Arms and the Circassian woman: Frances Browne's "The Star of Atteghei".
Browne's lifelong fascination with world history certainly influenced her choice of subject matter, but it was not simply a taste for the exotic that inspired her to choose Circassia as the setting and subject of her longest poem. A number of travelogues describing the Caucasus had recently appeared, and British newspapers regularly reported the Circassians' struggles with Russia from the mid1830s onwards, reaching something of a peak in early 1844, the year The Star of Atteghei appeared. Browne's work is the major poetic response in the English language to a conflict that resulted in the forced removal of more than one million Circassians and Turkic Caucasians from their homeland, a conflict directly related to Russia's ongoing struggle in Chechnya. Browne draws inspiration from Lord Byron's Eastern Tales of the 1810s and from the psychologically-charged portraits of women crafted in the following two decades by Felicia Hemans and Letitia Landon; but she extends her predecessors' work by situating her mysterious and courageous heroine in a narrative based on recent historical events. Thus her poem is also an intriguing expression of nineteenth-century concepts of nationalism, bringing together three nations whose struggles for independence and national identity were well known in the Victorian era: Circassia, Poland, and Ireland. In doing so it also associates Russia and England as fellow oppressors.
Norman Vance has recently noted that "Victorian Ulster and its writers have been little explored, perhaps because of a suspicion that the most British province could not possibly be authentically Irish." (2) My essay begins to address this oversight by focusing on one poet whose favored themes of exile and national identity mirrored the major issues facing nineteenth-century Ireland. In the first half I sketch the life of Frances Browne and the contemporary situation in Circassia, at least the reports of that situation then available to British and Irish readers. In the second half I focus on The Star of Atteghei, analyzing its representations of nationalistic sentiments and the surprising ways Browne uses nationality and gender to tell her story. Despite her perceived economic, physical, and geographical limitations, "the blind girl of Donegal" recognized in the Caucasus war a struggle with striking similarities to the situation in Poland and troubling associations with the recent history of her homeland.
The Life of Frances Browne
The major biographical source for Frances Browne is the memoir included in the introduction to her 1844 volume, though Marya DeVoto has recently added an informative DLB contribution. (3) Browne was born January 16, 1816 in the village of Stranorlar, County Donegal, where her father was postmaster. The seventh of twelve children, she suffered a severe attack of small pox at the age of eighteen months and became permanently blind. Her family was Presbyterian, and she records the importance of religious verse in her youngest years; the difficulty of understanding the village pastor's sermons encouraged her to augment her vocabulary, while her "earliest attempt in versification" was a new version of the Lord's Prayer. (4) Though she "never received any regular education," Browne listened attentively when her brothers and sisters "commit[ted] to memory a certain portion of the Dictionary and English Grammar, each day" and "learned the task much sooner than they" (pp. ix-x).
According to Frances Hays, Browne "bribed" her siblings "to the task of reading" to her "by telling them stories in return." (5) Her earliest literary experiences included Mungo Park's Travels and Robinson Crusoe, though more inspiring were the works of Sir Walter Scott, Pope's Iliad, and Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. At age thirteen her interests turned to history, "and the works of fiction, from that time, began to lose their value, compared with the far more wonderful Romance of History" (p. xiv). Her reading included Baines's History of the French War, Hume's History of England, and the twenty-one volume Universal History.
Browne composed verse throughout her youth, but her professional career began in 1840, when three of her poems appeared in George Petrie's short-lived Irish Penny Journal. When the journal ceased publication after one year, the publishers sent her a complete volume, "and this was the first book of any value that I could call my own! But the gift was still more esteemed as an encouragement" (p. xix). She next submitted work to the London Athenaeum and soon became a regular contributor. According to DeVoto, "Browne contributed more than thirty poems to the journal between 1841 and 1844," and her poems appeared "alongside those of household names such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lydia Sigourney, and Walter Savage Landor." (6) Other poems appeared in Hood's Magazine (7) and the Keepsake, and in 1844 her first collection The Star of Atteghei; The Vision of Schwartz; and Other Poems was published in London. By then Browne's life and work had received enough attention that, in December that same year, Prime Minister Robert Peel granted her an annual pension of twenty pounds. (8)
Browne used her earnings to pay for her sister's training as an amanuensis, and in 1847, the worst year of the Irish famine, the two women moved to Edinburgh. Though Browne continued publishing poetry--a second volume of shorter verse appeared in 1848--she turned increasingly to prose. Through the assistance of John Wilson, she became a regular contributor to Chamber's Journal, publishing 78 articles between 1846 and 1865. Individual stories appeared in Ainsworth's and Fraser's, while her most substantial work of the period was a set of twelve "Legends of Ulster" for Tait's Edinburgh Magazine. (9) An 1852 gift of one hundred pounds from the Marquis of Lansdowne allowed the sisters to move to London, "and for nearly thirty years, heavily handicapped as she was, [Browne] led the life of a busy woman of letters." (10)
In London Browne initially concentrated on children's literature, producing (among other works) a third volume of verse, Pictures and Songs of Home (1856), and a collection of fairy tales, Granny's Wonderful Chair (1857). In the 1860s she wrote several novels for adult readers and produced numerous articles for Leisure Hour and Sunday at Home, but her considerable efforts did not ensure financial security. She applied for and received three small awards from the Royal Literary Fund between 1860 and 1866, but in April 1867 she declared bankruptcy. (11) She died of heart disease in London 25 August 1879. Sadly and ironically, Granny's Wonderful Chair became quite popular in the 1880s when Frances Hodgson Burnett admitted to borrowing from it for her 1877 collection Stories from the Lost Fairy Book as Retold by the Child Who Read Them.
In her literary reminiscences of 1893, the writer Camilla Crosland described a London meeting with Frances Browne.
She moved with such ease that it was difficult at first--and until some little incident was evidence of it--to believe in her infirmity. ... When we consider the touching and graceful verses of Frances Brown--not to mention her prose works--we can but vaguely conjecture what she might have done under happier circumstances. (12)
The handful of other nineteenth-century references to Browne similarly dwells on her admittedly extraordinary biography at the expense of her literary accomplishment. Browne's situation was not unique; as Susan Brown notes, the "biocritical method" of Victorian commentators "meant that there was little basis for aesthetic judgment of poetesses' work but their lives were scrutinized for conformity to perceived womanly and poetic standards, however conflicting those might be." (13) Critics scrutinized Browne's poetry not so much for clues to an unhappy private life, but rather for evidence of her blindness. A remarkable example of this is a forty three-page article by George Crolly in the December 1844 Dublin Review, purportedly on Browne's first collection. Crolly eventually quotes at length from Browne's work, but only after thirty pages comparing Browne's history to a number of contemporary case studies of children born deaf and dumb. When he turns to the poetry, Browne's blindness--not Ireland, nor her sensitivity to contemporary nationalism--remains the defining influence on her work. He particularly admires Browne's "exquisite" shorter works and notes "the frequent allusion which is made to the 'music of streams.'" Readers should expect the poet to cherish this idea "with peculiar fondness," since it "is an idea which she has not picked up secondhand from others, but which she has immediately derived from the impressions made upon her own senses." (14)
The reviewer has an oddly conflicted response to The Star of Atteghei. Though it is "perfectly wonderful when we consider that it is the production of a self-taught blind girl of twenty eight" and "by far the best poem which has been published for some time," the poem "is on the whole weak," and Browne uses "decidedly the worst metre in the language for such a tale [iambic tetrameter, the same used by Byron in The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos]" (p. 555). More serious, however, is Browne's decision to model her poem after Homer and Byron: "It is no slur on Miss Brown's genius that she did not succeed where there were two such illustrious competitors; but it is a slur upon her judgment that she entered the field with them at all" (p. 556).
There was a nearer "competitor" than Byron (or Homer), in fact another E Browne, who suffered similar critical condescension: Felicia Browne Hemans. Crolly's remarks echo Francis Jeffrey's now familiar judgment on Hemans from fifteen years earlier, and underline the difficulties faced by women poets who wanted to publish serious long poems. In an article intended to praise Hemans' skills, Jeffrey begins by arguing that women writers "cannot, we think, represent naturally the fierce and sullen passions of men--nor their coarser vices--nor even scenes of actual business or contention," since "they are excluded by their actual inexperience of the realities they might wish to describe.... Their proper and natural business is the practical regulation of private life, in all its bearings, affections, and concerns." Though he warmly praises Hemans' occasional verse, Jeffrey suggests she avoid attempting epic poetry. Women "rarely succeed in long works, even on subjects the best suited to their genius; their natural training rendering them equally averse to long doubt and long labour." (15) Even Browne's own editor, in the preface to The Star of Atteghei laments that the poet would have been better served if her friends had "warned her off this particular ground" but hopes that readers "who prefer her lyrics to her lengthened poem" will not hold their preference against one "who has done so much for, and by, herself" (p. xxii).
Yet the themes of exile, national identity, and gender, all central to The Star of Atteghei are equally present in her short verse. Titles such as "The Removal of the Cherokees," "The Lonely Mother," and "The Australian Emigrant" suggest Browne's interest in outsiders and those forgotten by ruling classes. One of the more interesting of Browne's short poems is "The Last of the Jagellons," which appears in her second volume. (16) The title probably owes a debt to James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans (1827)--Browne, like Hemans, documented her interest in Native Americans in several works--though its opening lines bring to mind those lyrics of Scottish legend by William Aytoun or Sir Walter Scott. A speaker calls on the minstrel to "wake thy harp once more" and play the "songs that in my land were heard / While yet that land was free!" In the second stanza we learn the speaker is not some Scottish rustic but a "noble matron" living in exile from "Poland's pleasant plains." The minstrel grants her request and sings of Sigismund, the last king of Poland's Jagellon Dynasty. Sigismund had married a woman of humble birth before his election to the throne, and the nobles demanded he divorce her and either "reign alone" or "choose a royal bride." Sigismund speaks proudly of the Polish tradition of elective monarchy:
My land hath seen her ancient crown Bestow'd for many an age-- While other nations have bow'd down To kingly heritage.
He then offers to give up the crown: "For, if unshared by her I love, / It shines no more for me." The Polish senators remove their objections and immediately consent to Sigismund's demands, convinced (according to Browne's note) "that so true a husband must make a worthy King." The poem closes with the listener's own reflections on this tale:
The Minstrel ceased, and with a sigh That noble matron said-- "Alas, for Europe's chivalry-- How hath its glory fled! Perchance in silvan grove or glen Such faithful love is known-- But when will earth behold again Its truth so near a throne."
One can see why critics responded positively to Browne's "imagery, her diction and her depiction of what they saw as universal sentiments" while overlooking the political aspects of her work (DeVoto, p. 73). One can read "Last of the Jagellons" as a timeless tale of love and faithfulness, but that would require ignoring its critique of an aristocratic society that encourages a king to divorce his wife because of her class. It would also mean overlooking the date of publication, 1848, a year of political upheaval not just in Poland, where citizens fought unsuccessfully to end Russian rule, and in Ireland, where William Smith O'Brien's inchoate rising in Munster foreshadowed future rebellion, but throughout continental Europe. Moreover Browne's choice of a wise older woman to express a suspicion of lineal monarchy may be unique to the period.
Like Italy and Greece, Poland was a favorite topic of writers in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Scottish poet Thomas Campbell was a lifelong supporter of Polish independence, and in her poem "On the Death of Thomas Campbell," Browne recounts the moment at Campbell's interment when a Polish exile threw upon the coffin "some earth he had brought as a relic from the tomb of Kosciusko":
For thus shall Poland's heart through ages twine The memory of her brightest stars with thine! (Lyrics, p. 32)
It is significant that Browne would access Polish history for her poetry, linking Poland's misfortunes with Ireland's. As Joep Leerssen notes, Poland probably offers the "closest European parallel" to Ireland's "violent and disruptive historical development." (17) Later in the century, writers as different as the Chartist Ernest Jones, John Stuart Mill, and Anthony Trollope followed Browne, affirming or debating the image of Ireland as "England's Poland." (18) Of course, a number of Browne's poems directly concern Ireland, including "The Last Friends," inspired by a United Irishman's return from exile, and the popular "Songs of Our Land"; and their nationalistic tone links Browne with Irish forerunners like Thomas Moore and William Drennan as well as with contemporaries in the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s. (19) Many of these poets also address the rights of other European nations like France and Poland. But Browne is almost alone in taking up the cause of the Circassians, a people hardly known in Britain and Ireland before the mid 1830s, save through a handful of travelogues and an equally limited number of oft-repeated national stereotypes.
Nineteenth-Century Representations of Circassia
In 1911, the Encyclopedia Britannica described the "national characteristics and manners" of Circassians, warning that "these must now be regarded as in great measure things of the past." (20) The Circassians, inhabitants of the western Caucasus, were known for "the patriarchal simplicity of their manners, the mental qualities with which they were endowed, the beauty of form and regularity of feature by which they were distinguished." This last quality was familiar enough in the 1790s that Samuel Taylor Coleridge could take it as the subject of his ballad "Lewti or the Circassian Love-Chaunt":
So shines my Lewti's forehead fair, Gleaming through her sable hair. Image of Lewti! from my mind Depart; for Lewti is not kind. (lines 11-14) (21)
Leila, the abused heroine of Lord Byron's 1813 The Giaour, is similarly praised:
The cygnet nobly walks the water; So moved on earth Circassia's daughter, The loveliest bird of Franguestan! (lines 504-506) (22)
European fascination with the beauty of the "Fair Circassian" was almost inseparable from its fascination with a peculiar "custom" of the people:
The greatest stain upon the Circassian character was the custom of selling their children, the Circassian father being always willing to part with his daughters, many of whom were bought by Turkish merchants for the harems of Eastern monarchs. But no degradation was implied in this transaction, and the young women themselves were generally willing partners in it. (23)
British commentators often ignored the probable cause of Circassian slavery--poverty, exacerbated by geography and war--in order to make an exception of Circassia, the one instance where Europeans were allowed publicly to indulge their orientalist fantasies. An 1849 Blackwood's article on the Caucasus, for example, slips rapidly from principled disdain into the pleasures of exotic imaginings:
In a moral point of view, all slave traffic is of course odious and reprehensible, but that of Circassia differed from other commerce of the kind, in so far that all parties were benefited by, and consenting to, the contract. The Turks obtained from Caucasus handsomer and healthier wives than those born in the harem; and the Circassian beauties were delighted to exchange the poverty and toil of their father's mountain huts for the luxurious farniente of the seraglio, of whose wonders and delights their ears were regaled, from childhood upwards, with the most glowing descriptions. (24)
Circassian subjects were often represented by British and French Orientalist artists of the period. The Scottish painter William Allan spent ten years in Russia and the Caucasus, and upon his return decorated his Edinburgh studio "with Turkish scimitars, Circassian bows and arrows, Caucasian armour and other similar trophies of his travels." In his studio the artist was often "attired in a quilted Circassian jacket the numerous pockets of which, originally intended for concealing small weapons, were stuffed with paint brushes." His Sale of Circassian Captives to a Turkish Bashaw--one of many paintings of the subject--was described by Sir Walter Scott as "a beautiful and highly poetical picture." (25)
Occasional references to Circassia or Circassian women appear in nineteenth-century literary texts, though rarely are they the subject of a poem. One of the few is Thomas Haynes Bayly's "The Circassian," which describes "the Sultan's chosen slave" who "spurns the chain of jewels" he gives her because her "young heart's first affection" her homeland, "sweet Circassia"--"still holds her with no chain." (26) Bayly was perhaps inspired by the April 1819 arrival in Dover of "the Persian Ambassador and the Fair Circassian," an event extensively covered in contemporary papers. According to the April Times, "curiosity had been raised to the highest pitch by the different accounts of the beauty of the fair Circassian." This "Circassian beauty," accompanied by "two black eunuchs," was unfortunately
scarcely seen; for the instant she landed she was put into a coach, which conveyed her to the inn. She had on a hood, which covered the upper part of her head, and a large silk shawl screened the lower part of her face, across the nose, from observation; therefore her eyes, which are truly beautiful, and part of her forehead, were the only parts of her beauties that could be seen.
The British public had to wait more than two weeks before getting a more complete description of the fair Circassian: "She is of the middle stature, of exquisite symmetry, rather lusty, complexion of a brownish cast, hair jet black, handsome black penetrating eyes, with beautiful arched eye-brows, and strikingly handsome" (Times, May 13, 1819). Satirists took advantage of the visit to poke fun at the aging Prince Regent's still-amorous nature. The Ambassador at Court; or George and the Fair Circassian describes the ridiculous attempts of the Prince Regent and Lord Castlereagh to seduce the satrap's mistress. The two are eventually discovered hiding in the young woman's bedroom, but they manage to talk their way out of trouble with the ambassador. The Circassian maiden herself makes only a passing appearance. (27)
The people of the Caucasus also fascinated contemporary British travelers. The September 3, 1827 Times reprinted a passage from the New Monthly Magazine on Circassian women. "It appeared to me an inconceivable caprice of nature," wrote one traveler, "to have produced such prodigies of perfection amidst such a rude and barbarous people, who value their women less than their stirrups." His companion noted the remarkable beauty of a fifteen year-old girl, suggesting "what celebrity a woman so transcendently beautiful ... would acquire in any of the capitals of Europe, had she but received the benefits of a suitable education." Visitors in the 1830s were similarly impressed. Edmund Spencer, whose Travels in Circassia appeared in 1837, described the Circassian countenance as "perfectly classical, exhibiting, in the profile, that exquisite gently curving line, considered by connoisseurs to be the ideal of beauty." (28)
But by the late 1830s there were more complicated political reasons for British interest in Circassia, and two major travelogues of the period, Spencer's Travels and James Stanislaus Bell's Journal of a Residence in Circassia During the Years 1837, 1838 and 1839, reflect the change. By then Russia had annexed the eastern coast of the Black Sea, including Circassia, a right never recognized by the British government and seemingly denied by the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople. According to M. S. Anderson, Russia "seemed once more, as in Poland, to be crushing a people struggling to be free. In the process it appeared to be strengthening dangerously its position in the Caucasus and thus its ability to move against the Ottoman Empire, Persia or even India." (29) A British diplomat in Constantinople, David Urquhart, visited Circassia in 1834 and afterwards encouraged British and European support for the Circassians. Russophobe feelings in Britain intensified in late 1836 when Russian authorities seized the British schooner Vixen as it attempted to dock at the Circassian port of Soudjouk-Kale. Urquhart, along with J. A. Longworth, a Times correspondent whose A Year among the Circassians appeared in 1840, and Bell, who owned the schooner, used the Vixen incident to promote official British support for the Circassian cause. (30) Moreover Bell and Spencer "encouraged the Circassians to resist Russian penetration, promised them British intervention and supplied them with smuggled weapons and ammunition." (31)
Bell was particularly forthright about his activities: "we therefore freely took part in the councils of the natives, and gave them the benefit of such knowledge as our experience and reading had afforded us, I counselling them as to the particular species of warfare which seemed best suited for the troops they could bring into the field." (32) His pride is not surprising, for in early 1840 all seemed to be going well in the Caucasus. In February the Circassians stormed Fort Lazarev, a Russian outpost on the Black Sea. They had caught the Russians unprepared and were able to take a number of forts along the coast before the Russians finally sent reinforcements. By December however these victories were reversed; "all the forts were reestablished and fortified even more strongly than before" (Gammer, p. 117).
The Circassian successes did encourage other peoples of the Caucasus to oppose Russian expansion, particularly the Chechens, whose military leader Shamil became a familiar and heroic figure to the British public in the late 1840s and 1850s. "Of a mob of scattered tribes, divided by innumerable feuds, he has made a nation capable of the most complete unity of action, and animated by one faith; and his genius as a law-giver is as preeminent as his religious enthusiasm," wrote T. H. Huxley in 1854. (33) The different peoples of the Caucasus were often confused in the British press: though Shamil (himself Daghestani) led the Chechen forces of the eastern Caucasus, he was quickly labeled "Chief of the Circassians." While Circassians and Chechens did sometimes fight together, Shamil's inability to unite the Caucasus against their common enemy was one of his great failures, particularly during the Crimean War, when many in the British government, including Prime Minister Palmerston, "were even ready to establish an independent Circassian state" headed by the Daghestani general (Gammer, p. 272).
After the Crimean War Russia concentrated its efforts to destroy resistance in the Caucasus. In the 1860s Russian forces drove the West Cancasians into Ottoman territories and replaced them with "Russian, Cossack, Georgian, and to a lesser extent Armenian settlers.... The Chechens and Daghestanis, now separated from potential Turkish aid by a broad band of secure Russian territory, presented no such strategic threat, and could be left in relative peace"--at least until the 1990s, when the results of these nineteenth-century policies returned to haunt Russia. (34)
The Star of Atteghei
Frances Browne must have followed events in Circassia with great interest. Many of her footnotes refer to Spencer's Travels, and the travelogues by Bell and Longworth both appeared in 1840. Excerpts from Bell's work appeared in the Times as well as the Dublin Review; Longworth wrote regularly on Circassia for the Times. In the preface Browne writes that her tale
has no better foundation than a newspaper story, which, a few years ago, appeared in many of the British journals, and was said to have been copied from a Russian paper:--but it took a strong hold on my mind, at the time; and nothing but the want of information prevented me from attempting the subject long ago. For any errors and mistakes I can only plead that the land is new to me--and comparatively little known, I believe, to all. (p. xxii)
I have been unable so far to locate this newspaper story, so it is difficult to know how much of the plot is Browne's own invention. (35) But the two aspects of The Star of Atteghei that I want to explore here--Browne's representations of nationalism and gender roles--certainly reflect her own concerns with these issues.
The action of The Star of Atteghei takes place over two days at the ruins of Soudjouk-Kale, the same port where the Vixen incident occurred and an actual battle site visited by Spencer. The leaders of the Circassian forces--some of them well-known historical figures--have assembled to meet a Russian envoy who hopes to make peace with the rebels. Among the Circassians there are two mysterious youths, one a Pole, the other of unknown origin. They are brave, inseparable friends who keep to themselves, even ignoring the advances of Circassian maidens. An Irish minstrel named Cuzali first recognizes the true identity of the mysterious warrior known only as the Star of Atteghei--Atteghei being the local word for Circassia.
When the Russian envoy arrives, the Irish minstrel relates a story to entertain and edify the gathering. He tells of a Circassian ruler who desired his daughter Dizila to marry a Russian prince named Paschoff. The daughter refused, and one night cut off her long hair, leaving it as an offering at the grave of her French mother, and disappeared. The same night a Polish soldier who had been nursed back to health by Dizila also disappeared; neither had been heard from since. The minstrel, once an admirer of Dizila's mother and tutor to Dizila herself, now searches for her. As Cuzali ends his story and the Russian prepares to depart, the Irish minstrel reveals the envoy to be Paschoff.
That night, as the two mysterious friends consider escaping to Poland, it becomes evident that they are the two described in Cuzali's story. The Star of Atteghei is Dizila in disguise, defending her homeland from the Russians. The following day in battle Paschoff lunges at the Pole, but Dizila steps in the way. Thus the Russian fulfills a gypsy maiden's prophecy that he would kill the thing he most loves. The Pole survives the battle but dies of heartbreak. Dizila and her Polish lover are buried together on a hillside nearby.
In the memorable opening lines Browne's narrator calls upon the Irish muse to help her sing of "love" and "freedom's fire," the two themes of her poem. She recalls the ancient battles of Irish history and finds a precursor in the blind Ossian, but she also notes Ireland's colonial history ("stranger feet"). Her lament for "blighted springs" is disconcertingly prophetic: the potato blight appeared in September 1845.
Muse of my country! thou hast sung Of many sorrows; yet thy lyre Is sweet, as when by Ossian strung, To breathe of love or freedom's fire. Though stranger feet have trodden down Both Tara's towers and Brian's crown,-- Yet still, through all her blighted springs, The ancient harp of Erin rings, With numbers mighty as, of old, O'er battle-field and banquet rolled, When rose upon the western clime The glory of its early prime. (p. 1)
The narrator praises the Irish bard whose music fills not only "his native hills" but also many distant lands, from "Columbia's western plains" to "the rose-crowned Bendemere," thus preparing the reader both for her poem's unfamiliar setting and for Cuzali's appearance. But she begs off singing of the "glorious dead" of her homeland, for "Erin's fame is poured / In loftier strains, by mightier hands" (p. 2). Instead she will speak of "a land unknown / To Europe's minstrelsy,--though strown / With wrecks and relics of her fame" (p. 3). Throughout the poem Browne alludes to these "wrecks and relics," the physical remains of past civilizations based in Circassia, as well as the remembered stories describing those civilizations; taken together they constitute three myths of nationhood which form the basis for Browne's historical conception of Circassian national identity.
Browne first refers to the founding of Circassia by refugees of Troy, "the last of Ilion's line," an assertion supported by the legendary courage and ferocity of Circassians in battle (p. 3). But these descendants of Troy "Who to the minstrel might recall / The flower of Ilion's proudest spears" are inspired by "a nobler cause," the defense of their homeland (p. 21). Elsewhere Browne connects the Circassians with another famous people of antiquity when her narrator describes the shouts of gladness that accompany the first unfurling of Circassia's flag: "the sound that told / The Spartan warrior's joy, of old!" (p. 18; see also p. 87). Circassian women, too, become part of this myth of an ancient Greek world preserved in the Caucasus. Foreshadowing the surprise identity of the Star of Atteghei, the narrator writes that fear of Russian invaders "awoke / The fires that slumbered" within the "mountain maids" who were descended from another race associated with the Caucasus, "The long remembered Amazons" (p. 13).
A second myth of origin associates Circassia with the beginnings of the human race. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anthropologists described the Caucasus as the birthplace of the European peoples; hence the term Caucasian. (36) This remained a popular theory at the time Browne wrote, and she often portrays Circassia as a paradise destined to be lost. The Irish minstrel, standing amid "such flowers / As might have bloomed in Eden's bowers," calls the land
Bright mother of a matchless race, That seem the last of Adam's line,-- In whom the wanderer's eye may trace The early glory, left to tell This withered world how far it fell! (pp. 16, 14)
The third myth Browne employs is more surprising. In a footnote she explains that the "Circassians were Christians, before their conversion to Mohammedanism; and Christianity is said to have been planted among them by some Crusaders, who found their way into that country" (p. 105). Indeed, nineteenth-century commentators sometimes used these Christian roots (along with the supposed "fairness" of the people) to argue that Circassians were more advanced than other peoples of the Caucasus. But Browne suggests that the Circassians were united as a people against the Crusades. Her narrator speaks critically of the Crusaders, connecting them and Christianity directly with the Russian invaders:
once The cross waived over thee;--from the steep Of Elbruz, yet, it tells thy sons Where low the last Crusaders sleep; And now, the same bright banner leads Thy spoiler to his darkest deeds! (p. 5)
Later, as the Irish minstrel begins his tale, he speaks of "the old and stately towers" of the Crusaders, which
cost our country years of woe And war, before she laid them low:--So ever perish freedom's foe! (p. 35)
Conversely, Islam becomes a religion of mercy. At the death of the Pole, the narrator herself announces that "Allah sent a better fate / For faith so pure and love so great?" (p. 94). One sees a similar respect for Islam in Byron's The Giaour, one of the Eastern Tales that probably inspired Browne. But Byron's fragmented narrative is a found manuscript, supposedly written long ago by a Muslim author. Browne's narrator identifies herself as Irish, and her subject is contemporary.
Browne's narrator also exhibits a surprising respect for pagan beliefs. Cuzali praises "Immortal Merem," "Queen of the world," a goddess Browne notes to be "identical with the Virgin Mary" (pp. 54, 108), while a gypsy maiden correctly predicts the tragic fate of Paschoff (pp. 65, 91). The presence of these female divinities and prophetesses--Browne also mentions (less admiringly) Vinon, "a warlike princess of Imeretia; who is said to have converted the Caucasian tribes to Christianity" (pp. 55,109)--challenges Western stereotypes of the "Fair Circassian" and anticipates the surprising reversal of gender roles between Dizila and her Polish lover, discussed below.
There are moments in the text--moments clearly related to these myths of origin--when Browne seems to describe Circassia as some kind of historical relic; as in a footnote where readers learn that "Circassian warriors wear a kind of armour which is said to resemble that worn by the knights of the Middle Ages" (p. 106). There is, however, another rhetoric of nationality intersecting these myths of origin that situates the events of "Star of Atteghei" clearly in the nineteenth century. Numerous passages associate Circassia's battle for independence with contemporary struggles in Ireland and Poland. Browne unites these three lands in their willingness to fight for the freedom of others, and in Europe's unwillingness to return the favor:
But who shall gather from the grave, In Syria's waste or Tigris' wave, Circassia's early-perished brave?-- Who shall reclaim, from Europe's fields, Sarmatia's bright but broken shields,-- Or give my country back the hearts That led the world in arms and arts? Ah! Such hath ever been her lot, The faithful but the still forgot! (p. 6)
The inhabitants of these three lands meet on the pages of Browne's narrative. Dizila's lover is a Polish soldier who has abandoned the Russian army to fight for Circassia, though the narrator suggests the presence of other Poles in the rebel forces:
The Pole, scarce deemed a stranger there,-- For, oft, his distant country's song Arose upon the mountain air (p. 19)
Cuzali represents an Irish presence in the Caucasus, while the narrator links Ireland and Circassia metaphorically on the poem's final page:
Land of Atteghei! Thou bearest A banner of that verdant hue Which to my country's hills is dearest (p. 103)
Such depictions may strike some twenty-first century readers as extremely romantic; actually the presence of Polish soldiers in Circassia was well documented. Spencer notes the existence of "hundreds of Poles" and writes that "many of their national songs have been translated into the Circassian language, and are now sung with as much enthusiasm as their own war songs" (2:417-418). This was a result of "the Caucasus being considered in Russia as a second Siberia" where political enemies were sent "to serve as private soldiers" (1:270). The presence of an Irishman seems more of a stretch, though Scotsman William Allan spent years there, and Spencer compares the Circassian to "Scott's Highland Chieftain" (1:291). Spencer also reports that the rebels were "said to be commanded by an English officer, who had served in India" (1:253), and describes one "Mr. Marr, an enterprising son of Caledonia" living in Circassia with his Europe-educated sons, who had "completely assimilated themselves to the manners of the natives" (1:311).
Linking the Circassians with these other peoples allows Browne to broaden her critique. Clearly Russian expansionism is the poem's primary target, and the fate of Poland reminds readers that the war in Circassia is not an isolated incident but part of a pattern already lamented by British commentators. "Shall this gallant people be suffered to sink, another sacrifice to Russian ambition?" asked a reviewer of Spencer's Travels in the Edinburgh Review. "Before the dying shriek of Poland has ceased to vibrate on the ear of Europe, shall another nation be swallowed up?" (37) Of course such rhetoric is a not-so-subtle critique of British foreign policy. But the many references in Browne's poem to Ireland, "England's Poland," claim a more direct association between Britain and Russia as fellow oppressors. Early in the poem a Circassian leader speaks of Victoria:
the queen Whose sceptered rule the ocean owns: The farthest Indian shores have seen Her banner; and the utmost isle That sees the dying sunset smile Beholds her ever wandering sails;-- The Moscovite before them quails!-- And there, perchance, some sword may wake, If not for yours, for freedom's sake? (p. 28)
The Star of Atteghei responds by reminding the others of the fates of Poland and Greece, given "not freedom, but the name" (p. 29). Likewise when the envoy Paschoff offers payment to the Irish minstrel for his song, Cuzali responds with an indictment of both Russian and British expansionist policies:
The Moscov need not now be told How well my wearied country knows The power that dwells in strangers' gold--(p. 69)
Freedom will not come to the Caucasus via British arms or Russian wealth. Rather Browne imagines a more radical solution: a coalition of oppressed peoples, united against the greatest imperial powers of the era. Here she builds on the transnational heroines and plots of novelists like Frances Burney, Lady Morgan, and Germaine de Stael, works recently described by Deidre Lynch as presenting "now unimaginable communities that drew differently and disorientingly on the cultural flows of Europe." (38) She also avoids the inconsistencies of her travelogue sources. While Spencer documents the presence of Poles, Georgians, even Scots among the Circassians, he is quick to praise "a race the most beautiful upon the face of the globe, and who have never been contaminated by a mixture with the blood of foreigners" (1:284). Apparently Spencer did not consider those Circassian women he saw at a Constantinople "bazaar for the sale of female slaves" as members of the race (p. 149). Conversely, Browne seems to revel in the many peoples who come together in defense of Circassia. Student of a much-traveled Irish minstrel and teacher to a Polish soldier, her heroine Dizila "had pored upon the pages / That make the Christians wise" but also absorbed the "ancient wisdom" of the Caucasus (p. 47). (39)
Dizila has other important literary predecessors. George Crolly noted Browne's debt to Lara, in which Byron's heroine takes on the guise of a male page to assist the title character, and Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, where Tancred unknowingly kills the warlike Clorinda (pp. 554-555). One thinks too of Queen Medb in the Tain Bo Cualgne, Britomart in Spencer's Faerie Queene, and, closer to Browne's time, Felicia Hemans' "Joan of Arc in Rheims," "The Widow of Crescentius," and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "The Romaunt of the Page." (40) As Angela Leighton notes, "Byronism evidently offered many of these women writers, not so much the cheap ideal of a dark, handsome husband, but the prospect of a transvestite emancipation from the restricting dress of femininity." (41) But Browne is alone among her contemporaries in creating a woman warrior not resurrected from ancient or medieval history but of the present day, and one whose lover follows her into battle.
Dizila's iconoclasm begins at home, with her refusal to be sold to the highest bidder. Early in the poem Browne's narrator makes reference to the sale of women, one of the few facts her British readers might know of Circassia: "Alas! that e'er those free-born flowers / Should bloom for Othman's slavish bowers!" (p. 9). Her father Zaphor does not promise Dizila to a Persian ambassador but rather a Russian prince, warning her that "Submission best becomes thy sex, / And scruples serve but to perplex / The young" (pp. 59-60). Such a fate seems particularly galling, considering the story of Dizila's mother. Raised in the Napoleonic era, she followed her first husband on the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, where "she became a Cossack's slave." She was found much later, "sad and worn," by Zaphor, who comforted and married her (p. 39). Dizila, who had earlier encouraged her father to rejoin the battle against Russia--a battle he had given up after the death of his French wife--escapes a similar fate by leaving home in a description that clearly imitates the wild ride of Byron's Polish hero Mazeppa, another character who was forced from his homeland only to transform himself into a great military figure:
Two warrior youths were seen to speed, As swift as flies the Tartar steed, By winter's hungry wolves pursued Through Ukraine's boundless solitude. (p. 61)
In striking contrast, the Pole had arrived in Circassia a consenting member of the Russian army, completely ignorant of Russian aggression against Poland: "Too young to feel his sword was drawn / For Poland's spoilers." Dizila must tell him "Of all his distant country's tears, / Beneath the conqueror's iron hand" and convinces him to help her escape (p. 53). Indeed, she seems to take the "masculine" role in all parts of their relationship. The night before battle, she implores him to break his word of eternal faithfulness and return home:
Thy father's hearth awaits thee yet,-- Thy mother's heart can ne'er forget,-- Oh! fly the terrors of our shore, And find that peaceful home, once more (p. 82)
He does not refuse, but begs her to join him:
Then, wilt thou share my Polish home, And bless my kindred with the light Of thy bright presence? Dearest, come,-- And leave the fields of fear and fight! (p. 82)
This is almost stereotypical romantic ardor, save that the gender roles are reversed. Dizila refuses, so her faithful lover remains as well: "In good or ill, whate'er betide, / My chosen path is by thy side!" (p. 84). In battle Dizila saves her lover's life by receiving the stroke intended for him. Her lover is not even able to avenge her death; the Circassian leader Hassan must do so, while the Pole, bearing the Circassian flag, dies in his lover's arms.
It is significant that this feminized male lover is Polish. Along with Dizila's French mother he is one of the two unnamed characters in the poem, which is perhaps fitting for an exile whose homeland is ruled by foreigners, a country which for much of the nineteenth century did not even appear on maps of Europe. He seems directly related to literary characterizations of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish general praised in verse by Coleridge, Byron and Thomas Campbell among others. (42) These literary descriptions created a popular image in Britain of the Pole as courageous and loyal but finally defeated and exiled. The most popular visual representation of Kosciuszko showed him reclining on a couch, an image, according to Leigh Hunt, of "a man reduced almost to helplessness." (43)
British women writers imagined the Polish exile in more appealing, idealized terms. Kosciuszko was an inspiration for the eponymous hero of Jane Porter's 1803 Thaddeus of Warsaw. In Porter's novel, the fictional Thaddeus Sobieski bravely defends his country against Russian invaders but finally must leave Poland for London, where his generosity, artistic talents, and good deeds eventually find him a happy ending. Thaddeus was an enormous success in Britain and America, and the title character became a model for male behavior. In Scottish author Mary Brunton's 1810 novel Self-Control, Laura describes her favorite literary figure: "I prefer the hero of Miss Porter's new publication--Thaddeus of Warsaw. Truly generous, and inflexibly upright, his very tenderness has in it something manly and respectable; and the whole combination has an air of nature that interests one as for a real friend." (44) The honorable Casimir of Mary Shelley's 1835 novel Lodore and the eponymous hero of Claire Clairemont's 1831 short story "The Pole" also owe a debt to Porter. (45) Browne thus follows earlier literary models in representing the Pole as an idealized companion, willing to lose all for his lover. The Pole contrasts with Dizila's Russian suitor and her power-hungry father; he is the only character (save perhaps the Irish minstrel) who understands the Star of Atteghei. The two die clasped in each other's arms and are buried together in one grave.
For all her rhetorical innovation, not even Browne it seems could break one rule of Romantic / early Victorian literature: the life of a heroine as transgressive as Dizila must end tragically. She thus also avoids explaining the paradox of what exactly Dizila is fighting for, since a return to traditional life in Circassia would suggest a continuation of the Circassian slave trade. While it is true a happy ending would have been misleading--Browne here is limited by historical realities--one could imagine Dizila escaping to fight another day. But this was not to be.
Nevertheless, in her final image of Cuzali and Hassan joined in contemplation before the tomb of Dizila and her lover, Browne exploits a favorite trope of Felicia Hemans in order to bring home her international vision. As Tricia Lootens has argued, Hemans' "emphasis on reverence for patriot's graves" was "one of the greatest sources of her power as a Victorian patriotic poet ... heroes' graves not only unified distinct national folk communities but also bound those communities to the rest of the world by evoking the universal love and sorrows of liberty." (46) For Browne, her heroes' tomb unites the opponents of British and Russian imperialism, under Erin's familiar shade:
For, since they laid that beauteous pair To rest, beneath the mountain mould, Have Hassan and Cuzali been As brothers;--days and years have rolled Away, and left their friendship green. (p. 101)
In the final lines the narrator declares her song "more sad than sweet" and tells the Irish muse "to thee it owes / At least its sorrow" (p. 102). She calls on Europe once more to aid the Circassians and wishes "better fortune smile / On them than ever blessed this isle!" (p. 103). The famine would soon wreak havoc throughout Ireland, causing a million and a half citizens to depart, adding tremendously to an immigration rate that was already rapidly growing in the 1830s and early 1840s. Browne herself would leave Ulster for Britain in 1847, where she continued her prolific writing career but preferred prose to poetry. Though the "wonderful Romance of History" remained a favorite theme, she never again attempted any poetic work as ambitious as The Star of Atteghei.
Still it would be wrong to follow Browne's earliest critics in ignoring her longest, most politically complex poem. In an era when the popularity of annuals and anthologies encouraged writers to produce lyric poetry, Browne challenged her readers by reviving and transforming the Eastern Tale. Unlike her Romantic precursors, she dared to imagine a Byronic heroine for her tale and used the form to comment overtly on international politics. Unlike contemporary British travelers, who admired the racial "purity" of the Circassians, Browne imagined a national movement united in its toleration of different languages, ethnicities, and religions.
It would also be wrong to consider the poem unconnected with contemporary political events in her homeland. It seems significant that Browne's beginnings as a writer coincided with the Young Ireland movement, a group which "attempted to bridge sectarian and class lines" in the early 1840s and "produced immensely popular patriotic poetry and ballads." (47) Edmund Curtis notes that the Young Irelanders "were full of the romantic liberal nationalism of the time which animated men like Garibaldi and Kosciusko." (48) Indeed, the movement took its name from radical predecessors of the 1830s, Young Italy and Young Poland. Browne may not have had actual links with Young Ireland, but her poetry--and certainly not least The Star of Atteghei, which relates the tragic tale of an oppressed nation and culture with affinities to Ireland itself--deserves to be read beside the work of other contemporary Irish and European poets who were trying to give voice to the unheard. For all her modesty at the outset of The Star of Atteghei, Browne makes the tragedy of contemporary Ireland almost as much a subject of her poem as the tragedies of Poland and Circassia.
For their assistance and suggestions, I owe many thanks to Florence Boos, Francesca Lacaita, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne at the National Library of Ireland, and my anonymous readers.
(1) [Anonymous,] "The Blind Girl of Donegal," The Irish Book Lover 8 (December / January 1916-17): 49. For an earlier memorial to Browne, see Matthew Russell, "Our Poets. No. 29--Frances Brown," Irish Monthly 24 (May 1896): 262-268.
(2) Norman Vance, Irish Literature: A Social History (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), p. 124.
(3) Additionally, the British Library and the National Library of Scotland hold letters written by Browne in the 1860s; the National Library of Ireland holds two 1844 letters as well as a thirty-page manuscript "Memoir of Frances Brown the Blind Irish Poetess. By John McCall" which apparently was written some ten years after Browne's death; and Browne has an entry in the Missing Persons volume of the Dictionary of National Biography. Browne's enticingly-titled My Share in the World; An Autobiography (1861) is in fact a novel.
(4) Frances Brown, The Star of Atteghei; The Vision of Schwartz; and Other Poems (London, 1844), p. xvii. Further page references appear in parentheses.
(5) Frances Hays, Women of the Day: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Contemporaries (London:, 1885), p. 31.
(6) Marya DeVoto, "Frances Browne," in Victorian Women Poets, ed. William B. Thesing, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 199 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1999), p. 73.
(7) Thomas Hood expressed his unhappiness with a financial backer of Hood's Magazine in a letter from 1844: "He has not even paid most of the contributors for the first number even--one a poor blind girl in Ireland" (Thomas Hood, The Letters of Thomas Hood, ed. Peter F. Morgan [Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1973], p. 601; see also pp. 605,607).
(8) Peel's letter appeared in the January 6, 1845 Times: "Lady Peel has heard of your honourable and successful exertions to mitigate, by literary acquirements, the effects of the misfortune by which you have been visited; and should the grant of this pension for your life be acceptable to you, Lady Peel will have great satisfaction in such an appropriation of it."
(9) For Browne's association with Wilson, see Anne Ulry Colman, Dictionary of Nine. teenth-Century Irish Women Poets (Galway: Kenny's Bookshop, 1996), p. 45. The precise number of Browne's contributions to Chamber's comes from her 1866 application to the Royal Literary Fund, on microfilm at the British Library (1077 / 59; Case 1540).
(10) [Anonymous,] "The Blind Girl of Donegal," p. 50.
(11)The funds awarded to Browne decreased with each request: fifty pounds in November 1860, forty pounds in April 1863, thirty pounds in November 1866. See the April 6, 1867 Times, under the heading "Bankrupts. Notice of Adjudications and First Meetings of Creditors. To Surrender at the Bankrupts' Court, London": "Browne, Frances, Richmond, Surrey, authoress--April 24, at 1."
(12) Mrs. Newton Crosland, Landmarks of a Literary Life, 1820-1892 (London, 1893), pp. 242-243.
(13) Susan Brown, "The Victorian poetess," in The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry, ed. Joseph Bristow (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000), p. 184. See also Tricia Lootens, Lost Saints: Silence, Gender, and Victorian Literary Canonization (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1996).
(14) [George Crolly,] "The life and writings of Miss Brown, the blind poetess," Dublin Review 17 (December 1844): 549-550; further page references appear in parentheses.
(15) Francis Jeffrey, The Edinburgh Review 50 (October 1829): 32. See also Susan J. Wolfson, "'Domestic Affections' and 'The Spear of Minerva': Felicia Hemans and the Dilemma of Gender," in Re-Visioning Romanticism, ed. Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), pp. 129-130.
(16) Frances Browne, Lyrics and Miscellaneous Poems (Edinburgh, 1848; London, 1848), pp. 58-61. Hereafter cited as Lyrics.
(17) Joep Leerssen, Remembrance and Imagination: Patterns in the Historical and Literary Representations of Ireland in the Nineteenth Century (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1997), pp. 224-225.
(18) Ernest Jones, The Maid of Warsaw, or The Tyrant Czar: A Tale of the Last Polish Revolution (London, 1854), p. 61; John Stuart Mill, John Stuart Mill on Ireland; with an essay by Richard Ned Lebow (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1979), p. 24; Anthony Trollope, "What does Ireland want?" Saint Paul's: A Monthly Magazine 5 (December 1869): 286, 290.
(19) Browne stands apart from many contemporary Irish women poets who, according to Gregory A. Schirmer, sacrificed "personal identity to political commitment": "Issues of gender, like many questions of difference that were obscured by nationalist ideology because they could not be readily assimilated to its political and cultural agenda, were rarely explored in the verse of these women poets" (Gregory A. Schirmer, Out of What Began: A History of Irish Poetry in English [Ithaca,: Cornell Univ. Press, 1998], p. 150).
(20) Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., s.v. "Circassia."
(21) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Complete Poems, ed. William Keach (New York: Penguin, 1997), p. 236. See also William Collins' "Eclogue the Fourth: Agib and Secander; or, the Fugitives," from Persian Eclogues (1742), which begins, "In fair Circassia, where to Love inclin'd / Each Swain was blest, for ev'ry Maid was kind!"
(22) Lord Byron, Selected Poems, ed. Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning (New York: Penguin, 1996), p. 183. A description of a Circassian girl in the Constantinople slave market appears in Canto IV verses 112 and 113 of Byron's Don Juan.
(23) One questions the Britannica writer's faith in Circassian "patriarchal simplicity" when he immediately follows this passage with the sentence, "Herds of cattle and sheep constituted the chief riches of the inhabitants."
(24) [Frederick Hardman,] "Caucasus and the Cossaks," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 65 (February 1849): 137. See also Y Hakan Erdem, Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and its Demise, 1800-1909 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), pp. 48-52, 113124. While the Ottoman government--under pressure from Britain and France-prohibited the African slave trade in 1857, the Circassian slave trade actually increased in the second half of the nineteenth century. The increase was mostly due to the mass immigration to the Ottoman Empire that occurred in the mid-1860s, when Russia finally secured control of Circassia.
(25) David Irwin and Francina Irwin, Scottish Painters: At Home and Abroad 1700-1900 (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), pp. 207-208. See also Jeremy Howard, John Morrison, Sara Stevenson, and Andrzej Szczerski, William Allan: Artist Adventurer (Edinburgh: City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries, 2001).
(26) Thomas Haynes Bayly, "The Circassian," Songs, Ballads, and Other Poems, 2 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1844), 1:253-254.
(27) Peter Pindar [pseud.; the British Library suggests C. F. Lawler], The Ambassador at Court; or, George and the Fair Circassian. A Poem (London, 1819). See also A. Moor [pseud.], The British Seraglio! Or the Fair Circassian, a Poem (London: J. Sidebethem, 1819).
(28) Edmund Spencer, Travels in Circassia, Krim-Tartary, etc. Including a Steam Voyage Down the Danube, from Vienna to Constantinople, and Round the Black Sea, in 1836 (London, 1837), p. 321. Further page references appear in parentheses.
(29) M. S. Anderson, The Eastern Question, 1774-1923: A Study in International Relations (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1966), p. 91.
(30) Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia (London: J. Murray, 1990), pp. 158-159; see also John Howes Gleason, The Genesis of Russophobia in Great Britain (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1950), pp. 164-204. J. A. Longworth, A Year Among the Circassians, 2 vols. (London, 1840).
(31) M. Gammer, Muslim Resistance to the Tsar: Shamil and the Conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan (Portland, Oregon: F. Cass, 1994), p. 117.
(32) James Stanislaus Bell, Journal of a Residence in Circassia During the Years 1837, 1838, and 1839 (London, 1840), p. viii. It seems significant that, though Browne clearly learned much from these travelogues, she excludes the British assistants from her story, thus emphasizing that this is a battle between oppressors (Russia / Britain) and oppressed (Circassia / Poland / Ireland).
(33) [T. H. Huxley,] "Schamyl, the Prophet-Warrior of the Caucasus," Westminster Review 61 (1854): 511. For other representations of Shamil, see Frederick Hardman, "Caucasus and the Cossacks, pp. 139-143; Thomas Peckett Prest, Schamyl; or, the Wild Woman of Circassia. An Original Historical Romance (London, 1856); Francis Fitzhugh, The Curse of Schamyl, and Other Poems (Edinburgh and London, 1857).
(34) Anatol Lieven, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1998), p. 315. Of course, the haunting started much earlier, in Russian literature. See Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire: The Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994).
(35) But see William H. G. Kingston, The Circassian Chief. A Romance of Russia (London, 1843). The plot of Kingston's novel is remarkably similar to Browne's, including a Pole who deserts the Russians to fight for Circassia, and a cross-dressing heroine named Azila who is killed mistakenly by a Russian commander. Either both authors were working from the same text, or Kingston was Browne's forgotten source.
(36) This false though influential notion originated in the writings of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. See Norman Davies, "Caucasia," in Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 734-735.
(37) Edinburgh Review 67 (April 1838): 140.
(38) Deidre Lynch, "Domesticating Fictions and Nationalizing Women: Edmund Burke, Property, and the Reproduction of Englishness," in Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834, ed. Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1996), p. 64. The Spanish-Irish and Italian-Irish heroines of Lady Morgan's later novels are particularly significant precursors of Dizila; see Ina Ferris, "Writing on the Border: The National Tale, Female Writing, and the Public Sphere," in Romanticism, History, and the Possibilities of Genre: Re-forming Literature 17891837, ed. Tilottama Rajan and Julia M. Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 86-106.
(39) Many nineteenth-century writers on nationality, including J. S. Mill and Giuseppe Maszini, accepted the necessary linguistic and ethnic heterogeneity of most European nations. Still, as E. J. Hobsbawm notes, "the national heterogeneity of nation-states was accepted, above all, because it seemed clear that small, and especially small and backward, nationalities had everything to gain by merging into greater nations" (E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, 2nd ed. [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992], p. 34). Mazzini did not even support an independent Ireland (Hobsbawm, p. 31). Browne opposes such thinking by advocating the autonomy of a small Circassian nation-state against the expansion of its larger neighbor.
(40) The tale of the disguised woman who follows her lover into battle was a favorite of eighteenth century balladeers; see Dianne Dugaw, Warrior Women and Popular Balladry 1650-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989). For a comprehensive study of Byron's heroines, see Caroline Franklin, Byron's Heroines (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992). Browne also may have heard stories of women who fought in the European revolutions of the previous fifty years, like Antoinette Tomaszewska, whose bravery in battle was described by Robin Carver in Stories about Poland (London, 1835).
(41) Angela Leighton, Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1992), p. 82.
(42) See Thomas McLean, "When Hope Bade the World Farewell: British Responses to the 1794 Kosciuszko Uprising," The Wordsworth Circle 29, no. 3 (summer 1998): 178-185.
(43) The Examiner no. 340 (July 3, 1814): 428.
(44) Mary Brunton, Self-Control: a Novel (London, 1811), p. 136.
(45) "The Pole," Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories, ed. Charles E. Robinson (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 347-372. Though Shelley added the ending, most scholars agree that the story is chiefly Clairemont's work. For a discussion of the Polish subplot in Lodore, see Lisa Vargo, "Lodore and the 'Novel of Society,'" Women's Writing 6, no. 3 (1999): 433-435.
A later example of the Pole in British literature is Will Ladislaw in George Eliot's 1872 Middlemarch. Ladislaw is the grandson of a Polish refugee, though his Polish roots still encourage some Middlemarchers to treat him as a "Polish emissary." On the other hand Will also has "a fondness, half artistic, half affectionate, for little children," and spends time with "poor people" and the elderly, all characteristics that relate him to earlier characterizations of the Polish exile (George Eliot, Middlemarch [New York: Penguin, 1989], pp. 462-463).
(46) Tricia Lootens, "Hemans and Home: Victorianism, Feminine 'Internal Enemies,' and the Domestication of National Identity," PMLA 109 (March 1994): 247.
(47) Elizabeth Grubgeld, "Ireland," Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Press 1988), pp. 400-401.
(53) Edmund Curtis, A History of Ireland (1936; New York: Routledge, 1998), p. 366.
THOMAS MCLEAN is completing a dissertation at the University of Iowa on British Romanticism's engagement with Poland and the Russian Empire. His work also appears in The Wordsworth Circle, Keats-Shelley Journal, and the Huntington Library Quarterly.
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