John Sessions as our narrator, Mr Fielding, at the crossroads (of life?), a coach appears, and with great apparent indifference to him knocks him over (1997 Tom Jones) — but then it is no worse

Trollope worried that when he died and got to heaven people would not want novels …. [my paraphrase from memory]

Dear friends and readers,

After much perplexity and in the midst of a daily engineered horrendous traffic jam (epic-romance proportions):

As I may have mentioned I submitted a proposal to teach Fielding’s Tom Jones at the OLLI at AU next fall and it was accepted. A 10 week course would mean introduction, context and then for 9 sessions 2 books a week, with different themes and other contexts brought in to frame the discussion:

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. When Fielding died, a cousin quipped: “It is a pity he was not immortal, he was so formed for happiness:” the nature of happiness, and all the many obstacles to its pursuit, are what this big book is about. We will read it, see why in its era it was called “immoral;” how recently it was adapted into films filled with wild hilarity, sexual salaciousness, and subversive irony, and discuss its narrator and concerns like where power comes from, charity, and hypocrisy and the masks of social life. The full context will be Fielding’s life and careers (dramatist, political journalist, satirist, magistrate). Topics will include include crime and punishment, law and justice (poaching as disguised class war over property rights?), coerced marriage and rape; Hanoverians and Jacobites. Can you imagine a world without novels? This is one of the books that established the genre.

The curriculum committte was delighted. Some remembered the 1966 Tony Richardson Tom Jones still — or had heard of it. What’s liked is a great masterpiece everyone is said to enjoy. What’s to object? but then I began to listen to the novel in my car read aloud brilliantly by Ken Danziger — but with great care, exaggeratedly, over-the-top accents and comedy, and slowly to get the meanings of the words across. And I began to doubt the success of the project even before serious reading this summer of the book and on and about and other texts by Fielding had begun.

These courses or semesters of 8-10 weeks are for retired people, and are a sort of cross between voluntary college, seminar, reading group, and 3 terms of teaching has shown me they do the reading — or most of them do. They come prepared to like a book but if it’s foreign to them in some fundamental ways there’s problems.

Most of them are so used to realism, realistic characters. Their model is Dickens’s David Copperfield. Thomas Hardy, modern 20th century novels, middle brow. The language of these characters is not persuasively particular at all. The utterances are burlesques. Fielding’s (seemingly?) cavalier attitudes towards violence and sex did not seem propitious, much less acceptable — as when it’s a joke that the poverty-striken semi-criminal gamekeeper types, Blackgeorge quiets his family with a switch; or it’s supposed to be hilarious that our elegant gentleman hero Tom can’t resist the filthy “slut” Molly, not to omit the slurring and utterly discriminatory treatment of her. I bean to remember how rape was seen as a joke or something women fake. At one point I was listening with Yvette in the car with me and she looked thunderstruck at the caricature of Mrs Honor, Sophia’s lady’s maid, and the scenes where Squire Western is hideously cruel to Sophia and her impossible absurd “worldly” ignoramus aunt, Mrs Western — said Yvette how can he say that woman (Mrs Western) has a “tender heart?” The language is abstract and slow-moving, yet the ironies multifold, not obvious. I know while I like the opening of Richardson’s Tom Jones which captures pace, mood, stance of the narrator, and the famous hunt, I do not like women as sex kittens. I did love the 1997 movie though — as will be seen by my use of stills from it and a blog I wrote..

So, hastily I queried C18-l for advice, sources, books, ways to think anew about this book. I got good advice (think about cruel humor), books, like John Allen Stevenson’s The Real History of Tom Jones, one site where a teacher outlined how he or she handled the novel book by book.

All this okay for particulars — but how was I to get these people to care about these 18th century particulars. It’s for retired people, a sort of cross between voluntary college, seminar, reading group, and 3 terms of teaching has shown me they do the reading — or most of them do. They come prepared to like a book but if it’s foreign to them in some fundamental ways there’s problems.

And then as part of one of my many over-scheduled days, I found myself unexpectedly caught in a major traffic jam, only it was not being reported as a traffic jam where cars were all inching along, bumper to bumper and what should have taken me 40 minutes took me an hour and one half. I was on my way to Loudon Country Mason where I was to listen to a 2 hour session on taxes, investment for retirement strategies and the like.


Ron Cook as the ex-schoolmaster Patridge who has spent his life an outcast since wrongly identified as Max Beesley or Tom’s father


They cling to one another

What I learned from my timeout: I suddenly saw, I understood, “got” Tom Jones.– sort of gut level. It was getting there that did it. I was 25 minutes late and missed the opening which I had wanted to hear (about pensions and taxes on pensions): as I had driven along I realized the horrendous traffic jam I was in was the result of the way the local authorities have engineered the roads. They have taken E-Z passes which used to be for going through tolls without having to produce coins (paying ahead by credit card and topping the amount on your card up on-line) to being passes which allow people to use newly created separate pairs of HOV lanes where you pay more according to how far you go. The left over others (much narrower), three of them are now jam-packed. There are iron railings between these E-Z HOV lanes and the “regular lanes.” Since I had to turn left I began to worry how I would reach my exit. But of course just as I got there the iron railings fell away and then resumed after the unusual left-ward exit. The EZ passes which used to be just to pay tolls easily have been transformed into engineers of visible inequality. Then there are regulations for which kind of car can go where — or you get a ticket; you are photo-monitored everywhere. Your license is of course in cop’s computers if they come upon you; they can look all the information they need about you through that license. No one protested. People did not jump out of their cars to scream this is taking hours. No.

I thought to myself here we are in Tom Jones world. Fielding refers to the the absurdity of human nature, when he is showing continually versions of our moral stupidity, endless exploitation of one another, greed, avarice, complicity of some in their attempt to get just a small percentage of the take, to lord it over others on the smallest grounds. Hypocrisy, affection, charity, humanity, all those things people discuss when it comes to Fielding, the topics I listed (18th century ones) are just local manifestations of this traffic jam. Fielding run over right before me as the 1997 film begins. Continually what i happening in this book is all the people are making everyone else and themselves miserable — in order to one up one another, to gain an advantage. Male sexual appetite seems to be a matter of using up animal energy; not all males have it, and for many money is far more important. Fielding loves to have us see them having arguments in their heads about what is the safest and most expedient and advantageous (from the point of view of money, rank, immediate gain) step to take.   Without any regard to common sense, humanity — which they are all pretending to all the time.

That is what Tom Jones is about. It’s the propelling idea and then all the antics, the performances, and few mostly good because naive and/or sheltered, growing up in private places (where social life does not impinge its common denominator survival struggle), where people who have been able to keep away from that highway, in well-padded retreats, with their books and brains in high-minded dreams, fell into place. You see when you are 19 as I was when I read Tom Jones as an undergraduate and did a paper showing the plot-design forced the characters to behave inconsistently, I didn’t think of the larger question.  I accepted the book was a masterpiece and it was my task to explicate parts of it. Not what is this man on about for hundreds of pages?

Samantha Morton as Sophia (pistol hidden) protector of her maid, Honor Kathy Burke) looking on

The instructor (there for free as I do it too) did enlighten me, but not enable me the way I wish I could be — no one can probably. But I was struck by how she talked about the market and EU from the point of view of a complete lack of concern of how its policies affected ordinary people. How was it affecting money. What we didn’t want was inflation or high interest rates. Oh the recovery? it was just fine. The Greek people. Not to worry: their gov’t would step in line and international investment would be safe, stable, good yields. Her course fit into Tom Jones too; it was one of the polite rooms.

I hurried to the huge Northern Virginia Book Sale in a George Mason Library later in the afternoon. It’s on an open road (no highway), so no exclusions by EZ passes. I got there just as it opened for the first time in years. Booksellers everywhere glomming up books. In the first 4 minutes I found a beautiful copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to replace my ugly paperback doorstop with its blaring advertisements all over it. Hard-cover, sewn. Clutching it, I play my usual role in the world’s panorama too. I’ve bought a ticket for Wolf Hall Part 2 (on the stage) for when I come to NYC this May. One of the introductory chapters is a elaborate meditation on the Shakespearean insight that all the world’s a stage.

Jim loved satire — probably Clive James has some satiric passages in his earlier poems which “get” Tom Jones too. I just have continually to transfer the parallels, the metaphors and hope the older students will understand the book too..


Sir George Clausen (1852-1944), A Shady Grove

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve come across a fifth poem by Clive James as he lies dying:

Transit Visa

He had not thought that it would be his task
To gauge the force of the oncoming wave
Of night; to cast aside his jester’s mask,
Guessing it was not Ali Baba’s cave
That would engulf him, but an emptiness
Devoid of treasure heaped to serve his dreams;
His best hope, to be set free from distress.
No guiding light, not even moonlight beams,
Will lead him forward to find life refined
Into a fit reward or punishment:
No soul can well continue when the mind
Fades with the body. All his store is spent
Of pride, or guilt, or anything that might
Have steeled him for the non-stop outbound flight

Were it to lead somewhere, but it does not.
That much becomes clear as the sky grows dark.
He hears the rattle of his childhood cot,
The rain that fills the creek that floods the park:
But these are memories. The way ahead
Will send no messages that can be kept.
One doesn’t even get to meet the dead.
You planned to see the bed where Dido slept?
No chance. It didn’t last the course. Back then
They forged the myths that feed our poetry
Not for our sake, but theirs, to soothe them when
Life was so frightful that death had to be
A better place, a holiday from fear.
But now we know that paradise is here,

As is the underworld. To no new dawn
He gets him gone, nor yet a starry hour
Of silence. He goes back to being born
And then beyond that, though he feels the power
Of all creation when he lifts a book,
Or when a loved face smiles at his new joke,
Which could well be his last: but now just look
At how the air, before he turns to smoke,
Is glowing in the window. If the glass
Were brighter it would melt. That radiance
Is not a way of saying this will pass:
It says this will remain. No play of chance
From now on includes you. The world you quit
Is staying here, so say goodbye to it.


Grim. Rather like all the George Clausen’s paintings (19th century, with a speciality in the distressed suffering poor) I’d seen before I came across “A Shady Grove.” James is turning to the same comfortless comfort Jenny Diski did in her latest LRB entry (“Like a lullaby”). She quotes Beckett: “I too shall cease and be as when I was not yet,/only all over instead of in store” (From an Abandoned Work). Diski says she’s been there, done that, known non-existence, absence. She is trying to make this realization “soothe,” so she may stop trembling. I know have faced that Jim was trembling as he went out. James is (by contrast to Diski) reaching again for his sardonic ironies. “Life was so frightful” then “death had to be/A better place.” The next half-line and lines are savagely ironic.

I am going about the world with my beloved admiral near me in my mind and find this helps. I’ve set up all these structures I belong to, have friends on the Net who mean a great deal to me, my daughters, and am coming (not there yet) to feel that I can live on with cheer and enjoyment with his imagined presence by me — in my mind. I don’t think I can leave this house; I am literally alone a great deal of the time but all the things around me keep him alive for me too. Like the Clive James volumes and memories of Jim reading them aloud to me, and me not getting most of the allusions.

KeiraKittycat — one of Caroline’s four


One of my two perpetual companions, Ian Pussycat

Dear friends and readers,

One of my ways of getting through the hours of my life at night is to watch good movies and/or blog. After I finished my “The Importance of Screenplays” paper, I turned to the stack of DVDs I had on one of my two library tables in my “workroom” (study?). I began with 8 Acclaimed Films, and have now enjoyed 4 of the 8. Each has made my evening valuable to me and I shall try to share what I think was valuable as a form of recommendation.

I am not inclined to credit any institutionalized group with the aim of increasing compassion and understanding of individuals towards others in communities (I avoid the bankrupt term “society”), but the effect of these 1990s Miramax movies could be this (like drops of water on a stone wearing it away), even if their conscious aim was more like reaching a niche segment of the marketplace audience seen as liking Anglo-costume dramas of the non-violent, much “sensitivity” type liked by intelligent readers.

I read an article over lunch on film by Laura Riding Jackson (written long ago, reprinted in the January 2015 PMLA –- which I still get issues of even though I stopped membership in December 2013) where Jackson identifies a central flaw in popular films: they are capable of giving a strong education in feeling, of forcing us to enter the consciousness of the film team, the product and its process, but  they “fail to supply their audiences with an adult emotional language for the successions of emotions they induce. “ Why? lest they disturb or alarm or shock us by becoming aware of what we feel and expose to others (if they could see it).  It comes to me that this adult emotional language, stance, understanding is precisely what four of the 8 “acclaimed” Miramax films I’ve seen thus far attempt to do: The Ideal Husband, A Month by the Lake, My Life So Far and Her Majesty Mrs Brown (on IMDB just Mrs Brown).

My question is, Why were these not as good as they should have been? what held them back as a group and/or individually?


Central love scene between Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam – the emphasis on this heterosexual pair distorts the experience — she is a naive woman, and he bestotted sexually and emotionally by her is the core of the movie

Film adaptation from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband: first up because Jim bought and now I own a complete works of Wilde. He made efforts to see good productions; a high point of our 2004 3-week holiday in the UK with Yvette and Caroline was when the friend we were staying with, Angela, took us one summer night to watch The Importance of Being Earnest. For the first time I realized how funny it was; hitherto I was in audiences who didn’t get it or saw a film adaptation

It’s not Wilde but Wilde adapted into a screenplay by Oliver Parker. While I enjoyed it for the acting, beautiful settings, I was interested to find it didn’t work right. I have found that before in Wilde plays turned into movies. They are different genres, and often while updated, the adaptation is not sufficiently changed so what was intended as witty somehow doesn’t come across except as dull. Maybe it’s the pace of a movie (slower), the demand for a believable (seeming realistic) illusion, but I find Wilde most of the time does not translate into a movie without considerable change that weakens the heart of what he has to offer. You recognize the 18th century origin but it’s not enacted quite.

Still of interest: the theme is how you have to tolerate other people’s weaknesses and not have such a virtuous high minded view of yourself nor demand it of others if you are an ethical person. Seems strange. Did viewers ever really believe themselves so good they needed this kind of lesson? An Ideal Husband is someone with feet of clay, that way he can (among other things) grow rich, stay in power, do some good.

The wife is presented as a woman working for women’s causes, but the word “suffragette is not seen.” Otherwise all the women gain place and power in the world by marriage and the two central ones are conventionally in love and want to be submissive in romance. It would have been truer to the text to bring out the loss, the suffering compare these women to contemporary politically active feminist women.

It’s the subtext that is compelling I suggest — each of the characters is found out and the play-as-movie shows each of them tolerating one another and thus themselves. This is about homosexuality  — Colm Toibin has written that Wilde was ever trying to be found out, writing about it, and the urge destroyed him. Here in this play he is dreading his own impulse and exorcizing off what he anticipated would be and was the result. I would have preferred a straight dramatization of this darker fable and some sense in the movie of it brought out clearly. It was not at all but kept to the literal text — here and there in someone’s eyes you saw flashes of despair, which was steely (Everett) or just hardened to accept (Lindsay Duncan).


Vanessa Redgrave challenging Edward Fox — the core is their ages and that he comes to accept her strength and see the beauty in her

Film adaptation of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake. I don’t know how many of my few readers are familiar with the work of H.E. Bates — another “middle brow” or ignored/minor writer of the 20th century. If you’ve seen the superb mini-series from the 1970s, Love for Lydia, you know something of it: he’s called SubLawrentian and in a way it’s so. He’s a writer of short stories and has a marvelous three part biography, male version of Storm Jamieson.

The director John Irvin, screenplay Trevor Bentham, featuring as Miss Bentley Vanessa Redgrave (she reminded me so of her daughter in this one, Miranda Richarsdon); as Major Wileshaw Edward Fox and as Miss Beaumont a young Uma Thurman. The novella by Bates has not that long ago been reprinted (I just bought it); the movie reveals it’s another Lawrentian one: an older woman and man meet in an Italian resort by the northern lakes, and while he is attracted to her as a person as well as woman, when a young girl is hired as an au pair by a bourgeois Italian family staying, his librido goes in another direction. Older men want younger not older women. Luckily for all concerned she’s a of a shallow flighty disposition, can’t get herself to pretend even though she hates the upper class boarding school her parents had sent her to, and needs money (shades of Lydia). Fox’s character cannot accept the independence and athleticism of Redgrave’s (she beats him at tennis) and the story is of their gradual getting together, one attempted rape of Redgrave by one of the younger Italian men “around.” There’s a very much E.M. Forster feel here — like A Room with a View (Miramax did that too) — all last names, repressed English people abroad ….

It was somehow not as good as it should have been; as with the film of “The Ideal husband” in the same collection, despite great actors, wonderful script, good source, somehow doesn’t quite “soar” — but it is very good and touching. I wished I were Redgrave at the end where we see we have been in retrospective throughout and she is talking from later years of a partnership with Fox (not clear it’s marriage) where every summer they return to the mountains and spend a month by this lake. She is the center of the film and my guess is like Richardson (the character Christopher Blake played) in the book Love for Lydia. I remember Jeremy Irons as the drunken friend, opting out of life. In this film there is no opting out of life. One is not permitted to.

Don’t miss it.


The family group at one of their seasonal rituals — the point is there is nothing eccentric here …

My Life So Far. it’s the story of the boyhood of one of the founders of the BBC and a man who ran one of the major opera companies in the UK. Well you have to have built in strong self-esteem and contacts to achieve that. Well you have to have contacts, connections, a sense of your the worth of your own culture in negotiating with others. It’s based on a memoir of Denis Forman. It’s about a privileged life. Hugh Hudson the director, Simon Donald the screenplay writer, David Puttnam the producer.

What’s so effective is the film-makers managed to recreate the life of a rural country house estate, family and servants, houseguests, village, surrounding area, with all the appurtenances of what they do in daily life in a way that is so convincing — yet it’s “warm bath” stuff.  Since Cranford such movies have become common; this one was made in 1999. Many extras had to have been hired for some of the large group scenes — of yearly rituals, of games, of sports. Rosemary Harris is the grandmother who owns the house and her death at the end brings an end to the life-style after a while. She made me cry several times because she enacted her role as a widow so well — quiet and controlled, seeming the center, a kind disciplinarian to her grandchildren advisor to son, but then something would happen or she’d get drunk. That she once played George Sand as seen in her letters, is the mother of Jennifer Ehle made sense.

There’s a Chekhovian feel without the sense of tragedy coming so much.   It’s told from the point of view of a young boy, a new actor at the time who appears not to have gone on for a career; the famous actors who are very good include Colin Firth as this young man’s patriarchal but very stumbling and half-fantasy driven father, a squire in a great house in Scotland.

What made the difference in this film from the two previous is timing. Just as Harris is taken to bed weeping, at the right second we saw a full length of her now dead husband in a weak sort of Sargeant style — hunting or fishing gear around him.

We see the quiet and important miseries of such a place — Firth has a sort of affair with the fiancee of his brother, and hurts his wife intensely; she has had several children by him and her life wrapped around him, applauding him. The boy’s own hurts.

It’s very masculinist in outlook — shows the patriarchy without feeling uncomfortable about it. How many films there are about boys’ growing up. But this one was intelligent and its script and whole sense showed us the women’s lives too – -they are presented as happy (the wife at the end) but we may realize otherwise.  A Month by the Lake and An Ideal Husband had a lot more from a woman’s point of view — indeed that was part of their point. We don’t see much of the servants though they are there and we can see endlessly working, on the alert, and sometimes unfairly fired. We see the poverty of some of the artisans in the countryside.

I recommend it as a full realization of the privileged country life house from the standpoint of privilege. Not a melancholy picture like Isabel Colegate’s Shooting Party (and its remarkable film adaptation with James Mason).  I suppose a curiosity whose title might have been the Boyhood of a Privileged BBC executive, English upper class life in the country idealized ….


Mr Brown and the queen facing down, strong against the pressures of the outside world when they are out on their horses

Her Majesty Mrs Brown, directed by John Madden, screenplay Jeremy Brock, producer Sarah Curtis under a Miramax distribution and (doubtless purse). Judi Dench enacts the part of the bereaved queen somewhat brought back into life by Albert’s groom, Billy Connolly. This one might be a made-for-TV film (the credits suggest this, BBC) – except 105 minutes is a typical length for movies intended for cinemas. The film-makers mean to give us a touching depiction of real human emotion (what people do feel) with the movie there to make sense of the two people’s unusual depth of feeling; the story turns precisely on the evolution of the feelings the two people in the center experience together and over time.

I’m not sure the film-makers achieve it altogether, it sometimes seems strained.  Since 1997 Rumor has moved on to suggest a marriage between the two (so physical intimacy), but what the movie turns on is partly their partial defiance of her vast superiority to him (which now and again she insists on) and his corresponding movement from deference, to active concern that is sensible to a sort-over-compensation idea that he is needed to keep the queen from assassins. He did once save her but the movie makes him obsessed late in life, exhausting himself, and finally dying in this cause (of pneumonia). There are vignettes of familiar 19th century political figures either in Parliament or around Victoria. Beautiful scenery in (apparently) Scotland. There is said to have been a diary kept by Brown and destroyed by Victoria’s courtiers.

Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, making music together (Master and Commander, a Peter Weir film): no Miramax but it seeks to make sense of its heroic and anti-heroic emotions (when I’ve finished watching the extensive features, I’ll blog on it)

Riding’s question is what is a film for? What can it do no longer medium can? Movies which offer just immediacy of entering a kind of consciousness” are a “shallow pleasure,” an “emotional waste.” Movies can offer “new kinds of emotions” not much acknowledged, “sensibilities” ordinary people do have but which movie makers are afraid to present.  She talks of how color should be used to express emotion, and also music (not just as backdrop to add emotions or moods the film-makers haven’t been able to whip up). This is done in all four films. What went wrong? In each case they bowed to conventional ideas of women, of hierarchy, of monarchy. Oddly, the one which was most successful in what it endeavoured to do was My Life So Far. It was felt that the privileged who identify also understood more: surely a prejudice.

I’ve bought myself a copy of Bates’s A Month by the Lake. I have the highest respect for Victoria and Albert since reading Gill Gillian’s We Two.

Kayla was not the only ‘net friend who meant to comfort and give me company at Christmas time by such a present.  She and I and Yvette had dinner together at the Jane Austen Summer Program do in North Carolina in June 2013 . A restaurant you had to know was there to find it; a gate before you got in.  Another friend, a scholarly woman, professor, who I’ve met at ECASECS and ASECS and has read books with me online (including Clarissa) sent a lovely card and Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

Miss Drake

A 15th century Norman church, Northamptonshire

Dear friends and readers,

This evening as Yvette and I were preparing supper, I came across Clark’s poem in the London Review of Books. I laughed and cried inwardly:

Buildings of England
— T. J. Clark

Time and again, however well we know the landscape of love,
and the little churchyard with lamenting names …
time and again we go out two together,
under the old trees …
        Rainer Maria Rilke

Not time and again, but – this being Ruby, my daughter aged six – just once.
One typical Norfolk afternoon, as I recall it,
In early summer, so that the oaks creaking in the hedgerows
Were still mostly black against the sky, and the wheat and barley grey-green.
It was mid-afternoon, after a long morning tacking from church to church.
I was on a Norfolk high,
Always convinced that inside the next protesting church door
Would be a piece of shattered fretwork to put even Trunch in the shade,
Or a Dance of Death more desperate than Sparham’s.

The three kids had put up with me as the hours went by.
Many a major prize had been offered, for the first to spot the wild man
Or the window with the star of Bethlehem or the pig
Doing something unmentionable on the misericord.
Ruby’s patience was wearing thin. Crisps and blackcurrant in The Victory
Were no longer enough to keep the demon boredom at bay.
And Ruby’s boredom was a force, a power of blackness, that all of us feared.

Where were we, exactly? I’m no longer sure.
Maybe we’d stopped to see the flint hulks of the old cathedral at North Elmham
Sullen in their field, Ministry signs rotting among the nettles,
And then headed west and south, into what even Pevsner calls
‘This strangely obscure and inaccessible area’ with St Mary’s Beeston at its         heart.
How was I supposed to resist the great man saying ‘Interior … impressive,
Wide and high, with its tiled floor and untreated oak very moving’?

Ruby, in her tea-lady blue pinafore, stamped half-heartedly on the tiles
And showed no sign of softening at the sight of untreated oak.
We filed out of the porch into the sun. The air was heavy in the churchyard, smelling of yew.
Across the road was a roll oflow hills, picture postcard inviting, fields with half-ripe barley,
And just over the ridge another church tower – a high square tower
With battlements and coats of arms like Erpingham’s or Wighton’s, maybe the west tower
Of Weasenham St Peter’s, ‘unbuttressed’, says Pevsner, ‘Early English …
Note the remarkably ornate north side (Perp), with flushwork decoration.’

It was just over the hill, goddamn it!
        Major prize for the first …
Ruby stood in the road, hands on hips. She turned towards us. She knew what was brewing
And delivered her ultimatum, booming from the bottom of her six-year-old lungs:
‘If! see another bloody church today, I shall throw up!’

It was not unlike the time three years earlier, when, trying as usual
To cram too much of a (botched) dream of fatherhood into
The available space, I had read the kids the opening of David Copperfield – the terrible
            Murdstone chapters –
And Ruby had exited after a page or so, going along the landing to say to her stepmother,
White-faced but calm, frightened, considerate, as if taking pity on my mistake,
‘I think I am too young to hear this.’


Jane Eyre, 200 (scripted Sandy Welch, Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre, grown up, Miss Wilson-like comforting another child at the boarding school)

I remembered reading aloud to Caroline Jane Eyre, the opening. Where she sits in that enclosure behind the curtain reading Bewick’s Birds and is dragged out, hit, humiliated, scolded for standing up for herself, emotionally traumatized by the red room.  I had tried Heidi but it seemed too naive for Caroline even at age 10.  She looked at me and asked me why I liked these stories of people made so miserable. For the first time I wondered why.

Then there was the time Jim and I had taken Caroline and Yvette to Italy, our very first long trip. We made so many goofs. We ended up staying in a hotel at one point that was probably part brothel. The girls got a great kick out of the ancient elevator with its gate. Well when we finally got to the apartment we rented in Rome for a month, we began our touring. One day Jim had discovered where precisely the fortress at Marino (connected to Vittoria Colonna) had been located. We all four took a train to see it. We’d had a long wait at the train station; a hot walk up a hill and there we saw two oddly shaped hunks of cement. They were labelled as where a Marino fortress had once stood. Caroline was 15. She looked at us, and looked at the slab. “That’s it?” “Yes,” one of us replied. She was silent — at 15 her face seemed to say everything we should have thought about. I wish I could remember Yvette’s response but do not.

We had before this taken them to an opera at a place in Rome where we sat amid huge stones (rather like Stonehenge which she had heard of but not yet been taken to — that was some 10 years later). It had been a long opera. Italian people were not keen to return after the intermission.  It went on past midnight.  A beautiful evening.  

We had also already gone to Pompeii where there was nothing to see in the caves and it was intensely hot.  At Ischia we hoped to see a fortress close up, even enter it, in the event we realized we needed letters of introduction — so we spent the three days at a beach swimming and evenings walking and on terraces. There Yvette (9) had made friends. She learned to say (from me) pointing to herself, “Me chiamo Isabella,” which seemed to go over very well. And soon was building castles in the sand with the same other children each day.  This time I do not remember Caroline’s response, but the point is sometimes it was a cement slab, sometimes a strange setting for some opera that went on endlessly, and sometimes a beach.

15th century Italian fortress, still standing on an island off the Italian coast

Ten years later in England when we had spent two weeks in London with a friend and then headed out for Somerset.  We had discussed where to go. Jim had been tempted by some medieval place where we would have a barrow to carry our stuff to a cottage of some sort. Caroline (now age 24) had been consulted but looked most unimpressed. Indeed incredulous. “You are not serious?” So we decided to stay at a fifteenth century hall with renovated kitchen, and the Landmark Trust people provided walks for us to go on. There were churches for us to see. You are to remember at least three of us confirmed atheists. I am no longer so sure of Yvette.

We had driven to places excavated as Camelot, to Stonehenge, Avebury, Stanhope, spent a day at Longleate, seen the elephants, the cruise boat, had a picnic.  Yvette was 18 by then. So each time they waited patiently for the pub we’d eventually get to — the chips (or french fries), plates of hearty food. They even liked the neolithic stones and were willing to listen to the stories about them. We did have a Pevsner with us.


Dear friends and readers,

How’s about a little bit of art criticism, poetry and music to start your day:

I put the picture below on facebook under the “rubric:” a touching scene:

Attributed to Thomas Bliss, from the New Yorker,

and the following chat ensued:

Diane K: “Really, and utterly un-ironic. I tore to the title page to see what bit of sarcasm I was missing, and lo and behold, it is what it is.” Arthur L: “A canine Romeo and Juliet?” Diane Loiselle L: “Yes.” Me: “We are too discouraged from the feelings of the heart — we need not ironize everything” [two people “liked” that]. Diana B: “(Scratches head) Maybe I’m too literal minded or something, but are you saying there’s a second dog in this picture? I don’t see ‘Romeo,’ only ‘Juliet.’ Unless it’s supposed to mean that the dog is looking wistful because he’s trapped in a zillion-dollar piece of real estate? Somebody explain, please!” Me: “There are two dogs. A white one is standing on a lower balcony on lower hind legs looking up, with paws on the top of the grating. A brown one whose head can be seen through the grating and is under a small bush of some sort is looking down. I like the like the adjective wistful. I agree we need not see it as Romeo-and-Juliet romance and we do see two dogs trapped in zillion dollar apartments. The one below has fur that looks well cared for; the top one has ears that look brushed. I saw them as longing for closer companionship, to play with one another. If I were their owners I would not pemit them to come onto those balconies lest they fall. But I am becoming too realistic. It’s a fetching emblem. The New Yorker often turns what are pictures of wealth into picturesqueness …”

which morphed into a dialogue:

Diana B: “Oh, thank you Ellen. I couldn’t see all that on my screen – still can’t – so no wonder I was puzzled! I only see the top dog, which limits my perspective!” Me: “A sign of the control (from over-the-top sentimentalism) is that the lower dog is not wagging a tail and we can’t tell which dog is which sex. Yet they stand there so stilly …. (I just invented that adjective). New Yorker cartoons and drawings are often very clever … [a few minutes later] There is a hint of a cat on the next red brick building, next to the air conditioner on the ledge. One hopes not — yet there is the hint of a swishing tail or maybe paw just over the ledge. Now I notice the air-conditioner — I know that apartments in NYC can cost “the earth” and yet have very old fashioned technology. Only central air keeps you cool in summer.”  [So the picture is about NYC too.] Diana: “I can’t see any of those things as the picture is so badly reproduced here. I’ll take your word for them. Ellen, you might like to listen to the wonderful old song, “Oft in the stilly night.” Must try to find a good version for you. ‘Oft in the stilly night, ere slumber’s chains have bound me, Fond mem’ry brings the light, Of other days around me.’ Is it Burns? Or Scott? You’d like it… ” Me: I know and do like it and have it (in effect) in my copy of the 1972 Emma: the actress playing Jane Fairfax plays it in front of the others in the first scene where she plays the piano. The film adaptations bring home how often she does play for different ones film different moments in the novel where Jane plays the piano and others listen. It’s neither Burns or Scott but someone else (more minor). Diana: “Thomas Moore! Not so minor, lovely old Irish song. I’m so glad you know the melody, Ellen.” Me: “Ah yes. In the text itself (Emma), there’s an allusion to an old Irish ballad. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we “know” that Austen had Irish songs in a songbook — and would play them in the early morning.”

By which time ten people (all friends I know, most have met face-to-face) had “liked” the thread.

Only the music and tone of “Oft in the stilly Night” calls for evening, a dark twilight.

Click to hear bagpipes:

Oft in the stilly night
Ere slumbers chain has bound me,
Fond memry brings the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears of boyhoods years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimmd and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night
Ere slumbers chain has bound me,
Sad memry brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so linkd together,
I’ve seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose grlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night
Ere slumbers chain has bound me,
Sad memry brings the light
Of other days around me.

Ania Martin as Jane (Constantduros’ Emma, BBC 1972): here the music is Schubert’s overture to a ballet, Rosamond, later in the film adaptation she plays twice more, and once it is “Stilly night …”

John Carson as Mr Knightley appreciates it, Doran Goodwin as Emma glum, left out, with Constance chapman as Miss Bates smiling gamely but not understanding at all.

All very suggestive of Jane Austen’s inner world, not quite blocked off from us.


On Yvette’s journey by Metro to the 2015 Japanese Stone Lantern Lighting Ceremony, she snapped this photo with her cell phone at the Reagan National Airport stop

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve counted four daffodils and three crocuses. They have come up out of the ground from the small plots I made that first year Jim was retired. I take no responsibility for their persistence. Since we had such a astonishingly cold February into March, in reality the flowering trees were rare today.

A photo Yvette took at the above Lighting Ceremony — the birds were there and that’s an early spring sky

In our neighborhood (called Clover) the only ones flowered were the very young; the tulip tree that hangs over my window has flowered on part of one side, and it looks like 3/4s will not make it. We had high winds yesterday and a couple of days of rain. Yvette said the ceremony was lovely; there was a good speech by a Japanese clergyman (I’ll call him), and music.


Jim and I used to observe Easter-time, spring, an equinox by going, most of the time with Yvette, to point-to-point races about an hour or more drive away into middle Virginia. It’s breeding time for the foxes so the elite hunting clubs host races, and the hoi polloi (like our small family) were invited to come too, and there would be bookies and tents of items to buy (I bought a big hat a couple of times), food. Sometimes the day would coincide with Easter or Passover, but not always. I’d come home exhausted from a long day’s outing. I remember Caroline came once and she bet with Jim (I’m not much on betting, my US working class background prohibits any enjoyment of this), but most years he’d bet alone with me looking on and sometimes chosing “our horse,” so we would have a horse & jockey we were “rooting” for and watch. We’d take his father’s indestructible binoculars, which his mother gave us after his father died of cancer. I remember the NYC festivals we’d join in on too.

How do identities form? A lecture I went to on Friday night, the Washington Area Print Group’s monthly meeting at the Library of Congress prompts me to see this previous existence of mine and Yvette’s trip to DC to join in a local public ceremony as a matter of having an identity one can see oneself in. Vanessa Harding, a professor of history at Birbeck College, University of London, is spending a couple of months at the Folger Shakespeare library researching a learned 17th century book collector, and chronicler, Richard Smythe (1590-1670). Her research is into early modern London and published book is The Dead and Living in Paris and London (1500-16770) and she told us about the social and cultural world of this man as projected by his collection of books, his annotations in them, his unpublished papers (which he kept in the form of little booklets) and a published Obituary (list of all the people who died and how,from the famous and notorious to the children of his friends) during his life. Prof Harding is just now developing a project with the Historic Towns Trust to map London on the eve of the Great Fire of 1666. So you can see she is interested in the larger city Smythe lived in.

Stowe’s Survey of London, mapping

She held her audience’s interest all she was able to say of this obscure man (he never signed anything), and how his (in effect) scrapbooks carefully preserved contributed to a wider urban consciousness while that developing urban consciousness experienced in ceremonies (like the one Yvette attended and those she used to go to with Jim and I) sustained him. Prof Harding’s descriptions of these stitched together booklets, with their inserted pages, and portraits reminded me of descriptions of Renaissance women’s manuscripts to Jane Austen’s. He had a vast library for someone of this period (could she have said 2000? or was it 8000?), and was known by other book collectors, sellers, learned and scientific people (acknowledged in some central sources); he was a polemicist for the Church of England (Anglican, and this during the interregnum too), and used books like Stowe’s Survey of London (1720, a massive folio edition), Fuller’s church history. Smythe was writing London’s history, which had a diverse rapidly changing population during his long lifetime. His personal contribution is that of a bibliographer (he left lists of books), of a corrector of misinformation. He was a socially gregarious man who was able to spend his time with like-minded men. Off he would go to Little Britain to look at books (St Paul’s became a center for book selling later). She talked of her frustrations over what he does not tell: he never described his library (by contrast, Pepys tells us he had modular bookcases). She was able to tell us of his wife, Elizabeth, whom he was married to for 44 years, a widowed daughter who he lived with in his last years and inherited his library. his sister-in-law became important to him after his wife’s death; he mentions other women friends. She told of how there were more records of him in St Giles, Cripplegate, but they were destroyed in WW2.

As usual with me now I went with the group to dinner afterward, a nearby Thai place and the talk was good. Two people who are regulars are mounting an exhibition of Lewis Carroll books and memorabilia (we are talking 4700 items they own in their own library). The central field of research for one of the organizers of this group, Sabrina, is the early to mid-17th century and book history. The talk veered into university gossip and we talked of what is happening in Britain and the US to universities today, about online sites for research. I mentioned Future Learn and asked how much pressure there was for university academics and staff to participate in these online MOOCs, to get credit for being involved in communities. I probably drank too much or didn’t eat enough (pain in dentures prevents eating much), and going home alone I ended crying bitterly for Jim.

I was glad this morning that Easter has remained a religious holiday (and passover too) and is not made into insistently public group rejoicing. I thought I’d bring spring in by staying longer in bed, and began Rumer Godden’s “middle brow” “woman’s novel” (both no-nos), China Court, a deeply felt evocation thus far of a house through the memories of an old woman who has just died, and those of her close servant, Cecily. Set in Cornwall. Books like this provide peace.

Clarycat this past Wednesday, photo taken by Caroline who came over to download Episode 4 of the BBC 2015 Poldark

My schedule had kept me very busy all week. Friday morning I had been to the JCC for Dance Fusion and Core, I taught (and think it went very well) at the two OLLIS, AU and Mason, Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, and Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers, respectively. Monday was especially wearing as I went into DC twice, the second time to watch an HD screening of a truly interesting production of Love’s Labor’s Lost done in Stratford by the Royal Shakespeare Company (Christopher Luscombe’s production, featuring Richard Bennet as Berowne and Benedick, and Michelle Terry as Rosaline and Beatrice). I hope to go again tomorrow after teaching and see Love’s Labor’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing) which my experience of Future Learn has shown me will be powerful; I did not realize that it was paired with an unusual production of Love’s Labor’s lost; I mean to write a blog on this pairing by Tuesday (strength holding out). Would I be doing any of this if he were here? maybe not. He might have found the HD production of these two plays; that’s the sort of thing he looked out for. A friend who is semi-retired told me of how he and his wife go kayaking in Florida for a couple of weeks of February. We never had a chance to evolve a retired life together, different from the one we had endured and enjoyed as working people together.

Nonetheless, I found time late at night to watch all three 2 hour episodes of Ken Burn’s Cancer: the Empire of all Maladies, which appears to have been based on Pulitzer Prize winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee who appeared in the film as a explanatory narrator. It was not as bad as I feared it might be. I did cry for the first hour and had a hard time watching it now and again, but although (as these shows did) it focused on the few people who lived because of these horrific treatments, and its outline was that of a story of progress, it told a tale of dysfunctional knowledge. Yes human beings have gone from knowing nothing and being able to do nothing about any cancer, to knowing a lot of details about specific manifestations (kinds of cancer) and having unpredictable ever-more narrowly targeted treatments where some people can be saved. Hard economic topics were avoided — like the use of devastating surgeries. And no individual groups were blamed. It was generally that prices are well beyond the means of many; that pollution is playing a major role. But at the close of the first two hours it was insisted that we do not know fundamentally what makes a cell turn cancerous. I learned what the mass mainstream media says about cancer. Meanwhile I read stories daily about people dying: a friend’s 10 year old niece died after she was first diagnosed at age 6. Unfortunate lovely child. Her photo appeared and story was told in a local Italian newspaper. Oliver Sacks tells of his embolization of his liver cancer (he is dying, NYRB April 23, 2015 issue); I read the increasingly poignant story told by Jenny Diski as she faces death from lung cancer. She has kept up a stages diary (LRB, 9 April 2015): how do you go about imagining your death? can you?

Jenny Diski a couple of years ago

After watching this determinedly upbeat presentation where all was done contradicted what Atul Gawande had said of not giving people false hope which drives them to make their last months miserable through torturous procedures (and Marcia Angell’s review of Being Mortal), but to tell them their prognosis so they can decide what they want to do with their last months, I wondered to myself after all, can people enjoy their last four months if they are told they are going to die? Look at Diski. She can’t forget it. Look at how Sacks is putting himself through such a horror of pain, himself a doctor. I wondered to myself if Jim had not been given false hope, would he have had the strength to enjoy a trip away or would he have ever wondered if he had tried, he would have had more life? he was extraordinarily patient in that last two weeks, brave, silent mostly, kind to me. What were his thoughts? I fear that he went for the surgery because he had decided he would not have been able to enjoy a trip away — probably though it was the false hope of five more years. Yvette at breakfast told me of a classic Japanese film, Ikiru, where a man is told he has only a few months to live and tries to do what he enjoys to experience a last happiness. He cannot. Daily life with others and his own dread will not permit this. What can he do with his last time alive. He conceives of a plan to make a meaningful contribution — to build a playground. What troubles and vexations he goes through to achieve this. The film seems to end with the playground built and him sitting on one of the swings and in flashbacks remembering back. The wikipedia article makes these last memories into something more peaceful than they are; but they do compensate. They kept him busy with a hope of some form of useful immortality. Yvette and I talked of our desire to have what we write on Net saved. I know many people talk of carrying on in their children and make do with that. I’ve put Ikiru on my Netflix queue as next.

I’ve made a proposal to teach Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones next fall at the OLLI at AU. I realize I cannot do a second new course again and also a paper on Trollope for the Belgium conference and teach Framley Parsonage in summer. So I will offer to do the two Poldark novels at Mason in the fall. If that won’t do, sobeit. The next spring I’d love to work up a course on Gaskell’s North and South but it must wait. I am doing these courses for my own enjoyment of study and learning too.

I keep getting thinner. Eating a problem. Gum ache and a dull hard pain: either one of my eyeteeth has now gone bad, or my jaw is sore from my denture and I can’t bite down. Now there’s not only, Can I bring myself to eat it? There’s, Am I successful at eating it? I have to wait until Friday to see the dentist. My clothes drop off me; my trousers grow longer, past my shoes. Bad moments: Thursday morning 3 viruses invaded my computer; within 2 minutes of my contacting him, my hero, my IT guy, Jonathan, had come into my computer by remote control and “quarantined them,” uninstalled Yahoo (the portal was the culprit) and after 3 hours of scrutiny, declared the computer fine, reinstalled Yahoo and I could be at peace again.

Ross (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) — at beginning of long sequence just after they marry

At close after pilchard episode, death of Charles, Christmas

I had one insight important to me this week in teaching the Poldark books and watching the fourth episode of the new (2015) Poldark: films can bring out graphically what is deeply appealing in a novel without discussing this explicitly: I have wondered why I love these books so. Well I saw in the fourth episode that what I love so is the relationship between Demelza and Ross Poldark: I identify utterly with her and find him intensely appealing through her eyes. Horsfield at long last was closely faithful to several long episodes at the close of Ross Poldark, allowing for the long scenes at the pilchard harvest, the visit of Verity and friendship with Demelza, the finding of copper, and finally at Christmas where the couple find themselves pulling apart as his upper class heritage closes in on them and then somehow manage to overcome this: they achieve communion of spirits walking home in the landscape as Verity, his close beloved cousin, has walked by his side with him. Far from this ancient imposing house, with its pictures, that hard social world, and in the night, the “old peculiar silence” ceases to make a barrier and “becomes a medium.” Their different pasts and personalities “could not just then break their companionship for long. Time had overawed them. Now it became their friend.” That’s how it was for us.

I also watched the first episode of Wolf Hall, the film adaptation mini-series from Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction. Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell the best new actor (to me) I’ve seen in a long time. He seemed to transcend the drama of wolves he is caught up in. Heidi Thomas has made Rylance as Cromwell a quiet watcher, a POV, and Rylance in conveying how amoral, lying, snobbish to the nth degree, and awful everyone is to one another as some of them try to protect themselves (Cromwell’s father or brother by contrast savagely beats a boy servant or his son), conveys how strange costume drama itself is. He makes you feel how bizarre it is to watch these people in their extravagant outfits. His calm reasoning presence, and his stance in his outfit, unostentatious (yet rich and becoming — blacks and greys mostly), brought home how strange these costume dramas really are: a ritual version of our humanity.

He is the only sane spirit about — looking on

Hilary Mantel has re-seen most of the familiar characters: More (Anton Lesser, a great reader for books on CDs) is not the noble martyr, but a narrow minded dangerous man; Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) sly and manipulative; Wolseley (Jonathan Pryce) is not a seething bully but a individual without the power to do what others want, and above all the striking change, is Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless politician, is now an ordinary decent man, lower class, quietly, intelligently, patiently trying to make his way. Making Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss) important is historically accurate. How Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, must’ve grated on Mantel. Henry VIII remains the same complicated enigmatic figure — in reality a fearful tyrant and more than half-mad by the end. Damien Lewis plays the role; he is as big a star as Bernard Cumberbatch. He’s not an heart-throb but is as ubiquitous in big parts. Joanne Whallay a dignified pathetic Katherine of Aragon. During the course of the first hour, Cromwell’s wife (the actress playing his wife was familiar to me, Natasha Little, once Becky Sharp, and very touching) and children (beloved by him) all die suddenly of the sweating (or sleeping) sickness as it was called. They did, and there was such a fatal illness which killed for a decade or so and then vanished.

I fill my life at home with such presences.


A cat sniffing early spring (ignore words to the lower right)

Dear friends and readers,

Early mornings before I get out of bed are the saddest time of the day for me. I no longer bound out of bed; it takes time to come out of my slightly groggy sleep, and at this time of year I am waiting for the sky to become light. I have my cats curled up round my body, but my thoughts come from intense missing of Jim. Often though, once I get up, put on NPR (for music), kettle to boil water for breakfast and tea, and then my computer, I am cheered. Why? because often I have letters from friends, postings from the listservs I’m on that are of interest to me, responses to any blogs I’ve written. Yesterday on the Trollope region of my facebook page I found this:



My spirits lifted a bit, I go off to my kitchen and make breakfast. Some of the periodical I get have articles that mean something to me, are satisfying in some ways: these include my mostly paper subscriptions, copies of issues on the living room coffee table. Poems.

Again the trees remembered
to make leaves.
In the forest of their recollection
many birds returned
They sang, they sang
because they forgave themselves
the winter, and all that remained
still bitter.
Yet it was early spring,
when the days were touch and go,
and a late snow could nip a shoot,
or freeze a fledgling in its nest.
And where would we be then?
But that’s not the point.
Do you think the magpie doesn’t know
that its chicks are at risk,
or the peach trees, their too-frail blossoms,
the new-awakened bees, all that is
incipient within us?
We know, but we can’t help ourselves
any more than they can,
any more than the earth can
stop hurtling through the night
of its own absence.
Must be something in the sap,
the blood, a force like gravity,
a trick called memory.
You name it. Or leave it nameless
that’s better—
how something returns
and keeps on returning
through a gap,
through a dimensional gate,
through a tear in the veil.
And there it is again.
Another spring.
To woo loss into song
— Richard Schiffmann, “Late March”

Today in the Times literary Supplement (March 20, 2015 issue, pp. 7-8) I read a review article by David Winters of Deirdre Lynch’s Loving Literature. Wonderful argument: that literary criticism as a discipline and way of writing first emerged in the 18th century because it was an age of “sensibility,” because literary criticism far from arid at the time, and even if written in technical jargon (by some very foolishly) now, is “emotion is deeply embedded.” Lynch suggests modern literary criticism was invented in the 18th century, and emerged from a process of personalization. Writings were seen as coming from authors and the contexts of their personal lives. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets (I’d add his “Preface to Shakespeare”) and Thomas Warton’s History of English Poetry (Scott carried this on for the romantics) defined a way of framing a canon bound up with a writer’s and a culture’s identity. So reading becomes a social relation in which we “sustain the company of other people” and are subject to “emotional obligations.” Says Winter love is often not a healthy emotion, it can be edgy, confusing, possessive. I recall here that Lynch edited the remarkable volume of Austen writings called Janeites (the term includes the scholars) which has some invaluable articles (one on Virago Jane, those few authors published by Virago who do follow closely in Austen’s footsteps). Book love can be dysfunctional too.

So one can enter cyberspace and use it wisely and unwisely. Lynch shows how in the 18th century books were openly (we see this in letters and diaries) “woven into the fabric of family life,” part of routines, inforcing the “domestic schedule,” ways of keeping time. TV used to do that for many; now that TV is individually curated and many do not watch it on TV sets (I watch most of my TV, films and news included, on my PC computer), we have to turn back to the sun’s phases through the sky and nightfall. The seasons.

A medieval book of hours with a grumpy cat whose playing of a rebec has been interrupted.

On NPR just now some lovely lute music, whence the above picture which my Net-friend Sixtine put on facebook the other day. Today I teach Graham’s Demelza and talk about 18th century medicine at the OLLI at AU. I am beginning to understand what’s wanted in these retirement semi-college reading groups; it’s a lot of work but its aim is not quite what I was doing. Now I am doing it. The first lecture is an introduction, but then we go carefully over the book each week and I bring in topics. Of course they have to like the book: the people at OLLI at Mason did not like the gothic, at least not by women and modern books.  You cannot go too far outside their expectations, so Trollope is Barsetshire and the Palliser or Parliamentary novels. The difficulty will be that I must like the book too, and I am not mainstream exactly. But both classes are thus far going well; I am enjoying them and the reading. And that’s what I wanted: to share my learning and be with others and have some enjoyable as well as get out of my house and be with fairly intelligent people. Teaching never did come naturally to me; it was something I learned to do well, now I have to take this persona in a slightly new direction.

Tonight I go to the Folger Shakespeare library for an HD broadcast (I am curious to find out where the new screen is) of the Royal Shakespeare production of Love’s Labor’s Lost; next week I go to their Much Ado About Nothing, which I learned about and saw bits of in a recent 4 week Future Learn, from which a few notes:

Among its strengths is how it concentrates on particular productions. So what they talk about is concrete. The theme is that the play is dark — even if it’s Love’s Labor’s Won, and how it’s acted/filmed/directed/set. It’s often been set in different places and ages. It’s been fine course the way discussion, clips, photos and linked in lectures have been combined, with background photos of setting, videos moving in and out of stages. That made what was said imaginable and of course visualized and heard. The actors were extraordinary and we saw them rehearsing bits over and over in different ways as well as a final “product.”

4 weeks

The first: four darker productions – Trevor Nunn’s 1968 production, John Barton’s 1976 production Di Teven’s 1988 production and Gregory Doran’ s2002 with Harriet Walter as Beatrice; 1976 Judi Dench as Beatrice

Second week: Shakespeare Re-told, 2005, Brian Percival the director, David Nicholls, the screenplay writer a movie changing the words, with Billie Piper as Beatrice, Damien Lewish as Benedict, Martin Jarvis as Leonard

Third: Current production Christophers Luscombe as director, takes place in Warwickshire, chose Charlecote Park near Stratford, a Renaissance building, much renovated inside so it could be an Edwardian era just after WW1. It became a movie 2015 – made real rooms afterward; it’s just a play filme.d

The fourth week was a fulfillment of all that had gone before. One week on the darker productions stressing an interpretation of the play that made it deep and serious; then Shakespeare Re-told how modern language and attitudes re-filter the play and bring out its living universality; then a distanced and wholistic study of the current production from the perspective of place, staging, era, as a movie. Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett discussed their characters from the point of view of how to prepare to act it and what you did while you acted. She was better at this than him; opened up her heart and showed her conception of the character was consistent and gave remarkable depths; then they discussed the crucial scene at the chapel after Claudio tries to destroy Hero at the church; then we watched them act it on a YouTube.

A few of my comments across the weeks:

I’ve not made any comment on this before but as this is the last week I am bothered by this re-naming of Shakespeare’s play. Heminges and Condell knew what its name was. it’s a theory or speculation that this is the play in a list called Love’s Labor’s Won.

This focusing in on the two principle in-depth characters, a crucial scene and letting the actors tell us how they felt they did it, and watch them fulfilled the “plot” of the course beautifully.
was absolutely torn with intense emotions of all sorts because of the surging emotions from the actors; their body language, just everything. The only false note was that melodramatic music at the end and the fat overdone shot. She could collapse to the ground and then silence.

Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand is a strking line and on the surface is contradicted by what we’ve seen before. Benedict has not been loving; Beatrice has been prudently wryly self-controlled. It’s a deep buried perception. Many thanks to Michelle Terry for opening herself to give us that explication. Brilliant and moving. No wonder she played the part greatly. I found this commentary insightful too. Yes was Beatrice confident her friend Hero would be treated well?

Again this is really excellent — I’m not sure it’s important whether this is a hinge-point scene; what’s important is how the actors articulate the trajectories of emotions they are interacting and sharing

The best way to “do” this course was all four in a row, immersion. I saw the weeks too far apart. The disappointment was most of these productions are unavailable even if tapes were made at the time;I did suspect at least the 2002 and this 2015 are recorded. Only the non-Shakespeare text available as an expensive DVD. And now I see I was accurate: the Folger has gotten hold of this last production and Love’s Labour’s Lost. I will now keep an eye out for DVDs of those productions discussed.

Michelle Terry as Beatrice in the production I hope to see tonight (found on the RSC website)

None of this brings Jim back; none of it makes me forget him even for an hour; but these are the sorts of things I used to do when he was here. I rather think he would have liked the OLLI at Mason for its bridge club. I grieve to think I never thought of looking for such programs; he loved bridge and tried to find a local group but the Alexandria Y wouldn’t do. At once not select and not finding enough people who would want to and be good at it, and know each week they could return. He might have gone to the weekly lectures at the OLLI at AU — many are liberal-left political, on all sorts of subjects, including film and theater. How I yearn over how we did not have enough time to begin to build a new retired life together; eventually we would have branched out from the activities we had while I was teaching for money so regularly (with papers, exams and the rest of it). He would have been coming with me tonight.

Miss Drake


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