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I have learnt since Jim died, always knew, I would be very lonely were I to have to live alone. Not only do I have Izzy with me but during the day I maintain contact with lots of people on the Net — through the listservs I moderate, on the FB pages I join in on, even twitter I have a few acquaintances now. Then there are nowadays these zooms. People respond to my blogs; sometimes even now to my website. So I’m rarely w/o company.  Hardly ever, if you include Clarycat, ever by my side.

Dear friends and readers,

A sort of milestone. If 3/4s of a century is not a milestone, where are milestones to be found.? I am amazed I’ve reached this age, but here I am. Above you see the silly present I bought for myself. This must be my third doll of this type:  Colin, my penguin; a doll I bought at the Native American museum who I was also charmed by; and a silver Christmas squirrel.

Saturday, November 27th, I bought sweet Rudolph while wandering around the local CVS pharmacy waiting for Izzy to get her third booster: process includes presenting an identity card, her vaccination card, 5 minute wait, and then the vaccination jab, then fifteen minutes more. We decided not to wait until Kaiser called her (they had said soon, but no appts offered) when we read of Omicron Covid. The name is ominous. While there, I counted 7 people arriving, waiting for, getting jabs, waiting 15 minutes again. There was one who had just left. As we left, I saw another person coming up. A steady stream for this pharmacist.

November the 29th was a cold and short day, but pretty. I managed to be happy a good deal of the day — it was a kind of work but I did it. Many wishes for a happy birthday to me on FB and a few on twitter. some with real warmth. I put on FB this poem by Johnson to Mrs Thrale which Jim once wrote out to me:

Oft in danger yet still alive
We are come to seventy-five!

Remembering when Jim copied out Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale ….

Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at seventy-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from seventy-five …

Mrs Thrale had been pregnant by that time 10 times. By age 40 I had had three hemorrhages, two as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. In the evening Laura came and drove us to Il Porto Ristorante. Laura is now mature and she showed us a good evening. We had good talk, my central dish lobster in creamy sauce with pasta (I didn’t eat enough of it), and then a walk by the Potomac. Since I can no longer drive, I go out at night very rarely. Thus it was a treat. I remembered the last time I had been in Old Towne late at night: one summer night with Vivian where I had had to park the car in a difficult space. Vivian is gone now. Here is Izzy’s photo that morning.


Getting ready for work — she is looking more like a traditional librarian every day.

In the mid-afternoon I attended the Barchester Cathedral Trollope Society zoom: John Christopher Briscoe has imagined a history of Barchester Cathedral from Anglo-Saxon era through the Roman into the English gothic and then 19th century. He’s an architect and historian, used picturesque drawings of cathedrals (with cats) from the Anglo-Saxon to the 19th century eras. The charm is also Mr Briscoe is a fan of Trollope’s and has done this out of love for the books.


An original illustration of M.R. James’s story, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”


Clive Swift playing the central role of curate

Afterwards much talk of (among other things) other writers who have written up cathedrals. I mentioned Joanna Trollope as someone who might have — under another pseudonym, Caroline Harvey, she has written stories that are take-offs from Trollope — she uses Trollope characters’ names. They are sort of sequels — sequels come in many varieties; she updates, but then also uses the clerical milieu for similar sorts of psychological-social stories and uses names of Trollope’s characters transposed — there’s a Mr Harding and an Eleanor &c&c. One person said there is a cathedral in her The Choir and it’s based on several cathedrals in England (especially Rochester); that’s written under her own name of Joanna Trollope, and is an original fiction.

I also remembered that M.R. James, a writer of uncanny unnerving ghost stories — truly finely written, subtle – has one set in a Barchester Cathedral — “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” it’s called; it was adapted by the BBC for an hour’s film and starred Clive Swift who played Mr Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles. Some of M.R. James’s books are beautifully produced — lovely paper, illustrations, introductions, the lot. Jim enjoyed them mightily and bought the beautiful books. He read aloud a couple of the stories to me.

I have Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and will read it next: there is an audiobook still available on CDs, & there was a film adaptation. I started it last night Very readable in her usual way. You can recognize her too. Hers are stories that deal with the social-psychological traumas of the 20th century, which are also political issues too, using the troubles and contradictions of middle class family life in milieus that recall Anthony Trollope’s.

Trollope’s Orley Farm is the next “big read” for the zoom group; it will start mid-January, and I did volunteer to do a talk on Millais’s illustrations — I wrote about the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels in my book, the chapter I’m most proud of, which was praised by Mark Turner (a respected Trollope scholar). Dominic Edwards promised he’s do the necessary for the share screens.

As I described above, evening Laura came and we went out and we did have a good time. She is now grown up at last. She is leading a happy life for her, but she knows she is not developing her talent for real. She says there will be no great book — and no children. So she lives with her choices. She has a full social life with Rob. She tells me some of their friends have died and it is NOT unusual in the US for adults to die in their 40s or 50s — overwork, despair, sickness not treated or badly treated. The US a cruel society to its ordinary people — unqualified uncontrolled capitalism (now in danger of creeping into dictatorship of a religious-based fascism).

Another reminder of Jim that day: Stephen Sondheim died. How Jim loved the music, the lyrics, the books, the full-blown musicals. We went to so many; one summer the Kennedy Center became a temple to Sondheim, and the last night there was spontaneous singing groups around the building. For two Christmases in a row I bought Jim Sondheim’s memoir as edition of his musical scripts, photos, writing all about them. Here’s the blog I wrote about 2 months after Jim died: I begin with Into the Woods.

And then a clever parody:

This is unfair but funny. It is true this is the kind of Sondheim song that gets to be very popular and that people try to belt out or listen to Elaine Stritch belt out (or Bernadette Peters croon), but he is far more varied than that. Still Alan Chapman has caught something; on Sunday Lin Manuel Miranda led a group of singers and actors from Broadway to have a songfest on Times Square.

The Chapman seems to me hostile. “On an Ordinary Sunday” made me choke up because it is about what a New Yorker walking in Central Park might see on an ordinary Sunday. I remember the first time Jim, I & the girls saw the musical — at the Arena, the astonishment at the picture, and the beauty, harmony and hope of it all … the poignancy of not appreciating the little joy we have in life.

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Not done yet. Yesterday I had another rare treat: went out with a friend to lunch, to a restaurant of the day time type which caters to “ladies who lunch,” and the food was a wonderful half sandwich and cream of tomato basil soup. Afterwards we went to see Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. I admit I wanted to see my heroine-actress Caitriona Balfe, and knew Ciarhan Hinds might steal the show. He did, but Judi Dench was given the central moments for her speeches. My review:

Alas, it is not a great film — Branagh just never seems to reach that point of direction, conceptions, work a writer  where the film transcends. And it is also over-produced in the way of most movies that turn up in movie-theaters. The movie must jump out at you viscerally; the audience must feel there’s nothing too subtle for you here, not to worry. It’s being over-rated but it does have power.

The problem is what’s interesting; Branagh pretends to be doing a 1950s movie in part. It’s not only in black-and-white, but done on built sets. This reminds me of Hitchcock, but it’s not to have total control — it’s to convey something about the 1950s. I’m not sure it convinces because of the modern over-producing — despite heroic efforts to make a period film, to recreate  the 1950s visually, by sets. The acting by Balfe, Hinds and Dench (she is given less but what she is given is central) terrific — I almost didn’t recognize Balfe as her voice is so different from Outlander. Maybe she over-does the working class Irish accent.


Caitriona Balfe as Branagh’s mother and Jamie Dornan as his father — enjoying dancing on an old-fashioned rock ‘n roll dance floor

Critics have said it’s too distanced but I am not sure they said why or how. One example, throughout the movie we see famous 1950s kinds of movie (maybe 40s) on the TV set. Several against violence but I suspect they are Branagh’s favorites. He is there as a little boy and we see how smart he is (there are literary allusions) but the how much movies meant to him is kept detached from him. The movies are just part of what is watched. Well at one high point of violence, we hear strains of High Noon (which we’ve already glimpsed on TV); this breaks the suspension of belief, and I think destroys the scene which is not over-the-top in emotion. We needed to be left in the scene to made to care.

It is also somehow upbeat with the opening in color of modern Belfast and the closing. And the fable itself which has the most purchase on our emotions through Balfe’s irrational attachment to Belfast – she should want to get out. The theme is a contrast between those who leave (and all they gain, including the child Branagh who grows up to be an actor, director, movie-producer) and those who stay (the grandparents who must).  Branagh’s father, the husband of the film has a job in London and he’s been offered help to transfer. Only because he is in danger of his life if he doesn’t join the Ulsters and his sons too does his mother agree to go. All her roots are in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I remembered how I hated coming to Virginia and understood why even if NYC at the time was a terrible existence for us I found myself so isolated alone an outsider here, and still am.

But then cannot have a downer or it won’t sell. So we return to the tourist and rich part of Belfast at the end and Dench’s stoic endurance as she stays,  now a widow. The film is dedicated to those who left, those who stayed and those whose lives were suffering and ruin. A charitable way to see this is Branagh thanking his parents.

It has an archetype:  Cinema Paradiso, where a similarly appealing boy-child finds comfort and meaning in movies and grows up to make it big in the industry ….  Will we never stop focusing on the troubled background of white successful males … ?

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I have been reading away, wonderful deep fulfilling books by Iris Origo, Christa Wolf, and on them: my winter course will be a continuation of last spring: 20th century women’s political writing. Both trace the rise of fascism, and the thwarting of women, the limited roles allowed them – much more. Latest iteration:

Retelling Traditional History from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking coping with war as experienced by civilians as the chatelaine of a large Tuscan estate. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing. I will also recommend people see an acclaimed film about the GDR’s Stasi, The Lives of Others (available on Amazon prime): the heroine’s story is partly based on the life of Christa Wolf.

The heroine of Quest for Christa T is Christa Wolf, and also the Lila of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which I have at long last finished reading, but by no means finished writing about or reading her (next The Lying Life of Adults). Ferrante’s rage ignored by the muddled critical Ferrante Letters. Of course it’s all by a woman. Deep alikeness and despair extends to Hannah Arendt, Bachmann’s Malina, Anna Segher’s The Seventh Cross. Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44 the male equivalent of War in Val D’Orcia.

Alas, omnicron-covid is making the spring look more problematic at OLLI at Mason, where I have been surprised to discover the people are not eager to get back in person, so I said if my spring Anglo-Indian novels gets less than 10 registering in person, I’ll switch to wholly online, and learn about hybrids by attending one in the spring. It looks like at OLLI at AU, doing it in person is what’s wanted. The two places differ: unlike OLLI at AU, OLLI at Mason cannot get academics enough to truly teach a literature course for 8 weeks. My zoom chat tonight with kindly Aspergers friends we all talked of the uncertainties to come, worries about omicron …

How did I get here? I never expected to but I do understand more now.  I am 75.

Ellen

Transitions


The new DC Trollope group, Sunday around 1 pm, Rockcreek Park –that’s me in the blue knitted hat

I am a person who reads books with a pen in my hand

Dear friends and readers,

However slowly, transitioning is happening: I’ve noticed a number of events that would have been online last year at this time are either in person or not occurring, sometimes with the reassurance that come spring we will do it, meet, in person, or without but implied understanding that things are not so desperate or frightening as they were last year so we don’t need the zoom support we gave one another last year. I am sorry for this, though I find myself also skipping zoom meetings, lectures as I once would not have done. I also have chosen not to teach online but in person in the spring 2022 my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, Aftermath, & Diaspora.

I am very sorry to lose the couple of people in each of my classes this time who stayed the course until the end and were coming in from way outside MDV (like NYC, somewhere in Florida [poor woman], Philly), and have vowed to myself to try to take a hybrid and watch how it’s done to see if I could dare do it by the fall (2022), but intensely relieved not to have to put up with people in the class as black boxes with their names in white letters or a frozen photo at the center of said box. Relieved not to be so dependent on the computer, the technology, the electricity working. I believe I come across better in person, we are all truly in contact with one another that way.

It’s been suggested to me in the spring after this one I “do” Jewish-Italian writing: out of Italy I could do that very well, say one six week OLLI at Mason session: I took a wonderful course in just this area at OLLI at AU (online) and from my own years of teaching myself to read Italian and then translating Italian poetry, I know I’ve read a good deal of such books. Elsa Morante was half-Jewish, I’ve loved Primo and Carlo Levi’s books, for a start. It would get me reading Giorgio Bassani’s The Heron at long last (he’s the one who wrote The Garden of the Finzi-Continis).  There’s Grazia Deledda’s novels which I’ve never read  I own one Englished (I admit she was not Jewish). Note what I look forward to most is reading the books.


Izzy went for a walk along the Tidal Basin in the DC park on November 11th and took this photo

Yet I met a friend at the Phillips Collection this past Saturday to see a dual exhibit of African-American art, Alma Thomas and David Driskell, and found myself slightly reveling in the train ride (Metro working just fine), the walk, glad to eat out together, delighted calling a red cab ahead confirmed to be the best way. Seeing an exhibit online just does not come near, even if the lecturer is superb (though that compensates for a lot).

And a highpoint result of 18 months of almost every-other-week zoom meetings with a group of people who love Trollope, organized by the chair of the London Trollope society I and a woman with real organizing capabilities and experience got together 13 people (from the regulation 100+ or so online), who live in and about DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia. Touchingly, they got themselves to Rock Creek park this past Sunday to meet at last. As you can see from the photo above, very much in person in the bracing air. We had a sort of picnic, met and talked (about how we first read Trollope, first joined the society).

On the whole, it went very well: we were jolly and glad to meet — people came from as far away as Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, Loudon county. We promised we’d meet regularly, say once a season, and next time indoors The thought was libraries have become community centers who host different groups and we could find a room in such a library (the Library of Congress does, here in Alexandra, the Beasley, and in Fairfax, the one which has a center in spring for AARP to help people with their taxes). And yet I had a much better time the next day, Monday, online with that larger group, discussing for one last time, Trollope’s The American Senator. One reason the zooms are taxing is they are necessarily intellectual, but me I love that focus.


And the imagined world — this illustration comes from the old Oxford sets of Trollope Barsetshire novels

And many things from before the pandemic and since will carry on. I truly rejoice one of them is this every-other-week London Trollope group. It is rare for me to have been able to fit in enough and sustain my place, my welcome there — as have so many others, and I think it is due to the congenial abilities of Dominic Edwards. The new reading group on face book from The Way We Read Now page, a spin-off of the FB Trollope Society page, now reading Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. Other new ones, which are suited for me (which I can enjoy) coming out of an institution or organization realizing here is a place they can gather a larger audience, and make more money, who seem to be determined to keep zooms going (as well as in person) include the Elizabeth Gaskell House, the Hay festival from England, the Virginia Woolf society.

If I’m guessing right, the Smithsonian seems to be inclining to stay online for a lot of their programs. It is not the kind of experience where you make friends by seeing the same people outside the class over and over — and honestly all that I take in is taken in online. Since so much there is at night, cross your fingers for me, it will most to mostly or at least half online for the lectures and musical concerts, art history talks. For six weeks ending today Saul Lilienstein has played and explained (discussed) Choral music by geniuses across the ages in Europe. When his spirit soars, so does mine.  (I attended an all day series of four lectures with clips by him long ago, in person, on the Beatles.) Some of it has been so stirring — it is a group activity which calls to the heart to listen as they sing together to the music, all listening. I especially enjoyed the Verdi requiem because Jim so loved Verdi, would listen to it and this was the first time anyone ever explained it to me.

My two listservs, Trollope and his Contemporaries, still going fine with about 10+ active over say a few weeks, and WomenWriters, with more like 4 or 5 at groups.io.


Christa Wolf when young — or my Retelling Traditional History & Legend from an Alternative Standpoint online this winter — I could not have begun to get so far this month w/o the help of a friend on WomenWriters

Still I feel much sorrow as I see that my Aspergers group leaders are tiring of the every-other-week weeknight chat, and long to return to meeting in a restaurant once a month in the evening. What has kept them from moving is the restaurant they had found an ideal room in, which was also centrally located in DC, and near a Metro stop, is not willing to have them come back as yet. This is a group which provides me with much comfort. I recognize the problems I have in the problems they do, get decent advice for real, just can be myself and not worry I’m off that unwritten script the fairy godmothers of neurotypicals left in their cradles, but not mine. Each time I have had to go out in this last phase of (this?) pandemic has been something of an ordeal. The people in this group understand and several of them have said now and again how the quarantine of the pandemic has been a relief in the peaceful existence they’ve enjoyed.

A silver lining: there is now a subgroup meeting the third later Saturday afternoon of each month, just for women. We’ve had some very good talk, of a different type, not just different subjects (having to do with women) but more intimate somehow in the angle we talk at.

So this is what I have wanted to tell my friends who read this blog tonight. How ambivalent I am about “going back” to true face-to-face, body-to-body, physical travel contact.  You should see how carefully I am driving my newly fixed car.  I wonder how some of you have felt during this seeming transition. One man at the DC Trollope group ventured to admit he found the pandemic had gifted him with the zooms from the London Trollope groups and called them “a silver lining” too.

I usually like to end with a new love or an old love renewed: well I’ve returned to Outlander (yes there was a hiatus of a few months) but not just the films, I am reading the books however slowly at midnight, a half hour or so. I have admitted to myself that my love for the Poldark books was an is a love for this genre of historical fiction & romance. Maybe I’ve overdone as a reason for liking Winston Graham’s historical fiction set in the later 18th century the strong left social message of his romances and under-estimated the similar if much less economical-political message of Gabaldon — she is far far more liberated (so to speak) for women and LBGTQ people than Graham gets anywhere near.

I’m now studying Mira Nair’s joy-in-grief-stricken Indian films — have bought the screenplay for Salaam Bombay (a little novel in effect), as I try to obtain a DVD with the original features by her and her cinematographer.

And while I often don’t care for Mary Oliver’s poems (too determinedly upbeat), this one, with the accompanying picture

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
— Mary Oliver

How Jim delighted my heart. Sometimes I break out of the conventional and express (while teacher) how much my books in my house mean to me because of their connection to Jim — it seems that 1876 by Gore Vidal will tell me of the horrors of that first year of the era of racial terrorism inaugurated by the Congress giving to Rutherford B. Hayes, the US presidency and in return him withdrawing all Federal troops, with the implicit okay on the white supremacy of the south using whatever barbaric techniques they pleased. Someone said that in the Trollope class I teach at OLLI at AU.

I expressed surprise and then delight at the thought the book was in my house, and told them how Jim had read it and so enjoyed Burr too, and that one was here too. One woman in the class suddenly said in a bossy voice she has used before, “you shouldn’t talk like that.” I don’t remember what I replied but I hope it was near “to tell me not to talk like this is to tell me to stop breathing.”


Fall flowers — the dining room credenza which I keep cheerful also with food I like, drinks, & one of several photos of Jim scattered about the house

Ellen

I still buy books faster than I can read them. But again, this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life … And I remain deeply attached to the physical book and the physical bookstore [not so much that latter as the days of vast caverns of books, floors of them, you were left to explore on your own, i.e., the Argosy in NYC, 2nd Hand Bookstor in Alexandria, Va are gone forever, or so it seems mostly …] — Julian Barnes, A Life with Books

Friends,

I thought I’d begin with an autumnal poem, W.B. Yeats’s “When You are Old” as read by Tobias Menzies:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Equally moving for me is Izzy’s latest song, “All I want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket:

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Last night was Halloween, and from my hour-long zoom chat with Aspergers friends, to the few people I talk and email with, I was wished a happy Halloween. We did try: Izzy thought she was invited to go to a party on Saturday night by a man in her Wednesday in-person Dungeons and Dragons group, but when the time came close it seemed the party was to be an hour long or so, after which it would break up into people doing different things together, among these, bar-hopping. This is not for her, especially as getting there was an Uber (and back). So she thought the better of it – she is now getting older than many of the late 20s people who would show up, several gay (as the man was gay), what she had to wear was the regency dress she wore for JASNA (not appropriate for this, too naive). Instead she recorded her song.

I had hoped to join in on giving out candy for the first time in years as I still have the battery-operated candles I had found for Biden’s night-before-inauguration so I could light up my pottery pumpkin, put the stoop light on and be all welcoming. Well I got three groups and one lone girl in a clown’s outfit. Next door and across the street from me are older women too, who also had welcoming light and symbolic objects — they seem to have gotten the same groups. And then it was over.

As has happened to me before, I discovered that there is little to join in on if you are trying simply to be part of a neighborhood community. Halloween you must go to a party, some 15 years ago, for two years running at the Torpedo Factory museum in old town, a Halloween dance was held, for the public & Jim and I went; one year we traveled to NYC to go to a Halloween dance at the Princeton club (as members of the Williams — old-fashioned rock for people mostly in their 50s too).  Thirty-five, say 1980s when we still had a (what I called) Welfare project down the hill, endless children and adolescents came, many Black. Thirty years ago in this neighborhood (all private houses, as we say in NYC) there were several floods of children coming through this neighborhood, and I’d give out candy, chocolates, cookies, pretzels with Izzy.  Twenty I went myself with Laura and Izzy (age 15 say and 9) with them in costume trick-or-treating. I’d stay back on the sidewalk and there were really lots of people. But this neighborhood changes every 7 years, and about twenty years ago, the welfare project was knocked down, super-expensive houses and condos with what’s called a few row of “scatter-site housing” for people getting subsidized rents, built in its place. Ten years ago or more a scheme in my neighborhood not to let most of their children trick-or-treat but make a party. Immediately it’s exclusionary of course. Excuses like strangers put razors in children’s candy. Tonight I wondered if the upper class mostly whites here did not like the children from elsewhere


A photo Izzy took that lovely afternoon as she stood by the Potomac in Old Town

I was advised to watch movies, told by others that’s what they did — horror ones — so I told myself I’d watch movies too and my choice was Shades of Darkness, a 1980s series of hour long adaptations of ghost stories, all but one by women, done with great delicacy, insight, mood creation. I bought it sometime after 2000 as a DVD — I watched one I’d seen before and one I probably hadn’t. Elizabeth Bowen’s “Demon Lover,” very well done, as much about WW2 in England, the Blitz as about this ghost that seems a distilled eruption of senseless indifferent harm I’d seen it before but have forgotten how well done. Dorothy Tutin, the central figure. This is a traditional ghost tale where the ghost is malign and we are made nervous because the whole experience is regarded as fearful, hostile — popular Kafka stuff in a way.


Dorothy Tutin as our Every ordinary women profoundly disquieted as she sees him across the room …

The other May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor” (first time seen), to me a strange ghost stories to me because the ghost is simply accepted as part of universe and the theme is we are supposed to understand the revenants, accept them — not pitiless mischief, but the ghost a redemptive pitiful ghost. The human story is dreadful — people can be dreadful and have very bad luck, but the ghost, unprepossessing as she is, brings renewal. John Duttine, the hero, often played deeply sensitive men in the 1970s-80s BBC dramas. I’ve read other Sinclairs of this type. This set includes two superb hard gothic Whartons, “Lady’s Maid’s Bell” and “Afterward” (stunning). This was an era of fine dramas from the BBC — and there are other series of this type — all June Wyndham Davis produced.

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Lucy Worsley getting to sit behind Austen’s writing desk with some paraphernalia Austen would have used

So my teaching and scholarly life went on. Some successes: my two classes on The Prime Minister are going very well. My paper, “A Woman and her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen,” went over very well and I much enjoyed the virtual EC/ASECS. I’ve not yet returned to Anne Finch, though the term is winding down, because I changed one of my books for my coming 4 week winter course teaching at OLLI at Mason, and am very much engaged by the books:

Retelling Traditional Tales from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her Tuscan estates during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

I’d get a crowd if I were doing Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, but no one needs me to teach these. I’ve learnt that Florence Nightingale wrote a novella turned into polemic essay, Cassandra, only published recently: beyond protesting the restrictive life of an upper class Victorian young woman, exploring her own depression, it’s an exposure of the Crimean war. Finally an excuse to read away books on and by these two brilliant serious women.


A modern Cassandra: Wolf has Aeschylus’s proud victim in mind

I got involved in a wonderful thread on Victoria when I told of my coming Anglo-Indian Novels: Raj, Aftermath and Diaspora (I’ve told you of this one before), this spring at both OLLIs and in person. I told of books and they told of books, and we all dreamed in imagined company. My thanking people included this:

I did send away for the Metcalfs’ Concise History of India, and Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India (2016 in the UK). I have the Dalrymple volume on the East India Company and am grateful to the pointed to the specific chapters. There’s nothing I like better than articles when I’m looking for concision and I have access to the George Mason University database and their interlibrary loan.

My course itself is not on the Victorian period as all three books were written in the 20th century: the first is Forster’s Passage to India, and I have got hold of his Hills of Devi, and a book of essays published in India about the relationship of his time there and books to India. One book I have read and is about 19th century colonialism through 19th into 20th century books (novels and memoirs) is Nancy Paxton’s superb Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947

Not for this course but about the 19th century and colonialism through another and classic 19th century novel is the Dutch Max Havelaar; or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Eduard Douwes Dekker (1859), using the pseudonym he often used Multatuli . Now this is a superb book where you will learn that not only the British were stunningly brutal to native populations when they took over, but also how the colonialists did it. It’s a novel that is heavily true history (disguised only somewhat) – a peculiar imitation of Scott as if through a lens like that of Sterne in Tristram Shandy. Dekker risked his life while a resident manager in Indonesia (and other places) and came home to write this novel.

I strongly recommend it – and it’s available in a beautiful new edition by New York Review of Books, paperback, good translation. I just so happen to have written a blog last night half of which is on this novel – the other half a film adaptation which descends (in a way) from it, Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (by way of an intermediary 1964 novel). Arguably MH is most important one volume 19th historical novel about the Dutch in Indonesia. The volume includes an interesting introduction by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an important writer and political activist (spent too much time in prisons).

The other two for my course are Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, the 1st volume of his Raj Quartet (a historical novel, familiar to many people through the superb BBC TV serial in the later 1980s); and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake (a book showing the diaspora). The movie I’ll assign is Merchant-Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah, which I also cannot praise too highly


Outlander begins in Scotland, Inverness, at Samhain or Halloween — it is also a ghost story

I’ve splurged on two beautifully made copies of the first two books of Outlander (Outlander & DragonFly in Amber) for my birthday and am back reading these books at midnight after realizing I’d been dreaming for sometime of myself in an Outlander adventure. By the time I was fully awake, I had forgotten the particulars and wonder what was the prompting: it’s been weeks and weeks since I last watched an Outlander TV episode and months since I read in one of the books. Maybe it bothers me that I don’t have Starz so will have to wait to see Season 6 until the season comes out as a DVD.

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The cat meowed — the first voice of the series

I do most days need some cheering up, so often so sad that right now my movie-watching includes this year’s All Creatures Great and Small, the set of DVDs sent me by my friend Rory. They still my heart with the strong projection of love, understanding, kindness between one another. I am especially fond of the direct emphasis on the animals the Vets and everyone else too are caring so tenderly for. The first episode opened with an temporarily ill cat being taken care of by James (Herriot, Nicholas Ralph). As my daughter Laura (Anibundel) wrote: “Snuggling down in the Yorkshire Dales to save a few cows turned out to be just what the doctor ordered last winter.”. I regret only that there are only six for this year, so I’m re-watching last year’s seven. Re-watching beloved series is what I do a lot.

Izzy and I did vote early, this past Saturday at our local library. We got there early and found a reasonably long line. We were told turnout is high. Everything was done peacefully and democratically. No one there to intimidate anyone. My neighborhood is showing signs for Youngren and I’ve encountered the seething racism in many of these rich whites — they will vote GOP because they are most of all about their status (and feel it’s threatened by not having whites in charge), see Black people as dangerous and inferior, and yes the campaign against Toni Morrison’s Beloved has traction. The GOP even has a mother-type inveighing against the book in a campaign commercial.

One reason for this is it’s not a good choice for a high school class. It’s too hard (not linear at all); its content is problematic: the use of the ghost is part of a skein of irrationality and violence justified in ways that most high school students will not understand. But she won the Nobel, and this is the most famous one: much better, more appropriate are Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (varied, sane, also about economic structuring to keep people poor), Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun, August Wilson’s Piano (Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is rightly assigned in junior (3rd year high) years. But this is an argument for people teaching literature to think about. Youngren is insinuating profound resentment, implying this book teaches white children to hate themselves and their parents. The reality is it’s a book too hard for students to take in, with some of the same problems of vindicating violence you see in popular US movies. I never assigned Twain’s Huckleberry Finn after seeing a Black young man get up and do a talk about how painful it was for him to read such a book and hearing white boys in the class snicker at him. The choice of Beloved tells about the conformity and non-thinking of US high school curricula than anything else.  And now it’s weaponized against Democrats and liberal gov’t.

If I could bring Jim back, I’d give up all I do — for I wouldn’t be doing much of this probably, wouldn’t have known of the OLLIs, of the Smithsonians, become part of these zooms, but I admit it does make me feel good that I prove to myself and do cope with so much nowadays. Today I resolved two bill problems from goofs I made in using websites to pay my bills — I now get e-bills for seven of my bills (post office becomes worse each week). I’m not as afraid as I used to be — though still frightened some (terrified at what could be done if the GOP cabal does take over), at least I know so much more about all that I need and do related directly to my life, who to go to (AARP, EJO-solutions for my computer, Schwabb guys for money). It is good to feel capable and useful and appreciated – though I began with the Yeats poem because Jim was and will be the one person in the world who loved the pilgrim soul in me. And every day, every night I feel his lack. So much I could do were he here, so much I miss out on (the new Met Meistersinger 6 hours!) how he would have reveled in it.

Ellen


Seen on twitter

Friends and readers,

The past couple of weeks may be divided into four themes. My yearly October memories, sad now since Jim died October 9, 2013; autumn events, like conferences, Laura and Izzy going to New York City for five days of fun and ComicCon in Manhattan; planning for next spring and summer courses and this term the wonders of Trollope’s masterpiece, The Prime Minister (I never realized before quite how brilliant and absorbing it is); my usual latest books (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) and writing (“A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen” for EC/ASECS) and continued investment in Austen, her movies and JASNA politics: and the recent very worrying political developments. I usually reserve the last for my Sylvia I blog, but tonight I’ll write about the coming immediate elections (one here in Virginia for governor may, frighteningly return us to a Republican leader who supports the openly destructive vengeful Trump) as I experience it — because it seems to me we are seeing an open repeat of the post-Reconstruction era where White Supremacy and ruthless political reaction is taking over parts of the US.

I wrote about nearly all of this on Facebook and twitter which have now assumed a kind of public short diary entry function for me — to remember for this blog and to express myself to others.

I began the first commemorations on October 3rd: My beloved husband, to whom I would have been married 52 years ago (Oct 6th, coming in 3 days) would have been 73 years old. Here’s a photo of him taken when he was probably 63 …

I re-shared the obituary I wrote for him. He was beloved by all three of us — and Clarycat. In my sadder moods I worry he didn’t know how much I loved him. But I think he did when his mental health was strong. People were very kind. October 6th, would have been Jim & my 52nd anniversary; we married a year to the night we met (so 1968 to 1969). In remembrance one of his favorite poems, one he’d quote once in a while, by Basil Bunting, a Yorkshire poet, a book of whose poems I bought for Jim one Christmas:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!
— Basil Bunting

More favorite poems, one brief lyric he wrote himself, some favorite songs, and Clarycat as she was when she at the time was so deeply attached to him (she is the kind of cat who attaches herself to a special person and stays around that person all the time; now I am her staff (pun intended): Poetry and Song

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Outlander — poster for 6th season, a key sentiment for me for my love of the series: they will be together forever come what may (as in the haunting song, Never My Love) — I put it on a wall in my workroom

What a splendid time Laura and Izzy had in NYC. I read their tweets as (for example) Laura attended the Outlander session (the only actor there was Sam Heughan, together with key producers and Diana Gabaldon — all else zooming in); Izzy walked on Highline Park (near where their hotel room was), they ate out, saw many amusing sights.

They visited the 14th street subway station to see the Live Underground statues:

Laura has lifted my heart by saying yes, she’d like me to come with them next time they go to the city. I’d like to try again. There’s some life in the old girl yet. I enjoyed her homecoming tweet:

Maxx jumped on the counter while I was prepping dinner and knocked a bowl off the counter and it shattered.

Dinner was then delayed by 15 minutes while staff vacuumed and mopped the kitchen.

His Royal Fluffytail was most displeased.

Welcome home, me.

I spent about three weeks altogether with Austen’s novels and a set of very good books on them and the topics of personal and real property in her life (she had so little control over anything), space (ditto). I re-watched in binge ways the 2009 Sense and Sensibility (Andrew Davies, featuring Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Dan Steevens), the 1996 Persuasion (Roger Michell, featuring Amanda Root and Ciarhan Hinds), Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home, Amanda Root’s At Home with the Georgians; I’m now into 2008 Lost in Austen, Guy Andrews wrote it, and I swoon with Amanda [Jemima Rooper]) I’m not sure I realized how much this travel back in time enables a serious critique of the characters as conceived by Austen (hard and mean Mrs Austen, irresponsible Mr Austen), a critique partly meant by Austen herself.


Anne and Wentworth coming together in a sliver of space and quiet within the crowd ….

I enjoyed reading Wilkie Collins’s No Name (so there’s another Collins’ novel I’ve managed to process) and see what a strong male-type feminist he is, partly enthused by a class I’m attending at Politics and Prose via zoom with a very bright teacher, and so put in for a summer 6 week course at OLLI at Mason in person!

Sensation and Gothic Novels: Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 weeks) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text to R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (2). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel, and how both evolved out of the Victorian era: what are their characteristics? how do these overlap & contrast; how do the genres differ. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest (I think brilliant) BBC 2018 Woman in White serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 Mary Reilly film, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton


First shot of Jessie Buckley as Marian Halcombe

I admit I so much more enjoy these serials and film adaptations of novels than the famous “art” movies we are supposedly studying in my Foreign Films course this term: the teacher carries on unerringly choosing these masculinist films (400 Blows, Fellini 8 1/2, King of Hearts), but even when the film’s center is a woman, Bergman’s Persona, she is kept at such a distance, cold and strange. I have dropped two of the courses I intended to attend — I grow so impatient with moral stupidity (how arrogant is the hero!) or complacency and conventional religious assertions over Oedipus in Oedipus Rex after the night before I’ve watched the old BBC 1980s Theban play with Michael Pennington playing the role so brilliantly, movingly, so shattered holding onto dignity. Claire Bloom as the mother forced to give up her baby only to find the gods have a wonderful joke of returning him to her. Who says Euripides is the more subversive?  The teacher makes good comments: how astonishing 15,000 men watching, all men actors, and the center a woman (I thought of the marginalized cripple Philoctetes). Enjoying Smithsonian lectures very much thus far — on Notre-Dame de Paris, moving account of the life and work of Van Gogh, now a series of musical concerts with Saul Lilienstein (he is aging but still so fine).

So my nights and days pass when I am at my best or luck in. Kind friends’ letters, poems sent me: a new friend made from Trollope zoom has organized a meeting: we are to meet with a few local Trollopians here in DC in November in a park one Sunday morning. Bad moments too, anxiety attacks: worry over bills, comcast (the bill never came; no use phoning them; did the check arrive? who knows?), the computer mysteriously shutting itself off so I babysit it for a couple of days. I remember what a desperately unhappy teenage-hood I experienced: came near killing myself at age 15. Literally took decades to come away from all the inward destruction of what was best about me and throw off bitterness and resentment. What’s not gone yet is the later results of that teenage-time in my life’s occupation, as a mother. What ever proliferating harm class contempt, predatory male heterosexuality do.

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Serious worry about the coming election at 5 in the morning, when the sky is dark:

I’m up early because I got out of bed as I was worrying about some serious developments happening which I daresay, dread, will affect the coming election. I probably will write a blog about this and put it in my Sylvia I because it’s my own POV and is about what I see affecting ordinary life which I’m part of. It seems for fear of losing many of these GOP people are running not only on the lie that Trump won but with the determination to rig the election if they are in a GOP controlled state (through votes out, refuse to certify) and if still the democrats win refuse to accept the results. This is what Trump wants; he wants default, he wants to see the US govt as we know it now destroyed. He made speeches openly asking for this — the last one in Iowa where GOP is dominant (Trump did win the state and the machinery there is GOP). If you stop doing elections fairly and stop accepting results, the US gov’t is over. It is true that in numbers there are now more democrats than republicans but since so much is gerrymandered, the electoral college and way senate is set up, GOP could still win “legitimately” — but they may not and that’s not enough for them.

There are Republicans now telling fellow GOP people to vote democratic on the issue of democracy. But not enough will do it. I have one of these angry faced women in my OLLI at Mason class: she is a classic white middle class GOP person voting for Trump. There are 3 males in my OLLI at AU class (uncomfortably to me but I ignore it) who look all iron indifference at any mention of women as a subject class — just bored silly and oh no that cop who murdered Floyd he did not lean on the black man’s chest the way is claimed (very unusual for any literature class I’ve seen in either OLLI and highly unusual for me to have so many males and they don’t go away) — in local neighborhoods I see red signs. Izzy says locally people don’t like Terry McAuliffe, a long time democratic political person. I don’t know him — I think of how we talk of politics in the class on The Prime Minister and realize such meditations make no transfer for most people to their lives.

Some of this was put on PBS last night – segments about how the GOP is now determined to rig the elections to come to win — and 90% of those calling themselves Republican are pro-Trump. It remains to be seen how people will vote of course. He is not literally on the ballot and it’s hard for me to accept that a huge minority of US people would vote Trump in again — his presidency was a disaster because of his treatment of COVID and because he was dissolving all agencies insofar as he could and setting up a kleptocracy. But they are (I think) determined to put down all social changes so as to keep a white male supremacy in charge — these people do not want the infrastructure bills — they don’t care if a huge number of US people live in hard poverty because they think only this way can they keep their privileged lifestyles. They want to see woman kept subordinate

Stupid stuff in a way shows this serious riff. It’s serious because Trump for example would end social security. He’s shown out: stop the central funding mechanism. Really put the US back to pre-1920 — I would not put open concentration camps beyond him — prisons are now partly that. Which stupid stuff. Well was yesterday Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s day. Biden signed an executive order calling Oct 12th Indigenous People’s Day. But he did not end Columbus Day. In NYC Columbus Day had become fraught years ago when the people living there started having 2 parades: one down one Avenue by Spanish people and another another avenue by Italians. Now you are getting demands not just for celebrations of Indigenous People but demands that Columbus Day be abolished. It was apparently signed into law by FDR — in the same era as these Confederate statues went up — and it was backed for years by Italian-American and Catholic groups who made Columbus their patriotic symbol. The man was a cruel thug, a thief, cruel beyond speaking (see Even the Rain), was failure in what he tried, but then was followed by similar Spanish behaviors (he was funded by Spain), he would not have regarded himself as Italian; he was Genoese. It’s all bogus history what’s said — many of these statues have been taken down in the past couple of years. US people are regularly refusing to recognize one another’s symbols and it is true progressive do want to change the way history is taught because what was taught was nonsense and validated great cruelty.

I tell the above because I think it indicative.

Yes maybe a civil war is coming. See these GOP governors resorting to ending all vaccines, literally amassing troops. AT core it is money for it began in the 1980s when the corporations put their money behind Reagan and the tax structure was altered dreadfully and it’s only gotten worse since then. Biden was to return to pre-1980s but is taking baby steps in that direction and he can’t get that passed. This propaganda on behalf of forcing women to remain pregnant when a man impregnates them, white supremacy, tyrannical police are what they (the wealthy and smart) have used to push fascism in its primal sense (states run by corporations and military) into now near wins if you rig the elections.

Biden of course was put into power because on the area of foreign policy he remains a modified colonialist, imperialism (he keeps up all Trump’s sanctions thus far — on Cuba which Obama was changing, on Iran thus far which Obama was changing, and on Venezuela where Biden is in the position of claiming the legitimately elected socialist president is not legitimate – he is still deporting these non-whites in big numbers, still building and expanding private prisons. He would have a qualified imperialist state where the people within the US would live decently: the GOP and corporations are no longer compromising and want the whole world to be impoverished to keep themselves in great wealth. The EU are a bunch of bankers. But he is law-abiding and within the US and for other peoples round the world is trying to re-spread social people-centered democracy

So there’s where we are — I am – on this October evening.


Autumn Woodland by Mark Preston

And dreams as reality: this comes from the long hours alone. I sleep but 4-5 hours a day. I get up and at first am drowsing and what happens is some dream I’m having is taken by somewhere in my mind to be real. In the afternoon my mind recurs to it. And I dream it again at night. Only if it lasts until wakefulness in the morning do I realize this is not so. For weeks I’ve been dreaming I’m writing a book on Austen; there is an author I’m dealing with, a publisher. Often the figures of these dreams come from movies I’ve been watching of late and so yes I’ve been steadily re-watching favorite Austen movies. This is innocent, non-hurtful dreaming, obvious wish fulfillment but other fragments are of the type I can’t tell about.

From Lost in Austen: she watching (Amanda in lieu of Fanny Price); a male figure emerging from the depths of consciousness (Mr Darcy), the used-up book dropped by a fountain (in the movie a Penguin copy of Pride and Prejudice)

The following morning into early afternoon: What I especially love about my Sylvia II blog is it allows me as far as doing such a thing in public is possible (I can’t openly discuss sex, nor specifics about individuals nor names) express my grief and occasional happinesses.

I now realize this coming weekend when I’ll be attending the EC/ASECS virtually, is also the first in-person JASNA in three years. I couldn’t go anyway as there is a conflict; I’d hate the hotel and the times I went to Chicago to conferences, disliked it. Once Jim and I went for our 39th wedding anniversary and explored the city, and we did enjoy it — except for that anonymous granite lonely hotel. But I am excluded regularly now because there is no reason to include me — no patronage, no title, no business I’m running, and so on, and I’ve written reviews which didn’t please (& I don’t fawn on people), gotten into miscommunications with the business DC group (enough to remind me of how I felt about feminism in the 1970s — for middle class snobbish ambitious privileged women). The last three times Izzy was hurt — she went out of her way to register promptly and saw herself put back again and again until of course there was no room. Years before I had bitterly complained and that was why we were allowed in. The price is very high. The dinner is a display of who you know. But Izzy has loved Austen (like me) and written fan fictions, enjoyed some of the lectures and the dressing up (the last time she bought herself a splendid hat) and conquered an original trauma over the ball so that she got to the point she stayed to the end.

Why do people love to exclude others — I regret that my daughter is excluded — and so enjoy getting back? I’m sure there are hundreds of variations on this story when it comes to conferences where exclusion patterns do not cost organizers anything. This is the reality of JASNA.

Ellen

Nearly 8 years a widow



Sophie Thomson as Miss Bates: in the 1996 Emma: I dislike most of the movie, but her performance as Miss Bates and the way she is filmed is the best Miss Bates of all I’ve seen

My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798)

Friends,

On October 9th of this year, Jim will have been dead 8 years. I have learned many things since he died (because I had to or die myself), and much has seemed to change or alter in the world over these years (not fundamentally but surface changes make a lot of difference to individual ordinary relatively powerless lives). I wish sometimes I had behaved differently when Jim was alive but I do not believe that anything I refused to do or was lacking in fundamentally hurt or deprived him of anything he wanted.

For myself I am again not not sleeping well. I have periods where I sleep fine (5 hours and a bit more on average) and periods where I don’t (waking in the night, up after 3-4 hours). Just now it is the stress of returning to these classes via zoom, worry the two classes I teach won’t go well, the new relationships, and seeing out in the world that the present peaceful seeming settlement in the US is at risk.

The lack of a close relationship such as I had with Jim is, though, what is very wearing to me. I am not made to be alone I need someone to confide in, to turn to for advice, support. I’ve now tried several friendships and friendship is not a substitute for a partner/loving spouse. I have had a hard time even sustaining these, most have broken up, attenuated, the person moved away or died. No man I’ve met or briefly gone out with (3?) or known more at a distance comes near him for compatibility, intelligent understanding and of course love for me. Nor will there ever be.

I’ll mention this:

For the last few days I’ve had a persistent pain in my chest; for a few days before that side (right) arm has been too painful to lift
sometimes. I did take a weaker pill, one I’m told to take twice a day at 12 hour intervals, and while it helped, the pain did not go away. I don’t feel the pain when I’m standing or sitting up most of the time, some movement brings it out. So I couldn’t do my full set of exercises yesterday. And do them but one a day, trying to walk (earlier) in later afternoon or evening. I should phone the doctor and go. I have said I’m told I have a aneuryism in my aorta.

I suppose you (those who read this frankly autobiographical blog) know that writing itself cheers me up. Writing helps buoy my spirits after I wake and as the day begins. I don’t need the helps visualized in this film adaptation of Mansfield Park (1983), with Sylvestre Le Touzel as Fanny but I know why the picture of her beloved’s ship as drawn by him, the transparencies, and other meaningful objects are set around her on her desk near a window

I am feeling slightly overwhelmed just now. Take this past Monday:

I had 4 zooms. I was dizzy by the end but I will stay with all 4. One, mine (I taught, The Prime Minister at OLLI at AU online), went well, but too many men. I don’t do that well with men. And my anthology is all women and my desire for truer representation on behalf of women, so I may have a small class eventually. 3 people were already not there. They emailed to say they had a conflict and they would watch the recording later in the day. 3 people for the repeat tomorrow later afternoon at OLLI at Mason online have already sent messages to this effect. So recording has a down side in a sense — the classroom experience must be redefined.

I had suspected the teacher for the Theban Plays would be very good — that she is very intelligent and, alone (not with the usual partner) a good teacher whatever she does – and she was — though she did not handle the zoom aspects of calling on people or any of it at all, which did make her presence less felt, less effective (she seems to erect barriers between herself and others). There was the London Trollope Society Zoom at 3 (BST 8 pm) on The American Senator (with two talkers) and then at 6:30 pm EDT another fine teacher (from Politics & Prose) on Wilkie Collins’s No Name. I was probably too tired by that time to take it all in coherently.

No London Trollope Society zoom next Monday and the No Name class is only 4 more. So it will be only 3 more Mondays this 4 zoom line-up will happen.

Meanwhile last night I was reading the book by Fagles (translator, editor, introducer) the Theban Plays teacher had suggested. Wonderfully naturalistically translated. I thought of Philoctetes and how Sophocles made marginalized powerless people his central figures: a woman (all 15,000 spectators men, all actors men) and a cripple. I loved it and wrote my one paper on an ancient classical work on it (with a little bit of help from my father): the teache, a long=timed tenured person hated it and gave me a B. “How could you talk about heroes in this vein?” I am fascinated by Collins’s power of description of the 19th century cityscapes (walking on a wall) and charged feminism of No Name (two heroines completely cut off from any money because their parents married after the father made out his will), and am reading a new edition of Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, early feminist masterpiece, by Stevie Davies (Unbridled Spirits, effective half fictionalized accounting of 17th century women involved in the civil war; Impassioned Clay, with its insight into how historical fiction is ghostly, about the now dead and vanished bought back (one feels that in Gabaldon’s Outlander serials).

I napped twice to do it that day. Just fell asleep around 4:20 (I did lay down on the bed telling myself I was just laying down) and then woke at 5. Again around 8:30 and woke at 9 pm — watching PBS, Judy Woodruff had put me to sleep.

I also “visited” the National Book Festival and for a while listened to & watched Ishiguro manage to make intelligent talk. On a JASNA channel of some sort for about a third of a session, listened to Janet Todd, some of whose books as a scholar I admire, who has written a new novel on Jane Austen (and Shelley I thought but not quite) and whose fantasy I thought might be like Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth, where early 19th century Germany romantic figures who never met meet. Alas, not so; it’s a re-hash of a biography she did of the Shelley women (Fanny Godwin who killed herself, Mary Shelley).

Tuesday so much easier. I re-make lecture notes for tomorrow’s class at OLLI at Mason on PM, and I’ve a later afternoon class at OLLI at Mason on Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall (I’ll be writing a blog on this book & the Brontes, Gaskell & Scott later next week).


Egon Schiele, Four Trees (1917)

So Anne Finch has been put to the side again, and I’m struggling to do the reading for a paper centered on Austen I’ve promised for October 16th: A Woman and her Box: space and personal identity. Luckily the book I agreed to review for Peter Lang was on Jane Austen, Non-Portable Property and Possessions (not the exact title). (They have not acknowledged receipt of my report nor paid me in the books they said they would. I love getting back to Austen (as you can see from the stills I’m using for this blog), and the books I’ve read for it (Barbara Harding, A Reading of JA; Amanda Vickery on what Katherine Shackleton bought, lived in, made a life out of; Lucy Worseley on JA’s life through her houses once again. I’ve learned about traveling libraries: books put in boxes that are bookcases! A sudden spurt:

Which of us is not familiar with the much-attested to story of Jane Austen hard at work on one of her novels, toiling over tiny squares of paper held together by pins, crossing out, putting carrots and arrows into the lines, second thoughts or words over the lines, on one of her novels in draft. Where?  on that tiny round table, sometimes referred to as her desk, a relic now found in the Jane Austen House museum. We are told that she did not want a creak in the door to the room fixed because it functioned as a warning. Upon hearing the door open she would of course stash these papers away – perhaps in that writing desk, which, another famous story tells us, was filled with many such manuscripts and was almost lost forever on a trip where it landed in the wrong coach? The writing desk is another relic to be found in the Chawton Jane Austen House museum.

The inferences I take from these are that Jane Austen was a woman who had no control over her space and no control over her portable seeming property. She had not been able to place the writing desk on her lap in the coach.  Remember Fanny Price seated in her unheated attic room amid her nest of comforts, not one of which she actually owned, not even the row of workboxes abandoned by the Mansfield Park heir when someone was trying to instuct him using them as a device for organization and storage.

Still it won’t do to say I don’t believe in the first story because I cannot conceive how anyone could produce the artful and controlled four novels.  The first two, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, to some extant flawed, when studied carefully, now and then revealing curious gaps which can be explained by too many revisions, but on the whole extraordinary.  Much less all six famous books, including the posthumous, to some extent, not finished or truncated, named by Austen’s brother and sister, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. For these she must have had far more consistent hours of time free of anxious worry lest someone coming with the right to interrupt create an embarrassed moment to find this woman writing. Is not Emma virtuoso perfection in its use of ironic perspective and voice? Despite what some today might feel to be a narrow rigidity of moral judgment actuating aspects of Mansfield Park, it is arguably as strong a protest and radically questioning as well as aesthetically exquisite book as any of the 19th century novel masterpieces produced in Victorian England.

But there is the table, there the desk and document describing the second incident refuting me.

Such a warm comfortable scene by Joe Wright from P&P — filled with food and things for the table, in a relaxed comfortable aging home:


Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, Keira Knightley and Jena Malone as Mrs Bennet, Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice (2006, Joe Wright)

I am pushing myself every minute I have extra around my other commitments to get this done. I don’t know if I’ll make it as I feel I must go through her letters once more — skimming but taking them in. E. M. Forster wrote one problem he had in reading Austen was he tended to be like someone in a beloved church; I’m like someone scrambling in a coach with her by my side, me holding onto to that writing desk and those papers.

So now I’ll subside into a movie:

I’ve understood that Simon Raven in his 1975 26 part serial of The Pallisers tried to turn the secondary story of The Prime Minister (Lopez, Sexty Parker, Emily Wharton, her foolish brother and strong wise father) into a sort of Washington Square, Lopez into a sort of lion-feline gay and violent macho male cad, Emily a Catherine Sloper who is loved by her father, and was sexually entranced and excited by Lopez, but does not succeed in understanding him, or growing up so at the end she does not set her face to the wall (a la Catherine Sloper) but turned from the world to her father’s arms. Olivia de Haviland would have done justice to this as she could not to the 1940s Washington Square movie (The Heiress) she was inserted into. So you see I’ve been keeping up with watching The Pallisers for this course I’m teaching too — for insights into the novels. For lovely pictures go to: syllabus for reading The Prime Minister together. Here we see both the Duke and the Duchess miserable from the social life they have kept up: it’s from the political story:


Her hands are shaking with tiredness (Susan Hampshire as the Duchess, Philip Latham as the Duke)

All this is the usual screen to what I let you see in my opening paragraphs today as I approach the 8th anniversary of my widowhood. Deep loneliness with a wish I could do the sort of things I could with him. I like the teaching and classes very much  but they are no substitute for the fulfilled reality I had with him, and the sense of security and peace and understanding his presence provided.

Izzy has been without him too. Tonight we watched on her ipad as we ate together a soothing episode of Critical Choice as lovely cartoon, Mighty Vibes: two siblings sitting close, she reading, he working on the computer, keeping us and themselves company. She’s got a new bed coming in early November, and Mr Christbel will take apart her present one (Jim and mine from 1983 to 2000) and put it in the attic with the beautiful crib (first Laura’s and then Izzy’s) no one will ever use again …


Laura’s Charlotte, in a chair, making a mighty mew — one of my grandchildren with 4 paws


Maxx as snugglicious — another

Saturday night our monthly Aspergers meeting online. The topic “personal safety and emergency preparedness.”

Ellen


Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, drawing gazing on a Devonshire cliff (2009 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies) – a very favorite still for me

Friends and readers,

To one such as I most of whose working life — child, adult, and now older widow – has been spent in some version of school, there’s no firmer sign of fall than the “term” (or semester) is about to begin. Online OLLI at AU, three courses beyond the one I’m teaching, one on foreign films, one on race in America, from end of Reconstruction to 1965, and a third on the Theban Plays. Online at OLLI at Mason, one course beyond a repeat of the same one at OLLI at AU, Anne Bronte’s magnificent feminist The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begin on the same week. From Politics and Prose a week after that one 5 session cours on Wilkie Collins’s No Name with a superb teacher who enabled me to read Collins’s Woman In White some 3 years ago now. By October I hope to have enjoyed at least one of several sessions/lectures (a combination of books, art, music, architecture) I’ve signed up for online at the Smithsonian. The course I teach, two sections in effect, will be on Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5) as qualified by a book of Victorian Women’s Writing, edited by Susan Hamilton, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minor — the groundswell of proto-feminist essays and columns as the century evolved (on work, law, custom, the quality & circumstances of real women’s real lives)


The Pallisers, Episode 20, the two friends, Duchess & Mrs Finn, just before they meet Ferdinand Lopez who quotes a Swinburne poem at them, which Mrs Finn knows well is homoerotic (Susan Hampshire, Barbara Murray, Stuart Wilson)

The sky is darkening quickly just now (7:49) so you would not be able to see my new chrysanthemum bushes (4 larger, two dark colors, and 4 small around the miniature Maple): faithful watering twice a day, early morning and dusk has brought out more of the poppies (I put a photo of one of the bushes on the last diary entry) on my several bushes of these, and red berries on the holly (are they?) bushes

I did manage two more in-person events. Both rejuvenating and linked to the coming term. I had a late lunch with another new friend, a scholar-acquaintance this time, Maria Frawley who taught the Middlemarch at Politics & Prose this summer — the store slowly coming alive again. It was quite a trek to get there & back once again. Another happy couple of hours. I think I’ve gone to lunch over these past 6 weeks something like 10 times! (I haven’t told them all). I’m a lady who lunches. DC itself filled with traffic jams.

Then this past Thursday, the Pizza party across the street from OLLI at AU was to me delightful. These are people I’m comfortable with. I’m also respected by them — as I never was when I worked at universities as an adjunct (for over 30 years). Not invisible any more. Only 30 allowed and I recognized three people I also have seen and one person talked to at Politics and Prose too. I had found a small parking lot where I could park for 4 hours for $12 so I could have peace of mind — it’s an area where the city tows you away if you violate parking regulations, which are strict and user-unfriendly.

The last time I was in a group of people like this was Dec 2019, the OLLI at AU Christmas party. Then we had a band and dancing. I began to wish I had registered for the one class in person that attracted me but there was only an hour between its ending and the beginning of the class I teach at OLLI at Mason so I did the right thing.

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But what is heralding fall emotionally this year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There has been a pouring out of memories, on twitter, on News programs, emails, blogs, news-sites, newspapers. One of the more powerful and poignant was written by the gentle author at Spitalfields. My comment to him (he didn’t let it appear):

It is untrue that the world was changed by this single event. It was and remains an incident on an on-going cruel capitalist world, however scary and unusual on who was killed; a circus symbolic spectacular stunt pulled off by people who loathed the US for its imperialist and colonialist policies and actions; it was a horrific tragedy for those who died and all those connected to them; for those who became terribly injured and sickened working on the site in the days that followed — and were often refused decent health care because that would make it obvious that that NYC, and the stock market should have shut down for weeks. It made manifest what was and still is the underlying realities of US political policies.

The world did not change even if some of the policies of these gov’ts did. The Internet has changed some aspects of the world in this time of the pandemic but by no means the basic attitudes of the right wing capitalists who seem to hold the real power in any situation..
After 9/11, many corporations and individuals went on to make a lot of money in Iraq and Afghanistan and the real individual particular states who were involved (Bin Laden could not have done it just with with his Al-Quaeda — Saudi Arabian groups were part of this) were never exposed.

So here’s mine, all too ordinary: as has been true for most of these catastrophic world-as-village events, seen at one time on TV, and now this PC computer, I was at or near home, leaving a dentist’s office a little after 9:30.   I had felt suddenly & seen a commotion, excitement among the other people waiting, and asked the reception what was happening. I was told airplanes were hitting the World Trade Center!  I am ashamed to say I dismissed this as typical of this gullible receptionist. Could not be.

I went out to my car and found myself in a mounting traffic jam, so instead of 5 minutes to get home, it was 20. The phone was ringing as I reached the door, and I ran in and picked up, and it was Jim, in a drawn voice, “Not to worry. I’m just fine. I’m in the basement of the Australian embassy where we were all told to go, and scary huge men armed heavily are filling the building.” He had to get off his flip phone, but said quickly “put on the TV, CNN.” I did and I saw the first of the two tall buildings sliding down. Horror, shock, as I saw the fire line in the middle, and the camera switching way below to see a man shrugging intensely.

Soon from CNN I knew a story of  these two planes and that there was a third that hit the Pentagon. As it happened the library was hit — since rebuilt as a small annex where Izzy works today. I went onto the Internet, queried friends at C18-l and read the name of Osama Bin Laden as the perpetrator for the first time. I had never heard this name before.

The rest is quickly told. A phone call from T.C.Williams telling me the school was in “lockdown” and of course “not to worry,” as the young adults would probable be let out at the usual time. Another from Laura, frightened; she surprised me by coming over about two hours later with Wally (with whom she was living at the time, and whom she would marry the following year). She needed to see me and Jim and the house and that all was the same, as it ever was. The news shows had less news as time went on.

Two friends called for the first time in years to express anxiety over Jim.  I said he was not in the Pentagon that day, and my cousin contacted me.  The next day I did have bad pains in my chest, suggesting I was experiencing more stress that I admitted to myself.

I did think to myself what Susan Sontag wrote in a newspaper and was castigated for: “well, what do people expect — the US for decades stops social democracies, foments civil wars, pulls off coups, creates situations where no young native men can get a good job and itself bombs, strafes, this is the afflicted world hitting back. But astonishment at the audacity and effectiveness of this plan to take down the center of capitalism (Wall Street has no such hubristic building), of the US military (the magically numbered Pentagon), and a fourth plane (never hit) to set on fire and destroy the central imperialist house in classical style, painted white … ”

Now 20 years on, two horrible wars later, instigated by George W Bush and his cronies and associates in crime (making oodles of money as unscrupulous oil and other corporations), carried on to no reasonable purpose (at least in aims originally by this crew), hundreds of thousands of people killed, untold billions spent, with “surges” by Barack Obama as president in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then the institution of these inhumane murderous drones aka killing people without trial and often getting “the wrong target” so even the last day in Afghanistan a whole family was murdered, the US support of an utterly corrupt puppet regime in Afghanistan, laying waste a country and leaving a life-long psychological maiming of countless young adult Americans — I met two of these when I taught in the years past 2003 – a young woman and a young man.

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Last night I re-watched a candid history for a second time, with informed (insofar as he could) and perceptive and humane analysis, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. He streamed it from his corner of YouTube. In my judgement it should be required watching for everyone. Wikipedia offers a precise accurate summary.

I want to call attention especially to the unknown and uninvestigated business and political connections between Bush fils and the Saudi Arabian ambassador and gov’t leaders, to how most of the “terrorists” were Egyptian or Saudi Muslims, to the creation of an atmosphere of fear and dread around the US by Bush’s gov’t for two years in order to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 but has vast oil fields and Saddam Hussein, who disdained Bush senior. The years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where the US built up the origins of the Taliban (to defeat “communist” Russia). The lying forms of recruitment, the horrific treatment of Afghans. One scene stays with me that flashes through: a beheading of a man in Saudi Arabia. The legless young men in Veteran’s hospitals whose funds Bush was cutting.

Three other films to be watched in order to learn what happened and what the war in Afghanistan is rooted in. 9/11’s Unsettled, is second in importance because of its perspective: the first responders. Alas, apparently not being distributed anywhere I can find. This is about the thousands of people who grew very sick, and developed serious diseases in the time after 9/11 when they worked at ground zero with inadequate protection, and within days Wall Street was opened again, a local high school, Stuyvesant, because what was wanted was to be seen to be carrying on making money. And to make money. From Rudi Giuliani to Christine Todd Whitman, ironically the head of the EPA, what was then wanted was a cover-up and not only did the US health insurance companies fight back and refuse to pay for people’s treatments and injuries, refuse to acknowledge they were the result of 9/11, those who protested were maligned and punished. Read the story of Joe Zadroga, after whom one of the bills to provide for compensation was named, his wife, his father. One of the important reporters on the stories was Juan Gonzalez.


Lisa Katzman

The third is a Netflix serial, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, directed by Brian Knappenberger. This is an unflinching look at what was done by three administrations, but especially Bush, where the incident was used to extend surveillance, legitimize torture (Black sites), the nature of the Patriot Act, what came from it, Guantanomo, and again Drones.

There is a fourth, a Frontline series on PBS too: American After 9/11, directed by Michael Kirk. There is no reason anyone in the US should be ignorant of what happened, how it relates to what came before, and how it relates to how the GOP went extreme and is following Donald Trump (if it can and it’s going far) into destroying the US democracy, such as it still is (very oligarchic) and was (thoroughly racist, punitive in outlook, deeply anti-social individualism promoted).


Also talking about Biden

This might all lead to my reader wondering why I insist 9/11 didn’t change the world. It happened as a result of all the US gov’t had done since 1947, and the reaction to it was to intensify what led to it. 9/11 was the result of what the world had become since WW2 and the reaction just intensified those conditions and attitudes of mind towards empire and money.  I’m now thinking of the GOP efforts (thus far successful) of stifling the vote, and on that you can read Heather Cox Richardson and listen and watch over many days and weeks. Here is just one

A graver and more overtly political blog than usual. But it’s appropriate. Not to say anything would be deeply wrong, reprehensible to me who does care about what happens to myself, my family and friends, all the people I know, the thousands and thousands inside the US whose destinies are intertwined with mine, and by extrapolation (since especially since the pandemic) our connection to all those vulnerable and powerless people who are not making oodles of money but at risk or suffering badly because of the people in these gov’ts, their allies, their donors, and parties’ behavior. Silence could be construed as consent.

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That’s a volcano — the islands are volcanic

To return to my small life among books. Although it fails to bring me in, Edward Douwes Dekker’s Max Havelaar, a mid-19th century Dutch novel has taught me more about colonialism’s workings, how it’s done, than any single book previous: stunning cruelty of the Dutch in Indonesia and all around India, the southasian pacific. The brave life of the introducer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

I attended a Bronte conference last Saturday, wonderful, and I’ve yet to write up my notes, which I’ll couple with a couple of Gaskell and Bronte sessions from Gaskell house, and a May Sinclair session at Cambridge (profound talk, Sinclair also much influenced by the Brontes). I promise myself I will write up a blog about the Brontes, Sinclair and Gaskell next on Austen Reveries.  I’ve been astonished by what I’ve found in Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, reading it daily with a group on FB – I certainly will write about it, together with John Caldigate, as unexpected radical social, justice and sexual politics.

I carry on reading Anne Finch’s poetry, going more thoroughly immersed into it, so that my old inner relationship with her is returning: extraordinary masterpiece Poems never published by her; and Poems she chose to publish or let others publish. I will read or read in the important books about her once again. And I listen on to Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, even poorly translated by Anne Goldstein and dully read by Hillary Havens, I am so drawn in I am continually thinking to myself well I would do that but not this. They are both me, Lila and Lenu. Ferrante hates fascism and misogyny (they are one and the same she says in her Frantumaglia

Good Heav’en I thank thee, Since it was design’d
I shou’d be fram’d but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu’d from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow’d they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they’re deny’d, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display’d
And in retirement I can have the shade.
— Anne Finch, early in the first ms book

Ellen


A duck on the Potomac — photo taken by Izzy

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone forever — how else shall David Nicholl’s One Day end?

Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, the movie does not manage the depth of truth or more occasional fun of the book

Dear friends and readers,

I would not have believed I could ever say of a day where it was 97F at 5 pm, the air literally hot on my skin, that I was at long last recognizing autumn on its way, but after 33 years in this southern city, I can: it’s dark by 8:15 at night, and dawn does not come until well after 6 am. Some late summer events I’ve had and to come:

I have had three very enjoyable lunch dates, with two more to come. With an ex-student, grown older man. We had been meeting once a year; well we renewed our date three weeks ago — an wonderful two hours of talk at Copperwood Tavern. I experienced intense distress getting there but once there all was well. Shirlington where parking is a nightmare. Then twice to a lovely local cafe, Fontaine here in Alexandria, first with my old friend, Mary Lee, whose idea this place was; second with a new friend, Betty, from OLLI at AU, whom I took there. Yummy quiche, lovely light salad vinegar dressing both times, camomile tea. I will meet her at Pain Quotidian this Friday across the street from OLLI at AU. Would you believe I had to look up the instructions to get there to re-visualize. This is a place I’ve gone to for years on end. Maria Frawley, the teacher of Middlemarch I believe I’ve not spoken about an inspiriting inspiring 8 sessions at Politics & Prose with her as teacher; how they lit up my June and July each Thursday evening for an hour and a half. I have signed up for an in-person meeting with 29 other OLLI at AU people, a pizza and Italian food place, also across the street from OLLI at AU. For this I’ll wear one of my two cloth masks with drawings of cats all over them.


Copperwood Tavern with Lloyd


La Fontaine in Old Towne

And one precious evening out at Wolf Trap, where with a friend I saw and heard Renee Fleming singing inimitably with the National Symphony Orchestra. Alas all too short — just one hour and about 10 minutes. Mozart, Haydyn, Gershwin, a perfect Carousel Overture, and her songs were exquisitely beautiful — from Puccini, favorites and also lesser known, then popular, one about never leaving

About 50% of the audience in masks (which were optional).  It was marred by a tiresome, ridiculous and dangerous trip there: the person I was with was determined to avoid the toll ($3!), and drove round and round (her GPS actually programmed not to make the correct turn) and coming back in the dark streets unknown with no lights, and then speeding crazily on the highway. I do have to give up Wolf Trap if I can’t drive myself safely so this may have been my farewell time.

I grieved at another profounder loss: Nanci Griffith has died at the relatively young age of 68; so did Izzy find herself crying. We replayed our favorite songs that night we learned of her death as we prepared supper and ate together.

Otherwise the days and nights go by. I do manage most days 20 minutes of exercise on bike and cathesthenics around 9:00 am, then 5:00 pm, then 20 minutes walk by myself around the neighborhood at dusk


Unexpected flowers: I water my outside plants (in garden in ground) twice a day, and some have bloomed twice

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It’s not as fiercely breathlessly hot as it was few weeks ago, and of course I’m now engaged in reading towards my course for this fall, have signed up for various fall classes and events, all online for me still – and how grateful and relieved I am that much of what I enjoyed these 17 months online will still be so. Beyond the London Society every-other-week zooms, I’ve found there is nowadays a once-a-month-and-more schedule for talks from Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester. Would you believe I’m just about reading three Trollope novels at once, and truly enjoying them all?: The Prime Minister, The Vicar of Bullhampton and soon The American Senator. I am seeing so much more than I ever did in PM (the exploitative colonialism Ferdinand Lopez is trying to leap upon I had not noticed) and the darkness of V of B: the strong critique of the Vicar and his friends over their class as well as prejudiced blind injustice.

At this week’s Trollope zoom we were asked when, how, did you discover Trollope and come to read him avidly? why do you enjoy his books so much? This was the question — or something like it — posed and about 14 or so people volunteered to answer for about 3-5 minutes each. I was one of them. I typed out the first paragraph below and read it so as to be concise and keep it to under 3 minutes. The second paragraph was not written out, just spoken. So although that is the quotation I used (Dominic Edwards, the chair, had asked in a letter could we quote from Trollope), the last couple of sentences I said were not so clear. I saw that most of the people wanted to say why they loved Trollope as much as how they came to him and also uttered various truths that they liked best, told stories they liked so much from the novels — many also liked how Trollope seems to break the novel conventions suddenly and talk directly to the reader — like tell the reader some secret of the novel well ahead of time (so, do they in fact love spoilers?) So I added the second paragraph. I admit I did leave out a couple of intermediary reads between the cited dates & books For example, In 1994 I went to Rome with my family and it was The Last Chronicle of Barset that got me through that partly ordeal of an experience. I found an old copy in a marketplace which I still cherish.


Cover of 1970s edition of Penguin English library paperbacks


From Pallisers Episode 1: the young Lady Glen, with Burgo, her infatuation, encounters the young Mr Palliser, with Lady Griselda, his

I’ve told how as an undergraduate in a class on the Victorian novel I read Dr Thorne for the first time and fell in love with it (say 1965). But I didn’t go on to read more. The Professor had discouraged me from doing a paper on the novel. Then about 10 years later (1975) I watched the Pallisers on PBS TV (in black-and-white) and fell in love with that, and with my husband we read all six novels. But we were busy doing Ph.Ds on something else and I didn’t go any further than The Duke’s Children. Then 1989 I was in a fearful car accident in NYC and landed in Metropolitan Hospital on the upper East Side. I spent a week in that place: it has one man to do all x-rays; Jim promptly labelled him the bottleneck of the hospital. My father brought me a Dover copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton saying Trollope was very wise. It helped me get through that week. Finally in 1993 Jim and I got onto the Net through a phone line and he said he would find something called a listserv for me: he found one on Trollope, and I started leading groups reading Trollope. First up was Macdermots of Ballycloran. I loved it and have not stopped reading Trollope since. Partly I was invited to write a book, then an essay. Note, each and every time there was an outside prompt. Immersion in Trollope did not come from within in any of these cases.

Dominic asked us for a quotation, an utterance: mine is “Great and terrible is the power of money” from An Eye for an Eye. What I love about Trollope is the accuracy with which he sees the world and people, how people interact with one another and in themselves – truly – and he remains calm! What’s more he offers advice, explains things well. I love the characters too, but I keep in mind they are not him and it’s from his narrator/implied author these startling truths come.

I can add here that Trollope’s utterance seems to me to provide a central explanation for what happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Trollope is also an astoundingly perceptive political novelist. How much meaning he can pour into a few words if you listening hard or for real

Have I told you about the talk I gave on Malachi’s Cove?

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My header refers to continuities deep and longer than the continuation of a zoom group. I find after all I don’t or can’t change my taste. I like best earlier serious literature — for example,for a fourth time, Eliot’s Middlemarch (thus the above coming lunch with Maria Frawley — see above), which I also re-saw — the 1994 Andrew Davies’s film adaptation. I just love the BBC dramatic serials of the 1970s (which begin, illogically, with the 1967-68 Forsyte Saga (I read 6 of the 9 novels years ago), which I’m watching avidly, an hour each night just now), to early 2000s, and those few nowadays which keep up the tradition of long thoughtful scenes, complicated dialogues, true novelization on film; I prefer Anglo literature and European art, realism, melodic classical music, modern only until say pre-rap, mid-20th century country. And my way of interacting with people, however inadequate, is grounded in polite manners.


Kenneth Moore, inimitable as narrator and Jolyon Forsyte (he’d never get the part today as too old and ugly)


Eric Porter as the aging softened affectionate Soames with his beloved daughter, Fleur aka Susan Hampshire once again

A zoom on Walter Scott:

Who produced more fine and influential work than Walter Scott? think of so many English, French, German, Italian, Russian historical novelists for a start.

I attended a 2 and 1/2 hour session on Scott: it’s part of the Scottish celebration of Scott’s 250 year anniversary (though I’m not sure of what — he was born August 15, 1771)
It was not as good as it could have been — three remarkable Scotts scholars and people involved in the U of Aberdeen exhibition and all sorts of events around Scotland and elsewhere — for example, in Italy, because of the number of operas (93) that have been adapted from Scott’s novels. I think to enjoy it, you have to have been a reader of Scott at some point, read a number of his novels and about him. I have so like the Gaskell session from Gaskell House, Manchester, last week I very much enjoyed what they presented. They had first editions and illustrations and talked of how prolific he was — how much he wrote, and how his position wealth prestige enabled him to do important things still not unimportant — like saving the ability of Scotland to print its own currency. One scholar outlined what are central to Scott’s novels: processes of historical change, political arrangements, people on the edges of society for different reasons (very high up and thrown out, marginalized, disabled, lawless rogues). She brought out Scott’s interest in his characters’ mental health (as we’d call it). Then a lovely film from Italy about two productions; one from the Lady of the Lake, by Rossetti, Donna del Lago, and the other by Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor — one must keep an open mind. I’ve seen good movies — one scholar said her love for Scott began as a girl watching the BBC serial Ivanhoe with Anthony Andrews. They insisted Scott’s work is politically very involved, aware, that underneath “it all” souls of people drive economic and political arrangements.

They did recommend the Future Learn 3 week lecture course: Scott, the man behind the Monument. I saw that and it included wonderful clips. I don’t know if you can find it there any more as the site has gone distressingly commercialized. Andrew Marr’s 3 episode series on Scots writers devotes one hour to an exhilarating somehow ironic hour on Scott. I regret to say the videos I linked in to a blog on Marr which includes good descriptions of the hours on Scots literature have been removed — I shall have to delete the URLs and substitute pictures — but the content by me is still there and what is central to the blog

They omitted what a reactionary Tory he was; how he was vindictive to any family members who didn’t marry for aggrandizement; was behind the worst political attacks of literary journalism.


John Brett — Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (1870), another edge place; in lieu of Northern Scotland, the south, the Mediterranean — put on twitter

This new material but now aware of colonialism:  Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River (with two accompanying movies).  About her too.

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I have had a renewal of a worry: my cat, Ian, again has a heavy discharge from his right eye. Last time I took him to the local Vet I’ve been going to since we adopted the cats, I was charged $350+, told how serious this was and that he needed a series of heart tests (a couple of thousand dollars), and then if the tests warranted this, give him a pill every day of his life ever after. It is impossible for me to force pills down either of my cats.

To say I don’t trust these (or any) vets is an understatement: previously I was told to clean his teeth, we needed to anesthetize him (a $500 bill and dangerous), did I want to install a sort of tag in his neck which will help if he gets lost (surgical insertion of course). When I tried to buy a local gel recommended online and in a book I have on cats, I found local pharmacies refused to sell it except with a prescription from a Vet. I was told it’s “against the law” for pharmacists in drug stories as well as vets working for the ASPCA to give a pet owner advice on an eye discharge: that sort of thing forbidden.

I call round today to three different vet places, and was greeted with indifference, appts a long time away and oh yes this is an emergency, so clinics I could go and wait at. Petsmart a store seemed more sensible but no appts until later September. Vets are kept to small numbers but vet lobbyists seem to be very busy. And we hear about the corruption of the Afghanistan govt. What are lobbyists but allowed bribers? We have whole organizations dedicating to bribing politicians in office. As for today’s Vets as a group far more important is the money they can wrench from pet owners than safe harmless care which reaches all pets.

It’s how they frighten me that angers me. It makes me angry to be told I have to do this to Ian’s heart and give him this preparation every day for the rest of his life; or to clean his teeth risk his life (he must sedated by an anesthesiologist — the vet said she had lost only one cat – i.e., she killed a cat). They could tell me Ian could go blind or something — and I no longer trust them. Only if the condition really seems threatening do I want to go. I will try Petsmart next month.

In the US the climate is money-driven medicine. Just imagine outlawing, forbidding by law a pharmacist to advise a customer on which prescription to use. Jim said to me as he lay dying, protect me from these people. It was by then too late because he had agreed to that godawful operation which removed his esophagus (I didn’t understand that that would not stop the metatasis), but I kept clear of all in-hospital, in clinic and anything else that seemed to me we could avoid. So I’ll wait for this ointment and if it helps, spare the cat and myself any visits to Vets I don’t trust. But meanwhile I feel bad for the cat and wish I had someone I could turn to — that there was a Kaiser Permanente type organization for animals.


Ian close-up, sleeping peacefully on cat blanket given me by another friend

I wonder why people are so naive not to see how these Vets take advantage of social norms for human beings to push painful procedures (and sometimes an early death) on pets.

I’ve semi-adopted another third cat, also grey like the first who has now vanished. This one also comes from the very rich mansion across the road from me where they are deep reactionaries (snide comments on neighborhood listserv); also semi-abused. I am also calling this new one Fiona, and she also behaves in ways that show a craving for affection but when you respond she quickly spits at you, hisses — I think they mean-tease her and she does not know how to carry on a relationship with a person. She is very thin. Poignant when she is crying out there – not kept in during rain; sometimes I daresay the owners of that collar go away for weeks or days. I can do so little for her — I inquired into this last time. I feed her whenever I feed my two and talk to and pet her when I pass her by — she stays in a near hedge or my porch — as you see her peeping out.

How to close? My own naivetes of course. An important story in the New Yorker. Sam Knight hints at the hideous things, heinous crimes owners and builders of these idyllic country estate houses which so dominate these costume dramas I’ve loved — did for decades, nay full centuries in the subject colonies to support these “wondrous” places, where some of the art was stolen from too. Famines inflicted on people forced to grow crops to sell elsewhere so they have nothing themselves to eat; forced to pay taxes they cannot afford. Removed outright. Enslaved. This does not include the conditions under which the servants in such houses worked, their pittance wage. What is happening is the National Trust has been at long last trying to tell the truth, and the UK gov’t and present descendants of the owners of such places, and those who just want to carry on these delusions (as patriotism) are being successful in stopping them or getting them to mute or qualify their knowledge. I will be sure to assign this story to my class in Anglo-Indian novels in the spring. Where did the money for Dryham Park where The Remains of the Day was filmed come from: what were the politics of its owner. How about the dream houses of Howards End in reality?

At Dryham Park:

On the second floor is the Balcony Room, which affords fine views of the gardens. … Facing into the room, with their backs to the wall, are two statues of kneeling Black men with rings around their necks. …

The slave figures hold scallop shells over their heads. These were probably filled with rosewater, so guests could wash their hands. …

They were probably made in London, inspired by Venetian “blackamoor” art, but they are unquestionably depictions of enslaved men, in idealized page’s costumes, with gilt chains tumbling from their right ankles. … They have knelt in the same place for more than three hundred years. …

When Sobers [a Black professor] and his group entered the Balcony Room, they came face to face with the slave stands and stood there, listening politely. “I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it was happening,” Sobers told me. “And the tour guide talked about every single thing in that room, you know, talked about everything for a good ten, fifteen minutes and not once mentioned it.” A rope cordons off most of the Balcony Room, so visitors stand on a narrow walkway, facing the stands. There is nowhere else to look. “There wasn’t even a kind of a, you know, ‘Yeah, we don’t know what those are. . . .’ There wasn’t even an explaining it away,” Sobers said. “They just acted as if they just weren’t there at all.”


The strained tragic existences of the butler (Hopkins) and housekeeper (Thompson) at Darlington Hall (Dyrham Park)

Ellen


I’m making a habit of buying cut flowers each week from whatever supermarkets I go to and putting them in the dining room as cheering, lovely, emblems of pleasure

Maggie Smith of her widowhood: “it seems a bit pointless, going on on one’s own, and not having someone to share it with” — some of what I’m feeling is me missing my friend and companion, the support and comfort of my life, how he was able to make me laugh ….

Friends and readers,

I suppose you know that after all the pandemic is far from over. Izzy has happily returned to work in her office (the library at the Pentagon) five days a week, and the world is again filling with people and cars coming and going day and evening; the two OLLIs I teach and attend classes at are going to be a mix of hybrid, in person and online in fall. But with far too many people (some 40 to 80% in some states) refusing to get vaccinated or doing it ever so slowly, the delta variant has spread and the numbers of people in the US becoming ill has risen even alarmingly, though thus far it’s the unvaccinated who are going to hospital and dying. This is a ridiculous choice these people are making, but nonetheless they are making it. Plus outside the richer countries, a huge proportion of people remain unvaccinated. As long as this is the situation, all of us are in danger from Delta and new mutations/variants, which could be even more easily transmissible and lethal.

I should admit I don’t trust any US medical establishment — and this deep background is part of why US people don’t come forward for shots. I guess I don’t trust them to be on my side — Laura says my attitude towards hospitals especially reminds her of Black Americans. I was thrown (not literally) out a hospital when I was 9 after the people there did stop a hemorrhage because my father hadn’t any insurance. The procedure was over and maybe an hour had gone by. I remember the incident myself — my father begged them to let me stay; if they’d wait until 9 am when banks opened he’d get out the $200 (at the time no small sum) and bring it to the hospital. They really put me out on the street. They did call a cab — now nice of them my father always said. Then I had a hemorrhage … My life was saved after another traumatic trip, just.

I do trust Dr Wiltz but he is not the person who would do procedures or vaccinate (that I did as it is so minor a thing – a jab). I can’t change my insurance as I could get nothing near as good — everything is covered, only small co-pays for visits (and sometimes now with medicare none at all) and for drugs. One time I didn’t understand what a barium enema was and when I was on the table and got it, I tried to get off, and the people held me down (they really did) and tied me there, and then poured this horrible stuff into my cavity. I screamed and they didn’t care. When they were done, I said to them if I knew them personally I’d never forgive them. That I knew sending a letter of complaint would do me no good. Since then I am very careful before I accede to anything. Once I remember thinking to myself I should not have come in here for this appt because the doctor was talking of how she had to send me to hospital — as if I had no will to say no. I told her I wouldn’t go and began to get off the dolly. I don’t remember what happened after that but I didn’t go to any hospital. I’m in charge of me.

I call this Journey’s End because that phrase is the one that leaps to mind as I think about how I feel about my life just now. Sure I have done some good and satisfying work, work I enjoyed doing this summer: my two courses, Novels of Longing and Colonialist Writing (see also Caryl Phillips), and this past Monday a good talk on Trollope’s “Malachi’s Cove,” and Henry Herbert’s film adaptation of it went over very well. (I will be putting it up and linking it in before the next few days.) This fall I will “do” Trollope’s The Prime Minister with a few political essays by 19th century women writers. I’ve thought of Wollf’s Cassandra and Four Essays (the Trojan war seen by a woman usually dismissed as a nut-case) and Eve Figes’s Seven Ages of Women (another reversal perspective) and now I’ve thought of a good course for next spring, one I’ll enjoy very much: Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, aftermath and diaspora (Forster’s A Passage to India, Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, Jhabvala’s Heat & Dust, with their wonderful movie adaptations.  My paper-talk for the coming EC/ASECS will be “A Woman and Her Box,” how the battered box a woman carried her life’s identity around in as so many had no control over any private space (I’ll use Amanda Vickery’s work).   I’m to have lunch out with a friend this Friday, perhaps go with another friend (I can’t go without her as she must do the driving or I would go alone) to hear and see Renee Fleming and the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap (!) August 6th (I’m sure I’ll love the show) … I’m reading books and watching movies for sheer pleasure: David Nicholls’ Us.

I have prided myself on trying to tell the truth about myself insofar as this is possible in a public media. Yes I might have two decades left of life, I will probably be here for the rest of this year.

Still I’m in the coda of my life. I am finding this second summer harder — for I am still in partial quarantine. I asked the doctor if I should return to swimming, and he suggested caution: just swim laps, keep away from people, wear a mask. I then faced the truth I don’t enjoy swimming any more: my arms are so weak I can’t go far, the water is cold, the building inside to me pure functionality, dank in the pool area, the water cold — a lot of trouble to wash afterwards. I would get as much exercise, probably more by walking in the evening. I feel like I did that first summer Jim died. For seven summers I did have no one to travel anywhere with or go out the way Jim and I used to (we would wander on long walks in the later evening), but I could drive at night & went to Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center, with a friend (who has died since too) in Old Town, and going to classes helped enormously. Zooms are rewarding but something is missing I do need. Starting 2nd summer each August I took trips w/Road Scholar, which were to UK (Scotland, Lake District, Cornwall), 2019 Calais by the beach w/daughters. Nothing this year. Strain bad. Heat loathsome so stay inside w/air conditioning & cats.


Laura and Izzy this summer …

That’s part of why I’m feeling this way. But also I’ve faced I haven’t got what it takes to do the travel research to do a book any more — I never did. Never knew how to negotiate (Jim did that for my Trollope on the Net book with Hambledon Press); I experience intense anxiety attacks when in new places or liminal experiences, the expense would be very high (because library hours in some places so limited). And I can’t conquer the Word writing program. Laura came over and I tried but this second week I find I’m forgetting what to do all over again. So I can’t composite documents on Chicago Manual style.   I must just take pleasure in learning, teaching about it, sharing on the Net (blogging). I could try a book if I find some ability that enables me to teach suddenly vanishes — for several abilities are involved and I know how these suddenly disappear. I do miss going out at night regularly; I realize that when and if the later afternoon evening parties held at the OLLI at AU begin I won’t be able to go because I’d be driving back in the dark. I also have to hope that Politics and Prose keeps up online classes for evenings/nights. Another related sad truth I’ve faced is I often don’t enjoy the zoom classes at either P&P or the OLLIs: it’s a much less educated and much less serious audience they aim at. My own courses are the less common serious literature courses at both OLLIs (especially the one at Mason).

I’m also tiring of some of these zooms. At OLLI at Mason the default setting or “norm” in their minds is often a TV show — the webinar where you meet and talk to no one. These power-presentations themselves a substitute for real thought. At the conferences the compliments given to all talkers (“amazing” and “fantastically wonderful” talk) are embarrassing. This term I dropped out of all the courses at OLLI at Mason I had signed up for. To be fair, I did have two very good ones at the OLLI at AU in June (one on federalism by a very intelligent man and the other on the Reconstruction period in the US), and each Thursday Maria Frawley on Middlemarch is just an inspiration to me. My spirits soar as I listen to her talk with such a generous ethical approach, bringing out the language patterns and depths of thought in the book, and prompting from the people in the class deeply reciprocal responses. This past Saturday just a beautiful and moving discussion of Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer with Alison Hennegan as teacher from Cambridge: I don’t care for the book that much, but what she had to say about it and later the conversation over lesbian literature was moving, truthful, just took me out of myself into another realm of recognition, and renewal.


By the Sea — Sara Sittig (Scapes) – a favorite picture for me, one which expresses what I feel somehow

Would I be happier if I had a “boyfriend” (the word seems so silly)? I’ve dated sort of four men thus far and none attracted me physically or I didn’t attract them — anyway no one made any move to kiss me — except the first (a fifth early on) and he distressed me by trying to start sexual interaction. I felt ashamed, thinking of Jim — it was actually that first year Jim had died. Two of them were mensplaining to me, condescending and worse yet, correcting me for my outlook on life — how dare I be an atheist? or pessimistic? Far from enjoying conversation with these people, I was repressed and irritated. The man I partly accompanied to Cornwall was irritated by me because he felt I could see he’d have a better time mixing with the general crowd who began to leave us alone — and he was reactionary politically. I would not want to lose Izzy and I would were a man to move in — and I wouldn’t want anyone to break my 30 years’ pattern (with Jim doing his pattern) of reading and writing for most of my hours.

I also just don’t fit in American values or norms. I find with the one girlfriend I see she dominates me because I can’t think of an intermediate level of language to tell her to stop trying to get me to do things I don’t want to do, or think things I don’t think at all (all very conservative, demanding of aggression) — I’ve now been told that this slowness of response and inability to be nuanced is part of the spectrum. Of course I did know that but didn’t think of speed, or intuitive uptake as part of this. I went to have “cocktails” with the new Iranian woman friend I’ve made in this neighborhood. Two other women there whose conversation was so stupid and at times racist that I found myself remembering Austen writing of how one needs children to make a conversation go: we had their three dogs. I had dressed up for it

I am trying to think of a study plan I could follow inbetween teaching, reading with others on listservs and for teaching, writing reviews (in a few days I will return to Anne Finch and women’s poetry and the later 17th century into the 18th). Thus far what I’ve fitted in is reading Italian an hour each day. I have been so enjoying and getting so much more out of Ferrante’s Those who Leave and Those who Stay the second time round (now I see it as deeply realistic with Lenu at the center, and I marvel at how she behaves to her husband whom she seems not to love anything like I loved Jim, am startled and appalled at the fascism and political and economic life of Naples so I wonder if she hid her identity from whoever is the source of these characters). I sit with Storia de chi fugge edi chi resta in front of me on my desk. The English translation to one side as a crib; my Italian dictionary and verb book on the other. My French is better than my Italian and I would have far less need of an English copy for a crib but find I’m more allured by my Italian books than my French ones. I did choose Italian (not French) Renaissance women poets to translate. But it would take such time to bring back my ability to read Italian without a crib so am trying to get myself back without the intermediate steps and hope an hour a day consistently will do the trick.

So I’m finding there is almost no comparison between the lightness of the English and sense of dense intense meaning, passion, suggestion, and sheer syntactical interconnections in the Italian. I love the vocabulary in Italian which brings to mind far other metaphoric connections than the simple English barer plain words. I am wondering if after all Ann Goldstein is one of those translators who deliberately modernizes and makes more accessible the texts she translates. I would have thought that not necessary with a contemporary one but now I’m thinking maybe just as much. Goldstein offers very poor commentary on the novels in every group talk I’ve heard — ideas like the first book is the best. Thus Ferrante’s Italian is not being truly represented. There is much less need to defend Ferrante as an important Italian writer (woman) when you are in the Italian. She is so much better in the original — in fact she is not plain in her language at all. If and when a third season of Italian TV resumes the serial here in the US, I’ll pay for HBO Max to see it.

I’ve managed about ten pages or so after three days. And my desire is to do a French book by a woman, a good memoir next.

I’m at Journey’s End and thus how can I offer you valuable thought from my life. I can do as I’ve done, write literary and film criticism from the heart as filler but I’ve not had the spirit to do that here these past three weeks, too tired at night, too exhausted the next day after blogging, giving of myself. I’m going slower and finish less books and movies and put that matter on my two other blogs, Ellen & Jim Have a Blog, Two, and Reveries Under the Sign of Austen. So my dear friends who have been reading this blog for at least 10 years now, this is why I write so infrequently and telling you this, explaining this to you is why I have written this blog.


The latest flowering bushes in my front garden. I’m watering them twice a day during this dreadful hot time.

Ellen


This is what I see on my screen when I first put on my computer (before I type in my password): it’s a hotel on the Bray Dunes in France — I don’t deny I wish I were there this weekend, with say a beloved comforting novel like Eliot’s Middlemarch

From a friend:

I thought this important enough information put in a context (US health care capitalistic marketplace as I have experienced and seen it in operation) to break somewhat with my customary personal diary entries and offer explicit advice on this July 4th, a time when many Americans gather in groups, go to the beach, eat barbecue together, swim in pools, in short socialize in myriad ways.

From my Irish friend:

Much of the slowness to respond to the virus seems to have been the “ignore it and it will go away” syndrome. Also the WHO saying it was a pandemic – well, it is their job to say these things, and they could easily be overemphasising to justify their existence.

Currently the situation seems to be that a peak is expected from the Delta strain, but everyone hopes it will not lead to as serious illnesses as earlier peaks, as so many are vaccinated or possibly immune from earlier bouts of the virus. I think governments are currently trying to find a balance between allowing opening up, which will be popular, and cases of the virus; the governments can come back to the people and say “Well, you wanted opening up, so if you caught the virus, it is really your fault”.

The epidemiologists, to whom I prefer to listen, are more cautious – they advise keeping as much social distancing as possible, remaining masked in close contact public places, routine hygiene of handwashing on return from out (when out, I personally use a pair of surgical latex gloves, under a pair of light fabric running gloves). Their fear is that the Delta is so infectious it will run through the unvaccinated, and there are so many of these that the relatively small proportion needing hospital and intensive care will once again overwhelm the hospitals – everywhere, not merely in UK.

One sympathises with any family or workgroup who have had a bout of the virus; good that they emerge well from it. Hopefully, their encouragement will encourage some others (however few, but even if only one, it is better than none) of their social circle to get the vaccination. One of the encouragements not to get the virus is the risk of what is being called “Long Covid”. It is suggested that between 1 in 3 to 1 in 20 (exact number depends on definition and group doing analysis) who have had covid (even if not hospitalised) suffer persistent symptoms for more than twelve weeks

https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/post-covid-syndrome-long-covid/

I don’t think there is anything in the US which comes close to providing the kind of protocols and thus care that the NHS outlines — however you can read what they say. Why not? The profit motive (money-driven) has made a “health care industry,” which is utterly divided into different “providers” and sub-industries so no one can take such a thorough initiative across a population.

That’s why US people die younger and so many died during the height of the pandemic — I did tell here how Jim came near death one night because his care was so subdivided that one group did not know what another group was doing, and they were enacting this criminal procedure of having someone supposedly care for you by phone — a pharmacist whom Jim never saw and who never saw Jim had prescribed blood thinners to the point Jim was about to ooze out all his blood. Supposedly the man was controlling Jim’s blood count by studying tests. Right. Now how many people was this pharmacist calling a day? how much did he make for each person or batch of people for a company. I had that when I had Hepatitis C — there was nothing I could do — it was only through a person who phoned me I finally got the bottles and advice and injections and she never gave me her number.

Also to get the payment okayed (because there is a payment over everything or a bill made out to keep track) you have to have several people sign. Welcome to what passes for care of the sick in the US still.  It was not just Trump’s incompetence, malevolence, and counter-productive measures from the federal gov’t (like intervening to snatch ventilators from state trucks), but this deeply anti-social inhumane way of delivering any medicine (once payment is made or thought to be secured) that keeps Americans away from physicians.

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I had told my friend how my hairdresser, Sheila, and her family all had COVID last July. They had been to the beach. She is just my age, 74 and she weathered it very well — exhausted, no taste buds, felt terrible, sleeping all the time — frightening her son (in his early 50s) who took her into his house and hired a nurse 24/7. What happened was this son got it – he’s a (was a) restaurator and didn’t stay home, didn’t wear a mask at first. He has lost 3 of his 5 restaurants; what happened was his partner in business did something illegal to stay afloat or perhaps get money from the gov’t in that first partly phony bill in Trump’s regime (it was partly phony because like everything his regime did, it was aimed at giving billions at the rich and very little to anyone else), and he got scared and so divested himself, but he lost a lot of money. Now he has one bar that serves food and one restaurant. His wife (hispanic) then got it, then Sheila, then the grandchild, and then Sheila’s partner who became very ill. All of them. The wife had been the manager of at least 2 of these restaurants; during the Covid time she stayed home and tried to teach their son as he tried to connect to school through a good computer. Son’s wife became very sick (the nurse was there for her too), child mildly sick; Sheila’s partner was hospitalized with pneumonia, he did not have to be ventilated but he seems to have recovered – he is 78. He might have long covid. Ripped through the whole family. Sheila has Trumpite relatives she knows and while she, her partner, her son now scream at these people to get vaccinated, they refuse. I tell this as an exemplary anecdote of US social life.

My friend said that UK Sunday papers are suggesting that Boris will remove the requirements to wear masks in all locations, urging people to “take personal responsibility”.

In the US, here is the attitude as far as I can tell: the vaccine is there, everywhere (in blue and many non-blue states it is — it is again the vicious south culture where it is less accessible — they do want to kill Black people still, e.g., in Mississippi the GOP governor refused FEMA money and 4 counties which are heavily black people have no vaccination sites whatsoever). Pfizer and Moderna are 90% effective and against the Delta will protect you against serious serious attack, hospital and death. AstraZeneca is 60% and helps enormously. We cannot endlessly be in lockdown. So CDC says if fully vaccinated go out and live, but use caution – wear mask indoors, stay away from crowds (this is not enforced — football crowds, baseball and theaters are opening with full capacity). Then ads gently urging people not vaccinated to vaccinate. The worry is, and Dr Fauci said this, in non-vaccinated places these variants are emerging and he and Biden & whole administration repeatedly express concern for people in red racist states or rural ones.

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I re-watched the 6th part of Andrew Davies’s Middlemarch last night and cried and was suffused with painful emotion as imagined joy and from my own comparative loneliness at its end. It so moved me. Beautiful, intelligent truly adult book and serial drama: themes include the enemies of promise, and the deeper traumas of our existence which leave us so hurt and vulnerable along the journeys we have courage enough to take, with the very occasional (for me rare) company of a friend. Today movie-makers are almost afraid to show such true emotion. More hopefully that it’s the little things we do for one another that mean a lot to us, and we should accept what our lot gives us, and help others. Eliot was a deeply ethical writer and she counsels humility and forgiveness and sympathy too. I had a friend,  my Jim, for 45 years, now gone forever, but I surrounded by all he has provided for me, with some considerable support and what help I could give (monetarily I mean, always very small) to him on our now ended journey literally together.


Middlemarch – the happy ending for Fred Vince (Jonathan Firth) and Mary Garth (Rachel Power)

Ellen


Myself and my cousin, Pat, both age 8, Crotona Park, the Bronx


Me at a waterfall park in Maryland, age 72

Gentle readers and friends,

Above you see a photo of me from long ago, one I think I dimly remembered when my cousin, Pat sent it to me last week: I am 8 years old and so is Pat, we are in Crotona Park, in the Southeast Bronx, at a point where it intersects with Charlotte Street, on which I lived some 3 blocks down. My aunt, her mother, took the photo, behind us is her older brother (by one year), teasing us. The other is of me, age 72, spring, Maryland, at a waterfalls in a park.  What is remarkable to me is not only has my facial structure remained the same (allowing for my present fallen cheekbones, toothless state, wrinkled skin), the angle at which I hold my head when faced by a camera, my resort to nervous hand gestures has changed little. I couldn’t skate for the same reasons I was not able to bike ride about 20 years ago, and I now can’t do power point or share screens (or do any more beyond be there and talk) on zooms — too nervous, can’t let go, too unsure of myself, nowadays fear of embarrassment and making people impatient, allowing them to see (while I feel can be seen) aspects of my personality that make me very vulnerable. By contrast, there is Pat, looking out confident, smiling, the only barrier before her, the sun in her eyes, which she fends off.

This evening I sat mesmerized as I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation (with a little help from Harold Pinter, i.e., most of the script) of The Remains of the Day for an umpteenth time. Ishiguro says he means us to take the butler as standing in for all of us: he gets to do a small job, but cannot control how his labor is used. He has little individual say in many major social and political and economic decisions affecting his life. He is also a man afraid of emotions, a man who failed to let his emotional life have any fulfillment. I do identify — and also with Miss Kenton — I’m a profound failure. It’s not that I threw it away, wasted it with no emotional satisfactions (I had my 45 years with Jim, have two daughters, have had a few friends, and continue to make one or two now and again, but barely sustain them), not that I didn’t get to make my own mistakes (which Mr Stevens laments he did not), enacted my own bad judgements. It’s that the disabilities which manifest themselves so clearly to my eyes so in the old photo have prevented me from doing the writing, achieving the book(s), having a social life that I have longed for, never had, never will. Why I am here all alone this evening and will be so for most until I die. Why I go few places.

The first time I watched this I burst into hysterical crying and it took something like 10 minutes for me to calm down. Jim was sleeping so I went into the bathroom in order to muffle the sounds.

I’ve been watching it again as part of re-teaching this course I called Two Novels of Longing etc. , and it is going very well for a second time. I love the books, and the second time through I am handling what I did well the first time even better.

I’ve thought over these couple of weeks since I last wrote how I have still not learned how to refer to saying something without saying it, still often cannot tell what is hinted at in general terms unless someone drops down a notch into something more concrete, that this middle class or level way of talking is beyond me. Each time I bump up against these ever-so-tactful ways of talk, I ask myself, now is this as Aspergers trait or is it rather than I’m not middle class, and a foundational (so to speak) working class identity that I have fled from in numerous ways (and am sitting her at peace because that I did succeed in with Jim’s help) cannot be eradicated. The pain this lack causes me, the mortification I know I’d feel if I had to watch myself teach on a video (my classes are now recorded), I have to hold in check. When I told someone I have not watched myself teaching, she sent me a written description.  I thanked her. Sometimes I think to myself so much has to be held in check. To get along with others pleasantly.

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Summer is definitely here, and in some ways we are post-pandemic, Izzy and I. We went out to a movie the other day, and I discovered that people are behaving very badly on the highways. At high speeds (65-70 mph) they dart in an out of the traffic lanes, move in front, around, speeding up to the side of other people in cars. I came home exhausted that day and another when I visited a friend. Calmed myself down, pulled my emotional temperature, excitement down by a glass of wine, but taking it too quickly, I found after supper I had to go to bed and sleep — for several in one case for a couple of hours in the other. So another response to the dissolution of quarantine, is collapsing, twice, from the effort I have not been called upon to give for quite some time. My first time out I got lost.  In some ways the pandemic is not gone. Both of us still working remotely from home, me still on zooms for teaching, courses, lectures, friends’ sessions. Still over 50% of Americans not vaccinated (what great fools), across the world in poor countries, only a tiny number of people vaccinated and this Delta variant (high contagious and the vaccines are not a total barrier against it) spreading across the globe.

Five of the nine shops that used to be next to the movie-house are now emptied of their businesses. Vanished. Went bankrupt. Who says we don’t need another giant stimulus bill?

The cleaning ladies have now been here three times and done a marvelous job each time – the first for well over 2 hours, which included washing from the inside all 14 windows. (One of them, a Black woman in her later 30s looks very well, all of her four children survived without getting sick.)

Ian the ginger tabby reacted with strong upset. He stayed in hiding under Izzy’s bed from 10:30 when he seemed to vanish until 8 or 9 pm. Then he came out steathily, standing there so still. Since then he has kept making these poignant dismal sounds, wandering about. Last night he wanted to go back under Izzy’s bed but she wanted to go to sleep and she doesn’t like to have the cats in the room with her when sleeping. She does let them in the times I’ve been away, but she prefers strongly to sleep alone. He sat at her door and kept up that mewing sound for quite a while, scratching on the door, and the next morning he was back to that mewing again. Not so frequent. It’s this insistent demanding sound or weak and so desolate And wandering about. I gave him tuna the day after. Two days and nights have gone by and he is now returned to his quiet routine patterns.

So cats have to re-adjust too. Clarycat has spent 15 months as my nearly perpetual companion and I find she does not like when I go out for a whole afternoon.


Clary my perpetual companion

I spent far too much money to have my front patches of flowers and yard once again weeded, mulched, cleaned up, new flower bed put in — I can’t keep this up I think to myself. The man a mean ignorant Trumpite not vaccinated at all, but his wife I’m discovering is a decent person.


Roses and daisies

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I have a book to tell you of, A. N. Wilson’s Stray; a new serial, Us, a four part BBC serial, based on a book by David Nicholls, which reviewers denigrated as a comfort book about divorce; a couple more thoughts on listening (once again) to a four book roman fleuve in translation: Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale (aka My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein who I’ve now seen often enough to know she is dumb when it comes to having ideas about literature) — and the opening spiel for the the course I’ll be teaching the next five weeks, now called more adequately called Writings about Colonial Experiences.

A.N. Wilson’s Stray is a gem in the animal story for adult kind, one which deserves a blog in its own right, together with another moving animal study I read before the pandemic, as thorough in the prose way, as sensitive, Roger A Caras, A Cat is Watching: how cats see us. But I’ve not the ambition so you’ll have to settle for this:

Pufftail has an outlook an outlook and experiences matched by Paul Auster in his book on Timbuktoo, a dog we first meet as “owned” by a mentally ill homeless man in Baltimore. The frame is this is a tale told by our narrator late in life to a grandkitten. This helps me as I know our narrator survived until old age Timbuktoo did not or several times it would have been too painful. The novel proper begins with this novel Puftail as a kitten with his brother taken far far too young from their mother –- the first tragic wrench. The animal store manager is a man interested in animals only insofar as he can make money. They soon are fed as minimally as possible and left in a cage. They realize – because he says so (how they understand English is not explained) – he will drown them. An elderly woman, Granny Harris, comes by and tries to negotiate for one by lying; offers too little, lies about why, and almost takes just one — the brother says goodbye to our hero so plaintively, but the owner throws in the other kitten for a pound. We see the old lady knows almost nothing of kittens for real.

They become indoor-outdoor cats – he and his brother who are named by her Fluffie (that’s our narrator because he has a very fluffy tail – -maybe he’s a middle haired cat) and his brother, Bootsie because his feet and ears are white. He dislikes these names. What is riveting is he tells of how he and his brother kill birds. In a very violent scene we see them stalk and kill a thrush, but not before they “tease” the poor bird a bit, and then we get a description of how they devour the bird. It’s upsetting yet we are distanced because our narrator stops to argue with us — why should we be put off when we eat animals every night. We have someone else do the killing for us. He said he thought Granny would be pleased if they presented the thrush to her. She was horrified – that’s when we get this argument about the hypocrisy of people. She even buried the bird – – and scolded both cats.

What happens is the kind of old lady dies and the cats have to learn about, confront death but the two younger adults are nowhere as responsible and they don’t remember to do things for the cats, yet lock them in. Her adult children come to visit and our narrator and his brother learn to stay away. They are not kind people, have no feel for animals for real, no imagination. Then a truly terrifying moment. I know from all previous cat literature of all kinds I’ve read it’s okay among human beings to kill cats for fun; they were persecuted for some centuries; in the 18th century there is recorded a great cat massacre; torture for entertainment of all sorts was common. Well, the male of the younger couple wants to get rid of these cats as a nuisance — outright kill them. We get this whole sequence as Bootsie, our narrator’s unfortunately named brother, dithers over plans to leave and then it’s too late; they are caught after a fierce struggle and put in bags and throw out of a moving car crazily. Bootsie is almost killed instantly and then run over by a bus.

It is at the same time intermittently very funny. Wilson keeps up a satire on human beings: he describes us as ridiculous from the POV of a cat: how we dress, our sports, out TVs, radios, cars (engines of murder); this undercuts the central story. We are only one-third through. For the rest see the comments. I’ll reread it and perhaps write another blog on compassionate animal books soon.


Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves)

Us is not really serious work as Wilson’s is (it’s made for money, finally all about celebrity, success, and glamour somehow), but it is interesting to watch. What resonated with me was the POV of the husband, Douglas Peterson. He has spent more than 20 years of love and marriage working as a serious scientist and has meant very well by his family. Connie offers no reason to leave him but that now the son is leaving home, she feels she need no longer stay — no other reason is cited (Saskia Reeves as an actress is given the most superficial of roles): it appears she is bored; he irritates her with his earnestness and conventional morality when for example (she says) he should be siding with his son (it seems no matter what, how badly behaved he is to an admittedly thuggish bunch.  He should, do more than tolerate the son’s equally outrageous sudden girlfriend (openly indifferent to everything but what suits her today), even like her because the son is attracted to her. So I don’t see the interesting element in the story as about how a man tries to win his wife back (with the implication he deserves to lose her, though I realize many a cold-hearted neurotypical coarse person would respond this way), but (as The Guardian reviewer says)

Us worked best as a study of a middle-aged man who has the rug of familiarity pulled out from underneath him … Hollander is superb as a man baffled by the need for change. His family want to eat adventurous meals, while he would like to stick with steak. He sees great works of art and can’t help but say that they’d be “a nightmare to frame”. He is everydad, just trying to get by. For all the joviality, though, it makes serious points about the damage that an inability to communicate can cause …

And the indifference of his family (how tiresome he is) to such a person. They wish they could drop him, but are conscious of how bad they look, and they do feel guilty.

It is curious how the focus is on the older husband and then the husband and son, and how thin the depiction of the husband when younger is (a different actor); all three actresses (wife and mother when old; Connie played by a different actress when she is young, and the obnoxious son’s girlfriend) are really dismissed or treated as so many troubles or soothing machines in life. I do wonder if the book is much better ….

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Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) (as to a third season?)

I’m more than half-way through Ferrante’s third book (Those who Leave and Those who Stay) for a second time. I find I underestimated the deep bonding of Elena and Lila – because Elena destroyed Lila’s notebooks and herself literally moved to live elsewhere, but Elena is repeatedly going back; she’s there at crucial moments for Lila and they are a doppelganger of sorts with Elena the Elinor Dashwood and Lila the Marianne. Both are sensibility figures. I feel Ferrante saw this — as she suggested in her introduction to an edition of Austen’s S&S. Sometimes I stop to compare the Italian to the English and often the Italian is not only much better but gives different slant, more political, more socialist, more desperate against the fascism and patronage society of Italy in the later 1960s.


Gilbert (David Oyelowo) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson) — from Small Island (which I’m not doing as too long but hope some to) — they cannot escape their identities

And as for the Literature of Colonialism, from my lecture notes:

But until a couple of months ago my reading was very narrowly focused. I did not realize what a large and varied picture if you start to read stories and essays about colonialism comprises. Hitherto I defined colonialism as usually one group of people traveling to a country say owned or lived on by another group to take over their land, control where they live, live upon it – settler colonialism. Or one group of people traveling to another country and taking over, controlling the reigns of government, and setting up let’s call a layer of powerful functionaries with armies to back them – often using a minority population in the country as their front, with the aim of extracting natural resources and selling them elsewhere or forcing the people there to form a marketplace to buy their goods, also trading with them.

It’s must much wider and concerns many kinds of experiences for many different reasons. I added to our blurb on the syllabus: What is it like to invent a new country? to live in a country that is being invented and excluding or exploiting you? Or a curiously isolated upper class who don’t belong to the country and yet are supposed to be in governing positions? Or to live in an old country where you are not allowed to belong?

But that just covers our books & movies. I will also try to bring out over the next sessions these other characteristics which are so important – repeating characteristics

migrancy (people moving about, and changing their home to another world, refugees, war) – the dangers of this as you don’t know the people you are landing among at all, unless you’re coming to a relative,

liminality (crossing all sorts of crucial and trivial thresholds from going on a trip to getting married to someone or going to live with someone or along) – opening new opportunities you couldn’t have where you were – what does this mean? How does it affect people

hybridity (several cultures and sometimes a new emerging one)

and last, multiculturalism (different groups of people originally separated geographically and now also by ethnicity, race, religion &c)

People do go for all sorts of reasons and a major one is simply war – to escape violence and death and poverty.

And last prejudice, this somehow deeply seated fear of the other – now you are the other or those coming in are the other. There’s an argument we should be doing as we did until 1900 – just let people come in – it would expand our economy, make for new kinds of businesses, new ideas – only controlling for the criminal types who I fear we now let in because they know how to appear rich

The literature also includes this intense yearning for something other, for landscape – yet roots are tremendously important – Simon Weil’s Needs for Roots, existentialism says a lot of what is at the heart of a modern malaise is a lack of meaning from a lack of belonging – but who do you want to belong to? Capitalism recognizes no obligation to anyone but the contract.

Later in the afternoon I was exhausted in the good way, not a collapse. The odd thing is that with all the intense anti-immigrant (because racist) talk, the way I’ve presented the material elicited lots of friendly responses. Of the 30 or so people there I’d say VERY FEW had ancestors who went back beyond their grandparents. Now they are grandparents (many) but their grandparents would be say 120 years old or so – and like me many came from places in Europe, but there were two hispanic people. Also the US has 800 bases around the world (Russia has 4); a huge diplomatic core and is incessantly itself imperialist whether aggressive and nasty and lying like Trump or friendly and let’s cooperate like Biden. All the reading I’ve done has made me expand my understanding and if I were to name the course today it’d be Writing about Colonialist Experiences and the literature since the 1970s is continually pouring out. I’ll include my lecture notes — look at the first three pages and you’ll see what I said — I left out religious persecution as a reason for migrancy, professional reasons (that’s someone else’s words — I’d call it your job). Not in there are spontaneous comments — I told of myself in the south east Bronx for example, Jim from England.

The real paradox is the US is still a nation of immigrants and the people among the US population who go back in time with the families the longest are Black people and a core of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Biden is Irish, Trump Scottish — Clinton represented a family here longer. If I had it to do all over again I might choose different books; but I’ll manage. I do think though a true present-day GOP person might well hate it — they don’t want the truth discussed at all, and the site assistant I know does not like me; she smiles at me with narrow eyes and a hard face — she was offended by me in one of the two previous courses I did where she was site assistant — maybe the Trollope but she could have been there for Bloomsbury. This is my fourth zoom at OLLI at Mason. But if there are (and there are) Republicans in the group they are of the old style “liberal” “moderate” type and no longer represented by the present GOP. Here and there a justification kind of comment or someone saying why this topic …


On my appts book calendar for July: Prendergast’s watercolor, Excursionists (1896)

To conclude: even if through the Internet I have a good deal of companionship when I think of the years ahead w/o Jim, all the daily happinesses I would have, the things we would do together, and now how empty in comparison — also that he’s gone (his own loss) – I’m very saddened. Life was actually easier for me as a widow, staying in. (Among the many comments I have to hear are tactless remarks about how it was our fault he died … ) And the reverse idea were he here I’d have far more to want to go out for, know the surprise joys again.

Ellen