We strive all the time to give our life its form, but we do so by copying willy-nilly, like a drawing, the features of the person that we are and not of the person we should like to be — Proust

Time Regained (Raul Ruiz, 1999)

Dear friends and readers,

On and off I have been trying to finish or read books Jim was in the midst of still in his last year of life, e.g., Steadman’s Labours Lost and remembering other books and movies we enjoyed together.. During the 1970s Jim and I read the Palliser novels together — after together watching the Palliser series on PBS. I’d finish a volume and give it to him, and he’d read it, and then we’d go on to the next until we’d reach the end of The Duke’s Children.

So, for the sake of the reference to Trollope (a rare English novelist Jim did read):

How to Catch Aunt Harriette

Mary Cassatt has her in a striped dress with a
child on her lap, the child’s foot in a wash basin.
Or Charlotte Mew speaks in her voice of the feeling
that comes at evening with home-cawing rooks.
Or Aunt Harriette sometimes makes an ineffable
gesture between the lines of Trollope.
In Indianapolis, together we rode the belching city bus to
high school. It was my first year, she was a senior. We were
nauseated every day by the fumes, by the unbearable
streets. Aunt Harriette was the last issue of my
Victorian grandparents. Once after school she
invited me to go with her to Verner’s.
What was Verner’s? I didn’t ask and Aunt Harriette didn’t say.
We walked three miles down manicured Meridian.
My heels rubbed to soft blisters. Entering an empty
wood-echoing room fronting the sidewalk,
we sat at a plain plank table and Aunt Harriette
ordered two glasses of iced ginger ale.
The varnish of light on Aunt Harriette
had the quality of a small eighteenth-century
Dutch painting. My tongue with all its buds intact
slipped in the amber sting. It was my first hint
of the connoisseur, an induction rarely repeated;
yet so bizarre, so beyond me,
that I planned my entire life from its indications.

– Ruth Stone

It’s not often one finds a reference to Trollope in recent women’s poetry. It’s also filled — replete — with allusions to older high art, the sort of images and stories one finds in women’s art (Mary Cassatt) and moves out to larger issues (Charlotte Mew’s poetry is about WW1), and evokes the Victorian novel through Aunt Harriette and exquisite 18th century and Dutch paintings by the place the aunt takes the niece to for iced ginger ale.

Alice Vavasour (Caroline Mortimer) in the window-seat of Matching Priory (Pallisers 2:3, scripted Simon Raven)

In the last two years of Jim’s life he had a copy of The Captive still on his TBR pile on his table in the front room. He did read, preferred the modern French novelists (e.g., Life: A User’s Manual). Myself I’ve read up to about 3/4s of the second volume but never managed to get any further. I’ve tried a couple of times but get bogged down in that budding grove. It’s too lush, too coy. I wanted to read Rose thinking she would get me into Proust again primarily because Jim read well into the 5th volume (way past Sodom and Gomorrah and up to The Captive). All in English where I actually did read Volume 1 in the French (occasionally using the English as a crib) and Roger Shattuck’s little book on the whole. He went slowly, savoring passages as he went.

So I thought I’d cheat; I’d read Phyllis’s Rose’s A Year of Reading Proust. But where Stone succeeds, Rose fails. With the best will in the world to read Rose’s supposed recreation (I thought) of her experience of Proust as part-confessional, part-autobiography (in the mode of Richard Holmes’s Footsteps, Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel), I cannot. I surfeited quickly with the outpouring of the details of her TV watching. I have given up. There is entirely too much Rose and too little Proust. It’s as if the balance that Mead had kept up has been overturned. Gorra is all James; Mead is 25% pretend Mead and 75% Eliot, but Rose is 90% Rose and 10% Proust.

So she is no substitute, no help in understanding either. I shall have to read Proust to read Proust. I’ll have to be content to aim at Volume 3 (The Guermantes Way) in English eventually, maybe read Pinter’s great screenplay, La Recherche du temps perdu: A Proust Screenplay. And then maybe buy or rent Ruiz’s Le Temps Retrouvé


Jim’s last favorite movie was Time Regained. He had a copy on his laptop and on the long train trips we’d take places he would watch it. It’s been wiped out now as a friend made efforts to retrieve other things from his computer and now the ipad has been re-geared to be mine. In the 1970s he and I did see the movie Un amour de Swan and agreed we didn’t didn’t care for it that much as what it did was rip out just the (powerful) sequence of Swann enthralled by Odette, omitting the little boy before and after. And the narrator — the whole point and Jeremy Irons had been so good as narrator in Brideshead Revisited (in fact making that picture the great experience it still is — Jim and I sat through it together twice).

Jeremy Irons a couple of decades ago

Rose really is too much like Cornelia Otis Skinner. Her self-deprecating joke against her self boomerangs. As I recall I thought her 5 Victorian marriages overrated and that Jim would never have gone near it.

What used to make life,


I dream of Jim

Orange rich — dream landscape as scroll from Howtidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley (out of PD James’s sequel) — you glimpse figures in the wood

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I know I dreamt of him at long last. I know about this as I woke out of it, disturbed to try to work out where he was sleeping. In the dream he was wearing the the black long-sleeved shirts and trousers he used to wear for the 5 years he taught part-time (2004-9). He did that he said to give him a distinctive identity. If so, I’m not sure it worked. I didn’t quite see him, and he said nothing. He was silent. I could not hear him speak. No words. Then I’ve an image of Yvette and I sleeping in the front and I’m telling her she can go to her room since he’s sleeping in mine, our bed. And then I wake and it takes time to realize this is a dream.

I probably once before, early on, dreamed of him, but the image was so vague. A man deep in the background is telling me to relax, take it easy. I cannot hear the words or see him clearly. I could not follow this advice.

Did I say I have been in shock I realize now for months and the shock is wearing off. I am no longer a character in play in search of my author.

I did reach to the grief support group on Saturday at the Haven. We are asked not to talk about anything specifically said there or anyone’s case. But generally I want to say: the session showed me what I am going through is common in the US — 10 people really alone with little to turn to if they don’t have a church/synagogue or family who understands (most do not). Out of 10 people, 5 had spouses/partners who had died of cancer and two of them younger than Jim. That says something. The “leader” was astonished he said at the intensities and open candour of this first session — several of us had had deeply traumatic (crazed because so perverse) experiences — it must be that death is rarely anything else — but nowadays death is exacerbated badly by the medical establishment supposed to help (but only charging charging charging and behaving with exemplary indifference). I just lost it completely as I tried to tell my story. Could not go on as long as the others. I was drained when I got home, exhausted, and fell into an Austen movie.

It’s an Uber cab one way ($19) as long as someone offers me a ride back, and there is one person who lives not that far from me (by car) in Alexandria so she dropped me off on her way back.

I’m finding I am able to find relief in Death Comes to Pemberley not because of PD. James who I am beginning to think is awful – but the depiction of the Elizabeth character by Anna Maxwell Martin and Darcy by Matthew Rhys too. The whole ambience of their relationship. I will write of this separately on Austen Reveries. Teaching helps and yes reading something that answers to deep needs in the reader makes the time go — though I admit time goes by in all sorts of ways I waste it somehow continually and it wastes it. And just having company no longer matters. It must be a friend — on the Net nearly all mine are.

Yesterday walking down to the shops and back up again I found myself crying all the way. A polite man came over and offered to carry Caroline’s square shopping cart up and down the cement steps at the bottom of the hill. I said, no, I’d walk around it. (I fell over another set of steps on another block of these hills.) Sometimes I do think — you will find this mad and unreal — that I’m dying of a broken heart in slow motion. It will take time, maybe years, but the process has started. The DMV is merely hastening it by wearing me down quicker.

Get the perverseness of this organization: I’ve now been told that I would perhaps have been better off had I gotten a diagnosis of epilepsy (!) for then I’d have been given medication and could have gotten my license back quicker: you see they are “not satisfied” with the medical report of simple exhaustion. Is that sick? I would not be better off if I were epileptic; I’d be seriously at risk. I am actually better off not having anything medically wrong with me at all. What kind of madness is this to tell me I’d be better off with a serious medical disability? I’d die quicker. Maybe they’d like that. Then my lawyer would cease phoning them.

For me life has just gotten worse — gotten realer. There needs no calamities and disasters such as happened the first couple of months. I have felt myself getting out of control in front of others several times this week — as this reality sets in at last. And yet I am not sure I as yet fathom what all this means, what it is teaching me, if, what life is possible for me. It’s like I was in this great shock for the first three months and I did say I felt like a character in a play, the shock is wearing off. Oh.


Friends, I now have come to see the US is become a surveillance society where the poor or powerless are policed by organizations like the DMV because they can.

Read this report and watch the video from PBS


This young married couple unable to pay the court fines for a violation that was thrown out of court were put into jail; then they were charged monthly high interest by the organization given the power to monitor their activities and report them to the police who would be told to jail them if they didn’t pay up. They have since paid in the thousands of dollars far more than the original ticket or fines and yet are not free of debt to this far from disinterested company. The company is empowered by Alabama (and others in other southern and western states) who give a percentage of the take to these states who are wresting money from the most vulnerable people of their states in this way. Among the reasons for their failure to not-pay is the death of their young son (died!) in a hospital, which left enormous debts. The PBS Reporter who told of this could not get any of the agencies to talk to them. The reporter finally cornered one official in a county meeting: the man would not get up to speak to him, would only say the courts allowed this treatment of this couple.

If you want to get many ordinary needed things done, you find you are confronted with an official who has access to all sorts of records about you — from medical, to prescription, to financial.

The deep anxiety and unease from awareness of the power of this surveillance state we now live in the US silences people — they are ashamed, they fear retaliation in the form of more punishment. Without the ability to drive a car (a necessity not a right), many people lose their jobs, itself a sine qua non in the US for basic survival.

What happens with the powerless is that a small incident which should by its reality and merits cause no more trouble than the time it takes to get over it, is blown up to ruin the person’s life in order to profit those who prey on that person in order to get their salary, keep their place in an organization, make a profit or just self-righteously watch the miserable person canting to them whatever hypocritical moralisms are being used to hurt them.

Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras and Ewen MacGaskill have all been awarded a prestigious Pulitzer prize for investigative journalism. Greenwald argued the purpose of the mass surveillance is not to find terrorists (for so much information makes it harder) but to monitor the whole population so that those in charge can get after anyone they please. Recently there has been a ruling that military people can jail someone without cause: if Hedges and Company lose it has more than an effect on one area of law and custom: the national security state. It encourages other institutions to feel they can flagrantly violate the rights and needs of citizens. When the letter de cachet went, it was a sign that you could not do commit sweeping injustice without a thought any more.

It’s worth reading Chomsky’s demonstration that obviously the people running these gov’ts have no interest in the security of the people who live in them. What bothers me is how the average person has a hard time letting go of the idea these institutions are doing things justly and on the people’s behalf.


P.S. It’s been reported that the NSA knew about the Heartbleed bug for several years. They never told anyone as they wanted to use it themselves. There’s a law signed by Obama giving them authority to withhold information about serious bugs if it’s useful to their monitoring of us all.


The only two stills of Katy Murphy as Jenny Wren on-line that I could find (Sandy Welch’s BBC Our Mutual Friend out of Dickens)

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity
– Emily Dickinson

Dear friends and readers,

As I read Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie’s Être Veuve sous l’Ancien Régime together with another book I’ve just started, Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature, I’m struck by how widows and the disabled are treated by society at large similarly. A version of “normalcy” which is not true is enforced on both groups.

What is striking is this “normalcy” is false: the normalcy depends on believing most people conform to a stereotype of normalcy that is male, cheerful, fully-employed (with good pay) and living in a pair (with children). The recent move of GBLT people to marry is a move to “normalize” themselves into this stereotype, and the permission given them is due to their presenting it as part of “regular” people’s norm. The normalcy depends on believing that women (or men) alone is an anomaly when they were very common across the centuries most unions broke up quickly as early death was common and nowadays with everyone living a much longer life again, widows are again common — added to now with the ability of many women never to marry and yet be self-supporting, separated and divorced women. BB shows how widows have been erased and falsely represented to make them appear like the stereotype, or (as with disabled people) given traits many people don’t like or fear (domination, resentment, needling, overt depression) or are outlawed (for women overt sexual aggression).

The disability itself presented in an exaggerated light. I watched Temple Grandin, the movie, last week, and while the performance of Clare Danes, the central actress was stunningly persuasive — especially as someone she the real person could not possibly be, part of this came from the continual exaggeration.

Clare Danes as Grandin in the movie

It was asserted Temple’s other traits were as important as her disability, but that’s not what the movie did: it made the disability traits huge and thus “othered” the central figure. So in Dickens who has disabled characters, they are presented as grotesques. Not the movie was not well-meaning and with much to recommend it: among other things, it showed how Grandin’s mother was blamed and then pressured into putting Grandin into an insitution. Today mothers are blamed as much as ever and pressured to mainstream or marginalize their child. In fact as Lennard J. Davis (Enforcing Normalcy) shows, disabilities of all sorts are spread throughout the US population and by middle to older age we all have some form of disability. Mental disabilities are the misrepresented, and least understood — because most common most feared, and stigmatized.

Jenny Wren by Marcus Stone (one of the original illustrations to Our Mutual Friend)

Well, I’ve decided partly I don’t want to pretend all is fine and well and I am semi-happy or cheerful – that’s what widows do or they fall silent – this erases the group, “normalizes” them — like revamping a disability. And that a number of destructive stereotypes about older women are not at play here — some of them not admitted to, like sexual demands or shunning. There is a real parallel between the way widows are still represented and disabled people stigmatizing or erasing: an important argument in Etre Veuve is B-B’s demonstration that today in France widows are more erased than ever before because of new sexual stereotyping — and wife abuse is rampant there too, as Mary Trouille wanted to show (but was not permitted by the publisher). As I refused to lie about the cancer misery so I’m telling it like it is — what life is like for the widow and as far as I dare how others treat here — now wanting to expose the capriciousness and cruelty of the DMV towards vulnerable populations.

How strong social taboos are. On Wompo for a short while a woman poet whose husband had died of cancer was aggressively advertising her blog as about real grief, the real experience of cancer and now widowhood, as “not staged” and arguing on her right to do this, on how sincere she is, but she has ceased for a time: one problem was that she was asking for money (to build an organization she said) and when she did not get this kind of overt validation, seems to have stopped.

It’s very pretty here and now getting hot. Yesterday it reached 80. It takes little time. Cherry blossom and flowering trees are everywhere. To me it brings home how Jim is not here now that everything is renewing and how the daily life of the earth is beautiful which I never much particularly thought about as such before and do now because he’s missing it.


I fall twice

What causes some cats to fall repeatedly?


I thought I’d try to go to a movie (The Grand Budapest Hotel) where I thought I could walk it. True, it’s a 25 minute walk but I do have to go under a scary tunnel and when alone it was worrying.

Then the sidewalk is a mess in several places — and not meant for walking. So I fell twice. It was hot, the cars whizzing by. Bad scrapes. It’s a steep hill and my heart beats fast as I don’t go to a gym. I can’t order a machine at home as I’ve no one to put it together. Who says the DMV doesn’t want me dead? or for reasons I can’t fathom to stop driving after 34 years without an accident or even a serious ticket hitherto.

If I didn’t have insurance the tests they have asked me to have again (they don’t believe the ones they’ve got) would be a couple of thousand; how I am to get to the Springfield Medical Center without a cab. The Metro stop ends where there is no sidewalk and I have to cross a three way highway at that point. Perhaps I’ll die. Like the old woman and her cow. That rhyme comes back to me.

My lawyer is doing all she can, though it feels like Trollope’s satire on lawyers through their names, Slow and Bideawhile. Doesn’t seem so funny or seems funny in a different way now.

They said they would convene again and do another medical review and perhaps (how wonderful it is to have such power) give me a restricted ability to drive, but they didn’t say when.

Because We Can
Because they can, you know

Yvette tells me we must change some of our passwords. I have no idea how to do it but she says she does so after supper if she’s up to it, we’ll do that. Anxiety-producing whatever we do. 8:00 pm update: we have changed a large number of my passwords. I have written them down on a yellow card which is now a precious document.

In Last Orders Jack tells Ray that the one who is left is the worst off, has the much harder time. I wouldn’t have wanted to die the death Jim did — one died by thousands of people cut off unnecessarily in their relative youth or as children and teenagers — but Jack has a point. Jim is not here for me; one cannot replace a life-long deeply congenial partner beloved and far future is a grim outlook.

I am so exhausted I’ve retreated into shoverdosing on Season 2 of Breaking Bad. Powerful and riveting I must admit. I am with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) all the way; have utterly bonded with this character.

Refusing to be bullied by nasty mean cop

I hear his intonations in my head.


Six months

He’s not here to see that near my window

My beloved died six months ago. I had my hand on his heart when it stopped beating. A friend has since called what I’ve known since the long loneliness.

This morning I began reading Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie’s Être veuve sous l’Ancien Régime to discover (surprise?) it’s a topic badly served by its sources, one that feminists don’t to talk of much, and others not at all. I mean if the book is good (it begins very well) to report on it, make postings as I go to Eighteenth Century Worlds (ECW) and Women Writers through the Ages (WWTTA) (at Yahoo) and then a blog-review. First thought emerging from first pages: in the long 18th century it is not co-terminus with old age: yesterday I read Austen’s fragment, The Watsons, and discovered a typical widow (not much talked of in any writing on the fragment): a Mrs Blake, seeming in her early thirties, living with a brother Vicar and three sons and one daughter, and not able to protect her boy, Charles, from social hurt. Would Austen have developed this character? Her niece, Catherine Anne Hubback in her continuation, The Younger Sister, does not.

I’m also reading Ruth Stone’s poetry:


The habit of you lying next to me
was so strong that for a year
I slept with pillows on your side of the bed.

When I turned in my sleep
I put my arms around them
or as I often had before,
I turned away with my back against them-
this habit of tides waxing and waning.

Slowly during the years
the blood subsided.
When I dreamed of you,
you were standing with your back to me
facing the ocean, flat as a shadow
that cannot turn of itself.
A narrow strip separated rocky cliffs
of land from sea; under us, the shudder of sand,
enormous breakers eroding groins and jetties.

– from Second-Hand Coat

I sleep on his side of the bed because I don’t think I could bear to sleep on mine and see his empty. I keep books on a table next to me, a lamp behind me, a radio playing NPR when I’m there and awake. I can’t seem to reach him in dreams. How I wish I could. All the dreams that wake me are these realistic distresses, things that confront me now he’s gone — I’d prefer something gothic but that’s not what distraught disquiet produces in me.

I did not then understand that I would never lead another or new good life, that life was over for me insofar as personal hope or fulfillment is concerned and what I can do is fill the hours absorbing myself by books or movies or writing or with friends and acquaintances. Experience is teaching me this now. There is no overcoming it I know now. This is the truth of the widow’s life. Recently I’ve been thinking if I can hold to some memories and live with these and be true to them I can steady myself to carry on.


the daffodils he and I planted together last year have bloomed

Dear friends and readers,

The past few Sundays due to a new member’s enthusiasm, a few of us on Trollope19thCstudies returned to putting a poem for Sunday on the list. Clare Shepherd’s was especially liked:

April’s Charms

When April scatters charms of primrose gold
Among the copper leaves in thickets old,
And singing skylarks from the meadows rise,
To twinkle like black stars in sunny skies;

When I can hear the small woodpecker ring
Time on a tree for all the birds that sing;
And hear the pleasant cuckoo, loud and long –
The simple bird that thinks two notes a song;

When I can hear the woodland brook, that could
Not drown a babe, with all his threatening mood;
Upon these banks the violets make their home,
And let a few small strawberry blossoms come:

When I go forth on such a pleasant day,
One breath outdoors takes all my cares away;
It goes like heavy smoke, when flames take hold
Of wood that’s green and fill a grate with gold.

— William Henry Davies

W. H. Davies was a Welsh poet and writer whose life span begins in the Victorian era and ended when World War Two was upon us.

Sometimes there is not an hour goes by that I am not aware that my Admiral is no longer here. This afternoon I am however reading Austen and there seems to be nothing that can comfort me as much as her novels. Her style answers to the rhythms of my beating heart and calms it; her ethical stance validates mine.



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