From Danger UXB (one of the great anti-war mini-series)

I’m living through these days for a third time: the first two years ago, as he lay dying; the second last year when somehow I kept the sense of it all at a distance and now: on October 3rd when Jim would have been 67 I felt how uncanny it is that he is not here, how weird is death in comparison to how we feel about someone’s existence. We have to feel deeply that the person we are attached to has deep reality, and yet they are no more than 98?% water (as I’ve read in different places). Such feelings are one of the origins of religious belief. Tonight we would have been married 46 years, met 47 years ago. In three days came the ordeal of death for him. For me I have this sense of the unbelievability of existence itself.

We are such things as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep.

Do not drop in for an afterloss … in the onset come; so shall I know the very worst … which compared to loss of thee will not seem so

Jenny Diski’s latest entry as she moves into death is devastating. Her cancer is for now (what a sardonic joke in such words) in remission, for how long (ditto) the doctors can’t say (as they know nothing). Like the heroine in Wit, she is dying in immiseration because of the effect of the treatments on her, her lungs gone, she has (like Hilary Mantel) been made to look awful so that she is alienated from her body. at once feeble, unable to walk steadily and fat. Why should she care say the heartless neat doctors and nurses. She opens with talking of letters she has received; I was almost tempted to write. We learn in this one she has two grandchildren and we know the father of her daughter, once her partner-husband died a couple of years ago. So her daughter parentless.

People have asked me (well one person) what is gained by telling of Doris and me, well the same thing that is gained by her telling of these dreadful symptoms, her pain, her feebleness, how others will not help except for the Poet. Insofar as you can stop people from mouthing nonsense about triumphs, conquests, and bravery and instead tell what cancer is, you help a little in the pressure to do fundamental research. The research that is done is expensive surgery to prolong life and pills that cost huge sums — all garnering profit. What they discover fundamentally is a bye-product and not much sought. The TTP was signed yesterday: a key provision fought over was the US on behalf of the pharmaceuticals (like the fascist gov’t it is) to give them the right to charge outrageously for 5-8 years; 12 was what was wanted and the “balance” is it’s just 6-8 and uncountable thousands excluded because of the price at least until then.

I omit all the provisions which supercede workers’ rights and hand a good deal of the world over to corporations (with military backing) to exploit and immiserate everyone who is not in the elite genuinely rich and well connected.

Cancer is our great and ever spreading plague — like the engineered (in effect) famines and mass diseases of early times — India, Ireland. Settler colonialism now exterminating the Palestinians a little at a time — punctuated by the terror of lethal bombing.

Diski speaks for us all — she says don’t talk about bravery so instead I’ll say she writes what she does because she cannot help herself and thinks truth has a function in the world that helps others– if only by saying see here I am, is this the way you are? if so, we are not alone.

Diski (before cancer)

She does say it’s hard not to feel what’s happening to her is a punishment — like it’s hard not to feel the death and disappearance of someone is uncanny. But what it’s vital to remember is not to take what happens ever as a punishment. That is your psyche doubling in on itself and wanting to find some reason, some ultimate meaning for what is happening.

Miss Drake

Dear Friends and Readers,

This week’s cover brings the magazine into the age of the Internet where cats are ubiquitous and reign supreme: the New Yorker makes it official; they concede the superiority of cats:

The title: Catnap. Illustrator: Peter de Sève.

The cat gets the better deal because cats can’t be “walked” (as in “walking the dog”) or made to run alongside their pack-leader person. Your feline friends may precede you somewhere; they may trot along a little way off, but that’s because they want to. And they do it at their own speed.


If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man
but deteriorate the cat.
—Mark Twain

A journey back

A small Norman church in Devonshire

Dear friends and readers,

Just about 47 years ago I saw England for the first time for real — not in my books, not in films, through pictures, but the island itself: I was standing by a wooden structure in a boat filled to the brim with college students that had taken 12 days to cross the Atlantic and now was sailing up the English channel. Someone said, there are the cliffs of Dover. I don’t know that these were the cliffs but I took them to be so, and I was just thrilled. I had read about England so often, probably before I remember my favorite book around age 8, P.L Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park. British people travel to the US continent to see the grand landscapes, vast wilds of wide long rivers, tall trees, canyons; reading Americans like myself to realize their dreams from books. Before setting off for Leeds I had read Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (to prepare self). I had no plan, no aim, I never do, much, low expectations that’s my ticket. This act, this coming year would be another escape from a life situation I didn’t understand very well, except that since returning to live with my parents, life had again grown intolerable — to a place where I could do what I had learned I was able to do pretty well: read, write, sit in classrooms, get good grades in humanities subjects. I had a travel allowance as part of my scholarship too. But what happened changed my life enough (a lot) so that I found fulfillment, a measure of peace and stability, a career of sorts, something I could do for money for which I got some respect and was competent at that I could endure, people to be around who gave me room to be whatever I was. Most of it made possible by Jim Moody, with me reciprocating enough so that I did the same for him. Only now I was there without him. How would it feel?

And that made all the difference. As has his disappearance. I remember one time I said to him, Where were you? I couldn’t find you. You disappeared.” And he said, “No I remained perfectly visible all the time.” Unexpectedly I didn’t feel his absence as keenly as I usually do. All that I saw I connected to him, and some of it made me feel better. I’ve reverted to my strong reluctance to leave my home, to travel far — I’m just like Fanny Price when I’m away and recite to myself Cowper’s lines: With what intense desire she wants her home. It took quite a scene between Jim and I in the summer of 1992 to get me to agree to travel on holidays; gradually I learned to accept this ummooring and interim time and even enjoy and look forward to our trips to England, twice to France, though mostly because he was there and where he was home was. So nights were hard; I’d sit and count how many I had to go, took strong sleeping pills to cut the time.

Yet I wanted to be there doing what I did while I was doing it. Thanks to my friend, Clare, it was a lot. For two days beginning around 10 in the morning and ending around 10, we experienced Devonshire. On the first day, we walked on Berryhead and saw dolphins in the sea, and experienced the palimpsest of time that the various remains (Roman to Napoleonic to World War Two) of the place as barrier to be defended against enemies. We went to the Exeter estuary and walked on the flat sands, a place that reminded me of similar areas in Southampton and Hampshire where Jim took me to show me where he spent his boyhood (Itchen?) and quoted at me, The Wind in the Willows (“there is nothing so grand as messing about in boats”). We drove up toward Powerham castle stopping before we got there when we came across a 14th century church that resembled the central building in J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country. We walked about the crumbling building,


the graveyard, Izzy took a photo of the building at a funny angle, and then we went deeper to where we saw a bridge, and onto more waterways from which we glimpsed the vicarage, and a deer park with deer so white, they looked like dream figures. We stopped at a cove or bay from which (a sign told us) smuggling went on (smuggling went on everywhere) but also boats would leave Exeter, often afterwards picking up unfortunate enslaved people, or others in forms of servitude and then onto Newfoundland or further south to the US.

The second day was Saltram House — a remarkable place, preserved in a state that is not opulent or super-polished so you can genuinely get something of a feel of what it felt like to be alive in the place say from the 18th century on. We spent three hours looking at its paintings, the rooms, the clothes, the gardens. Then onto Plymouth where the Mayflower left from — and much devastating bombing occurred in World War Two. Ambition and Clare’s partner drove us into Cornwall where the terrain is different — hilly and rocky with narrow lanes, and houses everywhich way. A genuine formal garden was by Mount Edgecumbe house, all this topiary, flowers and temples and follies (a deliberately constructed ruin of a hovel). We drove through the moors, Dartmoor to be specific, it was like a sea. People were walking about, sheep, some cows. Some of it Jane Austen country: Weymouth, Honiton, other familiar names. It was the sort of place Jim and I used to take a bus out of Leeds 7 (where we lived, a Pakistani area around a park) to, get out and yes walk, and then find a pub, drink and eat, and then take a bus back to the city. I remember stone walls and lambs — who do frisk in the sun.

Beyond this return — with Izzy, our second daughter (who I here often call Yvette), whose presence kept me on track, and who took so many and splendid photos (like the above of a 13th or 14th century church) and plans five blogs (See Trip Photos Blog 1: Belgium) that I need not say much about the places we wandered about — beyond the journey back, I meant to attend a second Trollope conference, where I would give a paper and be among people who had devoted their lives, careers, some their love to Trollope, written influentially, were recognized as such, as well as people who loved reading Trollope just about best of all things (people from the Trollope society), and Victorianists whose interest included this man’s writing. Jim had wanted me to go, had tried to plan how he could come with me. (After that operation for him and anyone having that criminal esophagectomy there is no going anywhere far at all.) There seemed to be fewer of these last two groups of people (readers, Victorian scholars) than there had been in my first Trollope conference in 2006, held in Exeter. Leuven is harder to get to, expensive by plane. Since “true Trollopians” be it not forgotten hail from Australia and New Zealand probably Leuven is smidgin closer than Exeter (if you head west say across India to Europe rather than the way most US people seem to do east to west across the Atlantic ocean), there was a concentration of knowledge of Trollope hardly to be matched except if you were to round up an equivalent number of devoted fans from the two Trollope societies and put them in a room for a couple of days or have them go on Trollope walks, using maps from Trollope’s novels.

There was a dinner at the close of first evening, a book launch closed the second evening, and Izzy and I had to go before the end of the third day (our “allowance” was three nights, and we came on Wednesday so as to be there for all Thursday and Friday) so I didn’t get to see much of Leuven. She made up for it beautifully. One long morning into afternoon at the Leuven Botanical Gardens, under the trees, in the rain made for strangely lovely photos and statues. Someone had made the wise decision not to have a keynote speech: a genuine range of topics and points of view were covered, but I think out of these did emerge a more or less consistent “take” on Trollope which might surprise some readers. I will write a blog (or blogs) offering the jist of what was said across many sessions


As she says, the place had many waterways tucked in and about the buildings. I was with her walking about Leuven that first Wednesday night, and for the one photo she snapped at night, and on another night we had dinner with a woman for whom Trollope had become life-changing. I could see there was a pleasant street life in the town, lots of restaurants, bars, squares with chairs and tables crowded in.

We did not neglect London: three nights and two days there. We stayed at a minimally comfortable hotel near Paddington Station, convenient for the West End where we went to the theater twice: for Claire van Kampen’s Farinelli and the King, starring the truly remarkable Mark Rylance in the newly renovated (back to the 19th century theater) Duke of York’s theater and Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s famous hit musical Miss Saigon (where yes a helicopter is brought on stage so we can see the iconic scene of Americans jumping aboard, deserting their complicit allies as the city falls). Here the performer to be singled out is the astonishing Jon Jon Briones as the ironic-cynical figure, the Engineer, who appears to have been playing this part for years, only not every night (there is an alternate “for some performances”) or he’d have long ago died of exhaustion. More about these separately, for now, Farinelli was an unexpectedly delicate play about the effect of beauty inwardly on character, and Saigon a healthy distance from the celebratory inanities of South Pacific. As with Leuven, there was a strong social life going on all around us, bars, cafes, people spilling out into the streets.

The woman who is tired of Trafalgar Square is tired of life — there are almost continuously shows going on for the public there …

I had intended to meet two Internet friends, one a long-time friend from Oxford who Jim and I had dined with years ago; we were to go to the Victoria and Albert museum and a park, and the Royal Albert Hall, but he didn’t make it. Instead I spent a good day with Izzy, at the National Gallery seeing some genuinely new interesting pictures from the Renaissance, and re-acquainting myself with old 18th and 19th century and impressionist favorites.

A Pissaro I had never seen before …

We also made it to Foyle’s where I bought Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath; and Izzy, Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. At the National Portrait there was Simon Schama’s thoughtful re-arrangement of the faces and pictures, The Face of Britain (remarkable statements about the natures of power), and we had fun coming across various people who we said, I hadn’t though so-and-so looked like that or just as I supposed.

For example, Dorothy Sayers, whose books we both have read avidly:

by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison, oil on canvas, circa 1949-1950

by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison, oil on canvas, circa 1949-1950

We made it to an exhibit at the British Library (rare manuscripts) and then gave out to a decent Italian meal with wine for me. A high point for me was meeting a new friend and going together to Dickens’s house (like Saltram, left to be more realistic, especially the servants quarters downstairs and the children’s nursery up), to the Persephone book shop (where I bought books — a wonderful place, a business flourishing on good principles), lunch (bean soup and glasses of wine), and much good talk and walking about in Bloomsbury.


The traveling itself a testament to the sheep-like nature of people and in any space subject to American influence an imposition of paranoia “security theater.” Marilyn Robinson recently and Michael Moore decades ago in Columbine argued that fear is central to American culture, a total lack of identification with others at all different from you. Yes, the acceptance of this regime is based on that, but its outward projection and uses in war is imposed — each and every time Izzy and I entered some space in an airport controlled or strongly influenced by American power we find ourselves treated paranoiacally. Random body security checks, at Dulles coming back I went through 4 different checkpoints, at two of which I was photographed; it was astonishing to be in Dublin airport where there was no such atmosphere; people were also relaxed there and elsewhere outside the American regimes because there were plenty of moderate priced places to eat. In American space at National Airport and at Dulles there is no social life — what there is is advertisements: in airports, on phones, in public devices on the Internet, various i- gadgets, over the air, everywhere intrusive loud TVS and public advertising a form of badgering. The continual barrage of badgering pollutes our inner and outward environment. You also starve because the choices are: junk food dispensed through machines; or quiet “clubs”behind glass walls, where you have had to join and pay to be part of it and then pay again (a lot) to get a luxury meal (probably absurdly over-sauced and on enormous plates). We snatched bananas at one point, a bottle of water for her Shiraz wine for me. That carried us for four hours.

This is an emblem of most planes too: the treatment of most people on a plane has “progressed” to genuine discomfort (little food, all packaged awful stuff at high prices, no comfort in chairs, stinginess down to napkins — please madam can I have a second thin napkin?) with the first class ludicrously catered to, including care for their bags. Lost bags has become a business, with courier and local services. As with General Motors deciding it was an overhead to allow thousands to die, crash, maim, get accused of causing accidents and pay out rather than fix a starter, so it will cost more to take care of the bags than allow people vacations to be ruined, precious objects lost. The airlines get away with this because they operate as monopolies.

Izzy was without her suitcase and most of her things for two days. We had been forced to stand for hours getting through border control at Heathrow, and by the time we reached the carousel her bag had disappeared. Probably dropped on the tarmac, fell off a carousel, was pushed to the back in some niche, no one at all minding any of them (but those who pay gigantic sums for first class tickets). She was without it for the two days we spent in Devonshire; the night before we left it was brought to the hotel just before midnight. She is literally my size (just a different shape) so I lent her some of my clothes. She worried intensely about uncopied and irreplaceable material on her ipad but it was not taken. After this she carries all the things she most cherishes and thinks she must have for comfort in one of her two allowed handbags.

I was one of those “chosen” to undergo a special security check at one airport where the US agency, TSA, had a space where it reigned supreme. In life I don’t look quite as bad as I do in photos, just very thin and old. People get up for me on subways; they offer to carry my bag. This random check included patting down my body, and as he did it the Icelandic person apologized profusely, said it was ridiculous and he was so sorry to bother me. The thing to remember is Americans want this: do they feel in their gut their behavior abroad and at home is so unconscionable there must be someone waiting to retaliate somewhere all the time.

But I’m not cataloguing the travails here. Sufficient that we went, we did what we set out to do, and came back. (See my anniversary blog on how Jim and I resolved issues; the one about travel may be told.) My poor pussycats missed us strongly.

Clarysept2015 (2)

Clarysept2015 (1)

Laura Caroline came every day and stayed for an hour and she said eventually they would play with string, but Clarycat remained overtly resentful and would not pose for photos, appeared to need to get into her litter promptly after Laura had cleaned it to replace that foreign smell. I thought of how Dorothy got to take Toto with her.

I used my ipad and did another week of Wordsworth’s poetry as presented at Future Learn, watched Amy Goodman on the Pope’s visit, and (especially while on trains, planes, buses, in waiting areas) also managed to read quite a lot of Fielding’s brilliant and deeply emotional (if only you read it as if it were a 5 line poem) Tom Jones and soothed myself with Jenny Diski’s What she doesn’t know about animals. The woman is dying of cancer and the nightmarish destruction treatments wreaked on her as I type this. Diski writes a several page description of an ancient monument place which at the turn of the 20th century became a place for a cat hoarder to keep her animals and has since been turned into a cat sanctuary. Rome. Cat hoarders who have controlled themselves and made a good world for their beloveds. The tone and mood reminded me of her Skating to Antartica.


Clarycat between Izzy’s window and computer, turning round to look at her

Dear friends and readers,

The week and a half since I last wrote has been one of seeming ceaseless activity as I for the first time tried to arrange for money, checked on needed papers, looked out for appropriate clothes, not to omit revised my paper a little and practiced reading it aloud. I wrote two syllabi, one for reading Tom Jones, and the other for reading the first two Poldark novels, in both showing and discussing two film adaptations. Amid the much else of everyday life: shopping, paying bills, blogging (women artists anyone?) even paying attention to the garden to the extent of watering my poor baby magnolia tree (if that’s what it is), here not to omit phone calls, cats, going out with a couple of friends for walks or coffee, even a visit to a friend for talk and wine.

I did want to record an excellent lecture given to the Washington Area Print Group this past Friday: Pamela Long who gave a talk on the politics and printed books swirling around, resulting from the building of architecturally beautiful places, increase of roads, public water works, spread of pavement all over Rome from in the later 16th to early 18th century. Her abstract may not convey amusing and entertaining as well as instructive about geography, geology, traveling about (how to), rival guide books, and kinds of mappings that resulted but here it is:

A map of ancient Rome made in the 17th century — in Rome

    From mid- to late-sixteenth-century Rome, the capital city of Christianity was a booming construction site, a vibrant center for engineering projects involving aqueduct repair and flood control, a focus of intense investigation of ancient ruins and other antiquities, and a center for numerous print shops. The proprietors of these shops sold books, maps of Rome, and images of Roman monuments, while at the same time they engaged in intense and sometimes murderous rivalries.
    In this period Roman urban topography was altered by the construction and renovation of huge churches and palaces; by the repair and reconstruction of two ancient aqueducts, and the creation of numerous elegant new fountains; by the building of new streets and the widening and paving of existing streets; and by the transport of the great monolithic Egyptian obelisks from their ancient locations to new places that marked important basilicas and plazas. In addition, numerous efforts were made to control the flooding of the unruly Tiber River. At the same time, numerous individuals surveyed the city walls and other parts of the city and constructed maps—of ancient Rome as it was imagined and maps of the contemporary city.
    This talk is about how engineering, cartography, and antiquarianism were tied together and driven by the culture of print in late sixteenth-century Rome

Kircher's museum in Rome. 17th-century artwork of German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (circa 1601-1680, at right) showing visitors around the museum of curiosities he established in Rome. Kircher published in numerous different areas, including oriental studies, geology and medicine. His wide knowledge has led to him being described as 'the last Renaissance man'. The museum included Egyptian obelisks, animal specimens, celestial artworks, fountains, magic lanterns, talking statues, and optical and musical instruments. This artwork is a copy of an engraving from a 1678 catalogue of the museum by Giorgio de Sepibus.

Kircher’s museum in Rome. 17th-century artwork of German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (circa 1601-1680, at right) showing visitors around the museum of curiosities he established in Rome. Kircher published in numerous different areas, including oriental studies, geology and medicine. His wide knowledge has led to him being described as ‘the last Renaissance man’. The museum included Egyptian obelisks, animal specimens, celestial artworks, fountains, magic lanterns, talking statues, and optical and musical instruments. This artwork is a copy of an engraving from a 1678 catalogue of the museum by Giorgio de Sepibus.

It brought me back to more than the world of Vittoria Colonna and the hundred years after, for Ms Long brought in pictures and connections between what was done about flooding in Rome in 1557 and in 2007 (a bridge first built in 1598 destroyed by rotting). Patronage networks mix with trading and print shop rivalries; building and stocking museums; she talks of artisanal practices, translations of older Greek texts, new ways of measuring, new kinds of carpentry, naming names I’d heard of (I could try to cite people and texts and dates, but my notes are not precise enough any more), and showing pictures of painted facades. People fought over where ancient places had been located; found acquaducts and looked to see where they derived from. We heard about books about springs, waters, soil; where shall canals extend. Since there was as yet no degree in architecture or engineering, anyone could become involved merely by educating himself, and a culture of engineering blended with antiquarianism. Engineers were well paid once they were recognized as good. We don’t know what kind of math training they had, only that they did have a good deal and knew how to survey. This is the world Galileo grew up in. I asked how did people find their way to places; she said you asked others you met! For all that maps show a great deal of what was happening architecturally and about an imagined past could not be used to find you way: as today say MapQuestc can or google maps once could. GPS’s unimaginable. They were often not seeking literal accuracy, and only towards the end of the period did proportional representation begin to be used in maps.

Afterwards a group of us went out to dinner. The evening was pleasant, food and talk good. As luck would have it, this week’s TLS had a review by Nigel Spivey of a exhibit in several English museums and a couple of these great houses (Chatsworth, Derby Museum and Art Gallery) on the development of the Grand Tour in Italy — and England too as people visited great houses and looked at gardens and art; how did Inigo Jones learn his art (the vade mecum, Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture), what were his models, how write about it (from Italy) as he traveled about with say the Earl and Countess of Arundel. Now ordinary people can visit such places. I thought about Anne Radcliffe’s astonishing knowledge of such books and her visiting such places too.

More briefly, Izzy and I drove many miles (it felt like) into remote Maryland to see another of Michael Weiss’s ice-skating shows: these occur once a year to showcase new talent, build funds, bring together people in mid-career and those now at the peak — like Olympian champions Merrill Lynch and Charlie White who were there. They skate together with a smooth strength and grace that seems to capture lyrical energies within their bodies.

Sally Hawkins as the mother who exists for her son, no matter what he does — try to kill her suitor, kill her fish, and he was partly responsible for her husband’s death which left her bereft

I got myself to the Folger to see an HD film from a live performance by the RSC of The Merchant of Venice, and managed two local movies with a friend, and went to the film club for a third. Two I have strong reservations about: A Brilliant Young Mind and A Walk in the Woods. The first about an autistic young man is a genuine attempt to present this condition sympathetically, and the portrait is closer to reality than I’ve seen, but it is still hostile and exaggerated. Its general theme is disability: Rafe Spall plays another person gifted in math, but he fails in life — as this is understood by which I mean to say it’s suggested it’s he who fails others not the whole social structure that couldn’t accommodate him. I found it deeply emotional painful because of the brilliant performance of the boy’s mother, early on in the film widowed because of the autistic boy. It’s his fault his father turns away from an on-coming car in the father’s efforts to lead the boy respond to him. I have not seen a widow’s continued grief so frankly shown — Sallie Hawkins should get an academy award.

But it bothered me too. She was all utter self-sacrifice. When the boy murders a fish she loved and tries to hurt Spall because she is developing a friendship, she forgives him. Never a moment of anger or selfhood at all, She is the side issue of the movie dismissed rather like Hermione’s 16 years in Winter’s Tale. A Walk in the Woods has Emma Thompson delivering the most moving performence of the film but she is functionally in the margins, the wife who waits, and if you die, lives with it. Again a passive role. She could be Hermione waiting for 16 years; the threat of his death has terrified her:

When he comes home safe at last

Beyond that Hawkins is super thin in the way of Cate Blanchett, painfully so — in order to get any part, Jodhi May (Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl in 2003; in the 1999 Aristocrats, the most vulnerable sister) in 2015 no longer looks like Jodhi May she has become such a bag of bones. And Hawkins is too young still to be a near grandmother. Thompson is in her late fifties and is paired as of an age with Robert Redford who is 80 and in this film allowed to look it. Women are consistently made into passive pillows, all self-sacrifice, cast as women much older than themselves (so the public idea of how real women look at a given age is screwed). The movie had the sort of good moments one of these long walk movies do — but its kind of slapstick humor did not make me want to read any Bryson …

Tomalin attempting to get her granddaughter the healthcare she needs

Grandma with Lily Tomlin though comes through. By contrast, it is a film attempting to present women’s lives more truthfully than usual — though contrived and flawed in the presentation. It’s an indie (Paul Weitz wrote, directed and produced it). Lily is Ellen, a woman in her later fifties, a poet, ex-professor, and in effect widow. Her lesbian partner of 38 years has died within the last year and one half and as the film opens (prologue) she is throwing out Olivia (Judy Greer), a 20-something young lover she has had with her for the last four months callously. This is a modern grandmother. Up to her door comes her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner who is anything but sage) who it transpires needs an abortion and has not money. The young man she is involved with takes no responsibility and shows no affection, concern, and certainly won’t pay for Sage’s procedure, and since Grandma is now unemployed, cut up her credit cards (one of the contrivances) cannot supply the needed $600, the movie shows them on a kind of quest to friends to round up enough. Each of the stops brings us another of Elle’s friends and another part of her past is revealed: it’s not a pretty one as it includes a broken marriage, an abortion of her own, an artificially inseminated daughter, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden, Sage’s mother), and people she’s hurt and embittered along the way. Sam Elliot was Grandma’s ex-husband and as in I’ll Dream of You delivered a moving performance as an older man now alone (but for pictures and occasional visits of the people he’s met, dropped and kept up with along the way). She has a rough tongue and insists on commanding her own time and space unsentimentally.

When they finally got to the abortion clinic (with money provided by Judy out of her ATM), and Sage was invited to have a “serious” talk with a counselor before the procedure, I began to worry that we would after all have an anti-abortion film (with intense emotionalism about women and babies) and I think the film did tease for Garner came out (it was said) 20 minutes later and looked no different. But that was the point: abortions in the first trimester are minor procedures when done in well-run clinics; she would have cramps in an hour or so, but her nausea was gone. The girl had said she thought she might like to have a child someday, but not now: she is just in high school, utterly unprepared, without resources and has yet to begin to build her life.

Betty Friedan

The film was also about the absence of feminism in life. Grandma has 1st editions of The Feminine Mystique, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and other classic feminist books in her library which she decides to sell to make money. No mention of Virginia Woolf; the choice is Germaine Greer — as more about practical life? Sage has never heard of these books. The word “mystique” she recognized from a trash action-adventure fantasy story she knew from junk movies. The book-dealer says they are worth $60 at most. Judy has a money-making career as a psychologist, but there is no sense she is doing what she does out of any idealism or compassion; she sneers at her clients at one point as “losers.” What was remarkable was how each of the characters were seen as having individual lives apart from family roles, aspirations, and emotional pain that just gets worse over time.

There were serious flaws paralleling those of A Walk in the Woods and A Beautiful Mind. We were expected to believe that Tomlin is 50; she looks so much older than Greer that the love affair not believable. Funny how we are used to seeing this kind of unreality with men. Probably the film-maker’s executive producer feared that giving Tomlin a lover that would be creditable (a woman in her fifties) would turn audiences off — two old women? The screenplay and dialogue lack nuance and is irredeemably vulgar throughout. Then at the end everyone apologizes and asks to be forgiven and is. Contrivances include a cab leaving Tomlin on the curb (improbable in context) so that in the last scene we can see her walking off alone, lonely, but shouldering her burden of life, back to her flat.

Still I recommend it in the same spirit I did I’ll Dream of You earlier this summer. It’s another movie with people living apart in a hard world. Emma Thompson enacted what the good characters in all the films I’ve seen this summer long for: a loving person to whom you mean everything and who waits for you and comforts, strengthens, consoles you.

I’m following a useful (thought-provoking) Future Learn course on Wordsworth, his poetry, people around him (Dorothy thus far) and places (especially the Lake District and Jerwood Center where the Wordsworth manuscripts and rare editions are kept), and find myself in the unusual position of being the one not to give details and to write briefly when it comes to explicating some of the passages and poems the professors have picked out so very well. There is revealing talk about the pragmatic making of the poems as they appear in the manuscript and rare editions of the poems; the reading aloud and explication of these poems is highly innocuous, uncontroversial, but you can think for yourself if you know more about Wordsworth’s life and intellectual and psychological context than the course is offering. But when it’s over (4 weeks), I will try to combine my notes on the franker and thus more excellent Richard III and His World course and make a blog recommending both.


I can’t take with me on the plane the super-heavy Folio Society the complete and deeply felt The Duke’s Children with me — though I’ve begun comparing it with the (I now see) gouged out and abrupt stacco, abridged DC we’ve been reading all these years and some examples of the manuscript in Yale and getting closer to Trollope than I have before. I am taking a fat paperback of Tom Jones with me for the long airplane hours and trains. I’m learning to like it very much: what one has to do is read it as if it were a 10 line poem by Samuel Johnson: it’s the idiom of the language and continual ironies within ironies that prevent readers from seeing the depths of the characters felt by the narrator and profound pessimism and originality of the novel.

And I had a shock, another death. I received an email letter from the husband of a longtime old friend of mine to tell me she died 2 weeks ago. She was 69. She had deliberately attenuated the friendship in the last years, but still she and I went way back — we were close friends in graduate school. She had had a bad or serious heart attack last year. It was a heart disease and she didn’t survive. Her husband of 40 years was rare male to be a friend to Jim. Thus we once visited them as a pair of people at their beautiful Edwardian vacation home on Shelter Island. It just took my breathe away for some time, and I cried helplessly for a while. Gone. She won’t know tonight’s news. She liked Jim: she, he and I went to see Gone with the Wind one summer night in NYC in an old movie-house, sitting upstairs so he could smoke and then out to a good Deli- diner then on 57th street. The three of us had other evenings together. Now they are both gone and I’m here still. Her husband actually read my book, Trollope On the Net; he’s a marvelously intelligent kind man, did good work as a lawyer in his life I wrote him a letter this evening.

Ah me.

I regret leaving our pussycats as they will miss us badly, but Caroline will come once a day for an hour. I am keeping grief at bay, fear and sadness, loss of and with friends too, trying to live some kind of life.

Idealized dream of a Quilt (found on face-book).

Miss Drake


Evenings Ian will leap up high to the hutch (bookshelf) on top of Yvette’s extended desk-like furniture set. You see him looking startled when he realized Yvette was photographing him:


Do click to see and hear her.

Are we out of the woods? is anyone ever out of the woods? Remember Sondheim’s lunge Into the Woods.

I like how clearly the words of Swift’s song come across in Yvette’s rendition. In Swift’s rendition I cannot hear them so cannot get the situation. (I am more than a little deaf I sometimes surmize.) I also like the high notes Yvette hits towards the end. Have a look at her hutch: it contains her favorite books: all Patrick O’Brien, all and much Austen (and Persuasions periodicals); her music and Latin and Roman culture and history books: she majored in music, with her voice as her primary instrument, her trumpet her secondary; she minored in Latin and by extension the classical ancient world under Rome. Librarianship came later.

Emily Blunt as the baker’s wife in the Disneyfied Into the Woods — nonetheless going it alone …

Miss Drake

This is Labor Day and I hope for many a day off. Since increasing numbers of us work at home …

Thanks to Anibundel.

Miss Darke


Another book I’m reading just now, and the author who I would like to hear talk, preferably at a small conference …

Dear friends and readers,

A year ago I went to the National Book Festival held in D.C. sponsored by the Library of Congress and I returned for a second go-round today; reading over what I did and listened to last year, I’m startled by how much less I endured this year: I heard one full lecture, a very good one by Annette Gordon-Reed, the woman who wrote the masterpieces of sleuthing, reason, and cultural history as biography, The Hemingses of Monticello; and was present at one interview, of Jane Smiley (how quick she was on the self-deprecating, amusing jokes, and smooth her transition to serious comments deftly kept light) by an NPR hostess. Among the books by her I’ve read: Duplicate Keys; another Private Life, A Thousand Acres).

Gordon-Reed summarized her book to emphasize how Jefferson and Sally Hemings’ relationship emerged from a previous web of relationships (her mother was Jefferson’s wife’s father’s concubine, so she was Jefferson’s wife’s half-sister). Smiley suggested what people read for whom books are meaningful read between ages 12 and 15 has a profound influence on them (she cited three Dickens for herself from 7th through 9th grade); where you are (physically) is what you write out of and about, how you write is shaped by who you read.

I did have a good conversation with a woman sitting next to me in this session. We talked of how much Little Women had meant to us, and she suggested that today girls can’t relate to it, don’t read it any more. I wondered to her why Smiley seems never to cite women’s books as influential on her when she writes such women’s novels herself.

Annette Gordon-Reed (2011)

Of those I’ve read I liked this one by Smiley most thus far — though her best is A Thousand Acres, I didn’t care for it as much

This time I could not bring myself to eat food I had bought but couldn’t stand the flavor of I discovered (curry chicken, for the first and last time); I had walked all over the building in pursuit of this odd-tasting slurpy garbage, and was exhausted by the time I reached the fourth place I had planned: Jeffrey Brown, Azar Nafisi and a third talking on Why Literature Matters (a fatuous topic, possibly a banal treatment, but I hoped not). I should have skipped the food altogether as my quest left me shut out of the room (“filled to capacity”); huge crowds everywhere by mid-day. Even more foolishly I thought to go to The Human Cost of War, never thinking the speaker was Tom Brokaw, so the mass of people so much larger. We were allowed in if we wanted to stand at the back, but when I heard him reply to his “distinguished” interviewer if anyone he had interviewed who fought in WW2 had criticized it, “No, none of that” in disdain, out I went. I could not have born the 3 hours required to get to hear Maureen Corrigan (Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading) or attend a two-hour session on Books into Movies (I missed last year’s on movies too because it was put on so late).

I spared myself anymore, and was home inside an hour, made myself Earl Grey tea, had some cottage cheese, a plain shortbread cookie; by six Yvette and I had had a Chinese dinner (like last year) and she returned to her tennis and ice-skating and singing too in her room. I had (over the day and night) managed to read some essays on Chardin before I left for the Book Festival; in the interstices of time traveling, while there, carry on with a good book on Thomas Cromwell by John Schofield, and home Fielding’s Rape Upon Rape, a devastating essay exposing his deeply flawed treatment of sexual violence inflicted on women, and re-watch, mesmerized Philippe Lowthorpe’s radically revelatory movie, the 2003 The Other Boleyn Girl (I now realize with a little help from Andrew Davies, as he’s listed as a script advisor, and editor).

Chardin’s Young Student Drawing

Philip Glenister, perfect for Stafford in the 2003 film

So I sit here recording all this. I have been thinking this week to write why I write. Probably at least half of those getting up to speak made part of their talks why they wrote this particular book, how they came to write it, maybe some (like last year Richard Rodriguez) why they write full-stop. I’ve gathered that on the Victoria listserv there are people who resent my attempting to write brief lives and show images from the painting of lesser-known or neglected women artists. Who are you to do this? on what? what can you know? I have said on the Austen Reveries blog that I decided on this project because Jim is dead and I have a house full of beautiful books with much information and insight, one part of which is made up of four rows of art books. I’ve no-one to talk about, or look at them with anymore. When I die, the library will be dispersed probably any old way. So why not share what I have insofar as I can, have the comfort of imagining appreciation? They don’t believe this? They don’t care; such an act threatens a structure where all decisions are made with career, place, and money in mind (not necessarily in that order).

But why write other blogs, on listservs, letters, papers, reviews, lectures for teaching. One local friend this week looked at me in slight astonishment when I said my older daughter wrote frequently and beautifully on her blog (originally called I Should Have Been a Blogger) without being paid to do it!? A student once looked at me in amazement when she realized I had read Sense and Sensibility more than once. What could possibly induce anyone to read a book for a second time?

Well, the act of reading something deep and good absorbs, and the act of writing cheers me up for a little while. Oh this wears off, but it lifts me, pulls me out of my painful, vexed, self-berating memories, weary and worried anticipations of what’s to come. Pluck. This sort of thing was me in the night-time mornings before Jim died, so they are not the result of grieving. True that when he was alive and would wake with me, he could dissolve this mood away with a kind look, gentle joke, piece of persuasive sceptical nihilism, funny funny comments. How he could make me laugh. But with or without him, I have written to cheer myself up since I started writing.

After a bout of writing, doesn’t even matter what it is, I feel better. I sometimes wonder if I’ve changed much since I became aware of myself and time became more or less continuous. I began writing regularly when I was 10 or 11. I seemed suddenly to awaken at 9, to realize my parents were so unhappily married, to look about me and recognize or see for the first time, the class system, so many things I began to explain to myself, and feel my first deep sadness. Sometime shortly after that, maybe fifth grade I had a selectric (half-electric) typewriter (perhaps a Christmas gift from my parents), which I used for years and years, until I went to England (age 21) and had to leave it behind. So from age 10 or so I’d write away on it away from the living room where my mother endlessly watched TV, and my father in the bedroom reading.

My parents and I lived in a 3 room apartment most of the years I lived with them, and the only alternative to the one bedroom, kitchen and living room was a hall (where my father kept his bookcases and a desk to do bill son). I learned to half-shut that TV out by the time I was 13, for at that age I stopped watching TV regularly. But then I began to want to write more deeply, longer stories say, letters and even essays (for fun, really, say on a book I had just read). I recall at age 15 I placed my machine on the kitchen table and wrote there so to avoid the interfering distraction and grating material of the incessant TV.

Image found on the Internet — mine had a handle you had to throw back, in other words a movable carriage

I never went back to commercial TV, nor weekly comedies, dramas, game shows, whatever, and only returned to PBS for Masterpiece, Mystery Theater, NOVA, when 2 years or so after Jim and I returned from England and my grandmother was told we didn’t have a TV, and bought us one as a belated wedding present. She thought to be without a TV such a deprivation, and couldn’t imagine how we had gotten along without one. As to my typewriter, when I returned the old one was gone, and I bought an updated model of the same machine. Eventually I typed my dissertation on that typewriter. It finally died in the early 1990s, and I was told such machines were not made anymore and I had to buy a computer to type with.

Much my writing ultimately (even if secondary aims part of them) comes from it’s being a way to cheer myself. The act, the formulating the thoughts, the imagined reaching out to people — however deludedly I feel empowered, not so helpless, not so alone, talking to people not there. I’m making sense of things, putting words together and working hard to find precisely accurate ones and to arrange them in a clear sharp order which capture a meaning and in so doing teach me what I have been thinking and feeling, explaining, imagining. Then the passages are rearranged until a coherent pattern emerges (linked together with the usual glue words and phrases) associatively, logically, chronologically ….

It’s nearly 1 year and 11 months since Jim died. I’m finding life has gotten harder rather than easier. Grief is said/supposed to ease off and mine is no longer so encompassing. I can see past the grief, but now that I see a world beyond it more clearly, and even as cheering, it’s more desolating for me or I grow more tired as each series of events goes by and the effort seems harder as I realize the situation of having to carry on alone is not going to change.

And so to bed,
Miss Drake


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 101 other followers