Feeds:
Posts
Comments

On J. R. Farrell’s Troubles [1971 novel set in Ireland 1920s] “Troubles is not a ‘period piece’; it is yesterday reflected in today’s consciousness. The ironies, the disparities,the dismay, the unavailingness are contemporary” (Elizabeth Bowen, a review published 1971)

Dear friends and readers,

You see the increasing good news for people in the US — also other countries, where vaccination is proceeding apace (Israel, the UK, Chile, the US, Bahrain are among these). Pressure is being put on the Biden administration to cooperate quickly over sharing our excess vaccine supply (AstraZeneca, as soon as the FDA approves it officially), and to use a temporary waiver on copyright. I hope people here are aware of how much we owe to Biden and his administration as we move into a post-pandemic era, which Biden is trying also to renovate through the first large and decent gov’t programs intended to reach everyone to enable us to improve our and all communities’ lives. He, his wife, the VP and the others working with and for them are my new paladins and heroines.

I do have some news. I’m near finishing teaching and following courses for this term (today my courses on the weather, Early Pulitzer Prize-winning Women Poets, and Edith Wharton ended) and within a month the summer’s teaching and new (though less than I have been taking) courses begin. For June at OLLI at AU, I will repeat my Two Novels of Longing Across an Imperialist Century, and for June-July (6 weeks) at OLLI at Mason I’ll continue my study of contemporary novels from a political POV, this time colonialist: my books will be Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, Caryl Philips’s Crossing the River and Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River. Although I do have my review of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry yet to do (I must buy the second very fat and very expensive volume), and am part of two reading groups on line (my Trollope&Peers, and an FB The Way We Read Now page) and via Zoom (Trollope Society), I fancy I have enough time to get back to my original projects, let go of this past winter.

But they have morphed from my reading and trying to be more realistic so I can envisage single volumes. Don’t imagine I seek to publish these; I’m returning to the way I was when I translated the poetry of Colonna and Gambara, and did all that original scholarship on Anne Finch, wrote a biography of her, did etext editions and so on. This is to give me a meaningful goal and extend myself, teach myself how to write a book regularly — so to speak. Even at age 74. So I rearranged my books, put many away, made the two stacks for the two courses, and fixed the others towards the projects and towards my sheer love of this or that topic or language or type book — some of the books I read relate very much to my movie-watching and love of travel books.

This was not a trivial task. Some still had their spaces waiting for them but others has lost ground, and I had to improvise shelves, turn the books this way and that, and it took hours to re-pile what I hope to go through this summer in a way that showed the trail or path ahead. Gentle reader, I chain-read.


In this remarkable book (which I’ve been reading) Bowen teaches us how to travel, enacts for us how to think and feel to get inside a place and understand its feeling, an extraordinary recreation of atmosphere

an evocation of a city – its history, its architecture and, above all, its atmosphere. She describes the famous classical sites, conjuring from the ruins visions of former inhabitants and their often bloody activities. She speculates about the immense noise of ancient Rome, the problems caused by the Romans’ dining posture, and the Roman temperament, which blended ‘constructive will with supine fatalism’. She envies the Vestal Virgins and admires the Empress Livia, who survived a barren marriage. She evokes the city’s moods – by day, when it is characterized by golden sunlight, and at night, when the blaze of the moon ‘annihilates history, turning everything into a get together spectacle for Tonight. [As good as Eleanor Clarke’s Rome and A Villa

********************************************************

So I will work on, maybe write my Poldark book but not as a literary biography. I just don’t have the resources or personality to do what’s necessary to be done. My aim now will be to return to reading all his extant works, which I have, including re-reading the Poldarks, and then writing a book on historical fiction and romance. This will lead to me reading more 20th century books, probably mostly by women. I have this term been reading political novels by women, which I discover, to be like many men’s often, set back further in historical time. I need to get back to the Graham books and historical romance.


Lampedusa’s Gattopardo – which I read in the original Italian and at the time thought the best book in Italian extant

This connects to the other project, a book on life-long single women writers. I was having the hardest time deciding which ones — there are so many, as my definition of lifelong single women does not exclude women who have been married. The criteria is rather that they have lived independently, developing their own career or vocation for most of their lives. This term I discovered how much I love 20th century women writers — I just fell in love with two of the women, Bowen and Manning — and how many of these fit my definition. So here as in the other project I must not dwell on a limited number of people but see their work as part of groups, subgenres, and emerge with another related theme beyond this groundwork criteria of a long time alone. If nothing else, this will guide my chain-reading. Right now I’m so taken, exhilarated (by Bowen), interested touched by Olivia Manning and am finishing all of her Balkan and Levant trilogy.

It’s not only the franker and deepening depiction of what goes on between heroine and hero, Harriet and Guy (I may be wrong about Aiden but I’m thinking that Guy is also implicitly supposed to be having an affair with Edwina — the giving her of that rose diamond that Harriet treasured as a gift from Angela is singularly cruel as a careless act) but the actual events we are shown — in the desert and also the colonialist politics where the English are now outsiders, unwanted — for the Greeks divided into fascists who wanted them out and nationalists and communists types too. The gov’t such as it was made a pact with the Germans, who proceeded of course to invade anyway.

I’m finding the whole depiction of Alexandria in a book on far more than Manning: Eve Patten’s Imperial Refuges of such interest – there is a section on the people who lived there — this brings us back to the Durrells — Lawrence, EM Forster, Cavafy, and group of gay people as well as others leading fluid lives not just sexually but also financially (desperate poverty some of them, while others have the private income). She means to bring this group in to — so that’s why I wondered about Aiden Pratt — based on someone real. The matter flows into my interest in colonialism (above), the course I’ll give at OLLI at Mason June-July — and poetry below.


Episode 6 of The Fortunes of War where Harriet (Emma Thompson) visits Luxor conveys the profound pessimism of the symbolic statues Manning intuits
(I’ve been re-watching Alan Plater’s masterpieces of BBC/ITV films)

*****************************************************

More very sad news: one of the friends I mentioned last time who I’ve become close to since Jim died, and who dropped me, Phyllis Furdell, has died. At age 75: her third husband (ex) emailed and then I phoned him and I will be going to her funeral service May 18th. Cheerful on the surface, in her inner life she was a troubled and acid soul; she had only one son, now in his late 50s, who needs someone to help him survive psychologically. She was a good painter and left paintings of the Washington DC subway with people on it (studies). Also astute portraits. Her ex-husband is trying to get some institution or art-seller to take them.

A fellow 18th century scholar, in his later 80s, a colleague, Manny Schonhorn. I knew him only in his later years and as a friend-acquaintance at the EC/ASECS meetings. He was so friendly, kind, full of fun, and candid. Wonderfully pleasant over drinks, informative if you sat with him for a full lunch. He and I would exchange email missives too. I’ll miss his presence at our meetings. He was a Defoe, Swift and Pope, & Fielding man from before feminism and post-colonialism so changed the field.

And a young woman of 43, once Laura’s close intimate friend, the maid of honor at Laura’s first wedding, also died — probably of cancer. Jessie never was able to emerge from her working class deeply anti-intellectual Trumpite family environment; going to college did not help pull her out into other worlds. Her last job was that hard work, little pay install electricity for rich-people’s parties that Laura did for a couple of years. Jessie never got another job; both husband/partners were utter failures; she left a 16 year old daughter. She never traveled (as my 75 year old friend did), never had a chance to fulfill her considerable gifts, never discovered where she could put them to use. Very sad.


20 Years Ago: Laura (bottom to the left) Jessie (top row to the right) as part of a theatrical crew and production

********************************************

On the up side now that the pandemic seems to have lost its grip (and Biden is aiming at 70% vaccination by June), it does look like I’m managing to keep enough students taking my courses and either in the fall 2021 (I’ll do Trollope’s Prime Minister with a book of political writings by 19th century women) or spring 2022 teach in person once again. I hope zooms will continue (from the Trollope Society, from Cambridge, from other academic type environments), for they are a mainstay for me where I don’t have to waste time traveling and can reach more than I ever dreamed of — and where I used to go when my eyes were better, like Politics and Prose Bookstore community in DC where the classes are often at night and I can’t drive. And in less than 2 weeks Laura, Izzy and I will find an Italian restaurant where we can eat outdoors and commemorate Izzy’s birthday: she’ll be 37!


An Image of Stark Grief

That’s all I have to report that’s new of changing, moving on. Maybe I should close on a movie I recently saw which I found to be a dazzling masterpiece — costume drama, period piece, Martin Scorcese’s Age of Innocence out of Edith Wharton’s remarkable ironically titled novel of the same name. I usually tell, however briefly, of a book or movie I’ve recently read or re-read. I was bowled over. Truly. You do have to pay attention to nuances, and respond to the imagery and what happens — Daniel Day Lewis as a profoundly melancholic Newland Archer – and the narrator’s studied lines.

Suffice to say it seemed to me for a movie to be the closest thing I know to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: more adequate to Tolstoy’s book than the 1977 Anna Karenina (which, together with oe Wright’s AK do as much and more justice to a deeply felt and complicated story of human beings than I ever realized before — yes I’ve been reading in this one). Even if I found a class to be worse than a waste of time (parts of the book were dismissed as of no interest – Levin, the politics of the three men &c), I have stayed with the book insofar as skimming/reading and then watching and thinking is concerned.


Stuart Wilson as Beaufort


Joanthan Pryce, the dangerous (blackmailing ever-so-discreet) secretary

Stuart Wilson, the Vronsky of the 1977 AK is the Beaufort of this Age of Innocence: we are in the movie (never mind the book) to assume he and Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer as a nervous, neurotic, deeply passionate and in the end withdrawn to find “repos” woman) have been having an affair — that she succumbs to several men, including her brutal husbands secretary (played by Jonathan Pryce — only a few minutes but he manages to emerge from the costume to dominate the stage with an insinuating dangerous presence). Sian Phillips as the knowing mother who backs the manipulative winner May Welland (Winona Rylands) in order to hold onto her son. The old woman grandmother (the book is about a world of women, a matriarchy) played by Mariam Margoleyes who loves Ellen and knows she should marry Newland but let’s the repressive even spiteful world have its way and grants Ellen the allowance which allows her to live independently in peace, privately.

One of the miracles of the movie is how it alludes to other movies in the same spirit. It is intended to project 19th century or now collapsed attitudes towards marriage and sex – -and does this through presenting the characters as neurotic and near breakdowns as well as the society as incessantly nasty and oppressive. It’s a costume drama about costume dramas as much as anything

Ending on a poem by C. P. Cavafy as translated by Edumund Keeley (there are better translations, one by Lawrence Durrell):

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

This harsh ending means to convey to the person who wants to travel to entertain, flee themselves, provide substitute (tourist?) meaning, that the soul makes her own landscape, your own inner environment, out of ennui or social desperance, you can create your own forms of beauty. It might be you want to reach Ithaca, far away, but take a long time getting there. Olivia Manning returned from Egypt having learned from Luxor to write of Ireland, The Dreaming Shores, with these exquisite photographs of this green temperate world – which I’ve been reading and perusing too.

Ellen


Full Bloom last week of our young Cherry Blossom tree (photo taken by Izzy, close up)

Friends and readers,

A year and seven months after I described my plan and the paper I meant to write for a panel for a ASECS conference to be held in St Louis, 2020, I finally wrote and spoke aloud, and now published via academia.edu this past Thursday and weekend. Among other things, a pandemic intervened, one not yet over, so the conference was held virtually between April 7th and 11th, a phenomenal 193 panels in all (950 people attending!).

While staying home meant things at home kept intervening, and I did not take off from teaching, classes, and my usual life — which this past week included cooperating with the AARP to do our taxes and file them at the library, and driving Izzy to the Apple store to get a physically broken iphone fixed and to the Kaiser Permanente Tysons Corner facility to get her first dose of Pfizer — it also meant I didn’t have the ordeal or cost of a plane trip, hotel stay, tedious expensive (and mostly unedible) meals, cabs &c. I did miss the occasional companionship I’ve experienced at these conferences (in the form of sitting down with someone who is a genuine friend or closer acquaintance — something that doesn’t happen very often), but very little of the other socializing as it’s called.

Consequently, what I managed to join in on, I enjoyed very much. It came at so much less stress, loneliness, and as a retired adjunct, repressed alienation.

What I mean to do is write a series of reports — brief accounts of what I heard and saw — on my 18th century or Austen reveries blog. For now I’m publishing the paper itself digitally on academia.edu; it belongs among the conference papers, as it represents a 9 minute slice out of the 25 minute paper I had prepared. Full title: Vases, Wheelchairs, Pictures and Manuscripts: Inspiring, Authenticating, and Fulfilling the Ends of Historical Fiction and Romance. The session went well and we discussed how absence is central to the project of historical fiction and romance. You want to make present what is not there at all except in the form of relics, remains, left over objects, manuscripts, the buildings that survive, the pictures, the vases ….


Claire Randall looking longingly at a vase in a shop window (Outlander S1, E1)

The paper itself belongs here in my diary entries as it’s not a fully argued paper — its value is the human experience it inscribes. I wish I could link in the video of me talking it as permanently as a cyberspace blog allows; I’m not sure you can reach it even temporarily; but if you can, here is the URL. As you will see though I am again sitting too low, flurried, my voice too high pitched and nervous, the content of my paper was heard clearly, it was coherent and appreciated.

*******************************************


A comical rendition of what you see when you view a webinar from your chair in front of your computer (with cats)

I have now told of four triumphs since I last wrote — Izzy’s iphone fixed, our taxes done and filed; we are now part of the US effort to vaccinating ourselves out of the dangerous and isolated mess an incompetent, corrupt and cruel POTUS got us into, and I did pretty well at a conference, was seen and saw others. For the next two weeks or as long as the videos stay online, I’ll be adding to those I saw and heard in the evenings. From FB on Izzy being vaccinated:

My or our very good news is that today my daughter, Izzy, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine!! I wonder if my bitter complaints about the stopping of Kaiser’s vaccination program helped bring her forward . They resumed yesterday and today mid-afternoon at Kaiser at Tysons Corner, Fairfax, Va I saw more cars in their parking garage than I’d ever seen before. Around my neighborhood people are telling me they are getting vaccinated so I need feel no guilt at least locally (local being my corner of the globe and the sort of society I find myself part of) and broadly from news broadcasts: at this point in those places where people have some sanity and decent local gov’t people are being vaccinated in large numbers.

I feel personally vindicated not only because Izzy in the first group but my calling attention to her autism, meant the nurses there had her medical record. Kaiser was originally set up as a group of doctors insofar as they could imitating an NIH — if they have not kept to that (and they have not), it’s because they exist in a world of ruthless capitalist money-driven medicine and they are forced into competition for funds and against those who loathe HMOs. So they had Izzy’s medical records, and knew Izzy has had panic attacks over vaccinations in the past.

The line while full was kept in order of appt, but she was given individual attention when she was asked to sit in a different area from others (much quieter), and to wait for 30 minutes afterwards, and (I gather) had a nurse sitting with her chatting away about boutiques in Old Towne and going to the movies once again. Izzy told me she felt herself getting very nervous as she waited for the vaccination — she did need this little extra to get through.

We get to repeat this 3 weeks from now, same time, same place. It is the Pfizer vaccine. Two weeks from then she is planning to go to a movie, and I am planning to go to my hairdresser and take her with me to have our hair professionally cut and mine dyed.

Have I said except for some important aspects of foreign policy, Biden has become a hero in the Moody household book?


Ian, not atypically, when we arrive home …

Two sad things happened. One very sad: a longtime friend here on the Internet whom I met and had a good breakfast with in lower New York City, Robert Lapides, died. I commemorated him in a blog. I probably lost another close friendship I had tried to sustain and half succeeded at for something like three years.

I wrote about it on two Aspergers areas, seeking some comfort and support; I did manage to have my trip to Ireland with Road Scholar pushed back a year again, so I will now go alone in August 2022. I do look forward to going to Ireland now: I was worried that we would not get along: differences in attitudes towards money is part of the problem. I say more about this painful experience in the comments.

I experienced one relief.

For months really I’ve been worried that I must make a very bad (egoistic) impression in the every-other-week Trollope society group reading zoom meetings I attend (and most of the time am stimulated by, enjoy) and other zooms as to my eyes my “tile” always turns up on the top row, right near the host, often to the right. People must think how aggressive I am, calling attention to myself. Well no such thing. I’ve been told “everyone sees a different view of the attendees at a zoom meeting with themselves and the host prominent.” Who knew? I could not myself find where to change the place I keep popping up in — because there is no place. Izzy said this was to make your presence easy for you to see, to reassure you you are there. So these experiences are now free of the burden of self-consciousness.


Nicola Paget as Anna Karenina (1977, a forgotten presence: in the snow, distraught)

On the Trollope Society Zooms from London, we are now into Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, which I’m having a slightly different response to. Not much. I am still with Trollope in finding Sir Roger Carbury — along with Hetta and Marie Melmotte — rare characters in the story I can like and admire.

At the one OLLI (at Mason) where I am reading a book with others as a student in the class, I’m just loving Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for the real depth of characterization and inimitable realism of the book. In both cases watching the BBC serials: 1977 AK (with Nicola Paget, Stuart Wilson, Robert Swan, among others) and 2004 TWWLN by Andrew Davies, just brilliant.

*********************************************


I have it in the English translation by Jan Van Heurk

Life goes on. Last entry I told of what I was planning to teach in the fall 2021 for both OLLIs (Trollope’s The Prime Minister, with The Fixed Period at the AU OLLI, and with a wonderful anthology of women’s writing for both OLLIs). I’ve now had the reassurance that if I want to I can teach via zoom for the winter 2022 term, and I’ve thought of two books I’d love to re-read, to study along with other works by these authors for a four week session:

Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Eva Figes’s The Seven Ages. The first is a magnificent retelling of the Trojan War from the POV of Cassandra, with four short non-fiction pieces explicating, embedding (a travel narrative) and situating (it’s a post World War II book) then novel. I read it long ago with a group of friends on WomenWriters@groups.io (we were then probably on Yahoo).

The second is also a partial feminist retelling of legendary and real history, beginning with Anglo-Saxon & Celtic times, taking us up to the present (see this review by Angeline Goreau); the book itself was a gift to me from a grateful student when I taught for one term for the University of Virginia at night (so it has an inscription I cherish), and I remember just loving Figes’s recreation of Lady Brilliana Harley, who ran a siege during the 17th century English civil war.

The course will function as an excuse for me to read other of her books I’ve longed to read (Light, Waking) but could never get anyone on any listserv to do it with me. I have read a number of Figes’s books already. Wolf was translated into Italian by Elena Ferrante so I feel I have not been that far from her during this time of slowly listening to the Neapolitan Quartet in my car, and we did read on WomenWriters@groups.io her wondrous historical romance novella, No Place on Earth.

More general political news: thinking about Cassandra’s full meaning: people may actually beginning to get fed up with the police tyrannizing over us and killing us — it’s spreading to killing whites (!) and that won’t do. Disabled people killed by cops don’t matter (it seems). The problem is the idiocy and norms/values of US people on juries. Northern Ireland has erupted again.

Still spring is here.


My comforts in Jim’s absence-presence

Ellen


This year’s daffodils

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ Age of Phillis: Jeffers has written what we wish Phillis [Wheatley] had, a book length verse autobiography. The opening sequence very moving: imagined to be by Phillis’s mother when she realizes her baby has been stolen from her. Remembering the birth. Then the narrator on behalf of Phillis remembering the terror the child must have felt, the filth, vermin, disease,chains — unimaginable except by just citing facts that are known — of the middle passage. How she survived our narrator cannot say — she was purchased in the US not in Africa … [I read this a couple of poems at a time each night]

Dear friends,

It’s been a month since I last wrote. I haven’t had much to report about myself new or striking, anything different from what you might read elsewhere; I’ve been writing about the movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, online activities with others (discussing books mostly) on my other two wordpress blogs; politics I’ve been circulating Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletters and occasional insightful essays that might be overlooked on my livejournal blog or facebook/twitter. We passed the anniversary of the day we consciously began to self-isolate (March 13th). It was that week that the class I was to teach that spring, “The Novels of E.M. Forster” was cancelled. I had no idea if I could manage a zoom class and it was not until the end of the spring or that summer after I had attended a couple of classes regularly, that I agreed to teach remotely. It was that week Izzy began to work from home remotely as a Pentagon librarian. The gov’t laptop arrived around then.

I’ve now taught five and soon to begin my 6th zoom class, taken many and joined in countless zoom social experiences, conferences, lectures. I enjoy them — when not too many a day. This week the teachers at OLLI at AU gathered to discuss the possibility of hybrid teaching in the fall. Many did admit how lovely it is not to spend such time in traffic, not to have to find parking, to beat time and distance. Izzy has joined a dungeon and dragons group, has her identity and spent her first two and one half jours in this fantasy with others Saturday night.

Very unhappily, though, Izzy has not yet been vaccinated. It appears that Kaiser will not start up again as a vaccination center. There is no reasonable excuse for this: supplies are in. I truly suppose that medical groups who loathe HMOS and have since their start-up done everything to bad-mouth and hurt them succeeded in stopping their fair, orderly efficient vaccinating. This is similar to what happened to another similar group in Philadelphia. Kaiser is shamelessly cheerful in sending out messages about workshops. I have complained bitterly in some encrypted area, asking a representative what is the point of Kaiser’s existence if the organization is not going to operate as a bunch of doctors offering preventive health care.

This, along with the continuing sabotage of the post office, is probably my worst news, & I am still hopeful, believing in Biden’s promises and seeing more and more people getting vaccinated. She has pre-registered where she can. Hope for us we will not have to behave in debased ways chasing anyone by phone or email for an appointment. That she is not yet vaccinated is one of the reasons our lives have not changed much. We did get an appointment at the AARP for the people to make out our taxes; I gather we will bring the forms we have that we have made out as best we can and sit on one of a door, and the tax forms be done on the other.

Two weeks after Izzy is vaccinated, I will go to a hairdresser and have my hair cut and dyed. Then perhaps she and I can have some plan to go out, have a lunch outside with Laura. We will exercise care, still wear masks, socially distance, no museums as yet, and I will be cancelling my trip to Ireland once more, hoping for late summer 2022. But we will be a little freer — she to go look at the Cherry Blossom trees, me to visit a couple of friends more often (Mary Lee, Panorea)


Tom Hollander as Doctor Thorne in Julian Fellowes’s adaptation (I am growing quite fond of a number of the scenes)

My happy satisfying news is all from my participation in reading groups connected back to my love of Trollope and from my teaching at the two OLLIs. First, I did another online live talk, this one on Doctor Thorne. The Chairman of the Society, Dominic Edwardes graciously put the video on the Trollope website, and as well as the text of my talk. He does this so beautifully, especially the video with a photo of me, blurb about me and chosen quote, I urge those who come here regularly to go over and see what I look like and the bit of autobiography that is placed there.

I put the video her too, to have it on my blog, and if a reader would prefer to read it more conveniently here.

I did tell about my upcoming summer courses at both OLLIs: I’ll repeat Two Novels of Longing, which I did very successfully at the Mason OLLI in the winter, at the AU OLLI June 4 week summer study group; I’ll do Post-Colonialism and the Novel at the Mason OLLI 6 week summer course June/July (scroll down for description). This second is a new one, I’ll be teaching books and authors I’ve never taught before. And my proposal for fall at OLLI at AU has also been accepted:

Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5)

The 5th Palliser refocuses us on Plantagenet & Lady Glen, now Duke & Duchess of Omnium, Phineas & Marie (Madame Max) Finn are characters in the story of the Duke & Duchess’s political education as he takes office and she becomes a political hostess. We delve practical politics & philosophies asking what is political power, patronage, elections, how can you use these realities/events. A new group of characters provide a story of corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. And what power have women? We’ll also read Trollope’s short colonialist Orwellian The Fixed Period, & short online writing by Victorian women (Caroline Norton, Harriet Martineau, Francis Power Cobb, Margaret Oliphant).

I just hope I will enjoy all three as much as I’ve been enjoying reading and teaching the four women writers I’m doing in this 20th Century Women’s Political Novels. I have not enjoyed reading books so much in a long time, I just am loving Bowen, Manning, Hellman, and all the books about them and other 20th century women writers, mostly of the left, living through both world wars, traveling about — not just the novels and memoirs for the course but their essays, life-writing, and the movies adapted from these and about their lives. If you read what might seem a dry-as-dust supplementary reading list, you are grazing over profound treasures of thought, feeling, eloquence, activity. I think this is what spurred me on to write again.

How marvelous are women writers writing about politics in novels of the 20th century. I honestly can’t say which of the texts I’ve been reading I love more: Manning’s Balkan trilogy, Bowen’s Collected Impressions, Lillian Hellman‘s Unfinished Memoir and Pentimento, Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Bowen or Hermione Lee’s several books on the women I’m reading (Lee is a brilliant literary critic, no one close reads the way she does so entertainingly and profoundly), Eve Patten and Phyllis Lassner on these British and American women. I’ve read more of the poets of Alexandria at the time, including a few Greek women. I never tire of Fortunes of War. I hope to write a wondrous blog on Bowen, her prose is weighty with a world of feeling and precise intelligent thought, her style just brilliant, Shakespearean to me. I’ve bought myself several volumes of biographies of these women too — when I can make time for these I don’t know: I have to hope to live a long time after I can no longer teach.


I very much profited from and enjoyed watching the 2015 Suffragettes this week too (script writer, director, producers all women, my favorite actresses, including Carey Mulligan, Ann-Marie Duffy, Sally Hawkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai &c)

On twitter the question was asked, which actor resonates in your heart and body the most: for me it’s still Ralph Fiennes (a non-sequitor)


From the Dig, see my blog on Luxor, Oliver Sacks his life, and Dig: Et in Arcadia Ego

I was relieved that I could not give the paper I tried to write a year ago on historical romance (I would have had to do it this coming week), sometimes called “Trespassers in Time,” sometimes “Wheelchairs, Vases, and Neolithic Stones” because unless I could record myselfgiving it, the ASECS group would not have it, so I find my CFP for last year’s cancelled EC/ASECS is good again:

The function of material and still extant objects & places in historical fiction

Martha Bowden in her Descendents of Waverley argues that really there, or still extant recognizable and famous objects in a historical romance function to provide both authenticity and familiarity. I suggest such objects also function inspirationally for authors as well as enabling readers also to become trespassers in time, a phrase DuMaurier uses for her time- and place-traveling in her fiction. I call for papers which focus on material objects and places in historical fiction set in the 18th century and novels which time-travel to and from the 18th century. I also welcome treatments of books written in the 18th century where the focus is on past history as well as any encounters any of us have had with material objects (it’s fine to use manuscripts, paintings, and movies which set us off on our journeys into the 18th century or particular projects we’ve written essays or books or set up exhibits about).

I can use the paper now put aside,  and for the first time ever I’ve thought of people to ask to join the panel (myself! asking others): I shall email the guy who ran this panel this and last and the year before (each time with me giving a paper on it, once a very good one on the Poldark books) and ask him if he would give a paper. It will be virtual conference so it doesn’t matter if he lives and teaches in Montana, which he does. And I’ll ask him for names of the other people. Now he may say no. I even expect it, but that I have someone to ask is a sort of progress for someone like me. I am keeping up my reading on women’s historical romance and Outlander every word each night. I’ve finished the first volume and begun the second, Dragonfly in Amber.


There’s strength in this Cressid as there is strength in Harriet Pringle (who was originally to get the part), with Clarence Dawson’s selfish languid self perfect for Troilus

Anything else happen of note: I told the whole of the Trojan matter story from its opening in the Iliad, through material added in the Aeneid, to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, to Shakespeare’s — I told it in a half-mocking way when I discovered over half the class didn’t know this story matter well enough or at all to get the meaning of Oliva Manning having her British characters put this astonishingly disillusioned, bitter anti-war play on in The Great Fortune: and watching the 1981 BBC version directed by Jonathan Miller I decided here too Loraine Fletcher is right: Shakespeare shows us how Cressida never had a chance to remain inviolate or once “had” by Troilus faithful to him. Some extraordinary performances: a young Benjamin Whitlow as Ulysses, Charles Gray as Pandarus (many in the class did not know the origin of the term), Suzanne Burden as Cressida, Anton Lesser as Troilus – and many others.


Shcherbakova wins the “short” women’s dance — as in opera in Gorey the performers are known by last names ….

Izzy is home this week watching World’s — a championship ice-skating tournament in Sweden — and seems content. The zoom chat she had with a young man her age has not gone anywhere. I did tell you about the proposal of marriage I received, a half-serious one (?), well he was relieved that we would not be going literally to the EC/ASECS together after all. A little there of the feeling explored in Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, which I’ve come to some very different conclusions about in reading slowly with a group: like Trollope’s Miss Dunstable’s way of coping with her foolish self-involved suitors (Doctor Thorne), Brookner in Hotel du Lac has taught me something about older mistaken potentially harmful conventional goals using the allurement of marriage (companionship) too. I read to discover myself and take heed like my heroines. I hope Izzy has wisdom to feel good about what life has brought her this year too. She does yearn to go back to the office; she misses the casual continual contact and felt relationships. Old lady that I am I am so grateful to Jim and chance — and my own hard work for years (though I made so little money, I helped us a lot during harder times) for my comfortable home. I am happy among my books and with my computers working and my daughter and my cats ….

But we are not yet out of the pandemic nor had Biden truly been able to rescue us from the GOP fascist dictatorship threats (for example, stopping huge numbers of people from voting through the use of this filibuster). But we must trust as yet to keeping hope alive.


Clarycat appreciating spring too – what a noisy cat Ian has become! obstreperous, demanding, intensely affectionate bodily ….

Ellen


Laura and Rob get their first dose of the Pfizer anti-COVID vaccine

Dear friends and readers,

The question tonight is, How shall one look forward? I ask it because the outrageous lie that Biden did not win the presidency is still being repeated by corrupt reactionary news-shows (following Trump), a lie carried on to the point one of the congressmen today insisted on putting into the congressional record that the violent insurrection against the US gov’t incited by Trump was done by disguised leftists (with the silly phony name, Anifa). Attempts at voter suppression by the GOP proceed apace. We are not out of danger yet.

Thus I’m teaching a course starting next week on 20th Century Women’s Political Novels: about civil wars in a country (Ireland in 1920, where a civil war was erupting too, aka Bowen’s Last September); about a fascist take-over of another (Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune, the first of her Balkan Trilogy about the German invasion all over Europe, especially Rumania); about crazed paranoia set up to destroy any socialist or liberal movement in the US during the Eisenhower era, undertaken (so to speak) by Joseph McCarthy (the book, Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time); and about what it is like to grow up Black in the US with no protections, little opportunities for economic or personal growth, crushing prejudice and poverty (as a girl and woman especially, in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye). Some of the time since I last wrote an entry has been taken up with writing a syllabus, a great deal of the time with reading books towards teaching the course. If you click on the word syllabus, you will see some of it.

I was also asked about my teaching for coming summer 2021. To come up with sensible viable relevant books for both OLLIs there too, I broke my vow to myself and will be teaching two different courses to the two different OLLIs this summer. That’s because my course called Two Novels of Longing Across an Imperialist Century went over so well this winter at OLLI at Mason, and one of these summer sessions, OLLI at AU, is, like the winter one OLLI at Mason, precisely 4 sessions across 4 weeks. When something goes over so well, I enjoy it so, & then have reason to dislike using what I’ve done but once. So I’ll repeat Two Novels of Longing at the OLLI at AU this summer.

Then I re-concocted a course and set of books that  fit far better than what I had re-concocted for the 6 session 6 week summer course at OLLI at Mason.  It’s that I keep changing these courses because they ask me to early on, and I sometimes guess at a book.

I discovered while I loved Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, most of the people in this class might be very bored, and that two other choices I tried, are racist (I asked myself, how would I feel reading this if I were black and blenched) and colonialist (not post-). If I dropped Naipaul, and substituted his book with Caryl Phillip’s Crossing the River (which I know is a good book, genuinely anti-racist, anti-colonialist), then Forster’s Passage to India makes less sense: it’s too long and I’m not sure is truly centrally about colonialism. My third book you see was and is Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place (I once loved it and know it works as a story). So I dropped the Forster and put in the classic early New Zealand book about settler colonialism, migration, from a woman’s point of view, The Story of a New Zealand River, one of the sources of Jane Campion’s The Piano.

Now the OLLI at Mason course in official prose looks like this:


Jane Campion’s The Piano – an iconic image

Post-colonialism & the Novel

In this class we will explore identity and gender politics, colonialism, emigration & slavery in three novels, viz., Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River, and Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River. We will look at how history, law and custom, violence, cultures, economic and geographical circumstances, and the sheer need for survival affects people. We’ll see one movie, Jane Campion’s 1993 film, The Piano.

I am thinking for the spring after this one, that is spring 2022, to start a “history of the novel,” spring by spring in both places: I could do it without as much trouble as one might think, and, if I keep doing Trollope each fall, this history of the novel would solve the problem of coming up with new courses three times a year. So I need rack my brains only for summers.

Not that I mind all the new learning I’m doing: I’m enjoying and profiting (I feel) enormously by my student of Ireland between 1913 and 1929 for Bowen’s Last September: the War for Independence and the Civil War — see my comments on the film Michael Collins and a couple of good documentaries.

Have I shown you my paper covered DVD collection — sent me by generous friend (who lives in Ireland) a collection of wonderful movies, serials, documentaries made by the BBC and other British channels plus classic and recent very good movies — in my sunroom on the floor

I haven’t said what courses I am taking: one on the weather (meteorology) and one on medieval manuscripts and scripts (with some talk of archaeology and illumination thrown in): at OLLI at AU, plus a class — after watching on your own — discussing films seriously moral and political. The first one up is Network.

***********************************************************

But is it ever so much easier to look back? my last diary entry I shared some photos of myself, Laura and Izzy long ago, and, stirred partly by commentary I received on face-book (and “likes” on twitter from friends), I went back to the old albums once again to find more from a slightly and ten year later era — I found more than I expected I could. And so here they are:


Izzy at age 7 or so, delighted at something she had done in school


Laura age 15, acting a role on stage: so striking someone took some photos (she is wearing one of my dresses and my glasses)


Laura still 15 or so, with me in a photo shop, I am 46


This is a family photo taken on a pier as we waited in Manhattan to take a boat up the Hudson River: I chose it for the sake of this image of Jim, a rare one in quite this pose, relaxed, and projecting aspects of his nature not often seen in photos — he was 37

*********************************

Two occasioned some comment which prompts me to repeat what I continually do when people ask for photos: they tell so little, especially since few look at them carefully and even fewer know the circumstances the picture is capturing.

I had a hard time placing this: I am standing up ironing; I know I cannot be younger than 37 because the surroundings show me Jim and I were living in Cloverway Drive; I was then just pregnant with Izzy but not yet showing (around the time when I began to feel pregnant, for the fourth time, I gave up ironing for good). So winter 1984. Photo taken by Jim. He liked this photo.

The evening I put this on face-book I’ve watched the 1984 BBC movie, Hotel du Lac — I’m reading the book for an FB group read too. I read it for the first time around the time Izzy was born, and I tried to remember why I loved it so then. I am liking it intensely again but I doubt for exactly the same reasons. It takes me back the way looking at that picture cannot and shows me the difference between then and now. 40 years. My guess is I loved the book simply, took the melancholy at face value, identified with the heroine; now I see the book as bitterly ironic, and while I’m with the heroine still, not from the same angle at all. My friend who had looked at the picture and said she never ironed, never learned how (sent her husband’s shirts to a Chinese laundry) the commented: “I read the book some years ago but have forgotten it, didn’t make much impression. Never saw the film.” To which I replied:

Oh it made a big one on me, but at the time there was no way one could re-see a film or read about book except in professional reviews. I had no access to academic databases, no ease in finding reviews in newspapers the way we do today. I watched the film last night and found it was strikingly bitter with a real sting at the end. I’ve forgotten the tone (not the story of the book) and by contrast Brookner’s novel is so gentle; her heroine is not one to hurt others — she is not quite a Fanny Price character because she’s supporting herself very well with her sentimental romances. This time I’m also getting a great kick out of the continual skein or parodic allusion, which gently makes fun of desperate depressed books. This is quite a different response from last time. Now I’ll remark that there is no wikipedia article, it’s not that easy even to find on IMDB (click on above link) if you want all the information.


It’s worth mentioning that, like Edith Hope, Brookner wrote many of these sorts of books, never married — and wrote marvelously insightful books of art history

But even with Booker Prize accolades (and sales power(and Oscars Hotel du Lac had no staying power — though remembered by people like me (who still will probably also love two other books picked by this FB group, of the same type: Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, and Ann Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road. Hotel du Lac is about a lifelong single woman (Anna Massey played Edith Hope) and at its end she does not marry; she returns to a faithless lover who stays with his wife and children rather than marry an highly intelligent but embittered man (Denholm Elliot playing Philip Neville) who wants her as someone who will not humiliate him and has interesting conversation. The movie especially just vanished — yet it was sumptuous (Sue Birkwistle who made the 1995 P&P was the producer). I shall be interested (and maybe dismayed) to see what readers today make of the book. I still love it, though differently. What interests me is I was far from a lifelong single-woman in that picture: I had been married/partnered three times by that time, and was on my fourth pregnancy.

So what compelled me then and still rivets me today is so different and yet the core is utterly the same. It’s that distance that gives me insight into myself more than the image itself. I realize I am not telling you, gentle reader, what that core is.

The other is of my father, taken while on a rare conventional holiday (he never left the US) in Las Vegas (I should report how bored he was, but why did he continually go to hotels), a year before he died — he’s 67, it’s 1988.

Now my cousin, just my age, 74, saw this one and was much moved. It called to mind for her how my father had loved her mother, his sister. So I wrote:

My father was a good and wise man. It took me over a year to stop thinking everyday about my father. It has now been 31 years since he died and I miss him still. It saddens me that neither of my daughters ever knew him for real. Laura has dim memories but she was 11 when he died and does not comprehend what he was beyond this kind playful grandfather – she never saw him enough. Izzy was 5-6 and remembers nothing. My father thought Izzy was a very sweet and intelligent child — despite her evident disability.

By the time I was 10 my father was trying to talk to me as a young adult, we were discussing politics, books, people, ideas about life, so I knew him well. He was the most influential person in my life after Jim who became the center of my existence, as I used to say the blood that flows through my heart. But this photo does not convey his deep empathy with people, that he was a socialist, atheist, lover of books, and a thwarted man whose development was stopped because there was no money to send him to college. I chose it as conventionally attractive in posture, and for the flat cap — maybe it conveys something of his candid identification with working people.

******************************************

Ian and Clarycat on their blanket with cats all over — cats are private animals who reveal their personalities only to those they belong to ….

I began with Rob and Laura the other day getting their first dose of Pfizer. I’ve had my second now. Laura achieved this for her and Rob by doing what many US people are doing: getting on phone, searching the internet, getting on a line, telling your case, finding someone or someplace you know and asking, persisting and being lucky. Clearly the vaccination “roll-out” as everyone is calling it, should not be this way: it’s this chaos, having to know someone, having to be good at the Internet — that is part of what is behind over 500,000 deaths, when combined with Trump’s junta as a gov’t. Combined with the genuinely decent man who means to work at creating a gov’t for, by and of the people, Joseph Biden, and the taxpayer money base congress already passed (not disbursed by Trump because he would not spend money on ordinary people — liked to see Blacks, minorities, the poor, died and who cares about the aging?), we are doing it piece-meal. The Brits too have the money to buy huge numbers of vaccines, made one of their own (AstraZenaca) and with their National Health System and genuine social society will all be vaccinated they say by June.

Last night a segment on PBS about how in Europe they are not getting vaccines — there it was said that the supply is a problem; on DemocracyNow.org it’s said the US and UK and “other countries” bought them up. But the EU had money and two other vaccines besides Astra Zeneca, one called BioNTech were cited. Africa was not as hard hit but has gotten so few it is in danger of spread (and then the virus spreads to other continents), especially from new mutants. Sputnik 5 beginning to be brought from Russia. Here is a good conversation from DemocracyNow.org from a NYC physician making clear how effective the vaccines are, the problems that have arisen from mutants, and a desperate need in the US for universal health care for all.

Here is Salisbury Cathedral now a mass vaccination centre:

Gentle reader, what does that picture tell you? a lot only if you know about England then (when the cathedral was built, when Constable painted it so alluringly) and now.

Ellen


Laura and I around 1980 — she is two and I am 33/34


Isabel and I around 1985/6 — she is two and I am 37/38


Laura, around nine, Izzy three or so, and I am 39 — that’s very old-fashioned wooden rocking horse I picked up used in NYC

Dear friends and readers,

Since the day Biden won and was established in the White House, the general atmosphere I feel all around me has changed. The world goes on much as it did, but the daily news of what the federal gov’t — under Biden’s authority and the man keeps busy — is doing is good: transparency as far as this is possible, truth (ditto), and genuine well-meaning effectiveness is what I view daily on social media on the Internet and what TV (PBS reports) I watch, and what I read in my two basic newspapers (NYTimes, Washington Post). I am more at peace, sleep better than I have in 4 years.  It was a close call, but the threat of a fascist white supremacist dictatorship is checked for now.   And there are four years in which to do things that could prevent it for even a long time to come. My main personal worries have been the erratic post office causing both bills and checks not to arrive on time; I’ve now opened several accounts on-line, agreed to e-bills, so there is only one place where I’m dependent on the Post office: when I mail my check. I do this immediately (drive it to the post office itself nearby), and when there has been a delay, I pay by credit card. I am not-so-patiently waiting for Biden to fire Louis DeJoy.


Illustration by Tom Bachtell

Around 9 am, on January 29th, Kaiser came through for me: I received an email saying I could make an appointment to receive my first of two vaccine doses at the Falls Church facility. Do it if possible today. It’s as I surmised: I am in Category 2 (74), with (2) co-morbidities (I’ve written about these on my Sylvia II blog). Or so it seems — Dr Wiltz (my long time doctor) had signed off for me. This is the sort of thing that Kaiser should be able to do well: they are set up for, their whole philosophy is based on maintaining general good public health for all. A whole floor (the first) of the Falls Church facility (a little farther than my usual site) was dedicated to the process. I waited twice for 15 minutes. Not bad at all. Cars coming in and out so enough parking too.

I wish everyone should get this — but those under 16 — having dutifully read about the Pfizer vaccine I just had jabbed into my arm, I realize that this vaccine is not recommended for anyone 16 and under. The 6 page print-out I was given is cautious: the FDA never approved this vaccine as for sure preventing COVID19; they approved it as probably preventative; if you do get COVID19 after all, you may have weakened symptoms. I am told to carry on masking, social distancing, & washing my hands to protect others too. A brochure included a bunch of plain simple information, including how MRNA vaccines work, where to go if you get some bad symptoms (I’ll call Kaiser). I may still catch the disease and then be asymptomatic, so I must stay isolated still until Izzy is similarly vaccinated; indeed until more than 70% of the population around me is. But it is a relief. I would have bled to death from intubation.

So much safer. I hear of other friends being vaccinated; it is happening around the US slowly but steadily. Biden’s federal gov’t is really buying, organizing, distributing, sharing plans with all the states; we will start to manufacture our own PPE; his gov’t is going to produce and send to every American who wants it, hometest kits for COVID so you can know if you can go out and what is the state of your and your family and friends’ health.

**********************************************

I’m taking now and in the weeks to come a number of courses (too many but they are so tempting, viz., one included Ann Radcliffe’s Udolpho, one on Edith Wharton’s earlier novels, one on Simone Weil, one on movies), teaching one (Forster’s Howards End & Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day) and preparing for another (4 20th century women’s political books). I am enjoying them all and the work I’ve been doing interests me — even a lot, especially anything Hermione Lee writes, Lillian Hellman (a major American writer of the 20th century) and Elizabeth Bowen (one of the geniuses of the 20th century British novel.

I’m also reading Dr Thorne and have gotten to the extraordinary good and long chapter, The Election — maybe this is the first chapter Trollope ever wrote of an election. After reading Hermione Lee’s description of Anglo-Irish novels, especially Last September and some more comic ones I decided that Dr Thorne is an Anglo-Irish novel in disguise. The Macdermots is pure Irish with Dr Thorne (and Kellys & Okellys) Anglo-Irish comedy. It’s all there, the big house in debt, the marrying for money the desperations, the alcoholism, the bastard at the center – I believe Bowen wrote an introduction to this novel in which she almost said that.

I’ve been engrossed by a number of superlatively good movies, and enjoying some of the serials my kind Irish friend sends me copies of from British TV. So I live with how I’ve had to put my projects aside for now.

In Claiming Early America, the professor (at George Mason), for my OLLI at Mason class (retired adults taking and teaching academic courses for fun) ,Claiming America (I watched and recommended last week on FB the brilliant and still important, Even the Rain) has as a topic Women on Trial and suggested last week that Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter may be read as part of a remembrance of a reality not long gone then (or maybe now): the tendency of US culture to put women in trial, as witches to burn them, as transgressors to humiliate them. I read a book a while back about Liberty’s Women, arguing 18th and 19th century women in the US were freer than in UK and western Europe — liminal places, need for them — but according to Tamara Harvey, there was immediate ferocious push-back in more settled areas. Is not that revealing?

I can’t reread SL (haven’t time or inclination) — I’ve read it twice, once in high school (required) and again as an English major required to take two courses in American literature, one has SL. I have read and taught in colleges a hilarious parody: Wm Styron’s The Clap Shack, a very funny play about a bunch of marines quarantined with venereal disease where every one is required to wear a yellow letter C hanging across their chest. They have all had the Clap.

Snatches of Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer and others are sent by attachment and she recommended as superb Susan Howe’s The Birth Mark

in which Emily Dickinson’s retreat suddenly is not an anomaly to the way women were treated in the US — especially religious communities

This perspective is really about how today people are reading older American classics, i.e., Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter very differently from once the way they did. I hope people here will find this interesting. It’s also about American literature of the 17th through long 18th century, women’s position in book and US culture

********************************************

We are in full winter — cold snow and ice days, freezing rain for hours on end.


From Laura’s window


Ian and ClaryCat all cuddled up

You owe this blog to Izzy having finished another of her songs and one of my friends putting on Facebook photos of herself and her son from long ago (like 50 and more years when she is 20 to say 22, and he is 2 to 4) and recently (now she is 75 and he is 56). So I scanned in a few photos of Laura, Izzy and I from long ago too. Here are two more of them; in the first Izzy seems to me not much more than two and Laura not much more than seven. In the second Izzy is probably five or six, with Laura around eleven

To fulfill the aim of comparison, I have a photo of Izzy and Laura, a close-up of them on a short weekend together in New York City in August 2018, one each the spring before of Izzy and Me and Laura and me in front of the famous Milan Cathedral


At Coney Island

And two in-between: one spring, 1991, in our front lawn, Laura and Izzy:

and a last of me, 2003, one Christmas


I’m watching Laura and Izzy wrap presents, and Jim is about to play the piano, 2003 (so I am 57)

I do have some photos of them in their teenage-hood and myself in my later forties and, gentle reader, if you can bear another such blog and I can find and scan more suitable images from two more older albums, I’ll add those to this public diary.

For now I’ll close with Izzy’s latest song: All I want by Toad the Wet Sprocket:

Nothing’s so loud
As hearing when we lie
The truth is not kind
And you’ve said neither am I
And the air outside so soft
Is saying everything, everything
All I want is to feel this way
To be this close, to feel the same
All I want is to feel this way
The evening speaks, I feel it say
Nothing’s so cold
As closing the heart when all we need
Is to free the soul
But we wouldn’t be that brave I know
And the air outside so soft
Confessing everything, everything
All I want is to feel this way
To be this close, to feel the same
All I want is to feel this way
The evening speaks, I feel it say
And it won’t matter now
Whatever happens will be
Though the air speaks of all we’ll never be
It won’t trouble me
All I want is to feel this way
To be this close, to feel the same
All I …

A reproduction of a painting of an Italian sloop — it was a favorite picture of Jim’s; he had it in his office when he was the Branch chief of a division; it’s now on one of the walls in my front (living) room near what was his and is now Izzy’s piano

Ellen

After four years of worn-down nightmare
After the long anxiety of having won
Then the startling horror & disbelief
We are at last rewarded with the usual

I’ll never know why people want fairy tales

The sane people have come out of hiding

Or, In which the miraculous no longer feels like a common occurrence … (I paraphrase former POTUS Reagan)

The inauguration of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as vice-president began last night at 5:30 pm. As per the instructions I saw on a tweet from the Joe Biden group (what shall I call them?) Izzy and I put 6 (battery-operated) candles in two of our front windows to shine out to our neighbors (and by extension the world) to remember with others all the people who have died and celebrate the coming inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President & Vice President of the USA. I watched the ceremony on TV, PBS — very beautiful, discreet, contemplative. The house next to me (a male gay couple), one across the street from me (another widow living with an adult child, in her case a son), and a house not far off (very rich people, two couples now living there since the adult son had lost his good job) all had candles in their windows.

Then the next day around 10:30 Izzy put on her TV and the events of the day had begun. I went in and out of said room from mine to see how proceedings were going. Of course I had seen the images of DC as a militarized fortress (later I learned that 12 of the 75,000 + National Guard from around the US had been plucked out of their ranks, that five were indeed dangerous, and one boasting of what he did on Jan 5th or was going to do).  I had worried a lot about a sniper. I am old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination and how Lee Harvey Oswald was able to murder Kennedy from the window of a high office building (or warehouse) in Texas. I kept trying to remember if there were any high buildings close to the capitol and could not. I relied on said military, FBI and all the responsible people to have made the building and stairs and area safe.

When I had woke up, I had had this strange feeling this was a special day. I have never felt that about any day but Christmas when a child, and that has faded. Clarycat was puzzled. I was not sitting in the usual places, doing my usual routines. Why were we spending so much time in Izzy’s room? Why were we in the front room? but she followed me back and forth, sometimes taking out time to sit by a heated grate or lick Izzy lest she feel left out.

The TV was replaying Trump’s goodbye address. I saw only the lift-off of the US tax-payer-paid military helicopter carrying the Trump grifters into a distant sky, & thought to myself what the band should be playing is “Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more/Hit the road, Jack, and, don’t you come back no more …. I expected to cry at noon as Biden and Harris are sworn in (I get slightly choked up just thinking of it), but I remembered that in Austen’s Mansfield Park when Sir Thomas left for the West Indies, not to be back for however long, Lady Bertram & Mrs Norris both expected to cry & didn’t manage it …

In the event I didn’t cry, I managed only a welling up of satisfaction, and sense of peace and hope. The building which had around 2:30 pm on January 6th been swarming with crazed men filled with hatred, armed (in the background the ever-present Judy Woodruff her voice quavering with horror, trying to remain calm), police getting beat up, was now a scene of orderly democratic ritual. Soon I would hear strains of John Philip Souza, and indeed I did eventually.  I began to watch in earnest around 11:20 as the central actors came down the steps.

I hope I will be permitted a feminist joke. Izzy had on MSNBC and I had put my TV on in the front room (just in case somehow something somewhere was registering how many viewers PBS was getting) and kept going back and forth to hear Judy Woodruff, James Fallows (once a speechwriter for presidents), and a little later Michael Gerson (his face was suffused with tears). After VP elect Harris came down the stairs with her husband (the second gentleman — like a character in The Winter’s Tale), Judy Woodruff could not resist seeming to express admiration for what she said was a feat: “she didn’t hold onto the bannisters, but took her husband’s arm.” Yes Harris was in absurdly high heels. Judy would notice — probably there was a time when she wore such shoes. I never wore quite such high ones. I had noticed First Lady Dr Jill favored very high heels, and lo and behold down she came, arm-in-arm with her husband — so there was no need of negotiation — she just sailed down. I did like her blue coat and under-dress with its shimmering white effect; the colors she wore favored her so why shouldn’t her also very high heels also match? The queen (Elizabeth)’s mask nowadays matches her (probably empty) purse and (far more sensible) shoes (but then she’s in her 90s). (On Trollope&Peers a friend reminded me that Nancy Pelosi is another powerful woman who teeters about in these lunatic shoes — in her case doubtless to beat back any realization she is a great-grandmother.)


Former president and Michelle Obama coming down the stairs – she gets to (or thinks she should) wear flats because she would tower over him, as she is very tall

Biden said all the right things and it felt sincere. I begin to see why he gets votes. Not super-intellectual, not rhetoric, but plain words sincerely meant. Four points: he will lead a successful effort to end this pandemic, to stop the sickening and dying. We can do it. We can also turn around this bankruptcy, desperate economic conditions for most — and he has a trillion dollar bill to do it. We will control climate change. And we will work to eliminate (as far as we can — there was always this reality check in his language) racial injustice. On the way he talked of a plan to bring some millions of immigrants to this country into citizenship. End the hate, end the lies. It was what I wanted to hear and I am for his achieving that and much more. He did talk about US allies, rejoining our partnerships, with an implication of securing peace and helping prosperity for all together. It was a continual rebuke of all Trump had been.

I stayed for the songs — Lady Gaga was embarrassing because she over-did her costume and her song — she was trying to turn rhyming 18th century verse into personally felt rock-n-roll. Jennifer Lopez also (to me) overdid it. “This is my land” (Woodie Guthrie) and “America, America” (Ray Charles’s old standby) are not supposed to be personal expressions of an exotically dressed star. A male country singer came down the steps without a mask, sang more simply (acapella Izzy calls it — without instruments) “Amazing Grace,” and succeeded much better. Unlike most others, he shook people’s hands. I wondered if he was a lost Trumpite come to the wrong place (bad joke alert). Amanda Gordon’s poem rhymed, it felt rollicking. The prayers of the two preachers before and after were also appropriate — I like the second man’s especially.

A little later I again watched — all the three former presidents and their wives stood at attention, in came POTUS Biden and VP Harris and they symbolically laid the waiting wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. A trumpet played taps. Very touching.  Then they all departed, the Bidens to the motorcade, which would take them to their home for four years — to start work, and they did. Around 8 or so I caught the new press secretary, Jen Psaki, back in the familiar room, doing the usual things, even calling on the wire service person first. She promised more print-outs next time.

I did mean tonight to watch on TV the virtual celebration. Since I have never been invited to any of the usual balls or parties, this could have been for me a first time in joining in. But Judy Woodruff would go on and on with her thoughtful interviews (people saying the expected things far too carefully) so I gave up. When I came back, a group of Latino young men were making music I can’t respond to, so I turned back to this computer and watched and listened to a couple of interviews Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez conducted with Waleed Shahid, the campaign manager of AOC on how to push centrist democrats to the left — Shahid seemed to feel this might be a moment like that of FDR where the need is so strong and the past so grim, Biden will succeed in getting his program through before the next election can threaten his thin majority. A “whistleblower,” John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst and case officer who exposed the Bush-era torture program and was the only official jailed in connection with it, had a true story to tell about how pardons were “going” for thousands of dollars or a couple of million (Rudy Guiliani’s price) to get to Trump to ask. He was told by Trump’s son-in-law to write his story on 3/4s of a single page, and the last quarter should say what Donald Trump will get out of this. Then a Vanderbilt professor and political analyst-author, Michael Eric Dyson talked of what an unmitigated disaster the last four years have been (a fulcrum for fascism).

Undeterred I tried again, this time through WETA online and finally was rewarded by this beautiful song, beautifully sung — out there in the freezing cold windy night beneath the statue of Lincoln, on the steps of the memorial, Bruce Springsteen: “Land of Hope and Dreams:”

I can hear fireworks from afar.

Hope is alive tonight as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris get to work with their team,
Ellen


From the New Yorker, by Carita Johnson

Part of the joke is the Bergman films: this low anguished voice muttering on and on, mad figures in black-and-white, outside somewhere, old man in meadow, girls by the sea or by trees, old women in beds, a figure shrouded in black playing chess; deserted streets, ticking clocks, crosses carried by quiet medieval-dressed mobs crossing bridges … What’s a cat to make of this?

Friends and readers,

We all need hope, we need reassurance. As yet the election of Biden has held fast, the courts, the state legislatures have all held to the law and order and truth; the only mobs and violence have happened one Saturday when a group of horrific Klu Klux Klan types of white man in suits rampaged through DC looking for someone to fight/kill, and finding few targets defaced Black churches and burnt their Black Lives Matter signs. Now Trump and his junta are at it again, threatening a coup of January 6th in congress, backed by violent mobs invited to come to DC.

How shall we keep our spirits up? to get us to January 20th when we hope to watch Biden and Harris inaugurated into office and the Bidens move into the White House that or the next day or so? With their two dogs, Major Biden and Champ, and their First Cat, a rescue animal


Read his or her message to us in the New Yorker

He is moving in January 20th. He has outlined his strategy: When Proud Boys and such-like Trumptrash ilk go low, he’ll go lower: right under a nearby bed. Let us hope (rely on him also) to sniff out any remaining rats.

I suggest we all make a list of 10 good things that happened to each of us this year, ten events that made your or a friend happy, gave you joy, pleasure. Here are mine:

1 Biden won big;

2 Laura & Rob know great joy from adopting adorable loving active kittens;

3 I found fun in London Trollope Society and pleasure in many sorts of zooms & online culture (I did a live video talk!);

4 I taught wonderful Bloomsbury in novels & pictures this past summer;

5 I did read some wonderful books, lately Harriet Walter on acting Shakespeare (Brutus and Other Heroines), Carol Rutter’s wonderful actresses on acting Shakespeare’s women (Clamorous Voices), the book’s editor, Faith Evans.  Then Anna Jameson’s Shakespeare’s Women, Loraine Fletcher, Honor Killing in Shakespeare (she really reads Shakespeare from a vitally alive thoughtful feelingful woman); returned to reviewing the new standard edition of Anne Finch’s poems and reading the two new literary biographies of Vittoria Colonna in Targoff and Musiol’s books;

6 my cats crossed a threshold of becoming overtly loving as I reciprocated better;

7 the fifth season of Outlander, & I watched all 4 seasons of The Durrells, all 7 of A French Village (in occupied France);


Keely Hawes as widowed Mrs Durrell

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fraudulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit. Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

8 I was able and continue to be able to stay in my house with all Jim & my things around me still, with Izzy staying well and keeping her good job as librarian remotely;

9 people were remarkably resilient and resourceful during horrific pandemic, even in US where their fed govt has been taken over, corroded, ruined by a remarkably evil man;

10 I cannot think of any more because over 330,000 people in the US died (millions elsewhere), economy is tanked, evictions near for millions, and at the rate the vaccines coming from Trump & Junta we’ll reach immunity 10 years, but remember No 1 which Heather Cox Richardson reassures me will be realized, with a new POTUS, and decent competent people in charge Jan 20th of US for better or worse this powerful nation-state, with much riches now kept to a few but hope this will change somewhat …

***************************************

Rituals together every year can and do help; they embody hope, perpetualness, a stability and order, security into the future. That’s why putting up the tree, exchanging gifts, or whatever you do each year matters. So this year again watch a favorite movie or movies — as we cannot go out lest we spread the disease and sicken ourselves – let us stay above ground!

Marley was dead, to begin with …


Scrooge dancing with Fred’s wife … a polka

Earlier this week I watched the 1951 Scrooge — I didn’t realize it was not titled A Christmas Carol (they used to do this sort of thing, mistitle classics as if that would make the film more popular?) — with Alistair Sim. I had read Margaret Oliphant’s ghost story riposte; nonetheless, I wept and wept towards the end. With a kind of painful joy — worried the old man would not be forgiven. It’s wonderfully witty too. See my blog. I felt similarly towards the end of the 1945 It’s a Wonderful Life! (with of course James Stewart and the old MGM crew, Capra doing it) — my younger daughter, Izzy, and Capra’s beautifully socialistic angel film, on Christmas Day. I had forgotten I admit how small a part in time the Clarence segment is against the whole film; it’s only the last quarter or so. I found myself moved to tears. It’s more relevant than ever. Mr Potter is now a (weak) stand in for Trump (who just cruelly threw a wrecking-ball at any security or peace those dependent on gov’t in some way [and who is not?] needs). I had forgotten how Clarence appears only in the last quarter or so of the movie. All an apparition? a bad dream? No one takes it that way but you could.


Clarence, Angel (second class) listens to the distraught George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart)

Modern day re-makes have no idea of how to come near these because the emotions brought out are positively discouraged, even sneered at in our culture. Yes great performances, but no actor would be permitted or dare to show such anguish, such joy, such social feeling — it’s as if we no longer understood these feelings. But I don’t think that’s true because there are two films of Dickens that come near — though shying away from total immersion: these are with respect to Dickens books (whether faithful or appropriated) the 1999 David Copperfield (BBC serial, with Bob Hoskins and Maggie Smith), and at moments the 2002 Nicholas Nickleby (Douglas McGrath, wonderful cast).

Then we had a Zoom with Laura and Rob, and exchanged presents (they had sent ours to our house; we had sent theirs to their house). Then Izzy and I had a steak dinner …

I did miss Boxing Day. I didn’t expect I would miss the second day of Christmas as so often the first has been a trial. But what a let-down to just go to the supermarket the next day. Whatever smidgin of magic is left from early childhood hadn’t a chance. And, Izzy and I, — with Jim, have gotten so used to this second day. Around 2000 Jim, I, and Izzy, went to Paris for 2 weeks in the course of which occurred Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. It was partly to break a pattern of very bad Christmas days — we did a totally different set of things. Paris is not closed on Christmas day at all — or it wasn’t in 2000. An open market had a lovely French Christmas roll cake; we went to the theater; walked … Thereafter at home, here in Alexandria, we had Jewish Christmases: a movie and a Chinese meal out (mostly Peking Duck); then the next day, a museum trip.

And now tonight. I watched the Metropolitan Gala from Germany, two Italian tenors and two Black sopranos, one a beautiful young woman from South Africa. I didn’t care for the first part (about an hour) where they did Donizetti as if they had to prove how brilliant singers they are but were not permitted to sing anything truly moving, but the second half was traditional Italian songs (the kind Pavarotti used to sing), haunting tunes from The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus (the bat!). Tears came to my eyes again.


The Met has not been generous with allowing clips of this concert onto the Net so here is Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau in a softly intimate rendition

Now at 10:30 pm for the first in my life (74 years) there is no mass crowd in Times Square! I looked on TV and it’s nearly empty. I have been on Times Square on New Year’s Eve at midnight twice (with two different husbands), and have wandered through earlier in the evening a number of times. I am told that the clock will still come down at midnight but we must watch it on TV or some Internet channel — to be safe and help others stay safe.

************************************


A 1950s cover and price …. — it is still in print with a cover that appeals to audiences today


Recent cover — a much less silly version of a romantic male, more a man of sensibility (like Hans Matthesen whom I loved in Davies 2002 Dr Zhivago serial)

Rituals include remembering back. An FB & Trollope friend posted a photo of a set of very old-fashioned Christmas classic books for children (or just the 19th century good ones that ended in children’s hands, some of which are also reading for adults). He said he was reading through them (they included books like Treasure Island, What Katy Did, Water Babies), whereupon I made a feeble quip: “Very virtuous.” But then I told a memory that often lingers in my mind because it is how I first started to read the English classics which have been so influential in my life:

Another thought: I first became acquainted with, well, read British classics because my father had sets of books which looked like that. They would be a soft hard back, colored brown or some other serious color, with silver or gold lettering. Memory is treacherous but I think he told me he bought them from the Left Book Club when he got into his teens. He kept them all wherever he moved. It is a sad conclusion: but Trollope was in none of these. Austen, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Brontes, RLStevenson but no Trollope. Perhaps he was considered too “adult” — without adult meaning sexy or violent. Another neglected author was Elizabeth Gaskell. I first become acquainted with (there I go again) Trollope as an undergraduate in an American college classroom (Dr Thorne); I first heard of and then read Gaskell at Leeds University; one of our “set” books for the third year (the one I placed in) was North and South. The influence of such sets of books for more working class and lower middle American children may be important — but it was the Left Book Club that offered them very inexpensively.

I hope I am not writing too much here. I looked at the spines and some are books I identify as for adults (Lorna Doone), or the kind of book that really is for adults but has been relegated to school reading (Silas Marner). I find I have not read a lot of them (just an impression) and my surmise is that shows I’m not British so many were not available just like this (for example so much Kipling), but also around 11-12 I switched to supposedly adult books brought into the house by my mother who joined a Book-of-the-Month club and there I read books like (wait for it) Gone With the Wind, by pseudonym authors (Frank Yerby) and voyeuristic semi-salacious (Peyton Place, probably around age 12 to 13 or so), historical romances.

In more chat I had to confess I’d never read Forever Amber, or God’s Little Acre. But I do remember to this day a historical romance set in the Highlands of Scotland (!, yes even then I was allured by books about Scotland), The Border Lord, whose author’s name started with Jan, but maybe it was a pseudonym. Within minutes someone told me the author’s name was Jan Westcott, and the book a perfectly respectable researched fiction; Westcott makes wikipedia, The Border Lord her first bestseller. I didn’t write that I wish I could remember the title or part of the name of another Book-of-the-Month club set in Italy, about a peasant girl called Pia. I read that over and over, & identified with this girl consciously; now I guess I knoq I also identified with the upper class Anglo-Italian narrator (a precursor for me of Iris Origo). In our ends are our beginnings. My mother persisted in throwing out these books. I tried to stop her but she’d throw them out when I wasn’t around. She sometimes overtly hated the reality that my father & I were reading people, we did it “all the time” (angry tone of typical quarrelling) instead of the kind of socializing she wanted from us. So the book is lost; it too harbors what I would read and study still.


The 1920s Everyman — noticed it’s packaged as part of a set of elite elegant beloved books — Dent then as found in Penelope Fitzgerald’s wonderful The Bookshop.

I will be watching the 1983 BBC Sense and Sensibility scripted by Denis Constantduros later tonight: I am up to episode 6-7. It is very good if you give yourself time, patience and are willing to enter into the dramaturgy of the era.

****************************************


Their closest physical moment: Miss Kenyon (Emma Thompson) attempts to make Mr Stevens to show her what book he is reading (Remains of the Day, 1992)

I am now reading for my coming teaching this winter and in the spring (and even thinking ahead for the summer. I finished Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans and realized I cannot put it across to a class. How to explain this wild post-modern post-colonial parody of a 1930s female detective story morphing into wild gothic parodies (a la Radcliffe around labryrinths) and finally a spy story of horrific violence and betrayal. Then I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala The Remains of the Day, and knew I loved it, understood it, can explain (as there is rationality to explain), the film being better than the book. Here’s my new blurb:

Two Novels of Longing

The class will read as a diptych E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989). Both examine class, race, war, fascism and colonialism; family, sex, and property relationships from the “empire’s center,” England, from a post-colonial POV. The core center of both novels is the human needs of their characters against capitalist, gender- and class-based backgrounds. I suggest people see on their own either the 1992 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film Howards End (w/Thompson & Hopkins) or 2015 HBO serial, Howards End (Kenneth Lonergan w/Atwell & Macfayden); and the 1993 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film The Remains of the Day (also w/Thompson & Hopkins). We can ask how ironic romances can teach us fundamental lessons about how to survive and thrive in today’s worlds.

For summer, though I love it, I doubt the class will love Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival — I identify with his outsider meditations, and longings to belong in my uprootedness, and especially in England, but will they be able to cope with these meditations. I tried In a Free State, the Booker Prize winner, and discovered it’s painfully racist: if I were a Black person reading this satiric comedy by supposedly naive Indians seeing Black people for the first time, I’d be electrified with mortification. So I switched to Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this Carribean Leeds man in the first place. I also loved his Cambridge, and am now set to read two more: The Lost Child, a sequel to Wuthering Heights, perhaps The Final Passage. I’d do Andrea Levey’s Small Island but it’s too long for summer. So, with my blogs (e.g., on The Crown) and other projects (women’s poetry once again), and for two very different list communities reading Trollope’s The Three Clerks, and Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Diary, I have not lacked in things to do … Lucky me, to belong to two OLLIs and have made so many friends on the Net.

**************************************************

Dear readers, friends, I end here. I’m trying to think how to pass the last hour of this profoundly dangerous year for us all — and we are by no means out of danger yet — another coup will be attempted Jan 20th, a variant of COVID 70% more infectious is spreading, and as long as Trump and his vicious crooks are in charge you may be sure nothing will be done to get the vaccines to the average person for months to come … (forget the ordinary postal mail, and the poor post office people until the Trump rats can be removed). We may be sure Biden and his wife will go on no killing sprees (such as Trump has and now pardoned people committing massacres, a woman who set a dog taught to be vicious on a homeless old man, like to do).

Here is one of their Christmas messages to the world:

We must carry on — there is no other choice. Not give in, not give up. There is harm in not hoping, in resigning and complicity and good in holding onto our moral compass as we enter another cycle of seasons. Let us remember E.M. Forster’s What I Believe and his adjuration: we with those like us can slip under the wire, form small groups of decent ethical people, sensitive, for good arts, true beauty, a pro-social democratic multi-ethnic, racial, religious secular tolerant world; the gate is opening again and we must be alert to go through to prevent it swinging shut again.

Ellen


Back from Trader Joe’s this morning, Izzy put the yellow flowers I bought on the credenza, my photo includes this year’s tree

Dear friends and readers,

Another year draws to a close, my 8th winter without Jim. I don’t have the ambition or confidence of previous years to review another year in books, or movies; instead I thought I’d mark the time by framing what stands out tonight, what I want to recommend, with just a couple of Louise Gluck’s poems from Averno, her 10th collection of poetry, wintry as its title. I am gradually learning to love her poetry, and understand why the Nobel committee awarded her their prize this year.

From October, No 5 drew my mind because I remembered myself at age 24 during a two-hour subway trip to Brooklyn College reading intently, a small volume of poems, Minor Poets of the Eighteenth Century, chosen and seemingly edited by Hugh L’Anson Faussett, immersing myself, shutting out the world around me (screeching with noise, very ugly) with the melancholy, picturesque poetry of retirement of the era (Anne Finch, John Dyer, especially). Gluck also refers to the “ornamental lights of the season” which are (those I can see) outside my house, to which I contribute two sets, one on each of my miniature magnolia trees.

October, No. 5

It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees: we are

companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private house,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a devise to refute
perception — At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world:

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.

I remember that particular morning because when I got to my stop, I jumped out of the train, and left my little book behind. Oh how I grieved. I had found it in the Strand; I could not duplicate it in any way. Well this evening another copy of this edition is on a shelf behind me, I took down, a faded green covered volume I re-bought many years later off bookfinder.com, through the internet. Although I have not chosen two poems which show this, she is especially effective in her use of classical mythic figures — Persephone her icon.

Gluck’s Persephone: someone abducted, raped, imprisoned, then a bargain struck by predator Pluto/Hades with her mother Ceres/Demeter so she spends 6 months free and it’s spring
on earth, and 6 months in hell. A wanderer. No focus on her and her mother that is intimate.


A ruined temple to Apollo near Lake Averno


Ian today, one of my mostly silent companions


Clarycat too


One of Laura’s adorably innocently loving kittens, Maxx (photo taken by her)

Then dwelling here for a moment to answer the question does one book stand out for you from all the year’s reading as what you’d like to remind others of or recommend because it has important knowledge, compassion, beauty and truth in it: well, J. R. Ackerley’s tribute to his canine beloved, My Dog Tulip (non-human animals living lives as valuable as worthy as ours), Marjolaine Boutet’s Un Village Francaise: Une histore de l’Occupation, Saisons 1 a 7 (telling sincere truths about French life, society, occupied France, what happened and the aftermath). Any movie or serial for TV, on the internet: at the opening of this year I was still watching The Durrells (profoundly humane, delightful comedy, the tragic there too, from Gerald’s fat book).


Keeley Hawes, one of several beloved actresses, reading aloud Dowson’s “Days of Wine and Roses” to her 4 children & her household (Season 2, Episode 4)

I gave myself a course in E.M. Forster, the Bloomsbury group in all their phases, and what I could read of Black (Afro-diaspora, several blogs) and post-colonial literature and biography (ditto).

So here we are again (31 days before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office at last, and do what they can to rescue the people of the US from the results of a disastrous 4 years), winter solstice:

Louise Gluck, October, No 4:

The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.

This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared

The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.

This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.

Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.

So much has changed. And still, you are
fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.

The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.

And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eyes gets used to disappearances.

You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.

A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.

How privileged you are, to be passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.

Maestro, doloroso:

This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.

But I hope I will be spared, my two daughters and son-in-law — and all the friends and acquaintances I know — from COVID, impoverishment and despair,


A photograph I found on the Net this year: Amy Helen Johannsen, Woman Hitching Dangerous Ride, Bangladesh

Ellen

On being Dr Ellen Moody


Dr Jill Biden, wife of Democratic candidate for President Joe Biden, talks with educators on June 19, 2019 in Rochester, NH.

Friends and readers,

Yesterday I read an egregiously condescending (and insinuating) Wall Street Journal column by Joseph Epstein, “Is there a doctor in house …. “. Says he: “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo … ” Kiddo. Her title strikes him as “fraudulent, if not comic.”

Not long after I tweeted to Dr Biden as follows — the very first time I’ve ever addressed a public figure — “Keep using the title you’ve earned. Just before he died, my husband put all our investments in a Schwabb account under my name as Dr Moody. I am Dr Ellen Moody, I have Ph.D. in Eng Lit, which it took me 10 years altogether to earn. Stay with it. I rejoice so you’re going to be our First Lady. Who the fuck is he?” What’s is his problem? how dare a woman have credentials beyond the Mrs? He implies it’s in bad taste and absurd for her, as the US president’s wife, the First Lady, to use the Dr.

Since then Epstein has been more than adequately responded to by other people writing in prominent places, e.g., Monica Hesse, for the Washington Post Not only does he show how eager he is to demonstrate he has been mistaken for a Ph.D, I’ll add he shows he despises those who have one. It is not once upon a time that one had to work hard to get a Ph.D. — it was not that long ago that I had to pass three language exams, pass a two hour oral exam, write a prospectus, get it approved, write the dissertation, and then defend it — all while I had been teaching for 5 years of it so-called part time. I taught as many hours and more than many a tenured professor during term time. And I am a much better teacher of British literature for having immersed myself in it, to begin with.

Is it true that one should take into account what milieu you are in in choosing what title you want to be known by? Yes, but in most milieus, pace Mr Epstein, a Ph.D is respected. It is true that I was called Mrs Moody in the public school my daughters went to — though many women had begun to use Ms, and when I was called Ms I thought it just as appropriate. In England many years ago, I’d be called Helen and I left the mistake alone. Nowadays I also don’t bother correct people who call me Elinor. (Elena in Italy.  Ellen with a French accent in French.)  But otherwise, at university, where I worked outside university, everywhere I was part of professional life I was Dr Moody. Just before he died, my husband put all our investments in a Schwabb account under my name as Dr Moody, and the advisor and consultant call me Dr Moody — or Ellen. In my salad days (teaching in my twenties) students did tend to call me Mrs Moody, but by my fifties students called me Dr Moody or just Professor (though I was never a professors, just a lecturer).

I notice students who I have stayed in contact with and become friends (sort of) or stayed a mentor to still address me as Dr Moody. I tell them call me Ellen, but most do not. One said, that is how I think of you.

Now accounting for the way I am addressed on the Internet:  to begin with, I didn’t take life on the Internet seriously. It seemed a playground in 1993/94, and at first I used a pseudonym as part of my email address (“Chava,” my grandmother’s first name), and signed Miss Sylvia Drake because I was told I would be “more secure” or “safer” that way. Within two months, Jim and I had changed our email addresses to our real names, and I began to use my legitimate name everywhere. It took that long for me to realize what happened on the Net mattered, and within two years, to see that virtual life was an extension of real life, and just as real in many ways. Pseudonyms allowed unscrupulous people to not be accountable for what they did to others. Far from making you safer, they permit abuse of power too — if the person who runs a website wants to throw you off you have no way of knowing who they are.  They can blackball you and you have no recourse.

Thus at first I never thought about titles here: the Miss in Miss Sylvia Drake is a joke: she is in Sayers’s Gaudy Night, a lifelong single woman at the all women’s college who has not yet finished her dissertation on courtly love in the middle ages. The joke is also that there may have been no such thing or it was just a pretense in manners; at the end of the novel she is just finishing a last footnote when Harriet Vane snatches the manuscript from her to take to a publisher, last or unfinished footnote or not. Recently I joined Discord.com and was told I could only be part of a group if I entered by a pseudonym, but once I was in I could use my own name. But I find I get messages for Elizabeth Chynoweth from people using pseudonyms. To tell the truth, I now think they are overdoing it. I’d like to know who is emailing me. I used to belong to a Poldark forum where everyone had to use a pseudonym.

I took Sylvia Drake because she was being laughed at and I loved her. I took Elizabeth Chynoweth, because she is so bashed by so many women on Poldark FB pages, and is herself a complicated interesting woman who ends up dead early — a victim, done in through the behavior of three husbands.


Here is Jill Townsend, the actress who got the part right in 1975, one of my favorite stills of her


Miss Drake is a displacement for Harriet Vane as played by Harriet Walter, one of my favorite actresses

At both OLLIs where I teach, many of the people who teach and who don’t teach have professional degrees of all sorts: Ph.Ds, law degrees, medicine (physicians), librarians, business degrees, nurses, military ranks, and we call call one another by our first names. So as to make all equal and all comfortable.

What Epstein wrote shows that he is uncomfortable, he is the one uneasy and discontented, vexed over the matter of his not having the title. Maybe he should go back to graduate school and get that Ph.D, at long last. This way he won’t feel bad when he comes across people who have titles he wishes he had but has not earned.

Dr Ellen Moody

Not Doing Too Well


This year’s Christmas tree — we bought, put it up and decorated it today

because she does life all by her-
self, and she only talks to dogs [cats] and to the
desert — Alice Notley

Dear friends,

The Christmas season is here but, as a couple of friends’ letters and cards showed me, for many people the experience will be unlike the usual one, of significant get-togethers for as many as several days, of travel, of shopping amidst tight crowds. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade occurred but with no audience in the streets, much shorter, and several acts pre-recorded elsewhere. Virtual concerts, Christmas get-togethers, on-line plays, movies, will characterize the experience of those who know enough to take COVID’s dangers seriously.

For Izzy and I who tried to be cheerful and jolly through going out to the Kennedy Center or like venues for plays, being with people, a restaurant meal with Laura and her husband, Rob, it will mean foregoing such events. Laura says we’ll four get together via zoom and have our gifts mailed to one another and unwrap together on zoom, eat briefly, and wish one another a good Christmas day and coming year. Otherwise it won’t be much different for us, if you factor out how Izzy works from home everyday.

For myself something has now gone wrong — a few nights ago I began to feel around my chest a dull pain, sometimes hard ache, sometimes worse on and off and as if my muscles are being stretched. It’s like someone has installed some weights on my chest in front and back and pushes at them, or there’s this wire going round my rib cage and it’s being pulled. I have had muscle spasms in my chest area for years and I got these too. Wednesday night I slept but two hours because it was that bad or I kept waking up. It seemed to let off once I was walking or sitting up.

Later that day the pain returned so even though I had phoned my doctor and gotten an appointment for Monday as the earliest free slot he had, I phoned Kaiser itself, and the advice nurse told me to come into Tysons Corner Urgent Care. Laura was able to take off in the later afternoon and so we went and spent several hours there. Laura has to wait outside in her car.

It has taken me three days to recover from that exhausting experience. I had a battery of tests, including a CT scan where through the veins a dye is pushed and it makes one hot in the central cavity of your body. The doctor found nothing “obviously wrong.” I now know what is mean by “weakness in the chest wall” which is the explanation Dr Villafuerte gave me years ago when I had bad spasms in my chest: an aneurysm in my aorta sounds scary. He said if it became larger I might have to have heart surgery, and would have to weigh the dangers of not having the surgery against the dangers of hemorrhage.

My diagnosis of myself had been shingles.  This kind of pain — around the chest is what Jim had 30 years ago — only very hard pain. At that time I & the two girls all caught chicken pox; the doctor said it was from him.  But several people and this doctor ruled shingles out as I’ve no rash, no temperature, the pain is not frantically excruciating — I merely feel a kind of heavy pain around my breast bones or ribs as I’m typing. It tires me out and makes me do everything slower. I also do keep falling asleep at night. I still have not eliminated the possibility of shingles in my mind. I also have (sorry for this frankness) bad gas, and acid reflux and wonder if digestive problems are involved. I hope it’s that for I now have looked up bone cancer, and the symptoms fit. I am worrying because the pain persists.

I have a memory that the doctor said I should try to avoid stress. Ha! The last time this happened — I had to go in to Tysons Corner Urgent Care  for pain in my chest, 7 years ago when after Jim died, I visited NYC by myself and went to a Trollope dinner, and found that I came home totally shattered – the doctor said I had “to let go.” She meant of Jim. How do I let go half my identity? My sense of safety, security, memories, identity if you will are wrapped in this house; it is my past, my present and what future I have. I will hold onto it with or in the last breathe of my body.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Aunty Em says to Dorothy, “There, there, lie quiet now. You just had a bad dream.”

I read in newspapers that “soon” vaccination will start.  But I also read the Trump administration has no plan for distributing the vaccine and has far far fewer doses than was pledged several weeks ago. No surprise there. The US hasn’t got a sound universal medical system that I know of from which to distribute vaccines.  My hope is Biden indeed becomes president and then there will be a plan and vaccines will be distributed somehow or other (though many different places and organizations) fairly, and I have a hope of a vaccination say before June. If I’ve not had one by May I will cancel the Road Scholar trip to Ireland once again. I worry they will try to take the fare from me if I wait any longer ($2025).

Tomorrow I go to the doctor. I’ve now paid three bills by credit card because the paper bills did not come in time, opened up three websites where I now will be billed electronically in two of these cases. Again I hope when Biden comes in, the post office will go back to its previous schedules and I can change this billing back and write checks for all bills and use the mails as I have done all my life previously. Slowly slowly the shit hits my small fan as all the terrible things Trump & his junta have and have not done affect me and Izzy personally.

This is my main news for these two weeks.

************************************************************


A family tree of the characters in Song of Solomon

As to books, movies &c

I have been reading freely, came to the end of another two very good non-fiction books: Judith Bennett and Amy M. Froide’s Singlewomen in the European Past, 1250-1800, and Claudia M. Thomas’s Alexander Pope and his Eighteenth Century Readers, read over the last month and one half Toni Morrison’s Sula and Song of Solomon:

these are admirable, brilliant novels, vatic poetry at times, telling the true condition of American Black people as I’ve never seen it done before, addressing especially the POV of Black women, but I cannot say I enjoyed them, and will read no more of her novels. I will reread Sula again some time in the future, for I did admire and could The Bluest Eye (it’s influenced by George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss!), and Sula is close to it in technique, feel, the center to both is a woman narrator. try to write separately about Song of Solomon: the archetypes Black women use are quite different or responded to different from White (if I capitalize black I must capitalize white) women, and I’ve thought part of my inability to feel the way the book expects me to feel is the Ophelia figure, Hagar, the young woman the hero, Milkman, has fucked, and now wants to get rid of, who (Hagar) clings to him, goes mad, kill herself is regarded with an alienated lack of sympathy. If women chose characteristically to present their stories as daughters or mothers, Morrison writes from the mother-older woman POV, and her mothers punish their children harshly — I can understand why, almost to protect them, but the text is too pitiless, and the voodoo style magic realism horrifies me.

As to movies, YouTubes and the like, I loved a film adaptation of Trollope’s gem of a masterpiece, Malachi’s Cove, am watching Season 3 of The Crown (it’s much better than I thought when watched slowly and alertly using DVDs — see Seasons 1 & 2). I am listening to the second volume of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, The Story of a New Name read aloud very well. I omit my incessant re-watching of favorites.

Late at night reading and bonding: I’m making my way through the Outlander books, truly reading them silently to myself a couple of chapters a night (I have the first 6) and just a couple of poems by Alice Notley from her mysteries of small houses. Notley’s poetry speaks home to me. They are too long with irregular stanzas to type out, but here’s a paragraph from “The Obnoxious Truth:”

To be in the true thoughts you must forget …
possessions, of course, I don’t want them anyway
looks except as expressions of good feelings
sex except as it happens
talent except as it performs without causing envy
run the risk of being the only person around who’s scrupulous
they hate you …

Can you be how you want despite others …
I may seem insufferable to you, I want to live in true thoughts …

On twitter someone declared: You are now cursed with the job that the main character has in the last movie/TV show you watched. What’s your new profession?

I replied: I am Claire, Jamie Fraser’s wife and I work for Mother Hildegard as a nurse in the L’Hopital des Anges in Paris in 1743. Not easy work either — though it has its compensations.

I had 56 birthday wishes on FB and many of those people are friends by most criteria; Laura and Thao sent me lovely electronic cards.  I read my latest good art book, Lachlan Goudie’s Story of Scottish Art and re-began Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival.  Two blogs, one on Tina Blau, Austrian painter, and the other coming, on Harriet Walter, actress: both of them kept going, true in their thoughts, living on themselves, feel in love with a new actress playing the partly deaf, coercively hospitalized, and finally escaped and herself, Princess Alice in The Crown: Jane Lapotaire.


At a recent Edinburgh Festival

I shall carry on: this week I will force myself to rewrite my review of JA: Arts and Artefacts, and send it to the editor; and I shall begin reading towards my winter OLLI at Mason course (I called it “Two Novels of Longing in an Imperial Age”) and first book up is Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (I loved it the one time I read it).

Ellen