12 June 2007

eternal verities

As part of the massive clean it up/throw it out/get it organized excavation in my house, I went through a box today that, judging as an archeologist would from surrounding detritus and other shabby fragments of my past, must date from the early 1990s era. In it I found an index card on which I had copied out the following quotation from Frances Burney's Camilla:

"His time was devoted to deliberating upon some lucrative scheme of future life, which his literary turn of mind rendered difficult of selection, and which his refined love of study and retirement made hateful to him to undertake."

I don't think I need to add anything to that, except that it looks as if it's on page 672 of the Oxford World Classics edition, and if you've never read anything by Burney you should treat yourself and check her out. She gets compared to Austen, mostly because they're both women, and Evelina, Burney's first novel, does have some similarities to Austen, but her three big novels (Cecilia, Camilla, and The Wanderer) remind me more of Dickens. I was fortunate enough years ago at Berkeley to take some classes with Margaret Anne Doody, a professor who specializes in Burney and Richardson, and I'm grateful she introduced me to two of my favorites. Burney was the daughter of Charles Burney, the musicologist, and there are some funny scenes in her novels showing that opera audiences in eighteenth-century London were not any better than they are today.


vicmarcam said...

Not any better than today's audiences? Her descriptions of audiences are painful to read. Actually listening to the music is so secondary to all but a few. Eating, drinking, and gossiping are alll more important. Which leads me to ask: At what point was the decision made that one went to a performance to actually listen to the music (despite some evidence to the contrary)?

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Well, I was exaggerating, just a bit, for comic effect -- both current audience behavior and my irritation at it. You left out the most important aspect of 18th century opera-going: checking other people out, for fashion or various types of fun, if you get my drift. No wonder they had de capo arias (and that sort of repetition started going out when audience behavior changed.)
Someone can correct me on this, but I think Mr. Wagner was the one who insisted audiences sit in the dark and shut up and listen. Added to that the growing cult of music and art as a type of religion, and people started behaving as if they were in church. Of course, I can't stand the way most people behave in church these days anyway, what with the cell phones and especially the video cameras. Anyway, here's your Proust teaser: check out the hilarious depiction of the horrible Mme Verdurin to see the type in action.