning in 1990, thinking and desiring was not limited to the era in which I happened to be born. Since then I have experienced passionate friendships with the dead, and they are not less real because of the discrepancy. This causes me to live in libraries. I have no intention of calling this community. Perhaps what we are is a cult.
There is always, in the texts of Lisa Robertson, a burning for other texts. Like one of those Russian Dolls, only in the case of Robertson the dolls grow bigger, more expansive, become sculptures, houses, airway terminals, as one peels away the layers to reveal more, more, and more.

You can read Robertson's entire journal here.

No comments: