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Autumn Nights


Victoria Crowe (b. 1945), November Windows, Reflecting

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world” — Virginia Woolf

Friends and readers

As many know who might be reading this blog, this third Thursday of November brings the annual US Thanksgiving day. Like Christmas is a Winter Solstice festival, so this is an autumnal day for memories. We are urged to get together with other people to remember what happened this year that was good, something that meant a lot to us. I can’t meet either demand tonight for myself. The bar is too high. Some good things happened, nothing spectacularly bad.


Laura at a press conference for a Downton Abbey exhibit in New York City, with Joanne Froggartf (Anna Bates)

I can say that my older daughter had become a paid freelance entertainer blogger last year here on the Net where she created and made a great success out of an entertainment blog, Fan-Sided, and is very pleased this year to be regular (in effect staff) writer for WETA, specialty British mini-series. You see her above with a central actress in the once stupendously popular Downton Abbey; Laura had told Froggartt that her mother especially bonded with the character of Anna, and Froggartt was generous enough to insist on sending a photograph of herself with my daughter. Izzy carried on being a successful librarian. They are now blogging together (Ani & Izzy). Those who read this blog regularly know how I spent the year.

I’m in contact with a friend I made at Road Scholar in the Highlands this summer; if I can get up the courage (I know how to do this one), I may go to NYC for three days during December through February (that’s the window of opportunity) to see said exhibit on Downton Abbey, go to a Trollope lecture, play on or off Broadway and then home. Two more photos Laura took:


Leslie Nicol (Mrs Patmore) and Sophia McShera (Daisy) with on-site actors as cooks


The set for the bedroom

Happily this week our local quasi-art movie-house has three (!) decent movies so tomorrow I’ll go with my friend, Vivian to see a film by a film-maker whose work I enjoy very much, Agnes Vara’s Faces Places, on Thursday Izzy and I will make a roast chicken (more than the two of us can eat) and go again to see the latest Jane Goodall documentary, Jane. I used to show these to my writing class in Natural science and tech, and Saturday night, weather permitting or not, Vivian and I bought tickets to go to our first ghost tour in Alexandria. Neither of us have ever done one before. The third is Abdul and Victoria, which I hope will be there next week as I shall go with another friend, Panorea, after which we’ll do lunch. I’ve bought the book.

I am somewhat relieved that teaching is coming to an end for this semester next week, and I’ve just about finished two Austen papers for publication, one (seasonally enough) “For there is nothing lost, that may be found, Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s [autumnal] Persuasion” (to be linked in when it appears), in which I quote from Smith’s

Sonnet 32: To Melancholy

Written on the banks of the Arun, October 1785
When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil,
And the grey mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
Thro’ the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale:
For at such hours the shadowy phantom pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet’s eye;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail!
Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity’s own Otway I methinks could meet,
And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!
O Melancholy! — such thy magic power,
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
And soothe the pensive visionary mind!
— by Charlotte Smith


The beach at Lyme (1995 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)


Anne is “minded” to accept Wentworth — Sally Hawkins — how I loved her Maudie, near my favorite actress at this point (2007 ITV Persuasion Simon Burke)

Three reports from the recent AGM: Post-Austen matters (Gillian Dow, Whit Stillman); Fervency (Devoney Looser, Sanditon, Susan Allen Ford); Among Janeites (Sandy Lerner et aliae)

I can look forward now to throwing myself into my part of a paper on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Johnson as biographers, and at long last moving again on my book project on Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels (in case you forgot). I like autumn; after all, autumn is the (as it were) continual season in Leeds, England, where Jim and I met, married and lived the first two very happy years of our lives together, a place and atmosphere idealized repeatedly by Alan Bennet’s favorite painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93)

A November afternoon in Leeds (1881?).

My cats will be more talkative than in the next couple of months than me (they talk a lot nowadays), at any rate make more sound — my talk being of the writing kind. And I thought I’d begin this time with a second poem, this anticipating the season to come, by Patricia Fargnoli (from her volume Harrowed, which I’ve been reading nightly)

Winter Grace

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.


Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Angelica Garnett (his daughter)

I’ve been reading a marvelous biography by Frances Spalding, Roger Fry: Art and Life, alongside Virginia Woolf’s equally (but differently) profound Roger Fry, a biography. I like his landscapes very much, but also his thoughts on art as explicated by both women. Orlando is (I think) more profound, as (dare I say it), Richard Holmes’s book on Samuel Johnson’s Life of Savage, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, if not as passionately alive with a life, more profound with true insight. I will end on a few of these:

For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing … Memory is her seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one …

Your only safety, your salvation is

Obscurity … dark, ample and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffussion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful … being like a wave which returns to the deep body of the sea; thinking how obscurity rids the mind of the irk of envy and spite … allowing the giving and taking without thanks … (Orlando, Chapter 2, pp 56-77)

From Spalding’s Fry: “each of those things is accepted as a symbol of a particular social status. [Most people like art which bestows status on them, will go only to art and lectures where someone’s prestige is asserted.] I say their contemplation can give no one pleasure …” In contrast: “Here nothing is for effect, no heightening of emotion, no underlining .. an even, impartial, contemplation of what is essential — of the meaning which lies quite apart from the associated ideas and the use and wont of the things of life” (209, 175)


David Tutwiler, American Railroad Art

In Johnson’s hands, biography became a rival to the novel. It began to pose the largest, imaginative questions. How well can we learn from someone else’s struggles about the conditions of our own; what do the intimate circumstances of one particular life tell us about about human nature in general … the long journey of research and writing, somewhere behind them walk the companionable figures of these two eighteenth century presences, talking and arguing through a labyrinth of dark night streets, trying to find a recognisable human truth together … if my book’s title strikes some curious chord in the reader’s mind, it came to me on such a night in the small, deserted public garden that now stands behind St John’s Gate in the City, when a light winter rain was falling like a mist round the lamps. The echo you hear, of course, is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Richard Holmes, the final page).

Perhaps the problem with Woolf’s biography of Fry is he’s not an alter ego (why it feels so distant), while Vita Sackville-West, about whom and whose house Orlando swirls, could be, or is. Virginia is Orlando too. Latest book: Vita & Virginia: the work and friendship of V. Sackville West & Virginia Woolf. I have now joined the Virginia Woolf Listserv attached to the International Virginia Woolf Society. I’ve belonged since 2003, and when I went to MLA meetings, went to every one of their sessions, and once to one of their parties.


Tilda Swinton as Orlando in just one of many incarnations

One coming loss: my Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo keeps going awry so no messages may sent or received. There is no one and no where to ask for help. The sites offered take me round and round or offer only boilerplate explanations. I need to move or invite to move the few people still there elsewhere. If not, and this software equipment continues to function badly, I’ll lose some friendships. I hope it does not come to this. I know I’ll return to reading more book of Renaissance women as that is one area few people seem to want to join in on that I know. The very first adult books I ever read were dark brown tomes of the lives of Margaret of Navarre and Jeanne d’Albret. A book on one of TBR piles is Francoise Kermina’s life of her, La Mere passionee d’Henri IV — Kermina wrote the best life I ever read of Madame Roland. Another is Enzo Striano’s Il Resto de Niente, a life of Eleonora Pimental de Fonseca, hung during a revolution in Naples, 1798 (her death concludes Sontag’s Volcano Lover. And study my French and Italian. Nothing is more deeply engaging than going back and forth with women’s poetry. I try hard not to be isolated but if I find I am, I’ll turn back to where I began. I don’t want to kill myself.

My Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall lectures/discussions with my OLLI class at American University are going very well and they make me want to return to good biographies and literary studies of such women and the Renaissance too.

This comment by MacFarquhar on why Mantel is drawn to historical fiction might interest some

MacFarquhar on Hilary Mantel and historical fiction: What sort of person writes fiction about the past? It is helpful to be acquainted with violence, because the past is violent. It is necessary to know that the people who live there are not the same as people now. It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts … The writer’s relationship with a historical character is in some ways less intimate than with a fictional one: the historical character is elusive and far away, so there is more distance between them. But there is also more equality between them, and more longing; when he dies, real mourning is possible.

I cannot bring Jim back, I cannot reach him. Perhaps through writing fiction, biography one does. A ghostliness; there is a real feeling of the author and heroine beating death in Outlander when she returns to Scotland; and, while there, when the novel switches to the present and characters go look at the graves of those the heroine is with in the 18th century; it has this eerie feel.. Other titles by Mantel are Beyond Black (“Black Book” a subtitle for one of Gabaldon’s chapters) and Giving up the Ghost and I’ve learned Mantel’s first popular books were macabre gothics. Winston Graham’s short stories are ghostly chilling gothics.


Dead Nettle Fairies of Winter by Ciceley Mary Barker — thanks to Camille-Sixtine who has again vanished from face-book

I need to read, to listen to Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. When I’m with aka reading Gaskell, I feel I’m with a friend.

Miss Drake

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How to be in the world?

Dear Friends and readers,

Today it came to me that my journey is reading books, reading and writing about them. That is my life. A journey, through time, using it, through gazing at and talking and writing about art, pictures, landscapes, and now films too. I experience much more when I feel others read and respond favorably to what I have said or written, when I can hear and read what others say and write. That’s the business of my life, my vocation, my occupation.

I interrupt this to be with friends: letters, conversation, congenial acquaintances; to go out into what’s outside; most often cultural events, but I like to wander about, walk, swim, drive and take a train too, even exercise. Teaching. At home eat, sleep, clean self, hair, house (hire someone for this last) dress, tidy up, do washes, put stuff in the drier, keep yard/garden in order (ditto on hiring). Reviewing books — following trails (Looser’s The making of Jane Austen takes me into Helen Jerome’s Pride and Prejudice: a Stage Play, Constance and Ellen Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Home and Friends, Woolf’s First Common Reader‘s “Obscure Lives,” as Mary Russell Mitford). Sometimes I have to shop. And then there are the occasional demands: maintenance (bills, doctors, car). Doing lunch with others. Dining out. Doing conferences, lectures. Museums.

I used to make a joke of this to myself when I would find myself in my chair again, in front of my desk, and my computer: here I am back again, to where I was before I was so rudely interrupted.

Right now beyond Mantel’s masterpiece Wolf Hall, Oliphant’s Kirsteen: The Story of a Scotch Family Seventy Years Ago, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (in PP&V translation), Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography: Richard Holmes’s very great Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, Francis Spalding’s Roger Fry: Art and Life, Winston Graham’s quiet Stranger from the Sea.

Cannot do without a woman’s book to be getting on with, companioning myself: going slowly through a memoir, Frances Borzello’s Seeing Ourselves (“Women’s Self Portraits”); Katherine Frank’s A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Duff Gordon; longing for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn (as appropriate). Curious as a compare to Winston Graham and just awful male film noirs (which I force myself through for a course, as Orson Welles’s A Touch of Evil) I’ll say Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place.

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

How to have an identity when I have lost mine?

Ye ken the greylag, yeah, it mates for life?
You kill a grown one, out hunting, you must wait
For its mate will come to mourn.
Then ye must kill that one too,
otherwise,
it will grieve itself to death
Calling through the skies for the lost one.
— Joy Blake’s First Wife, out of Diana Gabaldon

Haunted by an absence which is a presence because I am in his deathtime, because with Izzy I keep his deathtime alive, his memory. For people have a deathtime as long as others are alive who remember them, and who carry on; those who are left, become different people, trying to lead the same lives.

Much Afraid went over the river,
though none knew what she sang —
— William Empson’s “Courage Means Running,” from Collected Poems

So, keeping awareness of literal aloneness at bay: talking, talking by writing, listening to talk, reading talk, physical affection (as in hugs, lying close, body to body). What else are pussycats for? besides themselves — not alone when they sit and wait, reach out with paws, jump on lap, squat down, press bodies against my chest, head side against mine.

Listening to books on CDs (just now Davina Porter reading all of Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber), on desktop downloaded. Reading poetry (Patricia Fargnoli’s Hallowed, bouts of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, edd. Grace Bauer and Julie Kane — it has a section, “Mothers, Daughters, Growing up A Girl”). Hearing Voices (title of book by Penelope Fitzgerald, based on her time with BBC radio).

Hearing music on the radio. Making supper together Izzy and I listen to celtic songs. Also watching movies, presences (just now, Fred Schepisi’s Last Orders, the two mini-series Wolf Hall, Outlander, Seasons 1 and 3)


End of Autumn Day

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

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see her falconer.

A problem I never used to have: [the difficulty of enclosing oneself away for] writing books, long essays, slow communing and development of ideas. Almost there (one of the great memoirs, by Nuala O’Faolain).

Not far to go now, Jim.

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay …
[I] follow thee with all [good] speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed …
— Henry King’s Exequy for his Wife

The tragedy, my dear, is you are missing out, you could be here with me tonight and we happy in life’s chains.

So, Night-existence: I am become a blogger


Clarycat’s toy mouse

Most of the time I am telling here of the interruptions. Now the right emphasis.

Miss Drake


I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle standing stones on the crest of a steep green I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake


Vince (Ray Winston) cradling Jack’s ashes in a jar, in a box, in a plastic shopping bag as if he had a baby in his arms, near the war monument at Wick Farm (Fred Shepisi’s Last Orders, 2001)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I began talking with my class where we are reading Booker Prize winners about Graham Swift’s Last Orders, at this point in my life one of my favorite books. I love the film adaptation too, and thought I’d start my diary entry with referring to the central climax in the film: Vince (Ray Winston) drives himself and his deceased yet still and ever felt-to-be-there father Jack’s three friends, Ray (Bob Hoskins), Vic (Tom Courtney), and Lenny (David Hemmings) to Wick Farm where decades ago, Jack (Michael Caine, then J.J. Fields) and Amy (Helen Mirren, then Kelly Reilly) made love in the fields and produced a severely mentally disabled daughter, June, and then ten years later or so, Jack and Amy drove Vince there once again and Jack told Vince of how he had a disabled sister living in a asylum and that he, Vince, was adopted.

The plot-design: a group of four men are taking the ashes of their friend Jack Dodds which are in a jar and going to scatter them on the pier/jetty at Margate. This is a place where people go for holiday, a kind of Coney Island amusement Park at the edge of the sea. Beach, gambling, boardwalk. As they get together at the bar and drive to Margate they take detours. The detours are stages in their life’s journeys which make them remember the past. Finally they get there and scatter the ashes. Meanwhile his wife, or widow, Amy, is traveling by bus for the last time to visit their mentally disabled daughter. We have her memories too; the stages of her journey in her mind.

Along the way all of them are back to his past. Some of the chapters are the characters other than Ray moving back into the past and we go to different levels of past. Some of the characters are the characters other than Ray in the present. Towards the end of the book we also get the thoughts and memories of Amy who is visiting a severely mentally retarded daughter in an institution. We also get the thoughts of Mandy, Jack’s adopted son, Vince’s wife. Once and once only Jack

Well, Vince wants to scatter some of his father’s ashes on this spot and attempts to explain to these men why. He stands there in the middle of the field paralyzed by traumatic emotions arising from the recesses of his being. He is accused of mindlessly throwing bits of his father away and yells frantically, Scatter! what does scatter mean? the text says

he sputters like he’s trying to announce something but he can’t get it out or he don’t know what it is. He delves in the jar and he throws quickly, sputtering, once, twice. It looks like white dust, like pepper, but the wind blows it into nothing. Then he screws the cap back on and turns, coming towards us.

This is where, he says, wiping his face, ‘This is where’

I find this almost unbearably moving. So many of us have these crucial moments in our lives where something happens that lives no visible trace but ever after changed our existence, or lead directly to something that changed our existence radically. For me these occurred when I was about 12 and lived in Kew Gardens one afternoon on May 26, 1959, but to this day I cannot tell anyone the details as they are still so searingly shaming; and again when I was 19 and sat on a bench and told the one friend I thought I had what I had decided would be my life’s goals, what I felt I had it in my character to do in order to live some kind of fulfilled life, probably somewhere in the Queens College grounds, and then crucial moments with Jim. Going back? well I could go back to Edinburgh and I did return to Scotland if it was the Highlands where I had yearned to go since that the two times in Edinburgh together and reading Samuel Johnson and James Boswell twin tours to the Hebrides.

“This is where” memories include than the socially acceptable the first time I went away with Jim and fucked all weekend together, or in summer had in effect a honeymoon for a marriage that had happened months ago.


Me in Edinburgh that summer (1968)


Jim in Leeds that summer after we returned (August 1968)

I can’t tell these other either, not because they are so humiliating or euphoric; rather they are so intimate, complex with also painful feeling, private, and tell of him what he might not want others to know.

I bring this up to introduce two kinds of happenings over the last 8 days or so. I’ve kept up my promise to myself to take myself out more, and this past Saturday afternoon experienced an astonishingly moving work, a sort of play, Wilderness, co-written by Anne Hamburger and Seth Bockley. The core is six supposedly disabled or mentally troubled teenagers, who are sent to a kind of camp for troubled youngsters in Utah. It is said to be based on real teenagers or 20+ year olds and their parents.

I believe it is so based since one of the girls tells a story that resembled my experience as a young adult, age 12-15 (which is where occurred at the beginning of a unspeakably miserable lonely time for me) from which I went into anorexia at age 16 and retreat the year before: this girl found herself trying to have friends and ending exploited sexually by boys, shunned by girls, and gaining a reputation as a slut — a slightly altered version of that happened to me only it was quickly over (by comparison), and crucially there was no internet at the time I was young, as there is in this girl’s experience so she became far more humiliated, mortified, far less able to shut down what had happened: I tried to kill myself only once; she kept at it, and did much worse self-harm. This is but one of five stories, another by a girl (believable as I saw versions of that from afar) and four by boys. The truth is only one was the story of a disabled young adult (perhaps autistic) and the others simply real stories of what it is like to grow up in the US in the last 70 years, about what is inflicted on young and older adults by US society, for which they are blamed, inner worlds we rarely see.

In each case the story as enacted and told to the audience split over to parents who tried to do something about what they saw. Mine did not. They ignored what was happening, and when confronted once or twice, my mother denied what she had seen, or castigated me, sneered at me, and my father exhibited compassion but nothing else, at a loss it seems since his values were of the society we were living in and he just didn’t know what to do about me — for example, as a lone reading girl. These parents discussed their lives — often shot through with divorce, drunkenness, economic dislocation, how they found these children too much to take (one tries to hang the child — my mother was jealous of my father’s affections for me and hated me), how they couldn’t bear and had to act against or do something about a child who didn’t conform (I am actually glad my parents didn’t try to force me into some kind of conformity as that might have ended me in an asylum).

It’s telling to read how the the first review in the New York Times misframes it as mental illness, and what occurs in the camp is called therapy and then clings to the semi-upbeat ending in order to normalize and not discuss any of the searing details of lives these stories expose. Christopher Isherwood does much much better. It’s not about the gulfs between parents from children, it’s about us, the underbelly of say this opiod epidemic, the alcoholism, drug-taking — our underbelly.

People in the audience were slightly shocked; I heard no talk at first, and then very gingerly about “how powerful” that was. Recently I mentioned to someone my suicide attempt; the reaction, I didn’t realize you were so “unstable.” The play was done in a newly re-vamped “family” theater at the Kennedy Center and two school groups filled out the audience, which might otherwise have been very small. I hope some of them felt less alone when it was over.

But otherwise the experience has been less than whatever I vaguely hoped. Including a week or so before we went to California. I’ve been to the Kennedy Center two other times, once to hear the National Symphony play Aaron Copeland (whose music I like so), a second time to be entertained and relieved (I hoped) by Whoopi Goldberg (in the event she was disappointingly cautious, timid about all references to Trump, taking that route that somehow we the audience were at fault or needed to do something not “bitch,” what she didn’t say). It is significant that Joan Rivers could “get away with” hard-hitting comments on gender and sex, and Goldberg does not dare do this on race relations.

Because we care more about race relations? because it’s more acceptable to ruin women than blacks? Or is it not okay to mention blacks because white people want to carry on destroying them to have someone to scapegoat? In Virginia nowadays all cars go slow on the streets. I said to a woman I was trying to become friends with for a bit, and her reply: oh yes people are finally obeying: this was to my remark the brutality of the police has made all races afraid and citing this. She didn’t register or didn’t care about the brutality. I’ve taken a principled stand against “joining in” and writing letter of so-called comfort to the victim young black men, often in solitary confinement that a group at the OLLI at AU calls “doing something useful,” and of course getting a social time together. When I questioned it, one woman answered quickly, they did commit crimes you know. Did they? what kind? why? This is a police state where in black neighborhood police incessantly invade the privacy of black people.

I’ve heard three lectures at the Smithsonian, all less than satisfying. Two weeks ago or so, by Bill Goldstein, on his book, The World Broke in Two, purporting to be about modernism and focusing on the work of Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and T.S. Eliot, was in effect gossipy biography, somewhat trivializing (he dissed Leonard Woolf in the usual ways, see how the man said nothing he had done had had any effect, see how the man obsessed over money) with grand generalizations, none of them about the literary movement these people participated in. The book I grant is chock-a-block with cruious information brought together (hard research) so I bought it (on the Net afterward).


A clip from a movie, Wilde, featuring Stephen Fry interestingly in the role (played by Griffith for 5 or so minutes)

Tonight an Irish Professor, Christopher Griffin, on the birthday of Oscar Wilde, whose writing Jim so loved (I have two shelves of Wilde’s complete works), a slightly incoherent lecture, thrown together, no deep insight, just asserting how profound or great this or that passage or text (often a quotation, aphorism) was, but with film clips (the very poor movie of Importance of Being Earnest with Colin Firth), and Robert Aubrey Davis (local semi-PBS celebrity) pretending to be Wilde, since Wilde is great, and there was so much material and the life so tragic in the end, I’m glad I went. Wilde was an anguished man who could find no place in his society for his deep gayness and when he tried to defend it, the society scapegoated, jailed and then destroyed him. Griffin never said anything close to that.

The last by Elizabeth Griffith on “American Women in Politics:” her theme, Did Suffrage Matter? (on September 27th, so quite a while back now). She’s written a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and is in the throes of a huge volume on the history of women in politics. Perhaps a companion volume to Zinn’s People’s History of the US. A more ultimately demoralizing talk I can’t right now imagine — given her progessive stance. Her burden was why the vote has not helped more (though it’s made huge differences), why feminism has again been silenced or failed as a movement. The polite word is women are so diverse — like men, but men don’t need to make a single movement, they own the place. I had not realized how centrally race was used not just to divide women but how they were divided. I did not know there were women’s groups for lynching. There were women who fought against giving black people suffrage if it meant men only. I did not know how vile upper class white women could be and how hard they worked (as they do today) against poorer more vulnerable and non-white women. She was all friendliness and a kind of comfortable as she went fast-talking through her material. Names of women I’ve never heard of especially black women. Alice Paul I knew was so important. Came the questions though and the idiocy of some elicited from her raw dismissals and sarcasm…

I’ve been teaching and it’s going well. Beyond the Booker Prize, the 19th century women of letters course, who if there are some women who have been so inculcated that only action-thrust forward masculinist kinds of structures and upbeat material from me can hold them, there are others much interested. I’ve been to a few courses as someone in the class too: A History and Aesthetics of Film, today Shakespeare’s Last Romances. I’ll talk about these more after I’ve attended more than one class (which is all I’ve managed); for now in my film club and in this course not one film by a woman, not one film centered on woman’s issues, not one where women are treated with any full subjectivity and interest the men are. All our classics are masculinist. I used the word on Trollope19thCStudies and was told I am immature. Right. I’ll write more about this film club and class when I’ve more time and am further into the term; the latter started late.

I am trying to forge ahead on my projects and papers (Devoney Looser’s Making of JA is one, Gaskell and disability another, the Poldark novels, a third) and will be blogging separately on these, but for now I’ll end on two proposals for courses in the spring already accepted. Building on the Virginia Woolf course I took at OLLI at AU last spring (where we read [and I watched on my own films of] Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, The First Common Reader and A Room of One’s Own) and my own coming paper on Woolf and Johnson as biographers, for OLLI at AU:

The Later Woolf. We will read and discuss four of Woolf’s later books: two playful satires, Flush: A Biography [of a Dog], owned (so she thought) by the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Orlando, a novel which is also a time-traveling tale through literature and culture and gender changes from the Renaissance to our own times; two books written during the crisis time of World War Two: Three Guineas, an essay analyzing the origins of war and suggesting how we may prevent future wars; and Between the Acts, a novella in which a group of characters put on a historical pageant. The contexts will be literary (about biography, fantasy, historical novels), political, and biographical. Our aim is to understand and enjoy these delightful and original books.

And returning to Trollope’s in-depth anguished psychology, mad and normalizing comedy: for the OLLI at Mason:

Sexual and Marital Politics in Anthony Trollope. In this course we will read Trollope’s most candid and contemporary analysis of sex and marriage, He Knew He Was Right: we have at least seven couples, with themes including sexual anxiety, possession, companionate and business transactions, custody and separation disputes, and insanity. It is a comedy which has been brilliantly filmed in a BBC mini-series. With this, “Journey to Panama,” one of his colonial short stories about a woman about to marry a man she doesn’t know in order to marry and the relationship she forms on board

We are having good time reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on my Trollope19thCStudies listserv and I’ve proposed we watch all of the 1974 Palliser films, all 24, one every two weeks. I cannot seem to bring Women Writers through the Age alive again, alas. What I need to do is find the time to read more 19th century women writers: Caroline Norton’s Lost and Saved, Amy Levy’s Romance of the Shop, when instead I promised to read Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time for a coming Reston Book club. Which good as Barnes’s book probably is (I’ve begun), honest I get more out of group reads from writing selves when people really do write about their experience reading. We need more people, more women readers. And I want to read more women writers, see more women’s films (generously interpreted to include Outlander). I’d settle for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Marina Warner’s The Lost Father. I wish I had what I see on a Goodreads group where they are about to read Eliot’s Mill on the Floss after they’ve had a successful time with Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda. I’m going to follow two Future Learn courses, one on Opera, and the other a crucial era in Irish politics, 1916-23 (“this is where” for Ireland), late at night for a few weeks. So filling my life as best I can.

Robert Aubrey Davis did recite Wilde’s The Harlot’s House and left off jocularity: one of the themes I dealt with last week in Mary Barton was prostitution as dramatized by Gaskell in the tragic story of the backstory heroine of the novel, Esther, but it’s the last two lines that contain Wilde’s fin-de-siecle great twilight poetry

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The ‘Treues Liebes Herz’ of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
‘The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.’

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.


A Scottish Impressionist painting

Miss Drake

Dear friends,

This morning Izzy and I take our last trip for this year: we are going to the California JASNA AGM held at a Huntington Beach hotel (Hyatt Regency). I will write about it in my usual way on my Austen reveries blog when we return; in the meantime, I thought I’d share until we came back another of her songs. This one is especially lovely for the music itself, listen to the piano:

Last night before we left she rose her voice in song:

She has been expending herself in watching and writing on her and Laura’s new blog, Ani & Izzy, ice-skating (a popular culture, entertainment and attitude blog), writing her fan fiction, and singing creatively.

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

For myself I have reached the stage of addiction to Outlander, the mini-series, not the books — albeit the books are written from a woman’s point of view, with Claire at the center far more than she is in the series (Jamie-centered scenes are invented continually), and violence is high as well as (qualified for the first time this third season with the introduction of a kind ethical hero, Lord John Grey, as a bisexual man).

It has not been this way with me since the early 1980s when I watched Brideshead Revisited and then Jewel in the Crown. I was strongly attached to Wolf Hall, but since if I missed the 10 pm broadcast I knew it would be on streaming by 11, it was not an addiction the way this is. I put on Outander 4 at 8 last night and sat mesmerized. I would have been bothered had someone interrupted. This teaches me that scarcity is part of an addiction. Outlander is streaming on Starz Network online but Comcast has not paid for that. They do run it on and off all week after Sunday — rather like metromedia, Channel 9 in NYC in the 1950s but not regularly and I can’t find schedules to depend on I will put on 369 and there it is, going on, well I drop everything and re-watch to the end. I remember at ages 9 to 11 I’d sit and re-watch say The Hunchback of Notre Dame over and over again. The series is filmically brilliant, and the over-voice and presence of Caitronia Balfe (to me) mesmerizing. When she finally returns to Jamie through the stones, and they beat death — for time-traveling is a mode of ghostly experience finally — I must not underestimate the acting skills of Sam Heughan who has managed to overcome my distaste for the over-muscled body.


Claire grieving over her still-born child, Frances De La Tour POV as mother superior (Faith)

I’ve been watching the whole of Season 2 for a third time, and just re-saw Je suis prest, a powerful episode leading up to Prestonpans, the one Scots big victory in 1745 (they had the element of surprise on their side), an electrifying historically resonant episode which uses martial and other music of the era, still sung and played to until today, and noticed (it’s a third watching) on this wholly characteristic dialogue between the pair, variations on which repeat throughout seasons 1 and 2:

He: I’ll have Ross and Fergus take you home to Lallybroch.
She: – No.
He: – Claire.
She: I can’t do that either. Listen to me. If I if I go back, then it will just be like lying in that ditch again [in World War II], helpless and powerless to move, like a dragonfly in amber except this time it will be worse, because I’ll know that the people out there dying alone are people I know People I love. I can’t do that, Jamie. I won’t lie in that ditch again. I can’t be helpless and alone ever again. Do you hear me?
He: I hear ye. I promise whatever happens, you’ll never be alone again.
She: I’m going to hold you to that, James Fraser.
He: You have my word Claire Fraser

The features on this DVD set (of which there are many, very like Breaking Bad, another spectacularly good mini-serise) show that Ronald Moore is responsible, he is the executive producer, a producer for each episode too, writes a numbers, directs a number, does all the features. He understood the deep dream potential of this material potential.

I end on a poem which does justice to movie watching in this vein:

Watching Old Movies When They Were New

I grew up in grey and white,
in half-tones and undertones,
sitting by a bakelite telephone,
watching grainy and snowy kisses on the small screen.
This was New York.
I was thirteen. Outside my window the gardenless
and flowerless city, with its sirens
its cents, was new to me. And I was tired
of being anywhere but home. So I settled back
to get older quickly.
And the crescent moon,
and the shirt-collar of that man
as he kissed the girl under it and her face
as she turned away and the ocean beginning
to burn and glisten in the distance:
They were like me: what they lacked was
outside them. Was an absence within which
they could only be
less than themselves: Anyone could see
their doom was not love, was not destiny, was only
monochrome. But a time was coming. Is coming. Has come
and gone. And I will know what I am watching is
a passionate economy
we call the past. Although
its other name may be memory. And somewhere else
the future is already growing consequences. They are blue
and yellow. They are vermilion or a vivid green.
*Pick us,* they will say. *Bring us indoors.
Arrange us into a city.
Into a situation. See how quickly
you tire of us. How soon you will yearn
for these tones. But I know
nothing of this as I lean back. As the screen flickers.
— Eavan Boland, Irish (from The Lost Land)


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Quasimodo and Esmeralda, 1939)

Miss Drake


From Outlander: Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), soon after they meet (1st episode, 1st season) — I’m addicted to this because of the love relationship at the center; they’ve persuaded me the way Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees once did (as Ross and Demelza Poldark)

Frank (accusing) to Claire: “You couldn’t look at Brianna without seeing him [Jamie]. Could you? Without that constant reminder. Him. Might you have forgotten him, with time?”
Claire; “That amount of time doesn’t exist.”
Outlander, 3rd season, 3rd episode, All Debts Paid, scripted Matthew Roberts)

Dear friends and readers,

Next week I’ve three anniversaries. On October 6th, Jim and I would have been married 48 years, together 49. We met on the evening of October 6th, 1968; four years ago on October 7th, 2013, he was no longer able to speak to me and seemed to have lost consciousness though he was there still, could hear and understand us. As Izzy left for work on that morning, he said “goodbye” to her. Three days later on October 9th at about 5 minutes after 9 at night, he died in my arms, age 65.

I won’t be able to hold the time in my mind the way I might have liked to because I’ve promised to go to a JASNA this coming week, leaving October 3rd and coming back on October 8th. I found on the Internet a YouTube rendition of the Righteous Brother’s old song, “Unchained Melody.” I can no longer share music here, as the YouTube site has been reconfigured to stop all transfers, but I can transmit the lyrics I’ve been listening to.

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
I’ll be coming home, wait for me

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered, for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me
Lonely mountains gaze
At the stars, at the stars
Waiting for the dawn of the day

All alone I gaze
At the stars, at the stars
Dreaming of my love far away

A friend has now sent me a site with a URL which enables me to transfer just this:

I tell myself I can carry on if I have a routine, my routs, and each day I write down the things I must do and then follow what I’ve written, more or less. Sometimes inwardly I decide I’m mad — who but me would work at this or that for no tangible rewards. This blog is about why in part, what does my soul good.


Johnson reading

A new project! I don’t know if I mentioned I’ve begun to collaborate on a paper with a friend on modernism in Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf; we’ve divided their work into three generic areas and also talked of themes where both intersect with modernist attitudes (e.g., both anti-colonialist strongly). I’m working on their biographical writing, and theories. I love both authors; they can sustain me for hours. And as a result in spring I’m going to give a short (10-15 minute) paper on Close Reading as Theory (it’s been accepted), a regional meeting of the MLA in Pittsburgh (I know I can drive there, having done it once now). Here’s the trajectory:


Woolf photo by Barbara Strachey (1938) — she seems to be accepting some sort of award

I propose to close read Virginia Woolf’s close readings of fictional biographies as a fictional biographer (in two of her invented researching of biographies in her Memoirs of a Novelist); of what she regards as faux or or pretend biographies which “license mendacity” and thus free creative invention of a place or personality where no documents exist or have been researched (again two sketches from “The Lives of the Obscure” and “Outlines” in The [first] Common Readers); and her satire, parody and serious biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog Flush. I will demonstrate that close reading far more than more traditional methods (say examination of documentation), at least in Virginia Woolf’s hands, exposes far more effectively not only the flaws of a particular biography but the fallacies underlying the methodology of accepted biographies, suggests what should be the aim and uninimitable methods of true realization of writing lives (both for the biographer and biographical subject), and moves outside the the narrow perspective of implied real person of an author to see life from an non-human animal’s point of view. From Virginia Woolf’s many close and playful readings of and her own imaginative biographies, she creates a modern persuasive theory of biography people are beginning to heed today.

Jim loved Johnson as much as I do — as an undergraduate he took a course in 18th century literature and did his paper on Johnson’s poetry. Read him. I do believe I went to Scotland, had this desire to go to the Highlands since I first read Johnson and Boswell’s twin tours to the Hebrides. I remember in the first year of our marriage reading aloud to one another in turn passages from Woolf’s life-writing.


Harry Dean Staunton is himself, living utterly independently there

Companionship. What I miss most of all is his companionship. I discovered I’m a socially gregarious person, and didn’t know this before because he filled most of my needs that way. I saw a movie this week, which I recommend to anyone coming here, to see whose subtextual theme is living without companionship. Lucky focuses on the real man who act the character in the center: Harry Dean Staunton. It’s a homage to him by the film-maker and actor, David Lynch. Staunton was a known and respected character actor in Hollywood for decades, a singer of American labor and mainstream songs – he would sing in Spanish and we see him talking Spanish. It a story of great courage in the face of death ever near as Harry ages: what is so courageous is this man lives alone, having (apparently) been marrried, divorced and had no children. We are not spared the least wrinkle on his face; he looks every inch of his 90+ years.

What happens is we follow his daily routine with him. He smokes and first thing he does is light a cigarette; we see him pushing his body to exercise. He goes into his kitchen, makes himself a bowl of cereal, cooks bacon, has bread, and drinks instant coffee he just made. Each day he goes to a diner mid-morning for more coffee where he talks to the same people — who know more then I do probably about his life. Each day he watches these inane game shows where all that is said is about winning money, with the word money repeatedly endlessly as goal (more of it). He also takes a paper with him with crossword puzzles and is endlessly doing that. He takes his crossword puzzles everywhere but the bar he goes to at night. He then goes to the same CVS (?) drug-store for milk and talks with a hispanic lady whose son is having a birthday party on a near Saturday. She invites him to go, and he demurs.

At night the same bar with the same people — the owner, a tough “old biddy” of a lady (in sexy sequined clothes), her husband who says he was suicidal and nothing without her — so whatever she does is right. Another man played by John Carroll Lynch is grieving because his tortoise (not a turtle he keeps correcting people) whom he named President Roosevelt (FDR?) left the compound. He buys insurance and leaves all his money to President Roosevelt. He misses his turtle very much.


Lucky leaving the bar

As with Waiting for Godot, we have this minimal note of high hope at the end: when the movie began we saw Mr President moving slowly off the scene to the left; when the movie ends, we see Mr President coming back.

The movie starts out so grim, but as it proceeds, we feel cheered or buoyed up because Lucky carries on. About half-way through he is visited by the black women behind a cash register in the diner; he is suspicious she has been “sent” (shades of Hamlet against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) but she says no. They smoke some marijuana together as they watch a game show. He ends up going to the hispanic lady’s son’s birthday party, and being the only white there (if you categorize Puerto Ricans good enough rise). He seems to enjoy being surrounded by people who are happy to be alive. He sings a Spanish song spontaneously and the band surrounds him back him up. These two incidents are the high happy moments of the film. When accosted about his smoking, or talking with others about his age, in daily social situations Lucky is not cooperative in pretending to believe in the world as good or meaningful. He insists outside this life there is nothing; he feels hollow. He won’t allow cheerful false cant or sentimentality – and ires people.

He insults continuously the insurance selling the man with the wandering turtle a will. He wants to fight him outside but would obviously lose. It’s silly. A little later the man comes into the diner and sits next to Lucky and is almost tempted to start his thieving spiel on Lucky. He stops himself in time. Lucky is tolerated because everyone realizes how alone and vulnerable he is — and they are too. This communal feeling of desperate togetherness characterizes the film.


Lucky listening to his friend telling how much the turtle meant to him and he wants to provide for it

It reminded me so of Paterson, a film by Jim Jarmusch, also with no overt pretensions, this one about the daily life of a poet who lives in New Jersey and drives a bus for a living each day. Both films ultimately cheering fables of the survival of two ordinary people’s gifts. They have not turned into Men with a Hoe: I refer to Markham’s once famous poem (see comments). Lucky is lucky to be alive; the film comes out “for life” as F.R. Leavis would say. The film suggests it’s good to be alive even though …. Gary Arnold who chose it for the film club this month said Staunton recently died and Arnold felt that it might just have a general release because of this. Staunton was well-known and well-liked and he really did live in a small house in the San Fernando valley where we see him walking amid the desolate streets of a town fallen into deep economic desuetude.

Lucky is alone most of the time and when with friends or acquaintances, in company, stays mostly shallow. It did my soul good to watch this man endure life.

https://soundcloud.com/folgershakespearelibrary/folger-consort-all-in-a-garden-green
(click on the above and you will hear some quiet lute playing


Actors as Renaissance people dancing (from Wolf Hall, a mini-series I’ll be showing clips from this term when I and one class are reading Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall)

It also did my soul good to go to the first concert of this season by the Folger Consort (two aging male musicians who play Renaissance and 17th century music and each time invite guest musicians, singers or actors for a program).

This first one is called An English Garden, and its delightful quality is described on the Folger Library’s site. The group performs in this quiet unassuming way beautiful songs, and varied unaggressive music — Renaissance music is playful, lyric, sometimes very sad. In one song this time a woman lamented the death of a beloved partner. There were songs by Shakespeare (It was a lover and his lass) and exquisite lyrics by Ben Jonson sung to music.

Have you seen but a bright lily grow Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
Or swan’s down ever?
Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!

Sometimes the consort put the songs into a playlet and we have a story acted out slightly; last Christmas they had several actors and did The Second Shepherd’s Play. On Galileo’s birthday last year they had a special program where two great older actors in this area, Edward Gere and Michael Toleydo played Galileo and the inquisitor. Finally last spring on the stage they had a screen where appropriate pictures of lovers and gardens from various manuscripts were shown as the songs went on. Once years ago when Jim was alive they did Milton’s Comus. The only hype is in the program notes where the musicians have long paragraphs on their prizes, performance histories, institutions, titles. Not intrusive. It’s this oasis of art for 2 and more hours once every couple of months. I come away with my nerves renewed by harmony.

So there’s a diary entry, my friends. I dread the coming trip — a luxury hotel (which I regard as obscene) where I’m fleeced, a vile airport and abusive airline treatment, many hours where I’ll have nothing to do (I’m bringing books and Izzy and I will stay in separate rooms so I need never hear the TV), much hype over the key lectures and stars and the unfortunate Jane Austen about whose work this gathering is supposed to be done. I’ll sit quietly, smile at those who deign to smile at me, talk if I’m talked to: amid the crowd I might meet someone I know. There will be (as usual in this new life of mine) acquaintances to greet who greet me. I will learn what is fashionable to say about Austen this year, about some individuals’ projects, essays or books, perhaps something on the later 18th century and/or films. I’m just now reading for review Devoney Loose’s The Making of Jane Austen. The title is just right for this Austen hoopla.

I’m reading too many books at once. I’ve got to finish a 10,000 word paper I’m almost done with (one paragraph to go), do the notes and send it in by the deadline of this Saturday: The Global Charlotte Smith: migrancy and women in Ethelinde and The Emigrants. But I am loving (once again) Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Paul Scott’s Staying On, Ken Taylor and Christopher Monahan’s very great Granada mini-series Jewel in the Crown. I find passages in Virginia Woolf’s biography of Roger Frye thrilling; Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is an astonishing masterpiece, and Ken Taylor and Donald Wilson’s brilliant transposition into a 9 part mini-series, Anna Karenina with the beautiful and fine actress Nicola Paget, powerfully seething actor, Stuart Wilson and the very great Eric Porter moving.

So that’s where I am. A new pattern of not forcing myself out every day to reach for friends or companionship, but am instead accepting that what I was seeking is not out there for me. At home all day except when I have someplace to go to I want to be, something to see I want to see, to do I want to do, which only occasionally is with a friend. So life as a long lonely time, communication through the Internet — letters, sharing reading & other experiences, opinions and memories in email, chat & pictures …

What is this world? what asken men to have?
Now with his love, now in the colde grave
Alone, withouten any company.
— Geoffrey Chaucer

Miss Drake


Aigas House, Inverness, Scotland

Dear friends,

I realized the other day that I had never linked in here my three travel blogs on my 8-9 days this summer at Aigas House, Inverness, Scotland, located at the southern faultline of the Scottish highlands. So here they are, together with yet another poem by a Scottish women writer.

Scottish Highlands Tour from Aigas House: the framework (1)

Scottish Highlands Tour from Aigas House: historical, archaeological, Caledonian Forest; town & country & women’s work (2)

Scottish Highlands Tour from Aigas House: the West Coast; Priories, Museums & Castles; Celtic folk music & women’s poetry


In Cawdor Castle Gardens

The Star-Reaper

In the city, it was cold, but dry,
Not wild and snow-laden like here.
Another world, of buses, noise,
Traffic-lights and passing people.
Grey skies and mists
But pavements dry,
And telling nothing of this world
Of snow, deep ice and freezing wind,
Waves of snow,
Drifting in the wind,
Across the roads;
Across the trees,
Deep, buried, sleeping trees,
Sleeping in the snow,
Their buried summer dreams.

I miss you now, wood-elf,
With your dreams of deer,
Your eyes of snow, and stars
And buried moonlight,
Leaping up the years and tears and fallen pines,
Star-leaping,
Buried in sky-forests,
Orion, sky-reaper,
Through the diamond fields, to meet me.
Your name sky-hunter
Echoes in the darkened side of Venus,
Through bright Saturn’s ring
And the scattered plains of Sirius,
The hunter’s friend.

Cold, the city,
With your sleeping sun bright in some other sky,
Your sun bright in a day of white earth, and white sky,
Tears from some ice-hearted god.
And you among the trees,
Deep in the frozen tracks of some elusive stag,
Heart of fire,
Spirit of earth,
It moves somewhere among the pines,
Somewhere in front of you,
Frozen footprints cast in the stone snow.
I see the star-reaper,
Moon-sister,
Sunfire in snow forest,
Earth-Iover and sun-born.
— Morelle Smith, Scottish, from The Star Reaper (1979)

Miss Drake