Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading. — Logan Pearsall Smith

Dear friends and readers,

The first good news we’ve had in a long while — if you except in December when Yvette was first hired as a librarian at the Pentagon. Yesterday she learned that as of April 6th, she has been in a permanent slot as librarian. She has longed for such a real job from the time she got her MLIS from Buffalo. She got an evaluation of superlative, that is why she became permanent so quickly. It has been a long journey to make this start — six years.

She begins as Junior Librarian, a position hard to find nowadays.

What is the Pentagon library like? A new small building of two rooms. The old space was badly damaged on 9/11. It’s a community library serving the neighborhood, the neighborhood being the Pentagon whose size no one underestimates. Everyone in this neighborhood is entitled (see entitlements) to a library card and can take books out. What kind of books does the library collect and maintain? not this week’s New York Times bestsellers, nor self-help books. Books and journals and publications concerning military history; as war is politics by another means, political books, histories of diplomacy and war, and everything having to do with war. The library hosts lectures, people come to do research. There is a quiet place where there are tables for reading. People don’t dress up much — generally the librarians are civilians.


Yvette loves it. She says she likes doing useful work — she has been involved with a couple of large and some small projects, from digitalizing collections, and re-organizing new and old periodical, to trying to ascertain if the books said to be missing on shelf are indeed missing. Most of the time the books are there.

As is Yvette.

She answers people’s questions, finds the sections of the library where they need to be, helps them with software. Does what librarians do.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
she chortled in her joy —

The Admiral would have been proud. When she began at the Pentagon library this December, she said she wished he could have been there, for he spent many years working at the Pentagon and his working life full-time culminated in his becoming Chief Engineer of the Defense Information Systems Agency where he was a program manager, inventor of software and for a few summers traveled to England as part of a NATO team linking the US, UK and five commonwealth countries. It is very sad he did not live to know this.

I should say she began as a Schedule A employee under the American with Disabilities Act, without which she could not be where she is now. And that our house is a kind of private library, over 9000 books, a sizable proportion in her room too — she has collections of Latin books, classical history (from high school and college), music (ditto), Harry Potter, Patrick O’Brien (many many), Jane Austen (a long goodly shelf), science fiction and fantasy of all sorts, Terry Pratchet, some realistic women’s novels (Young Adult mostly), her books from childhood. She even has a couple of Trollope books: at age 19 her favorite book was Ayala’s Angel; she took a copy of the Folio society edition with picturesque illustrations with her to Sweet Briar (also a copy of Persuasion, Signet ed by Margaret Drabble).

Here she is by her desk looking out her window — about 4 years ago

More recently, writing, but still well before the Admiral became ill


Dear friends and readers,

We’ve revived Poetry Sunday on Trollope19thCStudies and I thought I’d try it here too. Jim had many favorite poets: among them one I’m not sure I’ve mentioned as yet, e.e. cummings of whom I now have 4 selections and one Complete Poems, 1904-62. One of these selections Jim had among his books when I first met him (he was 20): 73 poems, a thin old Carcenet volume.

This comes from the Complete Poems and has at its core an Elizabeth conceit found in Philip Sidney’s Arcadia: My true-love hath my heart, and I have his …

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
            i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

I remember the Admiral reading aloud e. e. cummings to me. I wish now I could enact this poem and he carry my heart in his chest (remembering Sidney’s poem).

He also liked the paintings of Poussin, and one weekend in NYC we went to a large Poussin exhibit twice and brought home a beautiful book. This painting was not among them; indeed I’ve never seen it before, but it contains a myth the Admiral knew well in various forms (from Wagner to more modern versions).

Poussin Ideal Landscape
The Grail Seekers

It’s the sky blue shirt and the darker blue sky as well as the symmetry, order, peace, harmony of the whole (whatever is happening within) that lifts the picture into a Poussin realm.

I was at the Haven again today and met with my “grief support group” for a second time. It was not so draining, the people were all more controlled (including me). One person has dropped out and two new people came. The facilitator who I’ll call Drew (not his name) very kindly drove another man and me home — to two very different places. This way I can go again next week without the cost beginning to mount (as it’s a cab but one way). Again I found that the people there were going through the experiences I am, feeling similar feelings. The facilitator called my sense that I was in shock for about 3 months after Jim died and that actually enabled me to do a lot “the novacaine” effect. Now the imagined drug has worn off. Just about everyone has trouble sleeping more than 2 hours in a row; how hard it is to do things alone. I did feel better when I left and the talk with Drew who drove me home was good too.


Time thrown away


I wasted time and now time doth waste me — Shakespeare

Someone said to me I have a quarter of my life to go. That is a sad statement. Surely not. I’m 67. Say I do live another 20 years. 87 is a feeble age. Then what percentage of 87 is 20? Too much. Time thrown away. The admiral said to me sometime during the 9 months of retirement together we had, “We could you know have 30 years.” I said, “Not probable.” He said, “Oh yes.” “Well maybe twenty” I said.

Easter Sunday — sometimes it was Palm Sunday — we’d go to the races out in some ex-plantation where rich people who are part of hunting clubs held picnics under vast tents. Rode their horses. Their hired jockeys raced while the foxes bred. The admiral would bet. When Caroline was there, she bet. I’d buy a wide or large hat. We’d sit under a tree, have a gourmet picnic he had bought at Whole Foods and drink a bottle of champagne together. We’d have taken his father’s indestructible binoculars. Yvette would run back and forth watching the race close up. See, for example, A Trollopian Sunday afternoon.

Well this Sunday I am going into DC to see the Fiasco Company’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and an exhibit at the Folger.


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.



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