These autumnal photos are from friends on face-book: Mist

“Speech,” she said, “is but broken light upon the depth Of the unspoken . . . ” —George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy

Dear friends and readers,

I feel like I’m beginning again after some kind of hiatus where I’ve been in this strange state of interacting with all these different people without Jim nearby. When I can return to my house although I know he does not exist anymore, I have my memories and all the things left over and can find peace and strength from routine alone. I have not had that kind of strengthening for hours on end since October 11th. So I realize however hard for me without this nest I lose the roots of my identity.

Fallen Leaves

The front half of my house is still under-going renovation and we’ve had no kitchen sink, sometimes no stove since October 7th. We eat out evenings (Olive Garden, La Madeline, a nice Pizza restaurant in Old Town where we’ve watched 60 Minutes, Leslie Stall still going strong on a visit to the antartic) or we go to Noodles and Company and carry the pasta back or order from a local Chinese restaurant. While we were in Chawton, I had to put my poor pussycats (badly frightened I realized when I picked them up) in a pet boarding house to make sure they would be safe (not run away), taken regular care of for some 8 days. At home when the contractors are here, they must stay in one room in the back and they hear the startling frightening noises.

Another way to put this is I’ve not blogged anywhere for 11 days! and have not written seriously here (as in The Fragility of Friendship) since before the anniversary of Jim’s death (October 9th). For some people such a stretch would be nothing. Not for me. Out of touch. I need to re-situate myself this way. I’ve not been sleeping the night through for several days and nights now. Waking at 3:30 am no matter what pills I take or how I exhaust myself. So I do read for a while and take a melantonin (non-prescription sleeping pill) and get two more hours if I’m lucky that way.

My books during this time have included Tolstoy’s War and Peace in two different language translations, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography. I’ve watched LeCarre’s Night Manager yet once more. Going and coming back on the plane. I’m getting to understand what’s happening, all the nuances of that remarkable exposure of the arms industry: the New York Times tells us how the people fighting in Mosul are a combination of mercenary armies, disaffected ethnic groups, small “classified” (not explained) special forces from the US and other nations, but does not tell us where the fearful bombs (barrels of napalm) are made and by whom and what is the payment. LeCarre calls our attention to this.

I’ve been to three conferences — one far away in Chawton, Hampshire (a Charlotte Smith conference, at Chawton Library, in type very like the Burney, only much longer, 3 days, 10/14 to 10/16, including a many hour series of trips around to Smith sites in Sussex and Surrey on Sunday), two close in vicinity but not in type (the Burney conference this past Thursday, 10/20, and the JASNA, 10/21 and 10/22, both in the Washington DC area). I’m not through yet: I’ve a fourth conference (a favorite, where I do meet real old friends, EC/ASECS) in two weeks, located about two hours away by car, Mary Washington College. Tomorrow is my Film Club which I don’t want to miss. I will resume teaching (I stopped for a week) this Monday.



So what is worth telling beyond the papers I heard (which I’ll write up as a series of reports about Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, and Austen and all things Austenian in my Austen reveries blog). Travel looms large in my mind as well as the place I’d never seen before. I sent a proposal to the Charlotte Smith conference as I had longed to see the Chawton Library, the house Jane Austen’s brother inherited, to which Chawton cottage was an appendage. Now I have. It is a beautiful mansion, once a private home (and one can see even now how it was lived in if you apply your imagination), now a building given over to research, with rooms of rare books, mostly 18th century, focused on women writers and artists and Jane Austen. We were shown one beautiful volume of studies of flowers and plants by an 18th century woman — the book is apparently their display copy for visitors to peruse.

During the two days of papers, which included two recitals of her poetry to music, I heard so much about her for the first time and had my sense of what her poetry can be altered, enriched, explained, and in the one day we went touring, saw as many sites as human beings literally could do, with a 20 minute lecture by a local historian, Carol Brown, on the history of the church Charlotte Turner (as she was then) attended as well as the house her mother lived in nearby (Stoke), complete with contemporary illustrations.

It’s ironic this blog will be about all the things that happened during the trip itself, and what I left behind (my two pussycats), and the countryside and city (London) we saw, and not Smith. I met Loraine Fletcher, the biographer of Smith and had much solacing and stimulating conversation. I enjoyed a couple of meals Izzy and I had with her and another friend. The Smith group wants to become a small society, perhaps have a website and face-book page; they are starting up in hard times. One must incorporate a non-profit, to do a journal takes enormous work, but someone from BSECS (British Society of 18th century studies) said he would add the Smith Society (if there is one) to their website as a way of starting. They could have caucuses or panels every other year at ASECS too. Other smaller societies do that.

Interior reading room at Chawton Library

What strikes someone in the year 2016 is how small a community the village of Chawton is today and thus how tiny it must have been in the later 18th century. Alton had three (!) bookstores and all the amenities and types of shops daily life requires, but without the internet (intermittent in many buildings) and fully socialized individual life and regular visits to London or visiting theater and other groups what a quiet life it might be. Alton Hotel (where we stayed) is a central hub, as pub, dining room, Sunday meeting and conference place.
A remarkably good Bloomsbury bookstore — superb collection of theater and poetry and all sorts of subjects

Izzy and I spent a full day in London too: we managed 2 Bloomsbury parks, 5 bookstores altogether. Three were remarkable collectors’ places in the middle of the West End theater district: I held a first edition of Trollope’s The American Senator in my hand, 3 volumes, in beautiful condition, in one. Another was a treasure trove of music publications, including reference sets, the most remarkable and interesting (and ordinary) of books published, plus playbills it seemed for the last 200 years, another filled with prints, from the 18th century on, whole series. That I bought only 5 books, all carryable (not the first edition of American Senator, too high in price for me) showed self-control.

We went to the Beyond Carravagio exhibit in the National Gallery: some 8-9 rooms of intriguing imitators of Caravaggio, groups of people playing cards, cheating one another in all sorts of ways, transgressive sex, theatrical scenes of betrayal — this after we discovered the Film Museum (where we had tried to go to do something different) is now as imbecilic as the Maritime Museum in Cornwall was: huge amounts of noise, endless repetitions of cars crashing on films, and the actual cars (it was said) used in James Bond films is all there is there now. We saw a not-so-good production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser. Unfortunately the only images I have for the Caravaggio are those where Christ is included, and these are far less interesting than the revelations of people seen in many of those with no gods in them. The film of The Dresser that I saw on my BBC Iplayer was better, but this one seemed so a propos to the wars going on now and the murdering to profound distress and dislocation of many: Sir I now realize is a sexual predator as well as blind egotist. The players did not do the parts as plangently as in the film, and I preferred that.

We stayed at a hotel in Bloomsbury: the George, no bathroom or shower to ourselves, as minimal in comforts a room (one lamp for example) as the hotel we had in Paddington when we came last year. It seems unless you are willing to spend hugely, in London that’s all there is.


Another wrinkle in warnings against airplane travel. You may recall all the trouble and expense I had buying these non-stop tickets to and from Chawton. Well, when Izzy and I got to the airport to get back to Washington DC on the Tuesday morning (10/18), in plenty of time, at first we were told we were part of “overbooked seats” and would not get on that plane, but maybe the next or maybe stay in a hotel. I became silently but (apparently visually enough) distraught: the woman employee saw in my eyes this wouldn’t do, as I started to say how angering this was, and with startling ease suddenly produced two seats — the same seats Izzy and I had had on the plane to the UK.


This incident should trouble anyone: it didn’t feel quite random, not just these same two seats (about the middle of the Premium Economy caste). We were asked to sit apart from other passengers and put on the plane first. It may be the whole paranoiac atmosphere in the US and at airports where the US dominates creates paranoia but I’d prefer if utter disrespect and lack of concern for Izzy and I as individuals (our cases were already on board the plane) were driving this sudden refusal and then production of two seats. Today on the Metro coming home from JASNA, I overheard a conversation where a young woman was refused entrance into a plane, made to wait 3 hours for another, and then not let on that, and finally instead of a hotel, a third plane taking her to a different airport had found out in fact there were seats on the original plane but somehow given to someone else.

This is the power of monopoly corporations. While on said plane, Premium economy people were told there were no good snacks between the two meals. Don’t tell me first and other similar classes on another level of the plane didn’t have these. My cell phone did not work at all for days while away, and I still have not gotten a paper bill from Sprint since July; I was egregiously overcharged in September by phone after I came home from Cornwall and was told my bill was “way overdue.” I am one promised next week. I emailed my other daughter, Laura, to ask about her experience, does she use another server, and her prompt reply was “they are all like this” and she’s not had a bill from Verizon for 6 months and “can’t get one from them.” My phone did begin to work when we got to London and then again when I got home. I don’t want an i7 which is what I’m told I’ll get if I try to buy a new device. I noticed the spread of of Indian caste systems now includes the security theater: different lines for differently labelled US passport holders, different amounts of time to wait, but all seemingly requiring four different snapped photos.

It’s not enough to avoid absolutely all middle men (Expedia, the kind of intervening site which seems to be the hotel you want to stay in, but is a middle man and so the hotel is not responsible if your booking is not there for real), to phone and book the airline direct and talk to a real human being who reads aloud the document and send a copy to you of what you paid for (and pay for a better seat than Economy or Steerage Abuse): my new plan is never take a plane unless I am profoundly sure I want to go to wherever it is and will have an enjoyable time. I realize that when companionless I find the contingencies of all travel itself an trial (when not an ordeal of exploitation) so must take that into consideration too.

Izzy was with me, and she spent two afternoons at Jane Austen’s house in Chawton iself. She said she remembered nothing of the house and so it was of real interest to her. She went over to the church and saw Jane’s sister and mother’s grave; ate a good lunch at Cassandra’s cup. She appeared interested in a couple of the more accessible papers on Smith; said she understood mine and enjoyed the day’s touring. Having her with me was a great help for me, and she saw England once again. But I doubt she’d go for a week in the Lake District, much less follow Johnson and Boswell’s steps into the Hebrides in Scotland. I’m not sure about the latter myself.


Trinity Washington University - 125 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington, DC
Trinity College, one of the buildings

The one-day all day Frances Burney conference was held two days ago, 10/22, at Trinity College in Northeast DC: it’s still filled with non-minority girl- and young womanhood. A grand old building which has hardly been renovated, we had a large auditorium where they served us very good food for lunch, breakfast coffee and rolls and afternoon tea too. Acoustics not good but we managed. I liked being there, seeing the young women students. The older wood engravings everywhere in the building, the grand stairways, a library spoke of decent hope, original dignity, and a continuing attempt to educate and give meaning to students’ lives. I had a couple of students at Mason who had spent a year or so in the institution, both hispanic, and now becoming nurses.

We had a dinner not far from the Marriot hotel where the JASNA was located. This one was differently enjoyable for me than the Smith, because I know some of the people. I have a couple of very good friends I’d say (though seeing them only twice a year at best, and writing on-line occasionally over the year) and have had good conversations with them over the years of going to Burney conferences (on and off for some 10 years or so, plus I wrote up reports of these conferences for those I went to and they were published in the Burney Newsletter). Still I was beginning to be very tired by this time. I will enter into the individual papers thoroughly on the Austen reveries blog: Burney had a more varied life and her journals are astonishingly rich.

It used to be the Burney conference occurred the day and morning before the JASNA started and in the same hotel or place: some central people in the Burney society are central to JASNA so they have been sister-groups. But now JASNA extends its vacation-like tours and fan-group like workshops, with so-called “light” lectures to three days before the sessions start (cut down from 9 at Portland, 7 at Montreal and now 4 only) on Friday. I met several people who were complaining (though ever so politely and hesitantly): “it’s over so quickly” was a typical comment. This thing has cost Izzy and I $400 each; all the activities beyond the fee were separately charged. You can’t get anything in that hotel without being nickled and dimed (actually 5 dollared).

Anyway the time of the conference extends over counting tours and these scattered lectures cover conflict with the smaller Burney society, so like the small Smith group, this society needs to partner, perhaps now differently: say run sessions or caucuses at larger 18th century conferences, or join (as they will next year) with another smaller women’s group: the Aphra Behn Society.
The hotel inside looks like this on one of the floors from a frontal view

By contrast to the Burney venue, the JASNA hotel was all marble floors, glass and anonymous modernity, escalators, hardly anywhere to eat but a Starbucks. If there was a super-expensive restaurant, it was not made obvious to someone not staying in the hotel. A floor above the meetings rooms was a small book “Ford’s emporium,” which included the usual junk earrings, paraphernalia Austeniana, and also three or four tables of interesting books and I was able to include my edition of Ethelinde among those on the Jane Austen Books table. Izzy was invited to a halloween party by her ex-boss with a proviso that “costumes are strongly preferred” and I gather for the last 3 AGMS (I went now 4 years ago) someone running a regency costume shop has had a large stall at the JASNA AGM. Izzy found a dress that suited her for this coming occasion. She looks good in some of the regency dresses (and once tried a corset on and looked right in that too).

A small snapshot for now: Arnie Perlstein was there and responded to the lecturer of the key note address. This lecturer (semi-famous with a book written from a post-colonial stance on Austen) asserted rather incoherently about there being so much that is invisible in Emma, but he did not go on to tell us what this was: the lecturer did take a page were servants were mentioned but he did not try to prove 18th century readers seriously read the book to find out about the Woodhouse servants. He seemed to try to make jokes, to have a jocular stance: when he would quote something the audience found funny they did laugh. and he looked relieved. I sometimes wonder if the speakers are told to try to “lighten” it up; they tend to ride over the nebulous. Arnie got up so gratified and began to talk of Jane Fairfax’s pregnancy and some other of his favorite theories. The lecturer looked embarrasssed. But it fit his thesis. Arnie was stopped. Since the academic was too cowardly or careful to say what these invisible depths were (perhaps sexual?), his lecture was to my mind exposed as having nothing in it (invisible?).

I did feel rejuvenated a little about Austen two papers I heard and one Izzy told me about: one was on sexual assault in Emma: the woman said she put her proposal in a year ago so the relevance was unintended but there. She also covered the psychological assault on Jane Fairfax. The audience response was intense and for once stayed on topic. The popular readership in fan cults hardly ever talk on line, but unlike academics they will talk in sessions about what they feel about a favorite book or author. I get the feeling they long to discuss Austen and their views and hardly ever get a chance to do it. They had less this year than previous ones. Another paper on education mildly and therefore persuasively suggested Mr Knightly not the great teacher — as he says himself. Here the audience soon went off-topic to gossip about the characters. But they did hear and take in the paper (in some years I’ve been at talks where the lecturer worked so hard to convince the audience of say how this unpopular Austen movie provided a new insight and when the audience began to respond it was clear they just didn’t listen to or accept at all what had been said). I find it jarring when a lecturer is insisting on some sentimental interpretation of a text (such as how good a daughter Emma is, how inspiring) and then quotes one of Austen’s bitter caustic comments. There was a superb lecture by Susan Allen Ford on what is read in Emma and by whom, and what paying attention to these books cited in the novel tell us about the characters and book’s themes. It was said by some to be “so erudite” (I’m not sure if this kind of statement is apologetic or is critical or what?) but it’s easy to reply by saying, yes it was excellent, and as Austen herself says of political talk, silence comes soon afterward.

I have read the North American JASNA grew exponentially in 1995 at the time of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted Andrew Davies, with the now tiresome wet shirt scene), and it has not fallen off since. Many of those coming take it as an excuse for a vacation in a famous toured place. Lots of people networking for wherever they work, for other similar organizations, trying to set up coming publications and so on. I’ll write details what presentations (or papers) I heard on my Austen Reveries blog (on illustrations, on three recent Emma films). I find the JASNA each time I’ve attended oddly exhausting, at once crowded and yet lonely. People wave at me who in other places I have talked with.

Happily neither the Burney or JASNA conference necessitated staying away from home. How much easier are those conferences where one gets to leave in the early evening or goes home between bouts of sessions. The cats missed me badly, the house and Izzy too very much. True to family form, they didn’t socialize with the other cats, but preferred a soft box put in their cage, and staying close to one another. Clinging, they were not sick but they did not eat much. It is all so much more endurable, cats, books at home, quiet.

I have not begun to say what it has been. Sylvia Plath wrote after her divorce, “the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.” It’s not that for me but I understand how she could feel that way. On widowhood: “It is not true that in time you get used to it. Far from healing wounds, time can on the contrary, only make wounds worse” — Simone de Beauvoir. Again it’s not that bad for me rather the wounds just grow deeper as I think about my own conduct all these years and how I must live now.

Miss Drake

My daughter:

Eve 6,

Sleeping through the evening
Singing dreams inside my head
I’m heading out
I’ve got some friends who say they care
And they just might
Run away with you
If things don’t go as planned
Plannin’ big could be a gamble
I’ve already rolled the dice

I spit and stutter stuff and clutter
Worries in my worried corner
Just untrusted
Sometimes brilliant trusted thoughts
Think ill stay for a while
I’m intrigued and I’m
Red as a newborn white as a corpse

I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I’m looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to lie and not to let you down

I am elated
I am all smiled and dated
In my man bites dog small town
With a Spanish name
I am my own bone
I am two toned
Red as a newborn white as a corpse

I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I’m looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to try not to let you down
Girl let me down

Why do you gotta keep the fan on high when its cold outside?
Just want to let you know I’m still a fan get it
Everybody wants charm in a smile and a promise

Promise not to try

I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I’m looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to try not to not to leave
(Promise not to try)
Not to leave
(Promise not to try)
Not to not to leave-yay
(Promise not to try)
I won’t leave
I won’t leave

Read more: Eve 6 – Promise Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Perhaps I ought to mention that Izzy loved Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night in which Miss Sylvia Drake is a minor comic character.

Miss Drake

Caspar David Friedrich (174-1840), Le Soir (Evening, autumn), 1821

Dear readers and friends,

My friend, Martin, remembering this is the anniversary of Jim’s death wrote me tonight about reading Auden, especially “The Sea and the Mirror.” So I took down from its shelf W.H.Auden: Collected Poems — it was once Jim’s book, one of those he would return to read. I went to where Prospero speaks to Ariel and thought this closest to my condition:

Now our partnership is dissolved, I feel so peculiar:
    As if I had been on a drunk since I was born
And suddenly now, and for the first time, am cold sober,
    With all my unanswered wishes and unwashed days
Stacked up all around my life; as if through the ages I had dreamed
    About some tremendous journey I was taking,
Sketching imaginary landscapes, chasms and cities,
    Cold walls, hot spaces, wild mouths, defeated backs,
Jotting down fictional notes on secrets overheard
    In theatres and privies, banks and mountain inns,
And now, in my oId age, I wake, and this journey really exists,
    And I have actually to take it, inch by inch,
Alone and on foot, without a cent in my pocket,
    Through a universe where time is not foreshortened,
No animals talk, and there is neither floating nor flying.

When I am safely home, oceans away in Milan, and
    Realise once and for all I shall never see you again,
Over there, maybe, it won’t seem quite so dreadful
    Not to be interesting any more, but an old man
Just like other old men, with eyes that water
    Easily in the wind, and a head that nods in the sunshine,
Forgetful, maladroit, a little grubby,
    And to like it. When the servants settle me into a chair
In some well-sheltered corner of the garden,
    And arrange my muffler and rugs, shall I ever be able
To stop myself from telling them what I am doing,
    Sailing alone, out over seventy thousand fathoms -?
Yet if I speak, I shall sink without a sound
    Into unmeaning abysses. Can I learn to suffer
Without saying something ironic or funny
    On suffering? I never suspected the way of truth
Was a way of silence where affectionate chat
    Is but a robbers’ ambush and even good music
In shocking taste; and you, of course, never told me.
    If I peg away at it honestly every moment,
And have luck, perhaps by the time death pounces
    His stumping question, I shall just be getting to know
The difference between moonshine and daylight…
    I see you starting to fidget. I forget. To you
That doesn’t matter. My dear, here comes Gonzalo
    With a solemn face to fetch me. O Ariel, Ariel.
How I shall miss you. Enjoy your element. Good-bye.

In my house during renovation of kitchen, Ian pussycat this evening — does not like to kept in the back half of the house so staring at closed door (cats don’t like closed doors either)

My own feebler effort as I watched:

How does it feel
to be
half a person?

Hard to describe.
I take
up half our space.

I stand there
next to
an alert silence.

My awareness
him, there, unseen.

People disappear,
all the time,

The thread is how
to seek,
find what is lost.

“Where did you go,
you disappeared?!”
I once said to him,

He replied solemnly
“I did not, I
perfectly visible
all the time.”

And now
I am the one
who remains
perfectly visible
all the time.



James Norton and Jessie Buckley as Andrey and Marya Bolkonsky (2016 War and Peace, scripted Andrew Davies)

As you know, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the Maud English translation, with the Elisabeth Guertik French translation (La Guerre et la Paix) tucked in just below, and listening to David Case reading aloud Constance Garnett’s translation.

This is an extraordinarily good book: I can see falling back into it endlessly. Among so many other themes, kinds of scenes, characters, arguments about what is history, how large events happen, Tolstoy understands and records death, how the dying die, and how those of us left are split through the soul: in Tolstoy’s description of how Andrey went through the process of dying (Book 3, Part 3, Chapter 32), he seemed to me to capture in words how the person inwardly feels and outwardly behaves. Tolstoy has explained to me what I saw in Jim – but physiological, psychological, mental changes, what I saw in his eyes, the lack of affect,e.g., “his attention was suddenly carried into another world, a world of reality and delirium in which something particular was happening.” Natasha’s grief, “where it is a beloved and intimate human being that is dying, besides this horror at the extinction of life there is a severance, which like a physical wound is sometimes fatal and sometimes heals, but always aches and shrinks at any external irritating touch” (Book 4, Part 4, Chapter 1).

Lily James as Natasha Rostova leaving Moscow, her eyes seeking (same movie as above)

I now know why all 4 films of War and Peace I’ve watched thus far (1955 Vidor; 1966 Bondarchuk; 1972 BBC Pulman; 2016 Davies) felt they must dramatize some of this – though to my mind Davies’s dwelling and Norton’s acting comes closest, there’s nothing comes near Tolstoy and his three translators’ words.

Miss Drake

Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.


It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.


Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).


My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.


I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’


I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.


He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.


A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth


So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake

It is an odd feeling, writing against the current: difficult to entirely disregard the current — Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Maple tree on front lawn — end of summer colors

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! — George Eliot in her letters

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been puzzling over the term “friendship” more than usual for the last couple of weeks, and this morning thought I’d help myself by reading what Samuel Johnson has to say in two of his journalistic essays memories of which have stayed with me down the years (Idler No 23; Rambler 99). In my mid-twenties studied Johnson for my orals for my Ph.D, and again in my mid-forties I used to teach at George Mason university a volume of his writing (in the Penguin series, edited by Patrick Cruttwell): we’d read his Journey to the Western Islands,” his literary biographies (especially the life of Savage), his journalism, letters, poetry

The one I recalled better starts with the sentence (now I’ve found it) “Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than friendship,” only to devolve into how fragile are such relationships: how frighteningly easy (“very slender differences”) can “part” people after “long reciprocation of” courtesy or generosity. Sometimes people long to meet after years of being apart (or let’s say Internet friends) to find there is no similitude where it counts such as had been imagined. He talks of more than “opposition of interest:” his focus are “a thousand secret and slight competitions, scarcely known to the mind upon which they operate,” and how “minute ambition” once found out (and “vulnerable” to the other) will be become a sort of fear, and resentment and the shame felt will not be explained as the last thing the person wants is discovery. This “slow malignity” can be obviated if you know your friend (frenemy?) well enough.

But then there is “a dispute begun in jest” becomes a desire to triumph, then vanity takes over as anger grows, and before you know it you are in the midst of strong “enmity:” “Against this hasty mischief I know now what security can be obtained: men will be sometimes surprized into quarrels.” Friendship appears to have so many “enemies:” caution becomes suspicion; delicacy becomes and repels disgust; people grow angry that compliance with another’s taste is “exacted.” The most “fatal disease” is “gradual decay:” when gradually people just don’t want to or are “unwilling to be pleased.” He regards this situation as “hopeless.”

To become friends in the first place requires “mutual pleasure” in one another’s company. This is not always in our power to feel. To be “fond and long-last” it seems there must be “conformity of inclination.” People must share tastes; I’d put it have a closely similar sensibility. Appreciate how the friend spends his or her days (and/or nights). People practicing the same profession can understand and respect one another. They must enjoy one another’s conversation is another area I’d bring in. Contradictorily, Johnson does say (just briefly) people who are (as we might say) stuck together (families, in his era that would include coerced marriage) should try to “approach towards the inclination of each other,” see if you can conform in things that don’t carry a weight of need, show curiosity. By his own admission this is hard. Jane Austen would have us consider Mrs Smith:

“Even the smooth surface of family-union seems worth preserving though there may be nothing durable underneath” — Persuasion

I am now touched (as I probably was not when young) by how he says we all “require” acts of “tenderness” because we have “grievances which only the solicitude of friendship will discover and remedy.” (The need for and offering of tenderness is seen in grandparents.) Johnson says people have to care about you beyond the usual need, have bothered to know, recognize, try to “remedy” miseries usually “unheeded in the mighty heap of human calamity.” Again, hard.

My reader will scarcely believe that I used to read disquisitions like these I’ve paraphrased and quoted from to find some comfort and strength. But I did.

Henri-Jean Martin (1860-1943), La Tonnelle (an imaginary gazebo)

It happened that later in the day a kind friend here on the Net pointed me to an essay by Audrey Lorde in which she suggests that we wrongly avoid the erotic in life; the emotions that comprise eroticism can provide power for creative and good change (“The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Sexualities and Communication”). My first reaction was to remember Carol Gilligan’s In a Different voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and Lyn Mikel Brown’s Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development, two of many books on female psychology where the authors argue women have and further develop out of their innate nature and the experiences of life our social organization imposes on them an “ethic of care,” of concern for one another; instead of interacting through competition, as individuals vying to be superior to others, to wrest the necessities and luxuries of life by purchase (after doing what one must to get money), act as one in a community looking out for one another to enjoy in companionship without regard to status. This could be norm encouraged which Gilligan and Browne feel would give the deepest pleasure and gradual security were it central to structured experiences in life.

But then I thought it’s not “care” and “love” but “erotic,” and the use of the term erotic changes the idea. Lorde wants us to enjoy sex with one another, or sensual experience and says if we do so, we will open up to one another, feel good and then be powerful to do something. Tonight I find myself worrying over that second word, “power.” After all the context seems to have something to do with competition, and control over someone else, getting them to do something out of the sensual and sexual. She is trying to get power out of nature and to manipulate. In my experience opening up to most people, and especially sexually has ended in their trying to take something, and a feeling of self-directed self-felt triumph is central to the erotic. The sexual postures and things we do are or can be humiliating when I’ve felt the other person feeling this triumph. Can we ever rid ourselves of our position literally as well as figuratively to one another.

In classic characters from Don Juan to Lovelace to Austen’s Lady Susan, what is actuating the character when they proceed to move through erotic experience is a desire to triumph and use. My experience has taught me there is yet worse: the person takes over your character as your self-control may dissolve away, as you start to trust; and what they call cooperation with them becomes form of submission. The next step is bullying.

This relates to my theme of friendship tonight as my experience since becoming a widow is people do their best to avoid getting deep with one another to be safe, not to be obliged, not to get into troubles and ignite all those enemies to friendship Johnson surveys (I particularized only a few of these, admittedly the ones that have causes me most hurt). Lorde seems to suggest people are refusing to be loving; refusing what comes natural. Does it? The world is filled with people completely oblivious to other people’s actual minds, who cannot participate in another’s experience unless they have known it in a literally similar way. They begin with a fierce egoism. They hear and interpret what you say in terms of their particular attitudes of mind. They enjoy aggression and threatening hurt and get a kick out of avoiding someone aggressing at them. People who go out hunting to kill animals are not doing that to protect themselves.

There are dozens of great stories about this — from the old movie, The Servant (if you’ve ever seen that one with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox where the servant becomes the master) to the Lord of the Flies — the person who ends up the scapegoat and whipping bag for others. People go so far to justify these happenings by claiming the hurt person is masochistic; they want to be hurt, they enjoy it. I am here to say they do not. The woman who does not try to escape her abusive husband fears if she does she will suffer more from it; she will not be rescued; if she is freed of him, the authorities will see her weakness and take her children from her.

My friend said Audrey Lorde used the term “erotic” instead of “care” because she feared her reader could ridicule the term and vision. To use use the word “erotic” is sexier, more provocative (ah! so now we are provoking some one) and would gain attention (as sex usually does). This reminded me of why George McGovern was quickly labelled as “out of the question” someone no one could vote in for president the way Jeremy Corbyn is described in the British press. No one will go for such a person because they are too nice. My father said most people in their minds are mean, small, operate out of what they see as justifiable mistrust, expecting others to try to take all they can. If someone behaves better than this, they resent this as an indictment of their own nature, as “hypocritical.” That’s not fair. I have seen groups of people work together for the common good in narrow causes, and they are helped along enormously if values like care and concern as in our mutual interest and leading to good things coming, and not promoting hardness, competition and especially any kind of violence. Here you need to be in a middle status group that does this.

So to return to Johnson who is trying to explain friendship so we may by lower expectations have what our natures will allow of it, although repression of an instinct to have and find and share love is impoverishing the best we can know, cuts us off from the best and deepest fulfillment people can have in one part of their natures, leaves us so alone, more at risk, it is also a necessary guard. Gilligan and Browne believe (or affect to) that the “masculine” psychology that has been allowed to rule the world and have full play into the very privatest of our moments together (as in relationships set up on the basis of what each gets out of it materially) can be offset, modified, qualified by the feminine, even overturned — as it is for some when they are bringing up their children. They feel we can extend what can happen in mother-child, parent-child, friend-friend, lover-lover relationships beyond these. That we should try.

Jean Lucy Pratt and her cats (see “Blunted Joy” by Catherine Morris, TLS, Sept 7, 2016)

Mac is one of the men Jean loves and loses (later, she records that he has been killed in a car crash). Her loneliness is oppressive, at times – almost crushing; but as the years go by, her yearning starts to dissipate, or evolve. “Why does anyone worry about ‘love’,” she writes in 1958, “about being loved and finding the Right Person, and about missed opportunities and ‘I’ve never had a chance?’ and ‘It isn’t fair!’? There is no need to let these moods ­colour your life. Love can illumine every moment of it, whether you are ‘loved’ or not. But let us not nail that poor butterfly. Make your own discoveries and keep them secret” — Jean Pratt

All very solemn you may think or say — if you have got this far. But I have been very hurt this past month, a kind of culmination, or hammering blow, after much less stunning events and trivial ones too over the past three years, and as the third anniversary of Jim’s death draws near, I want to understand what has happened since my world fell apart and I tried to build a new one for myself, and gain strength to pull back. i said the fourth wall of my house had vanished; well now I have to rebuild that wall.

Two long-time friends, mostly known by years of letters here on the Net, told me when I told them I had been accused of being a “false friend,” offering “false friendship” for years, and offered a clause the person refused to explain (“you threw my friendship back in my face”) that this was senseless, not using words meaningfully. By going over what Johnson wrote I feel I have been enabled to understand what happened recently and over the course of all the cases I’ve been brooding about, and this helps because I feel what happened was not my unique doing or fault. In these various instances I see a general version of what has happened to me, what I’ve seen and been told happens to others. So myu case is that of many others. I feel like Austen heroines who will sometimes say they have looked and looked and find nothing crucial to reproach themselves with, and that helps. Sometimes eighteenth century texts really do help against large and petty pain too.

An later 18th into 19th century (?) illustration

I nowadays divide my days into three types (most of the time): quiet reading days, days where I am writing either on and for people on the Internet, or for teaching, or for papers and reviews. And days where I go out somewhere to something social (teaching), sort of (a lecture) or a movie, play, concert, HD opera, a reading of poetry. Here is something hopeful: for nearly three years now I’ve also been taking a pill to help me sleep at night and in the last year I think I now get deep sleep (REM sleep) each night: I’ve not experienced such a period like this since maybe before I was 12. And I find I can read at night, understand what I am reading and even more wonderful, remember what I read the next day. Gentle reader, that is why I am blogging less. Tonight I was reading Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina’s biography of Dora Carrington, about whom I hope (that word) to write my next “woman artist” blog.

To show affection is to comfort oneself — From Kobayashi, Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees

Miss Drake

Last summer flowering bush, still holding out on right side of house

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we read and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendez-vous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, shawl,
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth
A light …. (Wallace Stevens, from “The Final Soliloquy”)

Dear friends and readers,

The year is turning, the mornings dark until 6:30 am, evening dark by 8 pm, by next week what will I be doing in this room of mine? and inside a shawl?

I’ll be rereading Fielding’s Tom Jones with one class, and by the following the novels of four 19th century women of letters (Shelley’s Frankenstein, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance,” and Oliphant’s Hester) with another. I’m back to working on my paper on Charlotte Smith for the October Chawton conference. This past couple of books my companions in solitude have been Miranda Seymour’s superb biography of Mary Shelley, Jenny Uglow’s concise study of Eliot, Ahdaf Soueif’s fiction, and poetry by Dahlia Ravikovitch and Margaret Atwood. A good way to spend my time. For company I’m now truly delighting in Tolstoy’s War and Peace with a small group of like-minded people on the Trollope19thCStudies Yahoo listserv. I compare the Maud/Mandelker translation in English to the Elisabeth Guernik one in French as I go: I so enjoy reading French or Italian translations of books written in yet a third language not English. One person in our group who lives in Cologne, Germany, is reading two different German translations. On Wwtta we slowly make our way through Hermione Lee’s biography, Virginia Woolf.

Beyond reading, there is the movies on DVD, the flickering light of the screen. Well, I’ve embarked on the second season of Poldark and am still dwelling on the first of Outlander (because I can’t get the second) and this time I’ve had real pleasure talking to some of the face-book Poldark watchers, reaers, viewers.

Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine — he was superb as Hal and Henry V in the Hollow Crown plays

I finished The Night Manager and think to myself I’d like to re-see it slowly. Made for TV, it’s an effective pace-y, all edge thriller, much much simpler than the usual LeCarre, so we have a few good people trying saving the world against those running the vile arms industry, but acted suggestively, exquisitely well, with even a qualified happy ending, where the hero of many and therefore no name succeeds, together with his “intelligence “control” agent, Angela Burr (burrs stick, she’s an angel), all the while heavily pregnant, in destroying at least these evil men. Emerging as our Jonathan Pine, no longer the subservient Night Manager, but his own person, having committed to achieve the noble quest of destroying a man who manufactures and sells the most vicious of weaponry (napalm, bombs of all sorts, gas poison), made a decision to no longer be so reclusive, and can say to the new Night Manager, he wants “nothing at all.” Jed, our heroine will leave off her whorish ways and return to her family and child and will wait for him to come to her (“I promise,” says he). If you think a little you do remember this hero murdered two people (themselves murderers, very bad men, but it’s still murder), and if Angela Burr won this one, those supporting the arms industry inside the gov’t are there, waiting to sell out again on the justification this wanton destruction of people who don’t count after all is sound strategy for their cliques in their nation-state.

A photograph from Berry’s older honest Portrait of Cornwall — one of the more obtuse desires of tourists is to shut out contemporary realities

I have decided not to write any more blogs on my Cornwall holiday. I’ve been stunned by the Jekyll-turning-into-Hyde behavior, post-holiday from the woman I visited, and haven’t got the heart. I had wanted to tell more of the three sites that I saw one learns most from: the grim Bodmin jail, the mind-pausing Greevor mine, and the small and symbolic re-enactments of life among aristocrats and servant a Lanhydrock House. What distinguished them is that the previous life they stage was not that long ago and much of the original buildings stand with the original objects as used found, manufactured of just left there. This is not the first time I’ve discovered the older the site, or the less to see and experience (archeaological digs are very old but there is much to see), the less impact on the viewer’s imagination and sensibility. I’ll come back to some of this when I’ve finished Claude Berry’s marvelous county book, A Portrait of Cornwall when I’m stronger in spirit.

Another from this book

Another friend I told about this said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m not so sure: after nearly 3 years of trying hard. I endure more stoically than before, but each loss weakens me, makes me move more into protective mode. I’m a person now who knows how she loves her life in her house but has lost her loving true companion.

Clarycat this morning

There’s been a semi-attack on cats in the NYRB in the form of a review by Natalie Angier of Cat Wars: Peter P Mella and Chris Santella’s The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. The title gives away that the authors’ ostensible campaign to stop cat owners from allowing their cats to go outside and kill birds includes a determination to ridicule human behavior towards cats as pet-companions. Readers of this blog who agree that this ridicule stems from not being smart enough to respond to another species might want to read and respond too. Much better is Rachel Cusk in the NYT Book Review on two recent books by women who so long for children they have themselves artificially inseminated. What Cusk has to say is as pertinent, truthful and searing about women and motherhood still (the hypocrisies, the miseries) as anything Badinter has written. Cusk seeks to free women.

A photo of Geraldine Jewsbury

In developing a new point of view for a course, one reads all sorts of new books and for 19th Century Women of Letters I’ve been led to understand and think anew by Norma Clarke in her Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship Love: The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Carlyle): I can’t speak too highly of how she explains why women wrote these endorsements of what crippled their existence, and her accounts of the two Jewsbury sisters, Maria (1800-33), the poet, essayist and editor (the Athenaeum), Geraldine (1812-80), novelist and then for decades the great decider on who got published by Hurst and Blackett and Richard Bentley; and Jane Carlyle (1801-66) who never got to write originally in forms beyond her great private letters. I thought I’d end this evening’s entry with some lines from a very Victorian poem by Maria, “To My Own Heart,” hoping my reader will find them something you can grow stronger from too:

Come , let me sound thy depths, unquiet sea
Of thought and passion; let thy wild waves be
Calm for a moment. Thou mysterious mind—
No human eye may see, no fetters bind;
Within me, ever near me as a friend
That whilst I know I fail to comprehend …
Come let me talk with thee, allotted part …
I know a calmer mood, a brighter view:
The restless ocean hath its hours of rest,
And sleep may visit those by pain opprest;
More shade than sunlight o’er his heart may sweep,
Who yet is cheerful, nay, may seldom weep;
And he may learn, though late, and by degrees …
Life she may look on with a sobered eye,
And how to live, think less than how to die …


Home !—home!—vain wanderer, why that murmured plaint,
Breaking the quiet of thy green retreat?

A Summer Eve’s Vision

I heard last night a lovely lute,
I heard it in the sunset hour,
When every jarring sound was mute …
I dreamt that I again was young,
With merry heart and frolic will,
That hopes around my spirit clung …
I saw ambition’s heights arise,
Fame’s pathway o’er it spread sublime,
Nor feared the coming night of time …

Unwearied up the steep I prest,
And vainly deemed my home would be [with him] …
But soon came on a darker mood,
Fame’s lingering sunbeam ceased to glow,
The heights grew barren where I stood,
And Death’s wide Ocean roared below.

Then waking from that troubled dream,
This lesson did my heart imbue,
In every earthly hope and scheme,
How far the seeming from the true!

I like LeCarre’s novels best in those moments where the hero is living apart, as in The Night Manager Jonathan Pine does for a while until he finds something worthwhile to commit to, and then he decides.

Surviving on the left

Miss Drake

A card for Caturday


Remembering Jenny Diski and her What I don’t Know about Animals.

Miss Drake