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.


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


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,

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.


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
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


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).



Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), The Library (illustration for a magazine)

Delightful to me to be on an island hill, on the crest of a rock, that I
Might often watch the quiet sea;
That I might watch the heavy waters above the bright water, as they
Chant music … everlastingly … — St. Columba 521-597 AD

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of days ago now, the current loathsome criminal wielding the powers of POTUS, USA, realized his plan to stage a coup and stay in office would not work, and the female slime who calls herself Emily Murphy, a political appointee at the head of GSA, the agency which manages the transitions of power from one executive administration to the next, began to disperse moneys and allow Biden’s people to come into the various federal agencies, to start the process.

Trump has not quite given up as yet, is still trying to pressure local Republican figures to ignore the popular vote and have their electoral college choose him, is still going to court with absurd claims of fraud, and worse, doing mean, spiteful acts to hurt the American public (moneys already approved by congress to help people withheld, more environmental damage, more sabotaging foreign relationships), but Biden has now more than enough numbers certifying him President Elect. We will have Kamala Harris, a wonderfully effective, intelligent, energetic woman as Vice-president. (Will wonders never cease?) One way or another Trump will leave the White House and office on January 20th, and Biden take his place.

My worry over Izzy and my dependence on checks from the federal gov’t, distress at the thought of what another four years of foul fascism would bring in US cultural life as well as economic and other pragmatic conditions of life for 90% of US people, are now eased; we will return to an improved version of the Obama years. We will not lose our Post Office, maybe it will emerge a more efficient place.

My inability to sleep other than in segmented ways (3-4 hours at a time), had become no more than 2 hours at a stretch for the last week, and now for 3 nights I’ve managed 5-6 hours. I also had good news about these tests over my momentary amnesia from (I’m now sure) stress and tiredness: four more tests turned up not an iota of seizure or anything physically, neurologically wrong. I need not be afraid to drive as long as I’m rested and now so much calmer. I am understanding what I’m reading better again.

I’ve been trying to think of something cheerful to say here for this holiday and find I can’t quite get up to true cheer (the situation across the US is still too dire, help on the way but not here yet — too many empty chairs, too many tables bare of enough or self-bought food), but I can do peace and relaxation while waiting. I know I need to rest.

So, over the next couple of weeks (until sometime in early to mid-December) I need do nothing at all towards my teaching, which starts again in mid-January as for the first time since I started at the OLLI at Mason I am teaching during the winter term: “Two novels of longing in an imperial age:” E.M. Forster’s Howards End and Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, one a novel of manners from the center, the other a mystery thriller from the periphery (there are 2 movie adaptations for the first, 1 for the second), nor am I going to trouble myself over due reviews or long range projects until mid-December.

So today I began a book I’ve longed to indulge myself in: Lachlan Goudie’s The Story of Scottish Art. In case you haven’t noticed I love to read Scottish literature, watch movies taking place there. Very pleasurable and as Andrew Marr says: “an exhilarating big-picture, and often surprising account of Scottish Art.” I also love art studies.

William McTaggart, Summer Sundown (one of the later 19th century painters covered by Lachlan)

I finally finished the brilliant The Woman’s Historical Novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000, by Diana Wallace, and will chose one out of the several I’ve noted down and read that during this respite time too. I don’t know if it wasn’t the most moving book I’ve read all fall. Probable Penelope Fitzgerald’s Innocence, a historical novel, just, set in 1950s Italy, a continuation of what I’ve been watching in A French Village.

And V. S. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival, how I loved its evocation of place, the landscape and depths of past time all around Stonehenge, where the hero rents a cottage, trying to find where he belongs, seeking an identity as sure as those he dreams local English people have all about him, from growing up in a world where all stay put, know who they are, for their culture is so long established (it feels like it cannot dissolve by lawlessness into a complete lack of safety), their felt home is constituted, rooted within them, seeking relief from migrancy. I did read Naipaul’s A Bend in the River in a class on colonialist and post-colonialist writings.  Also some of his essays.

Jim knew migrancy but wherever he was he knew who he was, and could ever make do — a fire in the fireplace and he scrambled eggs and made soup when we would lose our electricity in the early years in this house together. I shall never leave it now (my social security will not be taken from me, and the post office not dissolve away before our very eyes). I know I should read A House for Mr Biswas, but it is so long and would not connect to Jim. I often prefer literary criticism so I’ll start Michael Gorra’s After Empire (on Paul Scott, Naipaul and Rushdie).

A photo of Stonehenge Laura took during a trip-time she, Jim, I & Izzy took in summer 2005

I am sad to have to continue being alone, once again during these US ritual holiday times, but that is nothing new to me. We will put lights on our two miniature magnolia trees in the front yard, and buy a decorate a tree once again this year by the first weekend of December.

This morning I was thinking mad thoughts about whether to pretend to myself Jim is next to me all day would not help me to find more pleasure in the moments of my existence to come. I could imagine myself confiding in him again, try to remember his smiles, his validating attitudes. I will be 74 (!) on November 29th, and surely I’ve endured enough of life’s changing beats for 7 years without him now.

This is a photo of me taken by Izzy last year by our tree

I’ve just finished watching the ten episodes of the fourth season of The Crown; the electric spark brilliancy of the first and second season has been relit, and I will re-watch the 3rd season and see if I can blog on this pair as I did on the first two seasons. Last night I watched the very last episode of A French Village (my second slow time through, reading the highly intelligent Companion volume as I went): tears came into my eyes at the death of the series noble hero, Daniel Larcher, and his last dream of his brother, Marcel, come to take him to paradise with the utterance, he, Marcel, remembers how Daniel took a beating for him — all his life Daniel carried on taking beatings for others. I felt like I sometimes have after I’ve finished a wonderful long novel, so sad it’s over and I must put my imagined friends away.

I so immerse myself in these kinds of films it’s like I’m with people at night — I watch on my computer, so sit up close and it’s a large screen. Take The Crown 4:7, whose theme is how badly we as a society treat the mentally disabled or troubled; Helena Bonham Carter is known for acting in films which showcase this idea (55 Steps), and here she showed how bare and hard she finds her daily existence, luxurious as it is, and her own choice (she could not bear to give up her title, place by her sister, numinousness, ease, and these wonderful vacation times in glorious landscapes). Tom Burke was wonderful as the friend who has chosen the priesthood to get through the rest of his life – what a fine actor he is (I first saw him in Davies’s 2015 War and Peace).

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain —
for the reed that grows never more again
As the reed with the reeds in the river …
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What more is there to record for tonight? I read half-way through in the wee hours before dawn (on one of my segmented sleep nights), Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Story (much praised in the media, by critics) and am astonished to report that after a period of sleep-away camp where at age 9/10 to 12/13, where Ernaux is raped, harassed, publicly humiliated in ways that make me think her autistic, she declares how wonderful this experience was. How much it has strengthened and taught her and of course influenced the rest of her life. Is she batty? I find this to be the strongest text of denial that I’ve ever read. Did she after this go on for her promiscuous life? I think immediately of Jean Rhys and the traumatic nature of her life. Who could enjoy and triumph out of such harrowing? I don’t remember this being Jean Rhys’s take. I also recently watched for a 2nd time the ending of the 4th season of Outlander (“Never my Love”) where Claire is assaulted and raped and the incident is kept out of focus except to show the effect on her face and body, and the framework is anything but how empowering this has been (nor is the episode voyeuristic). I tried The Americans and it too social sadism We are now flooded with supposed reformist texts where the matter presented to us is voyeurist violence; is it a next step for the victim to assert how wonderful it has all been? The characters in The Crown, in A French Village, know better.

Never forget: the world does not have to be as it is.


A November Sunset (idealized) by Lucien Pissarro (Camille’s son, his years 1863-1944)

Friends and readers,

I’ve blogged on Heather Cox Richardson‘s How the South Won the Civil War and a talk I heard her offer in conversation with Joanne B. Freeman at the Politics & Prose bookstore. But I have not given her the credit and platform (insofar as I can do such a thing), she deserves. She apparently talks twice a week, Tuesdays with a slant towards immediate politics, Thursdays, with her slant towards history. All talks or chats (the word lecture is nowadays a “no-no” seen as grim scolding) are a mix of both. I have linked my FB page to hers as a follower and I will check and listen twice a week, and when they are as good as the one this past Thursday I will devote a whole but short blog to her.

Tonight she was extraordinarily pellucid and strengthening. She got close to demonstrating that there will be no coup by Trump & his junta before January 20th. One factor here is the military will not back him: they told him so this past summer.

She argues what is happening is Trump & Republicans are siphoning off funds to pay Trump’s debts, to set up a news channel for him, and to cushion the RNC. All his appointments are always all about money and so these new ones: all that he is doing militarily is done with a view to selling off parts of the US gov’ts technology to his corporate friends to enable them to make big bucks. It is not just a con game: Trump is also getting attention for himself, which is what he wants, thrives on. He may move to running a TV channel. She acknowledged he has a genius for media presence.

She then took us back to 1986 when the Republicans put in place the earliest legal acts to take power from congress and switch it to the executive office so as to rid themselves of all progressive legislation from the 1930s through the Eisenhower years. She shows that the claim made in many circles that the election was close is not true: Biden won handily, but the claim that this is an acutely polarized country where equal numbers of people voted for Trump and the Republicans is not true. What happened was they were very successful in a myriad of methods of voter suppression, which have not been given adequate explanation anywhere. Among other things, hundreds and more of mail-in votes arrived too late to count. What is astonishing is how the democrats nonetheless won with an undefeatable margin (stop crediting Shields and Brooke as a place for good information and insight; they are not).

Finally, what she had to say about what Biden is doing is very reassuring. So let me see if the video comes on.

Let us hope very hard her first “demonstration” is accurate. I am still not sleeping more than 3-4 hours a night.

I will not cease my autobiographical blogs, but I find I can make an entry at most once every two weeks. I don’t have the strength to remain what’s called “sensible” (the way HCR does) nor have that much new about myself to report, though today I do have a small but significant item (see directly below). Plus I have over these years since Jim died, used this blog to tell of what books, videos, and other things of interest I read, watched, participated in. I’m now going to read, watch, and listen to Heather Cox Richardson twice a week.

What is this item: I’ve had half the tests that Kaiser decided to give me to see if there is any serious breakdown in my systems that led to my mind slipping for a couple of moments now two weeks ago, and these show no abnormality at all. So what I was experiencing was intense stress and loss of sleep, almost wholly related to what is happening over the election & Trump and junta’s attempts to set up dictatorship.

For Caturday, Laura’s photo of Maxx all playful


My daughter, Laura, and her friend, Marnie, around age 14-15, waiting at the airport to go on a high school trip to France

Isobel, age 14

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.” — Winnie-the-Pooh — I came across this this week. It made me remember Jim I rarely dream of him, but once in a long while I do. I have two copies of Winnie-the-Pooh, one in English, and one in Latin – the latter he bought for fun.

Dear friends and readers,

When Laura was 15, Izzy was 9, but I can find no photo of Izzy online at age 9, so I chose one of her at 14 to match the one of Laura and her friend. . I am impressed this week by how when we age, we must needs turn to our children. Marnie’s mother, less than 10 years younger than me is now living with Marnie as she is no longer able to live on her own.

I have not been able to get any truth or help out of Comcast about what I’m billed each month, or even a regular paper bill (what they want is for me to sign up for automatic payments!), nor can I figure out how to get into my online account (the people on the phone are apparently told they must not help the customer do this).  So Tuesday before or after Laura drives me to the Kaiser facility again, she’ll help Izzy and I get into that account, and set up electronic billing and then Izzy and I will be able to look at our account regularly.  You see Laura drove me to see a neurologist at Kaiser’s Tysons Corner facility this past week around 5 o’clock (when the sky was darkening) while Izzy stayed home, finishing her day’s work as a librarian.

Her driving me connects to this wretched election process in the US. I have in the last couple of weeks been sleeping much less; leading up to and until last night I was not able to sleep more than 3-4 hours a night, and that often only with sleeping pills. I was headachy, nauseous. So what happened is on the way home from the post office (I now drive my bills to the post office in the hope they will get to their destination in a more timely fashion, and have one step less to get lost) my mind slipped. For a couple of moments I was not there consciously, and then suddenly I was and disoriented. It took me a few seconds or more to realize I was driving on my own block, passing my house; I was going very slow (as I was 8 years ago when this happened for a slightly longer time) and so was able to make a U-turn into my car park.

I’ve now also talked with my regular doctor three times on the phone, and have decided for now I will drive much less, only small distances and try rarely to go alone (Izzy comes with me for shopping). I eliminated driving at night about two years ago now. He diagnosed this as another amnesia moment due to stress: he said I did not pass out but instead “lost time.” I’m still going to be tested for brief seizure (lapse in charges crossing my neurons) but he doubts that is what happened. I have a history of these in the 1980s when Jim would go away sometimes for 3 weeks for his job and there was no way we could phone, there was no internet, no mailing from these “top secret security” places. Laura was with me when these happened but she was around age 7-9 or so. Once I could not find our car in a car park, and my pragmatic daughter said “It is in this parking place, mom;” another time I amazed her by breaking into my own car using a hangar from a nearby cleaning establishment after during the lost time locking us out.

All this week to keep myself steady I have not watched the news at night. Last night for the first time I watched DemocracyNow.org (and the result may be seen in my Sylvia I blog; the results of watching PBS for the first time, Shields and Brooke may be seen in my comments to this blog). I find I cannot bear the thought of Trump seizing power because to him this would be a signal all he’s done is fine (and apparently for over 48 million people it is), so he would go further to terminate social security, fire civil service employees at will, go ahead to destroy the ACA, public school system, restrict liberty of movement and all information flow in the interests of making a fascist male white supremacist state. There has at least not yet been a violent coup, though Trump’s supporters have been violent in trying to stop counting in democratic areas.

I think I am accustoming myself to the idea that Trump could somehow still steal the election through the courts: voter suppression has helped him enormously (barriers of all kinds, gerrymandering, post office debacles). 40% of Americans are willing to have a dictatorship with a lying malicious criminal at the head of it. This is not the first time in the world an election has brought into power an profoundly harmful man known to be so (the four years in power include concentration camps at our borders, children separated from parents, put in cages, and even set adrift in countries where they have no relatives). It is hard to live with the knowledge that if not in the majority where I live, if in a minority, there are people all around me with such vile norms. I find myself guessing who they are — for they do not identify themselves in my urban centrist democratic open-society world.

It may sound unlikely when I say I am sleeping much better and much less tired today, all headache gone. But last night I slept 6 hours and have been calmer today. I admit I am cheered by the thought Biden may win and take the position of POTUS. I still worry lest Trump seize power: after all he has and uses illegally the space, place, and authority of the White House. That’s a terrific advantage:  he must be ejected

What I’ve written thus far is the event of this week that most mattered to use economically and in terms of what the atmosphere we live in will be like in the near (and if Trump wins) far future.  During the week I of course also read, wrote on the Net and notes, letters, postings, taught, attended classes, reading groups (all through zooms), and watched movies, wrote other blogs. The two classes I teach are going well.


Does anything stand out as worth remembering in a diary? I saw the whole of Sondheim’s Passion online. Jim loved Sondheim’s work, and the man running the course I have been taking has sent us several URLs leading to whole performances of Sondheim online: I’ve seen Company, A Little Night Music, and now Passion. I felt the depiction of the disabled young woman compassionate and understanding (the opera is ultimately based on Tarchetti’s Fosca, a 19th century subjective novel told by a young woman crippled in some way and said to be ugly); I stayed awake for the whole production, mesmerized by the acting and scenes, and share here the song I most identify with:

In the course what was brought out was the importance of retrospection in Sondheim’s work: that a central theme for him is looking back at where we’ve been, and remembering how we got to where we are now. Another is the idea we are not alone (as in the to me wildly moving lyric from Into the Woods — available on Amazon prime), as in

No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.

To the other books I’ve talked of and read recently and keeping my remarks brief, I add (and am almost through) Bernadine Evaristo’s remarkable Girl, Woman, Other: the most moving stories about Carole, gang-raped at 13, who for safety listens to her teacher, Mrs King, makes it to Oxford and marries a kind rich young man; and that teacher herself, as Shirley and her rival teacher, Penelope.

Another new author for me: Katharine Fullerton Gerould’s Vain Oblations — a hostage-slave taking narrative almost unendurably painful when the male narrator finally reaches the white woman captured by Africans turned into a abject creature impregnated, tattooed all over, wearing what must be to her a mortifying dress, she manages to kill herself when found because to go back after such excruciating searing humiliation, beatings, the rapes …. I have read other such texts by women: 17th century captive narratives, Fanny Kemble’s diary of 2 years on a rich plantation worked by enslaved people in South Carolina. I went on to read a couple other stories in the volume (a ghost story, “On the Staircase”) and found she has a gift for abstract language done with wry allusive wit.

A new book I’m eager to open and read: Anne Stevenson’s Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop: too late for my blog on Bishop and her poetry, each of the topics so well taken (Living with Animals, Time’s Andromeda, Geography) and lucidly written. Stevenson a favorite 20th century poet for me, she died recently. Her sensitive poem on Austen the best verse I’ve ever read on Austen

Re-reading Jane

To women in contemporary voice and dislocation
she is closely invisible, almost an annoyance.
Why do we turn to her sampler squares for solace?
Nothing she saw was free of snobbery or class.
Yet the needlework of those needle eyes . . .
We are pricked to tears by the justice of her violence:
Emma on Box Hill, rude to poor Miss Bates,
by Mr Knightley’s were she your equal in situation —
but consider how far this is from being the case

shamed into compassion, and in shame, a grace.

Or wicked Wickham and selfish pretty Willoughby,
their vice, pure avarice which, displacing love,
defiled the honour marriages should be made of.
She punished them with very silly wives.
Novels of manners! Hymeneal theology!
Six little circles of hell, with attendant humours.
For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours
And laugh at them in our turn?
The philosophy
paused at the door of Mr Bennet’s century;
The Garden of Eden’s still there in the grounds of Pemberley.

The amazing epitaph’s ‘benevolence of heart’
precedes ‘the extraordinary endowments of her mind’
and would have pleased her, who was not unkind.
Dear votary of order, sense, clear art
and irresistible fun, please pitch our lives
outside self-pity we have wrapped them in,
and show us how absurd we’d look to you.
You knew the mischief poetry could do.
Yet when Anne Elliot spoke of its misfortune
to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who
enjoyed it completely
, she spoke for you.

Emilia Fox and Joanna David, real life mother and daughter, playing the 2nd Mrs de Winter, 18 years apart

Serious costume drama movie-watching these two weeks: I just finished the third of four movie adaptations of DuMaurier’s Rebecca. First, the 2020 just made, with, memorably, Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas, but much changed from the book — to the film’s detriment. Then the superb 1997, with Charles Dance, Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg, written by the subtle scriptwriter Arthur Hopcroft. Last, the mesmerizing 1979, with Joanna David, Jeremy Brett, Anna Massey [the best of all the Mrs Danvers], directed by Simon Langton.  I’m waiting for the 1940 Hitchcock to arrive. I am even thinking of re-reading the book as I’ve become convinced my original reading where I saw the 2nd Mrs de Winter as heroine, the deeply kind and strong-within one, with the ending as basically a relieved escape from the world and a place gone evil from its inhabitant, Manderley — is the right one. Writing: my series of blogs on Outlander the fifth season.

A sad event: a recent friend, A (I’ll call her), just decided she doesn’t want to be friends any more — poof, like that — it’s another case of Liz Pryor’s What Did I Do Wrong: when Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship is Over. Pryor seems to feel most of the time the person who is ending the friendship refuses to tell and won’t explain is it’s easier — they don’t want to face up to the hurt they are causing. A became defensive when I tried to discover why. One element is all have been women who have no trouble making friends, getting into new circles. OTOH, I visited my old friend, Mary Lee, sat on her lovely porch, in her house where she’s lived as long as I have in mine (over 35 years) and the two hours flew by as we caught up. For once I was not exhausted as I went home, just spent on good feeling.

I’ll end here as I don’t want to go to sleep too late, and have Simon Schama’s relevant Romantic and Us (is there no better name for these lectures in landscapes, with remarkable historical props than documentary?) to re-watch again.

Home from Trader Joe’s on Sunday

Ian in the sun