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Respite


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. Perhaps H.F.M. Prescott’s The Man on a Donkey. ON the Pilgrimage of Grace, it’ll fit into my reading on Tudor Matter.

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.


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.

Ellen


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

Ellen


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.

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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

Ellen

Izzy singing It’s the End of the World as We Know It — by R.E.M.

Dear friends and readers,

Izzy’s latest song puts before us the idea this pandemic has heralded the end of the world as we know it. It is said to be the result of transmission of a virus from non-human animals to us, the event the result of climate change (break-up), which may well be bringing many of us on earth to the end of our worlds as we have known them. Seemingly silly fleeting experiences will change: many a conference will from here on in be held via zoom, or partly via zoom (or some improvement thereof – I hope not), so too work jobs, universities, schools. These too will occasion deeper changes.

My yearly endurance trial across early October is over, and I’m into my 8th year of widowhood. I have changed a lot since Jim was alive, or had many new kinds of thoughts and experiences. Unexpectedly (yes) I had a lot to learn, mostly about social life, but also myself. I have enjoyed some of these new experiences, wish in fact Jim could have had them with me, especially some of the activities that go on in the Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning, come with me to Scotland, to the Lake District, Northern England; with our daughters to Milan, Calais. The experience of widowhood is so various: some women don’t want to be called a widow (they feel the term as a stigma), but that is part of what defines who I am.

It depends on whether you loved your husband (partner) or he (she) loved you; whether you are left with money enough to retire in comfort, of course your age; do you have children, are you parts of circles of friends, have relatives who are close to you; where you are; what you like to do, and what you can do without him (her). I was shielded, still am (by enough money through my widow’s annuity, social security, and my parents’ savings — which they could not pull off today), but for now mostly physically alone with Izzy and our two beloved cats.

I know, banal.

And Laura not far away. Ten minutes by car when she flies low. Here is her delightful imagining of Biden’s Field Office in her Animal Crossing series:

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With such thoughts embodied in particulars I have been feeling and thinking what do I want to do in the near and further off future. I will not be publishing that review on the Austen, Art and Artifacts book, for a while. I find I cannot bear what Austen studies and Austen fandom has turned into. I’ve decided to wait until the 2nd volume of the new standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry has been published; to write an evaluation of the first, I need the second, which explains the first and exemplifies more of what principles and attitudes are actuating the first.


Marie de France, found in an early medieval manuscript

The question then — for when I have time left over from teaching or taking courses (or blogging, posting &c) — is, What do I want to study now? These past days I’ve been rationalizing and downsizing my TBR and TBW piles, ordering and labelling and have discovered all my piles of books and individual endeavors (like reading and blogging on Harriet Walter since I found and am reading her book on acting Shakespeare’s heroines) devolves into two areas: women’s literature, which devolves into historical romance (Diana Wallace’s Women’s Historical Novel, 1900-2000) and poetry (Alice Ostriker’s Stealing Our Language — history of 20th century American women’s poetry); the lives and work experience of lifelong single women (which may include widows, spinsters, divorced, separated women, not just Virginia Nicolson’s Singled Out).

Not everything I do fits into these two trajectories; Trollope, for a start, E. M. Forster, some novels, memoirs (travel and other) by men that I do enjoy so, most recently David Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees (see Colleen’s Paris, I demur on the smirk, I never smirked), studying Italian, reading French, watching good movie series.

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Frederick Morris (1889-1982), Vase with flowers, dried plants, berries …

The COVID perspective. Jim’s death now impersonally considered. It’s known, understood that the calamitous death rate in the US (still rising) now past 217,000 is the result of a lack of a decent public health system, stubborn ignorance, brought on (in schools too) by a greed so gargantuan it will chose openly choose profits over thousands of fellow citizens lives and wreck the lives of those surviving. I read of experiences daily that remind me of Jim and my own when he was dying of cancer:

I am convinced his early death, the miserable way he died (the gross mistakes, excruciating suffering from a brutal useless, as it turned out probably cutting out of his esophagus and forcing his other organs to be reconfigured, the one he almost bled to death because three different “providers” had to give permission for medicine and had to be paid separately or he was threatened with the horrors of the US emergency room) are in analogous terms just what’s killing thousands of people in the US (needlessly) today. All the respect and grief Judy Woodruff(every Friday night on PBS) pays to the dead cover up what was the experience each person had of US medical capitalism unchecked.

From Louise Gluck’s Landscape:

1. The sun is setting behind the mountains,
the earth is cooling.
A stranger has tied his horse to a bare chestnut tree.
The horse is quiet — he turns his head suddenly,
hearing, in the distance, the sound of the sea.

I make my bed for the night here,
spreading my heaviest quilt over the damp earth.

The sound of the sea —
when the horse turns its head, I can hear it.

On a path through the bare chestnut trees,
a little dog trails its master.

The little dog — didn’t he used to rush ahead,
straining the leash, as though to show his master
what he sees there, there in the future —

the future, the path, call it what you will.

Behind the trees, at sunset, it is as though a great fire
is burning between two mountains
so that the snow on the highest precipice
seems, for a moment, to be burning also.

Listen: at the path’s end the man is calling out.
His voice has become very strange now,
the voice of a person calling to what he can’t see.

Over and over he calls out among the dark chestnut trees.
Until the animal responds
faintly, from a great distance,
as though this thing we fear
were not so terrible.

From Averno

Gentle reader, you need to know the concrete reality such a poem refers to. Amy Coney Barrett is a fanatical heartless monster, read her view on a 19 year old female prisoner continually raped by a guardsman, after she gave birth forced to suck his penis; she lied continually during those hearings. How did Trump find her — and the thug-rapist pseudo-virgin Kavanaugh? why the Federalist Society. Listen to Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Ellen


1999, Jim, me, and Izzy on a visit with Trollope Society friends to Salisbury Cathedral, we stopped off in a pub


Laura around the same time (so 21 years ago)

And it looks like you’ll stay …. from Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along

Claire tells Frank several years after she has returned to the 20th century there is not enough time in her lifetime to forget Jamie, from Gabaldon, Voyager

Dear friends and readers,

Once upon a time October was my favorite time of year. Usually the weather is so pretty, and it was in October, the 6th, of 1968 to be exact, that Jim and I met, and again a year later October 6th, 1969, that Jim and I married; October 3rd was his birthday — he was born October 3, 1948. When Laura was married for the first time and planning an autumn wedding and settled on September 30th, I said wait a day and it’ll be in October. But now it is the hardest time of year: Jim died on October 9th, 2013. He was just 65. He stopped talking to us the 7th, that morning he had said “goodbye” to Izzy, the day before to Laura.

He died of esophageal cancer, one of the many cancers that are now not uncommon (once far rarer) because we live and breath and eat polluted air and food. I wrote about the whole course of this dreadful experience here, as well as an obituary for him. He was my prince, he was everything to me. Today I listened on and off to Stephen Sondheim songs — he loved Sondheim’s music, lyrics, the musicals themselves. So many capture my love for him, how I miss him, but I must choose just one for a blog, and it’s “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along (which Jim used to say was his favorite Sondheim musical) — I am so lonely for his company.

I am not in as much pain as I was the first few years; I am no longer reading memoirs of grief, but the staying home in this pandemic strains me badly. Perhaps all the driving about to courses, to entertainments, very occasionally with a friend, or Izzy and once in a long while Laura, was distraction but it helped. Christmas is going to be very hard this year since the way Izzy and I got through was to go out to Kennedy Center with Laura, then dinner out with her and Rob, Christmas day a movie out for Izzy and I, and again dinner out. We go to see some Christmas play or concert, on Boxing Day, a museum, and until I could no longer drive at night, the Kennedy Center again for some gay entertainment. I’ll buy a tree, Izzy and I will decorate it, but beyond that, with a hope of Laura coming over once or a daring visit to a museum, it’ll be Christmas movies, friends on the Net.


Jim, Izzy as a baby, Laura a young child (perhaps 1985 or so)

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Phineas returns to London (1974 BBC Pallisers, Donal McCann as Phineas)

My teaching has begun and I feel my course in Phineas Redux is thus far going very well. Talk about how Jim remains part of my life every day, I’m taking a course in “Kipling and Colonial literature,” because Jim liked Kipling: he read aloud the Just So stories to both daughters and me, he read to me two short stories that were comedies of manners (not these god-awful misogynistic, racist, patriarchal soldier stories I can barely get myself to skim. The teacher is an intelligent woman and I hope the latter part of the course we’re we’ll read at least one woman writer from the period I’ve never read before and V.S. Naipaul’s Bend in the River will be more enjoyable. I’m also taking a course in Sondheim — six sessions, and tomorrow the topic is the musical Company: I watched it online just now and here it is if you would like to watch a splendid TV version:

Everything all around me that makes my life pleasant was and is part of him: the house, the books, my solvency, my daughters.

I did say my courses for the coming winter (online at OLLI at Mason), Two Novels of Longing in an Imperial Age (Forster’s Howards End and Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans) has been accepted and for the spring (online at both OLLIs, Mason and AU), 20th Century Women’s Political Novels (Bowen’s Last September, Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, Hellman’s Scoundrel Time, and Morrison’s Bluest Eye) also accepted (see two rough weeks for descriptions, scroll down). To these I’ve now added the coming summer, 2021, when there is a good chance the teaching and courses will still be through zoom:

Post-Colonialism and the Novel

In this class we will explore some realities covered by terms like colonialism & imperialism, nationalism & tribalism or identity politics as dramatized in three novels, viz., E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival; and a couple of short stories from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreters of Maladies. Beyond the seeing obvious inflictions of capitalism & industrialization, displacement of peoples & forms of enslavement, we will ask why people develop passionate identifications with a place (countrysides, cities), nostalgia for some imagined past (enjoy historical novels, romances & films), turn cultures into religions (& vice versa), how gender & art movements inflect all this

I am very much looking forward to re-reading all these books and discussing and talking and teaching (if that’s what it is) them to these classes of older intelligent people. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival has personal meaning for me: I had begun to arrive, be embedded in England, when we had to leave for a better income and opportunity to go to graduate school, but periodically we did return. And the reason I’ve taken trips with Road Scholar is to return to the UK where I met and married Jim and gave myself a happy peaceful life with him for so many years. I wrote on Austen Reveries of my other reading and writing projects: I too dwell in possibility. I finished reading Anne Enright’s Actress, it is finally a searching sceptical and pessimistic take on the life of an actress; I will use it as context and critique for the blog on Harriet Walter (and her book on playing male parts in all female-cast Shakespeare plays) on Austen Reveries soon.

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Claire (Caitriona Balfe) teaching Marsali (Lauren Lyle), making her an apprentice doctor (Outlander Season 5)

I have been just loving the 5th season of Outlander; it can hardly be more perfect: they have rewritten the 5th Outlander novel, Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross, which just is without a story, blended it with episodes from the 6th, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, to provide a slender action-adventure plot-pattern across the series, plucked out several of the moving episodes (anecdotes) and rewritten these to reveal characters movingly, interestingly, relevantly to us today. I am watching the series for a second time and will make one or two blogs — wordpress has renovated itself so now it’s harder to get to and use the “classic” template (which I know how to use) so I cannot write as many blogs I might have wanted to. I would, though, like to admit, that the intense joy of these books to me is the relationship between Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire: absurdly but irresistibly I find in their relationship elements of what I knew with Jim, with Balfe all along, from Season 1 on I have bonded, even deeply. I am back to dreaming of this series at night. I wrote as follows on face-book early one morning:


From the episode, the night of Brianna and Roger’s wedding in North Carolina

When long ago I wrote a book on Richardson’s Clarissa (an 18th century novel) I dreamed of the characters (these were often distraught, deeply upset dreams); when I wrote a book (about 20 years ago) on Anthony Trollope and his novels, I dreamed of him and those characters I was writing about; I used to dream of the Poldark characters (in the early 2000s from the books and actors of the first series, much less so during the era of the 2015 series — I never quite warmed to or credited the feel of the series) and now I find I dream again each time a new season comes of the Outlander characters. I cannot remember particulars once I am fully awake but I know this time as I awaken I am glad I was dreaming.

Until now (writing blogs) I never dreamed of characters until I was writing a book or something quite long. I have not dreamed of the Austen characters much that I am aware of, or in the same way, because although I’ve written about Austen’s novels and the movies, it was not consistent total immersion with a single set of actors or big text or texts over a long period of time. I received very interesting replies: I was especially struck by how the readers of Trollope shied away from admitting to dreaming about these characters, but not the readers of the Outlander books, and were I still in contact with the readers of the Poldarks, I’ll bet they dream too (a vindictive woman who runs one of these pages, not understanding my Aspergers ways blackballed me off these places).


A moment of upset for Becky as old Lady Crawley laughs at some make-shift that Becky has invented — not a characteristic moment but showing Hampshire’s talents; the series aired in black-and-white as did the original Forsyte Saga

I’ve carried on my project of watching 1970s BBC and British series adapting remarkable books, and have finished the 1967 BBC Vanity Fair, and would like to recommend it to you, gentle reader. The film-makers (David Giles, the director) manage to pluck out the central emotional and thematic elements of Thackeray’s extraordinary book, as well as its comedy, and with the strong performances of Susan Hampshire as Becky Sharp (one can see why she became Fleur in Forsyte Saga, Lady Glencora in the Pallisers) and Bryan Marshall as Dobbin (even better than Hampshire for he is given depths of plangency she is not), and a mostly good supporting cast, good scripts, well done scenes, you end up with a reading of the book that concentrates on Becky’s position in the world, and gifts as actuating her choices in life.

They condensed the novel by making Becky the central linchpin, then having key episodes or turning points of her story as climaxes in each of the episodes. It works, for Amelia’s occur alongside Becky’s and turn into a parallel. Their early adventures together, and then apart, Becky landing among the Crawleys, their marriages ending part 2, the calamity of Waterloo Part 3 (which Becky turns to her advantage and is superlatively anti-war), Part 4 with the jailing of Rawdon. Susan Hampshire began to resemble Sarah Badel as Lizzie Eustace in the Pallisers in the fourth part. My only complaint is the ending. The film makers did not have the guts to end on Becky living off Sedley and poisoning him slowly so we ended on her good deed, awakening Amelia, Amelia folded in Dobbin’s arms so no time to see Dobbin disillusioned. The lines about the puppets and ever all dissatisfied are uttered. As the budgets were as small as those for the Austen films (and a 1971 Jane Eyre), nothing outdoors, all sets, it’s remarkable how effective they were in using symbols.

Gentle reader, I prefer watching these British series of 50 years ago to contemporary films online. I mean to go on to watch the 1987 BBC Vanity Fair (which I’ve never seen but have had for a long time on a TBW pile) and Andrew Davies’ brilliant 1998 six part-er with Natasha Little and Philip Glenister in the two roles I just singled out

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Sunday morning, home from Trader Joe’s


Ian among books, an active, vocal part of my life today

So how shall I end this diary entry? I have spoken less of politics here than usual — this is not a political blog but usually what is happening in the public political world presses in on me. I shall confine myself to the dire possibilities that the Trump Junta will attempt to steal the election, undermine so totally the vote, suppress, throw out, start violence: read Barton Gellman in the Atlantic. I feel I have enough to communicate without it. I met an old old friend the other day, in front of the local bakery. Mary Lee Charles, a highly intelligent devoutly Catholic woman with whom I formed a deep feeling relationship for a time as our older daughter, Katie (hers) and Laura were friends. I would not have recognized her in her mask, she has grown so thin. She stopped me and attempted to convey a warmth of the old feeling when I told her Jim had died. I believe she stopped me because she wanted to tell me Katie has a Ph.d in English literature and is now going for tenure in a Maryland college. She looked at me significantly; she wanted to tell me this, remembering my vocation. We have now exchanged emails and I’ve told her that after all she was right so many years ago, and I do love the Poldark series — we knew one another in the early 1980s you see.

Last night I re-watched a TV series someone gave me a copy of shortly after Jim died: Coogan and Brydon in The Trip: to me a comforting movie because the film-makers and actors manage to convince you somewhat this trip to sample fine food for a magazine column (whose we are not told) on a drive through the north of England is really happening non-fictionally. Their conversation because of its edge is convincing, their lives suggested persuasive, and the filming of the countryside to me so appealing: I lived up north with Jim. I saw the second series too, the tour through Italy which conveyed genuine feeling about the past in the landscape, playing in individual memory. I shall never capture again the happiness and even innocence I once knew when Jim was in the world with me, but I can re-visit the landscapes in England we loved together. This is his (as Julian Barnes strikingly put it) death-time which I keep in my continuing existence.


Coogan goes out for a quick cellphone photo in Derbyshire


Lake District — the photography imitates ordinary people taking camera shots ….

Ellen


Camille Pissarro, Quai Malaquais, morning sun in autumn (1903)

The first of this type, a diary, sort of, in more than a month — they become harder to write as the pandemic proceeds without let — and now climate break with climate caused horrifying fires and orange unbreathable air (California, Oregon) — and nothing is done (only militia sent to turn peaceful protests into murder & then mayhem), as there is no EPA any more for real, no leadership on the people’s behalf. Trapped in a pandemic cycle

Dear friends and readers,

I begin with a happy story or temporarily good ending (most stories can be given a happy ending by shutting down the curtain at a given moment where there is contentment) and I trust this to continually to turn out well (well hope very hard): about my young African-American friend, Monica, just Izzy’s age, whom I’ve spoken of here has quit her job at the Safeway. I congratulated her two weeks ago now — and rejoiced with and for her.

She told me I was the only person besides her mother to congratulate her. She has been for several years now working 7 days a week: 5 full ones in an office for the DC Corrections Department (or Bureau), and 2 2/3s day in the local Giant. Everyone else seems to have been puzzled: why would anyone give up any job? The idea she might want real time to herself is not found among the people she is surrounded by: she told me she plans to use some of it to add further credits to her degree so she may promoted again (she has a BA) and now that her daughter (in Fairfax country schools) will be learning remotely 4 days a week, coming in for a 5th only every other week, she can now have time and energy to help the daughter on weekends. She won’t be too drained. She did tell me that day she had not yet told her husband, but yesterday in an email (we have now turned to emails to stay in contact), she said he accepted it, and now two weekends have gone by says he likes this very much. She keeps her good weekday job that has not been eliminated at all, and worked in the office at first 5 days and now 2 one week and 3 the other during this whole time of the pandemic thus far — with masks, a shield, washing her hands. Her department registered a complaint and threatened to go to court to get their conditions improved in June. And she bought a house for herself and family this past June too.

It does take considerable courage for her to have done this. Thus far she is relaxing and reading books.

I miss seeing her on weekends. I looked forward to our precious 5-7 minutes each Saturday or Sunday morning. But as when I used not to see her there on a Saturday and would tell myself, good she has the day off (though during this pandemic worried a bit), I know how much better this is. She should be doing something else with her weekend time. So many other things better to do. I have pictures of her but feel uncomfortable sharing them – I have just sent one of Thao on line here (if anyone has noticed or remembers).
But I thought I would tell this one story of a 36 year old African-American young woman. She was a student in two of my classes and used to come to my office to talk over papers. She has the one child by her husband, a girl. Very good in math she tells me. Her mother and brother live together and not far away from her. I talk of her in Fraught Times (scroll down)


Pierre Bonnard — Girl Writing

And a comic: even my old stand-by prune juice has been spoilt. This is not the pandemic, but the stretch of monopolies. Amazon does not truly believe in this product and wants to make more money, to bring more customers, and destroys what was there for the steady customer. It is about preposterous amounts of money allowed to mount in the hands of single individuals; ultimately a product of a failed state that has been brought about, and that has brought us this continuing mass death pandemic. Herd immunity == death. No individual should ever be permitted to control the vast sums Bezos does now.

For some 60 years every morning I could I drank a glass of Sunsweet Prune Juice. Amazon bought the product and now there are three versions. A very thick with pulp, undrinkable; a thin version, much less calories, sickening and doesn’t do the trick; the one I drank is not manufactured to the same consistency throughout. So I have had to switch to a gourmet product, R. W Knudsen, but like the version I once drank, it is inconsistent in texture towards the bottom of the bottle. Yuk.

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Into the Beautiful —
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away —
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy —
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon —
The Dusk drew earlier in —
The Morning foreign shone —
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone —
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
— saith Emily Dickinson

But the way in which I experience autumn for some years now has been a change of routines far more than a change in the weather. And this year there was for me very little experience of summer — indoors away from the fierce heat of the suburbs. I regretted not going to Ireland for 14 days (soft weather), not getting to the beach the way we did last autumn, Izzy, Laura and I, at Calais. I noted changes in my garden, changes in my schedules — teaching one place then the other, the Bloomsbury group, courses in one place (White American art in 19th century Italy, contemporaries documentary movies). Mornings are now dark until near 7, evenings are dark by 8, the fierce heat retreats so that only by later morning until later afternoon is the air truly hot, more rain, softer-colored skies, red berries on the bushes in my garden.


One of my two magnolia trees bloomed very late indeed; the other remained bare, withered sort of ….

The felt changes start next week: I’ll have a schedule of teaching two times, and following/taking no less than three other classes during many of the weeks, not to omit virtual conferences, meetings with friends who belong to the same groups I do (not all organized around reading). I’ve got to get at least one of my two reviews written and on the editor’s desktop. It was this way before Jim died — not since I lived in New York City as a girl was it the cool weather, leaves turning colors and hurricanes that announced autumn. The difference: now I’m experiencing all this through zoom technology in cyberspace.

The course I teach: Phineas Redux (Palliser 4); the ones I take at the two OLLIs: Kipling, and post-colonialist writing (Naipaul, Conrad); Sondheim’s music and lyrics; Emily Dickinso and women poets she influenced; the ones at Politics & Prose: New Suns — fantastical and science fiction stories by people of color round the globe; A Literary Tour of France (I’ll mention specifically one of the four books, Final Transgression by Harriet Welty Rochefort (set in occupied France); the early novels of Toni Morrison. Conferences: JASNA (on the juvenilia, no need to exclude anyone, no absurd spending with nothing to do as sessions take less than a quarter of their usual meeting times0, EC/ASECS, NEMLA (very sophisticated MLA modern sessions). Friends on zooms: an Aspergers group; for poetry by women, Washington Area Print Group. Listservs, e.g., on Trollope & his Contemporaries (just now Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale and then Trollope’s Three Clerks); the London Trollope Society for reading Trollope’s novels, just now The Macdermots of Ballycloran (an astounding first book for Trollope; I’m to give the first summary-evalation-synopsis the first week

Fitting in nowhere but my work on Anne Finch, I’m half-way through a marvelously interesting well-written book by Claudia Thomas, Alexander Pope and His Eighteenth Century Women Readers; I honestly hope to write a blog. Mary Lou Kohfeldt’s Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance, as an offshoot of reading Trollope’s Anglo-Irish Macdermots. Lamorna Ash’s Dark, Salt, Clear, of life in a Cornish Fishing town. Just wonderful evocation of the place (I’ve not given up entirely on Poldark and historical romance/fiction). Getting towards the end: Nina Auerbach’s Haunted Heiress on DuMaurier. I cannot be reading too many good books by women.

Izzy is also still (pray she continues with her salary) working as a librarian at the Pentagon by remote — via two computers and nowadays zooms too (she has a webcam, mic) and phoning in. The pandemic is by no means going away any time soon by which I mean thousands of people are still sickening and many dying or left maimed from COVID19. Sensible truthful public doctors (Fauci) suggest not until at least 2021 (late in 2021) will these new patterns of behavior come to something of an end. I doubt we’ll change back wholly: theaters, museums and libraries as places to visit, sports events may thrive truly and have the impact meant only in person, but much office work, shopping can be done cheaply and efficiently via interconnected computers.

I now read TLS regularly. This past week an article about fascism in the US by Sarah Churchwell, partly in response to filming of Roth’s Plot Against America. This details our history with large groups of people apparently who want to make or keep the US a fascist white supremacist society. From the way Churchwell describes people as interpreting all these “dog whistles” shows I have no idea how Trump’s lies truly play with the people determined to vote for him and see him win.

See also an article about a new “official” book of UK history that lies, omits and distorts what happened imperialistically, from the standpoint of wars, social and economic injustices: by Frank Trentmann. It is mandatory text to study to become a UK citizen. Alas behind a paywall.

I have been reading Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, which I strongly recommend. She is teaching me much, tearing away the veil through which I was seeing events, and tellings me many events in literal detail, which I either did not know or had not put together of what has been going on in the Trump administration.

A vote for Trump is a vote for a fascist (corporations in charge, militarist in all its doings, far right in all values) white supremacist dictatorship (Gessen’s term of autocracy in the US context functions as a euphemism), and a vote for Biden is a vote for a representative oligarchy with democratic and pro-social ameliorations. The glue of the first (Trump dictatorship) is money galore for those who join and punishment/elimination of all who are people of color, all women who want any rights, hatred & resentment. The glue of the second (what Biden hopes to head) is an egalitarian ideal social & economic protection & self-interest, peace, order, law, justice and happiness prime goals. His use of language, the barrage of continual lies; the use of utterly absurd ridiculous statements presented as what we must engage in, the hyperbole of hatefulness combined with bullying is what newspapers have not learnt to deal with – nor other politicians. You cannot not engage but there is nothing to engage with that makes sense and is not burlesquing previously seemingly democratic ethical behaviors.

Of course the above all shaped by the reality: thousands of US people continue to die each week the miserable death of COVID19.

As of yesterday, 9/11/2020, over 193,000 people in the US have died of coronavirus since March. It is said this is an under-estimated number. As of yesterday, 9/11/2020 a new book estimates from the wars the US instigated, sustained, keeps going ever since 37 million people have been displaced (are refugees). Millions are now unemployed, on the verge of eviction and the US congress, strangled by the Republicans who do not want to give a cent of taxpayers’ money to them votes no help at all. Trump beginning his termination of social security, medicare and yes the public post office. Every week the police murder more black people egregiously as if to let all US people know this is within their right and they are determined to continue murdering black people. This is where we are at.

Trump is still forcing people to send their children to schools through his tyrant Republican governors. A story in the Washington Post tells of how the governor has forced people to send their children to school, then succeeded in pressuring local authorities to hide the statistics on how many children are getting sick. Is this what people want: a party that is for sickness and death and silencing.

Nonetheless I asserted and put on FB for Labor Day: Emma Lazarus, the whole poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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Doran Goodwin as Emma after she has managed to quit Mr Elton in the mortifying scene in the carriage, Christmas time (1972, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

For the now long late evenings I’ve re-embarked on the Austen movie canon, with the aim of watching them all across the next months. I started with the 1972 BBC Emma, which I recalled as so good (if costumes are dated, and some decorums are long gone), because of its rare consistent use of ironic comedy; then the 1971 BBC Sense & Sensibility (also scripted by Denis Constantduros and I’m into the 1971 BBC Persuasion (Julian Michell). I did not start with the 1939/40 MGM Pride and Prejudice (as the unsubtle screwball comedy treatment Austen so often gets in cinema, the next the 1996 Clueless, and then 2002 Bride and Prejudice). I’m surprised how well these three hold up and vow to write blogs on these movies on Austen Reveries. An Autumnal resolution.


Joanna David as Elinor writing her mother from London, they need to return (1971, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

They do have the depth of emotion that are required and also the comedy — in the 1971 S&S, Patricia Rutledge is the most brilliant Mrs Jenkins I’ve ever seen and Fiona Walk the same for Mrs Elton. What unites them is a real faithfulness to the literal as well as the true thematic emphases of Austen’s books — when in the 1971 Persuasion Wentworth (Bryan Marshall (who now I think of it played Rochester in a similarly early and very good Jane Eyre) arrives and the two actors silently interact — they are very strong presence and then the film opens out — so to speak. Out in the landscapes and gardens of some southern parts of England. The script is enough to convey the original tone and feel of the book, and it even gets better when they go perhaps to Lyme itself (they seem to on the cobb), lots of filming of the waters, the sky …


Or Anne Elliot holding on, exhausting herself with the strain of keeping up the old self-control, immersed in beautiful landscape (1971 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)

Or maybe I should do it by type: watch all the Persuasions in a row, all the NAS — the problem would be there have been so many P&Ps, S&Ss, and now Emmas (with the last cinema travesty returning to screwball burlesque, with a coda of absurdly sexualized soppy romance). I could, you know.

Very much belatedly, two nights ago now (into older movies and all that) I finally watched Four Weddings and A Funeral (a famous super-popular movie, said to have made Hugh Grant’s career). It is enjoyable, entertaining, enough is told about each character to involve us — though not much. The characters consequently seemed a very privileged set of people — no jobs in sight.

I could see that it anticipates Love Actually, which may nowadays be a Christmas classic (a movie people watch Christmas time). Wikipedia showed it was replicated in Notting Hill – overdone I’d say (I watched another night) with shameless fawning over a celebrity — Julia Roberts. I am reading Anne Enright’s Actress, in part an ironic study of what is meant by celebrity: a non-existent hollow private life (if one at all), and you hold your audience by astute holding slowing down of your letting go (such is acting) at intuitive archetypal moments for the character type the audience takes you to represent. Richard Curtis the author of all of them.

The movie is really just made up of 4 weddings and a funeral. As the new one begins, or just before the interim time is conjured up (only very occasionally a flashback). I felt disappointed at the ending. I expected something more unusual — it was just a love story after all, with all the couples who had not had weddings as yet shown married. The most unusual thing – the most worthwhile moment — was the death of Simon Callow’s character, gay man and his Scottish partner’s relationship to him. The most moving moment that reading of Auden’s poem — the way it was read by the Scots actor made me wish I had known it when Jim died.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
— W H Auden

Jim liked Auden’s poetry and his criticism very much — I have a complete poems, a travel book, the translated Norse (Icelandic) sagas, books of criticism. But this morning looking the poem up on the Internet I find it’s claimed the poem began life as a burlesque, as mockery. So that evening I took down or out from the crowded shelf space where “Auden” resides and looked into this. And found the poem to be an inexplicable passionate outburst.

Callow is said to have come out at the time of the distribution of the film; he has a major role in a number of Merchant-Ivory productions, the first two seasons of Outlander. A versatile man he often also writes for the LRB, wonderful essays.

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A quilt Laura’s best friend made for her (during pandemic, natch): to commemorate her present large patient brother cat, Drake, with one of the two new kittens, Maxx, and the cats who have passed on (Kira, Mitzi, Andromeda – i.e., Ani)

The pandemic has affected my faithful feline friends — and other people’s pets too, where they are all staying home together: nowadays if Ian has gotten into the habit of crying for me in another room. I am working away in my study/workroom (whatever you want to call my nest of comforts and lair) and I hear: Meow! In a howling like tone, or plaintive. I cannot resist getting up and walking about finding him (of course it’s him) standing there waiting for me. He turns and trots away expecting me to follow. I do, pick him, cuddle and bring him back to said lair while telling him he has nothing whatever to cry about. I have noticed if I go out for a time – am seen to be planning to, the cats begin to look anxious. They are not eager for this. They get out of said room and watch me to the door. They are in short no longer accustomed to long hours of my absence (much less Izzy’s, she has become a fixture)

Well Malcolm Brabant on PBS Reports had a delightful but ambivalent segment on PBS last night where he tells of how the pandemic is affecting British dogs. It seems they are coming (according to one vet) “emotionally disordered.” (See how a medical definition tells us more about the definer than the subject). They are openly experiencing (in large numbers it seems) “separation anxiety” when their “best friends” go out even briefly.

Worse yet they want to sleep in the bed with said friends and they are persistent. People give in. Worser to buy a dog now costs a helluva lot. Even rescue dogs. Then worser and worser: dognappers. In the 19th century kidnapping a dog and holding the wealthy person’s pet for ransom was even common. It happened (famously to those who read) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Flush. Francis Power Cobbe wrote a dog story told by the dog where he was kidnapped and ransomed. The argument then and was is of course: “don’t pay it, it only spreads the crime.” But what if it is your dog. Brabant showed us only elderly lady with her beloved dog back on her lap.

A cat is not just an autistic dog. I am more loathe to leave my two than I used to be and as to boarding them somewhere, it hurts me to remember I would do that to them — they took that large cage by a strange window as fearful liminality.

A poem by Stevie Smith, a fable with a cat at the center:

The Galloping Cat:

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
cause
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting it in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth
Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good.
Also I heard a swoosh,
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
Underneath
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.


Clarycat on my lap

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

And I watched another pandemic shaped Metropolitan Opera concert yesterday afternoon: Joyce DiDonato, a mezzo soprano, her reportoire far more older Baroque than I realized, and I admit I did not enjoy the songs the way I did Jonas Kaufmann and Renee Fleming (traditional tenor and soprano), until she moved into more popular songs, but then I woke up (as it were) elevated suddenly by her Shenandoah (“I love to see you), the corny, yet irresistible “When you Walk through a storm.” I like the simple black dress with wide pants, no jewels, no shoes even, the small orchestra with harpsichord and piano. She lives in Barcelona, but the concert came from an industrial center in Germany, as the only safe place just now with an appropriate hall and not a hot spot for this virus. They had had to move the venue three times to find it.

So tonight I end on her is her cabaret song (you must first listen to the end of a German art song). Jim loved to listen to French cabaret — this from Piaf, La Vie en Rose, which I had not realized, taken in somehow is about a kind of experience of absolute love I knew, here her version finding life so beautiful while you are in the arms of your beloved. As I listened I thought of all the years with him, how I would lift my arms to him when he came to bed

This was a second concert that counseled hope and courage (like Renee Fleming’s).

People talk of going to live in another country, in Europe, in Central America (which one would you trust to?), flee somehow, but rare is the person who becomes refugee except when there is no alternative but death and destruction; they will stay and endure and eek out an existence. Or would Jim try to flee, try to de-accession and move the books once more, this time back back to the UK, see if he could get for me (and daughters) a right of residence? I don’t know. He was deterred after retirement when he realized we would have to pay 40% more taxes from our income. But were he here I would not be as frightened. I do believe we need a landslide win for Biden to get rid of Trumpism. I donate money; I tried to join in on a phone bank campaign but no one would show me to do this digitally, which is what is required — to show faces?  I don’t know.  But how can it be that millions will vote for tyranny, continued lies, destitution all around. I wonder if Masha Gessen will tell me. Gentle reader, can you?

Ellen


Ian seven years ago — non-human animals are subject to people


One of my two miniature magnolia trees has unexpectedly bloomed …. as are all plant-life

Friends and readers,

Times being what they are, I have had another “cultural experience” which so stands out and seems to me so important I would rather devote another shorter blog to trying to disseminate it than telling my good friends and kind readers here about my doings and feelings in the last couple of weeks. A previous movie of this type (protest) was 55 Steps: about an autistic young woman who had to fight not to spend her life drugged in an asylum. IN that movie Eleanor had to be rescued from the medical establishment; and in this, it seems planet earth needs to be rescued from many of the apparent environmentalists, not to omit the ruthless industrialists, corporations of all sorts: Moore and Gibbs show that in fact solar and wind energy are not sufficiently reliable or strongly generative sources of power for most contemporary uses, and project after project, concert after concert, institution after institution are in fact relying (in the background) on fossil fuels. When there is a substitute for the fossil fuel, its combustion — like the destruction of vast forests, to turn them into chips to be consumed as energy, the seaweeds of the ocean — so called biomass — leaves a vast wasteland that disrupts and destroys ecosystems. Capitalism had bought out the environmental movement, and is now turning so-called “green” projects into huge profits. So it’s the same billionaire groups devastating the earth with a false front.

Like another movie I wrote about this past week, Come What May, Planet of the Humans has been almost uniformly dismissed, and/or disparaged by professional critics. The most demoralizing parts of the film are where Moore and Gibbs show Bill McKibben, Al Gore, and other gurus, and various institutions (Sierra Club) in collusion with the worst people (supported by companies run by the likes of the Koch brothers, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg). The critics are writing for the news media which is either funded by the open ruthless capitalists or treated with awed respect as those these environmentalists can rely on to help save the earth.

The argument of this movie is people across the earth have to consume less and have to replace what they consume in the length of time the consumed it; we have to bring out population growth down too

Do watch. The film reminds me of a couple I saw years ago on fracking.

A rare favorable film review by Dennis Harvey of Variety.

But poking past the disillusioning actual results of many such much-ballyhooed ventures, Gibbs finds reason to doubt even the good intentions theoretically at work. He’s unable to find a single corporate entity worldwide whose claims of “100% renewable” energy usage are accurate.

Meanwhile, a greenwashing surface too often hides old-school environmental destruction, polluting and profiteering from the usual billionaires. In “Planet’s” cluttered survey, there ends up being dismayingly few degrees of separation between the actions of the ostensible “good guys” (Al Gore, Sierra Club, Tesla, environmentalist Bill McKibben, etc.) and such familiar baddies as the Koch brothers, Goldman Sachs and Big Oil. Indeed, a little digging often reveals they all appear to have signed on the same dotted line.

There was an attempt to remove the film from YouTube (The Guardian). Those who outline objections to the film as about obsolete conditions, as misleading, or untrue, never answer the charge that “green” companies are fronts for old-fahsined “destruction, polluting, and profiteering,”. The objectors call Moore and Gibbs simplifiers (a no-no); in an article in TLS, the conservative reviewer says you can’t get along without capitalist methods; Moore and Gibbs’s facts are of some years ago, not today. This is not true.  Moore & Gibbs are up-to-date. They include recent controversies: peoples driven off their land or their land destroyed, their waters polluted. To conclude, here is a thoughtful adjudication between the two “sides.”

There is a problem here — asking us all — especially the middle classes in the more fortunate parts of the globe — to consume less. I live in an environment which is super-hot in summer. I could not survive without air-conditioning. The only places food is available is from local super-markets or farmers’ markets. I have to buy water, gas, electricity from the capitalist monopolies in my area — like this internet connection. I have to have my grass mowed or my neighbors can & will have me cited. I don’t over-consume that I can think of except for plane trips — planes use up inordinate amounts of energy (fossil fuels). Or not deliberately. I own a small car because I am most comfortable driving a small car and ther are but two of us. So perhaps that is why the film has not been popular (able to sell itself). We can as political people try to vote for those in power who will ameliorate the increasingly destructive conditions. I would have to reread AOC’s Green New Deal now to see if what she intends is really what she thinks.

Ellen


Her book has made a splash and you can hear it read aloud and find it discussed online


The Run-up to the Civil War: Field of Blood

Dear friends and readers,

I sometimes do give over a whole blog to an important or wonderful movie or play I saw, or a course I took.  The value of this is such blogs are much shorter than my diaries of 2-3 weeks.

I want to convey the content and importance of a lecture and talk I watched and listened to last night, one in conversation form between Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Friedman.  The occasion the recent publication of Richardson’s book. She and Friedman know one another. They are scholars and historians and now public intellectuals.

It was via Zoom from Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington DC, now online, as well as open to the public for buying books, and with the cafe working.

Here are two reviews:


Goldwater in Fredonia, Arizona, November 2, 1964

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/southern-elites-western-libertarians-and-the-conservative-coalition/2020/04/17/f4352c1c-6d4d-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html

In a nutshell, Richardson’s shows how Goldwater’s defeat showed the Republicans how to build a new coalition after the Civil Rights act of 1964. Out of that defeat they pulled 40+ years of slow built-up victory to produce the fascism we see around us now

Click on the above title: despite the cover, this is a serious book showing parallels of violence then (1850s) and now (2012)

It seems Field of Blood should be chambers of blood. I have read elsewhere that pro-enslavement people openly said the way to stop abolition was to threaten the lives of any abolitionist, to beat and if necessary kill him or her – Harriet Martineau, the 19th century lecturer, woman political writer and novelist, and memoirist, had death threats on all her tours.

I had a hard time even sleeping after listening to Richardson and Fielding. They talked of how the Postal Service was attacked and censored in the 1840s to 50s. They said the measure of the crisis we are in now — that Trump will not concede even if he loses, and try to stay in power by any means if he is at all backed — is that the Postal Service is openly under attack. From the time there was a postal service it was obvious it was an important means of communication between people. It still is a life blood of a state.

Their way of talking about the crisis is different from what one usually hears. Instead of putting racism to the fore, they put oligarchy. They said the US was conceived as an oligarchy with some ameliorations; the people who wrote the constitution enshrined as an ideal equality, but they owned slaves and limited suffrage.

What is happening is the oligarchy which never went away is back in full force. They said that in the 1950s there was a consensus between liberal Republicans and conservative democrats that ideals for all were strong infrastructure (building highways, bridges, improving public transportation & communications), a strong safety net (social security, good schools) and equal opportunity for all in business; strongly individualistic all the time. But blacks & hispanics kept out except as subordinated workers (caste system).

But a wing of the Republicans (John Birch Society, remember them?) always hated this and fought (remember Buckley) against it, and ceaselessly tried to change the consensus: they won a major battle when equal time for all points of view on TV was made by them and their connections to vanish.

This powerful group (they go to the elite schools, sit on elite boards, fill local gov’ts) have worked to return to oligarchy once again. They believe only a few who are better than everyone else, more deserving, should have good services, food, freedom, live exclusive lives of privilege based on the long hard hours of work of everyone else: “mudsills” was the word in the 19th century. Mudsills now refers to working class whites and as many of the middle class whites as they can subordinate and crush to work for very little (as well of course as people of color of any ethnicity).

This group is replicating what was done in the 1850s: they have taken over the courts. They have gerrymandered the states & US senate egregiously and the courts allow now it — and they have harnessed to them white supremacists (idiot bigots), frantic evangelicals; a 15% portion of the American middle class who think they will be just fine. These people only talk about keeping women subordinate indirectly since they want their upper class white women to identify as powerful by virtue of belonging; so the issue is anti-abortion, anti-women’s rights over their own bodies as that is perceived as not threatening to wealthy or religious white women.

The pandemic has this group worried, but nothing else (they want more police), and not enough as the stock market is kept up by free money from the Fed. They are still using the word communism as a bugaboo because what they truly loathe is anything socialistic They may stop at nothing to stay in power — those in office are those obviously are not prepared to go against Trump publicly — or crooks sycophants themselves. They have oodles of money to send their children to private schools, to charter planes to their summer homes. The accumulation of preposterous amounts of money for themselves and their adherents, near zero taxes are their goals (pay only for military and protecting private property).

Richardson and Friedman suggested we are seeing a replay of the 1850s in 2012 terms. Below is a 1911 US political cartoon.

I conclude with a significant and timely essay online — by Frances Fox Piven:  how will Trump attempt to stay in power and what can we as a people do legally to prevent his taking over:  What if Trump Won’t Leave: Tump is prepared to do all he can to stay in power.  Can he be stopped?

Ellen (aka Miss Sylvia Drake)


Last Sunday at Trader’s Joe, two clerks gifted me with two bouquets of flowers


Clarycat in the morning sunshine that day

I have discovered why we all love cats: they are autistic dogs.

Dear friends and readers,

I’m not sure why but I know I experienced the last two weeks as very rough. What stands out in my memory is how late Sunday suddenly the TVs would not work, and when I called Comcast there was no real explanation and an hour after getting up on Monday (Aug 3rd) the internet was cut off. Even the phone worked feeble as the modem was gone. People say “all’s well that ends well, and after getting on the phone 8:02 am (I was told I could get someone on the phone by 8:00 am) and paying immediately the usual monthly mammoth amount (though I had sent it off in a check Friday) I got the service of four very courteous young tech men, one of them on the phone with me the entire time (he called it conferencing), and one very courteous accountant female. By 8:50 am or so all was back, working right, Izzy had started her usual job, and I had been told that all my checks had arrived:  I not only didn’t owe money but I should not (said courteous female) start automatic payment until the Friday check arrived. She advised early September.

I’m not naive. I was promised a tech visiting on Tuesday and he never came — because they knew there was no need. I didn’t expect anyone to come for real. It would have helped if someone had apologized, but I expect that’s too much candor for any company to offer nowadays. . The explanation in full is on my political blog: Trump has (as all in the US by this time know) successfully sabotaged and undermined the post office (our only hope is not permanently). What probably happened was the previous check was a tad late (it takes only a day for the machine to click that in). So I am going to change the habits of a lifetime and starting next week gradually pay all my bills online, automatically giving out my routing number to each company.

While it took all day for me to calm down some, and another day before I could sleep without a sleeping pill, I must admit that this is probably in time and experience little suffering in comparison to millions of Americans during this pandemic. I cannot pinpoint another traumatic incident over these past weeks. Indeed good things happened. I was much praised for my teaching and two proposals I put in were accepted.

For Winter 2021, OLLI at Mason, as long as it is online — 4 weeks


The 2017 Howards End

Two Novels of Longing in an Age of Wild Imperialism

The class will read as a diptych of contrast & comparison, EM Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We were Orphans (2000). The first examines class, race, colonialism, family, sex & property relationships from an “empire’s center” (London, the home counties), the second, these same elements from its periphery (Shanghai). The core center of both is the human needs of their characters: friendship, love, stability, beauty, meaning. We can ask how a novel of manners, (love & marriage & class stories), then a detective, picaro violent adventure (thrills abroad&c) bring to us comparable ideas about how to live, survive in the “post-colonial worlds” we live in today. There are two marvelous movies for Howard’s End (Merchant-Ivory 1990s and Lonergan 2017) and (it’s not often realized) The White Countess (Merchant-Ivory 2002) is a free brilliant adaptation (script by Ishiguro) of When We Were Orphans.  (An alternative selection if I should do this in summer:  Ruth Prawer  Jhabvala’s A Backward Place (1965), set in Delhi it delineates lives of ex-patriates and Indian friends (where periphery is center and narrator female  & British originally).


Early book cover

For Spring 2021, both OLLI at Mason and OLLI at AU, online probably 8/10 weeks

20th Century Women’s Political Novels

In this course we will travel across 20th century wars, politics, and social life through the lens of four masterpieces of fiction & memoir: Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929), a story of an Anglo-Irish family during the 1920s civil wars; Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune (1960), a story of the fascist take-over of Rumania in 1939; Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time (1975), Hellman’s experience of the McCarthy era, 1950s USA, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), which dramatizes African-American experiences of life in early to mid-century America. We will learn about the authors, times & places; ask what is particularly the woman’s perspective; and how what we learn relates to earlier and our own era. There are excellent film adaptations of Bowen’s novel (with Fiona Shaw, and Michael Gambon in major roles) and the whole of Manning’s Balkan trilogy (The Great Fortune is Novel 1). We may also discuss the WW2 film, The Watch on the Rhine, whose origin is Hellman’s play (movie scripted by Dashiell Hammet)


Laurie Simmons, Woman in Bathroom practicing home maintenance (photographic artist, probably later 1970s).

I successfully colored my hair by myself for the first time in nearly half a century (I was 24 last time): using a kit I bought online with Laura’s advice, I made it a very pretty soft blonde-brown. It’s real improvement. I don’t mind the hair longer as mine won’t grow past my shoulders (the ends keep breaking off).


Later 18th century illustration of the picturesque from Batey’s book

You may remember how I failed to get to a conference on Jane Austen and the Arts a few years ago now (wow, say three years) after I had worked hard on a paper I was calling “Ekphrasis in Austen’s Novels” (a bad sign that title). I had not realized quite how far the town it was held in was on the edge of Canada. I had to learn I would have to take two planes, two cabs, or drive 11 hours, or accept some hellish train ride & 2 cabs for nearly 2 days. It was a disaster to have to admit to the conference organizer I couldn’t do it. Well now I have been given the book that emerged from that conference to review, Art and Artefacts in Jane Austen, ed. Anna Battigelli. I am certainly all prepared to evaluate. I found my two excellent blogs on these matters (far better than the paper I was laboring on) as a first step: one on Mavis Batey’s JA and Landscape (from which one of the pictures is taken) and Ekphrastic patterns in Austen. So I will be “with them” after all if only in print and communing through writing and reading (not bad).

But I almost feel like Francis Poldark who, having failed to kill himself by shooting himself in the head, is asked by Dwight Enys (Richard Morant), how he could have thought of such a thing when he has so much to feel good about, says, with sardonic irony (Clive Francis was pitch perfect), “oh don’t break my heart with joy …. ” — for the subliminal worry, upset, sense of the world on edge for very good reasons, has been very bad — and justifiably.

I’d have to be obtuse, heartless, and believe I cannot get directly hit again, not to be aware of how rough these three weeks have been and felt it too: over 155,000 deaths in the US since February, millions about to run out of unemployment checks, to get eviction notices, and Trump’s solution is to try to cut the payroll taxes on working people’s checks so 10 years (or less) from now someone can say social security is out of money, and the only security left from FDR’s era will vanish. I feel sick if I think on these things too much.

I ask myself, are there are other countries without a decent functioning post-office. Perhaps. Which ones? some miserable dictatorship? this is what Trump & the Republicans have brought the whole of the US to. What next? social security of course.


From 1975 BBC Jeremy Poldark: scene at Truro

I don’t sleep well either and am very grateful for Izzy’s continued presence and sane sensible scheduling of herself; I told onto my sanity by keeping to my routines — I know have for projects I work on – now two reviews (the other for the new standard edition of Anne Finch, and I do some wonderfully interesting reading as far as I am concerned, no matter that ony a very few in the world would understand my deep interest in translation in the 18th century, how women read Pope, what plays they put on when they were rich aristocrats in their great halls …), reading Trollope’s La Vendee and about the counter-revolution in France with others on the Trollope&Peers list, I carry on with lifelong singlewomen and the historical romance.

The grimmest essay I’ve read in a long time doesn’t bear too much thinking on: the writer, Susan Moser Stuard calls it “Single by Law and Custom: what it’s about the hundreds of years where enslaved singlewomen were everywhere and badly exploited in all sorts of ways, and how they hardly ever speak in the records and are mostly erased. You see they were not permitted to marry; any children they were impregnated with were automatically enslaved. The content of what people who were free and by law said about owning these women, and what they forced these women to do all the waking hours of their lives is so repugnant. I wondered when did this form of enslavement end — Stuard keeps saying how convenient enslaved women are, how their children by law were in their condition (automatically enslaved – this is come across in Morrison’s Beloved).

We might say it has not ended because of trafficking with women as victims as real and in some parts of the globe even common – but they are not chattel slaves, it’s illegal and they are not regarded as subhuman by law.

Today I returned (so to speak) to Cornwall, Winston Graham and Daphne DuMaurier: Nina Auerbach brings Graham’s misogynistic modern suspense books into a perspective that makes them understandable through reading of DuMaurier’s embodiment of men murdering women. Evenings very slowly now through A French Village, with the companion books, I am seeing how much I missed or failed to understand (one poignant moment, a disabled man who cleans the schools is wrongly “thrown” to the Nazis as a thief), the witty stimulating Andrew Marr on sleuths, spies, sorceries. I visited a friend of mine yesterday, she lives alone, divorced, 74 (to my 73) and we watched the whole of Amanda Vickery’s At Home: in Georgian England. I wrote about her, her books on 18th century women, and this one documentary here:


The rich three hours are based on extensive reading in contemporary letters and biographies in library and private archives

Since writing this I’ve come to think I am being unfair — or not praising her work and documentary as strongly as I should. She is signalling more than strong feminism: she is deeply humane but is making a mainstream “sensible” appeal to. One important theme in the last third of the hours is how important our space is to us, control of it, how we make our homes reflections of ourselves, self-respect and the meaning we want to give life embodied all around us. How women were often very deprived of this if they were spinsters or left alone without an income as a widow — or spent their lives as a servant. Both genders if they become very poor — or old and ailing and without funds. So the problem we face today when we grow old, alone and not well off, is the same the 18th century person did — she is talking to us about us as much as the era. She does not omit a visit to Chawton cottage and look at Jane Austen’s tiny frail writing desk.

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


One last flowering bush for August

So what can I share with you to go off and enjoy next thing? I recommend (if there’s still time) watching the second Met Saturday afternoon concert: Renee Fleming was just spectacularly beautiful in voice, exquisitely perfect in emotional performance; she provided her own humane sensible talk inbetween.  I even loved her clothes — a gilded kind of pelisse coat over her an elegant  varied blue-color dress. She has a voice with a distinct appealing timbre — as, had Pavarotti, but as a woman no one emphasizes or even brings it up.

Song after song well chosen; some favorites from operas, but others not that well-known songs that fit her voice – and the occasion. She kept in mind this terrible pandemic and all that has been happening outside her sphere. Perhaps fault maybe found with two brief films about her life, but they were not over the top-hagiographic and it was interesting seeing what she looked like in her twenties and began her career. She had dark hair.

I am torn whether to share her singing Il mio babbino (Gianni Schicchi) or Somewhere over the rainbow by Harold Arlen, who, if you didn’t know, wrote hundreds of songs you are familiar with, and was blacklisted and hounded in the 1950s for his socialist beliefs. I cried several times and the re-arranged Arlen song was one of the moments, but it’s not a problem as I can’t find a YouTube for either from this particular performance. This is four years ago in Berlin:

And for International Cat day (today! — or maybe it was yesterday): “The Cat Came Back” from a old Muppet show: very funny, adorable cat, but determination of “owner” to get rid of the cat (a bomb) makes last fantasy much less comfortable:

The Cat (Le chat) by Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903) as translated by Norman Shapiro. It seems to be very difficult to post a pdf to wordpress or face-book either in the new style postings or the old. So, thanks to Michelle Cusack, I hope I am sharing this wonderful poem this way; click on the URL below and when you see “next” click again, and you will come to The Cat. https://tinyurl.com/y3k5sj6v

Here are the first few stanzas Englished so you know you are in the right place:

I know why Baudelaire fancied the cat,
Struck by the sphinx-like magic of his being;
Thanks to the wheedling charm, the luster, that
Darts in long jets from his lynx-like eyes, all seeing.
I know why Baudelaire fancied the cat.

Women’s, dove’s, serpent’s, monkey’s lissome stance
Back arched, he sprawls, and shuns heavy caress,
And when the fur cloaks his fleshly elegance,
Plastic his beauty’s velvet loveliness:
Women’s, dove’s serpent’s, monkey’s lissome stance …

In the half-light’s muted oblivion —
Rumbling ennui like spell-cast pall — he brings
Gently, to the alone and lonely one,
The soothing balm of mystic utterings,
In the half-light’s muted oblivion.

By turns doleful and gay, sleepy and spry,
This soul of my secluded digs will loll–
Table to highboy, chair to hearth, low, high–
Sparing the objects of his folderol,
By turns doleful and gay, sleepy and spry …

On the desk, ink-stained, as he whisks, a-strut,
Light as a breath, his tail flails left and right,
Over the papers strewn, books open, shut
Grazing my beacon-thoughts, casting their light
On the desk, ink-stained, as he whisks, a strut …

[Read the two more pages below; it’s as felicitous in the original French which is in the book too, only you must click away to come to the the back of the book. I don’t know if there is a name for this specific kind of stanza: first line repeats in fifth of each stanza and lines rhyme ababa. Also in the French.


Judith Moore Cheney’s Cat in the Round

And for this with a heart for a poor loving dog, Paul Auster’s Mr Bones, from his inimitable story of a dog’s life (scroll down), Timbuktu

I finished this book wishing I could have been there (which is what you are supposed to feel with a novel) to love him with the final kind good heroine, Polly, trapped herself and yet insofar as her coerced thwarted life permitted caring for the the compassionate dog in need himself.

Tonight Mr Bones stands for a world of human beings who deserve so much better from and for everyone.

Ellen


Seascapes — Sara Sitting (I am not sure about this title or artist but very much like the image)

On morning early this week (Sunday) I remembered when in the mid-1970s Jim and I lived on Seaman Avenue in Manhattan (200th street, below the Cloisters hill) we would summer time on Tuesday and Thursday take our dog, Llyr, and drive to Jones Beach in the morning. There was a beach where dogs were allowed. We’d bring coffee & croissants for ourselves, water and biscuits for Llyr. We’d go in the water, stay close to shore (no life guards). Those were happy mornings long ago … I thought of this as I saw my neighbors, two married gay guys taking their dog to a nearby private pool …. the difference between now and then — includes then it was public beach, now it’s an expensive private pool. I did long to get out of the house, go to where the horizon stretches out and stand by the world’s waters — thus the above image by Sitting

On another I woke remembering a dream Laura outlined at the end of our time with Izzy in Calais last summer: upon retirement, she’d buy a second house for her and Izzy in Florida or some warm place, & they’d live there winters; and the present house I occupy summers — though now I’m thinking it’d be a bit hot here. They could sell my library and go to Vermont. I ahd found the idea of them together when I am gone comforting. I would not worry so about Izzy and feel better about Laura having a good companion

My image for this was Beatrice Potter’s Two Rabbits because Jim as a boy read the Potter books and even into his old age would suddenly quote from a scene or refer to Jemima Puddleduck or wry Potter characters

Last The comet. I am told there is a comet in the sky just now. One night around 10 pm Izzy and I took our binoculars and went for a walk around — that’s when the sky is dark where I live. We didn’t spot the comet — I don’t know what to look for. But we did see a sky filled with stars. Not strong as light pollution is too pervasive but we did see a sky just twinkling with many little lights. And a couple of stronger ones too. A comet apparently looks like a moving star ….

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been almost three weeks now and I’ve made no entry because during mid-day I’ve been busy (driving myself to work on my Anne Finch review, immersed in the true wonders, good values and texts by and about the Bloomsbury group), and at night so tired, watching A French Village (up to season 6 now — what an education about real life politics during war), and as usual often melancholy, depressed, so worried about this endlessly spinning out calamity (COVID19, the devastation of unemployment deliberately spread by Republican-Trump policies) and how it might affect Izzy and I. But I do have a topic to share and performers to recommend: my education in the context of the US educational system generally speaking, and (among others) the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Douglas.

Last week was the time OLLI at AU runs its “July Shorts:” these are courses which last just one week, and take place anywhere from 3 to all 5 days, about 90+ minutes each meeting. (They do the same kind of thing in February each year.) I could not myself teach such a course, and even going to them when it means driving there can be too much of a burden. Last week it was just sitting in front of my computer three times to participate in a four time course on the American education system (or some such title) so I registered and zoomed in. The two men leading the discussions, lecturing presented excellent material: good information, thoughtful commentary, genuine explanations for phenomena. I had to miss the fourth, because it took place in precisely the same time as each week I once a week give a course at OLLI at Mason on the Bloomsbury group: 90 minutes on the status of teachers K-12 (low, 80% female and white still) and the history and developments in chartered schools. While I trust my every instinct to distrust privately funded (you must pay as a parent to some extent) this is a means to destroy public education, to turn desperately needed good education into profit-making ventures (like medicine), and to pull in taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to support turning schools into places with a false appeal of supposed choice and exclusionary policies — while I am distrustful I would have liked to hear an unbiased account.


A Community high school

Their over-riding theme was the need to make the system far more equal for everyone; as presently conducted the way US education works, its effect, is to increase the inequalities or (to be more frank) set up inequalities among children from day one, reinforce class, money and other social disadvantages. To produce badly or uneducated children whose whole outlook is shaped by narrow ill-informed prejudices. This is achieved (it’s wanted) by a mechanism or reality which lies at the core of all US inequality and social ignorance: residential localism. All education in the US is controlled locally, by localities; the schools are funded locally (by a town or at most city), with some controls placed on what they can and should teach and how they must behave by state laws. The state provides funds too, as does the federal gov’t (8 to 15% depending on how poor the district is, so the poorer get 15% or close to that, and the richer 8% or close to that). Any change in this is fiercely fought. As with the delivery of medical services in the US, the whole thing is endlessly fragmented, done differently in different states, with endless pockets of people in effect isolated from others — even nearby. This is exacerbated by he complete divorce between K-12 and post-secondary or higher education. The two groups run on different tracks, and both are (as a result) somewhat hostile to one another due to caricatures.

The public picture of schools in the US is distorted and falsifying — especially in the post-secondary area where education is suddenly expected (by many Americans) to directly lead to or produce jobs. It does not. Parents and students are paying for a certificate in an area of knowledge; nothing more is (literally) contracted for. The picture the public has as de rigueur or common is a four year college aspiring to at least look like Harvard, small private campus college, or state-supported be-prized institution measured by the US News and World Report. Only 17-18% of young US adults go to a four year college. 80% of young adults are enrolled in some form of publicly-funded post-secondary education, many of which are community colleges, which are weak on needed vocational training and apprenticeships. The fancy internships for upper middle professions are found in the 4 year institutions (and pay nothing). The average student is 27 and the majority are female, perhaps married, with one child. She is looking to “better herself” in the commercial marketplace. As to elite schools that are written about so much (this is the public media pretending that the small middle class is pervasive) less than 2% go to colleges like Harvard, Stanford — and where my younger daughter went, Sweet Briar (she had what was called a complete scholarship so it cost each term about what George Mason did for my younger daughter six years before).


This is a private and charter school — all white

K-12: 11% of children to teenagers are in private schools, of which 9-10% are religious schools, aka schools run by overtly religious groups (or in the south where there is more than a pretense a Christian academy for whites — these sprung up after Brown v Board of Education). The children of upper class and middling parents are taught self-esteem, self-assertiveness, how to cope with others and negotiate your way through life, to be pro-active for individual initiative at home; they have books at home to read; by keeping them away from the rest of the population, you leave that rest to become unexamined obedient instruments of capitalist enterprises — with the emphasis on obedience to group norms and acceptance of punitive measures to keep them that way. They are not to expect “perks” like art classes, music, shop, Advanced Placement (with better paid teachers) where they might learn what are their particular gifts.

The way the game is kept this way is fragmentation — the same thing is done in the area of US medicine (and now we see how US medicine is delivered is horrifyingly inadequate if there is any question of truly serious illness in the population). Those in the richer districts do not want to share their money with others. Most married Americans with children chose where they live in accordance with the schools available in the area. There is a tremendous gap between governance (those who govern, school boards) and anything to transform achievement gaps. No comprehensive school services across many districts (like social workers, nurses)

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Duncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street

All this for four days and watching what the 40 or so people in the class looked like as they listen, what they said made me remember my own experience. In fact my education enabled me to escape a stultifying working class background, and today still (even after Jim’s death 8 years now) live a life of the mind immersed in high culture in a comfortable house with books and nowadays computers. I am not altogether an anomaly because between the years 1946 and 1970 other trends and left-overs from the FDR era mitigated some inequalities, plus the way to be promoted and thought well of is through academic style tests where your ability to cope with language and math (symbols) are tested, your ability to memorize and what you have read and studied made the groundwork of the tests. On all these I did spectacularly well — as did Jim. Jim got 800 on both GREs to enter graduate school; I got 800 on the English and 798 on the math, at which he quipped: “Ellen was always weak in math.”

I know one of my prides is this education of mine: that I have a Ph.D. is central to my ability to hold up my head. I know how I was relieved to go to grade school to escape my parents’ house with their continual fierce fighting and the tensions and miseries of poverty and anger and frustration. It was a mecca. I know that once I got into my senior year in high school and throughout high school, college, even graduate school, I loved going to classes. In talking on FB of what colleges cannot do to set themselves up to teach students kept socially distant I remembered how for a year at Leeds University (for which I won a scholarship, my year of study abroad where I met Jim) I was given a tutor one-on-one. We met once a week to talk and together study Chaucer and medieval English and French romance. How scared I was at first of the professor; how young she was with a silver urn. I read so carefully each week. I also had wider tutorials with 4 students to a lecturer. Then Izzy at Sweet Briar had similar experiences.

But I also know what I didn’t learn. As I sat in a public school in the southeast Bronx where the majority of students were African-American or hispanic, I was put into a tiny group with “real books” to read – sometimes I was a group of one. The others were reading workbooks, Dick and Jane; I was reading books like Mary Poppins. I spent some of the day making posters. But I learned no manners, my accent stayed thoroughly southeast Bronx, I never took in groups of attitudes I encountered for the first time at age 10/11 when my parents moved to Kew Gardens. Ever after I was something of an outsider. There I was in groups of children with abilities like myself only I was behind in math and science — and no one took the time to teach me fractions, long division, how to do percentages. I still stumble and only my test taking ability, memorization, and ability to work out what a paragraph wanted got me though the Regents. We did have Regents in NY state so the high schools were forced to have teachers who did spend each year covering the curriculum for say chemistry or European (called World) history.


Another Duncan Grant — this time of Vanessa Bell painting, David (Bunny) Garnett reading, studying

Jim went to a “public school” in the UK — these are private schools for the elite — as a day boy in a different colored shirt (to show he was there without paying) because he did so well on the 11 plus, it was called. But he was merged with upper class boys from age 11 to 18 and that enabled him to know how to negotiate and cope in a managerial position, at conferences, he understood expectations. He had a silvery pure prose — from years of learning Latin and translating back and forth from Latin to English. He hated his school at times – he was caned five times and still had the welts on his hands when he was in his 50s. Like me in a different way an outsider, his politics he said were philosophical anarchy. He was deeply sceptical of all professions of ideology.

College came to me because I was living in NYC where it was basically for free. I had to come up with $25 a term. I got in through the night school. Never took an SAT exam, but within the first term, got all As and so switched to daytime college. Jim’s fees were paid for by the state — the Clement Atlee reforms were still in place. I know now how odd it is for me to be proud since I never went to a name school, cannot tell of knowing this or that person, but my expectations were so low to start with, and it’s what your expectations are as you start out that you measure yourself.

I did hold out. I refused to sell myself – I would not spend my life in a 8 hour a day 5 day a week job to make a higher salary. I was able to do that by being married to Jim and accepting that we would live on less, have less things people admire in our house, or clothes, prestige house. And it is chancy but then had I spent my life working at what bored or irritated or embarrassed or was trouble for me I would not be any safer as to money. To be truly safe you must be very rich in ways Jim and I (he with his gov’t job where he was promoted based on his intellectual abilities) never came near. And we spent what we had, I still do what is coming in, to enjoy life as we went along. We did do traveling as I have done since without him. I shall miss going to the UK if this pandemic makes it impossible for me to return to Europe safely. I was comfortable in the Scottish culture and norms; each time I returned to England I felt such cheer to think this is where he was born, where he became what he was. He valued me for what my education had made of me or what I had done with it to make myself what I was and am when we met at Leeds and throughout our lives together.

I did grow irritated at the course because when I would speak I could see that what I had to say was not wanted. Many of the people wanted to pretend they were for equality more than they were and they wanted to remain upbeat and talk of hopeful changes. One of the two leaders twice told a story of a teacher making a home visit and how the hispanic family all came out dressed just for her. I had a home visit when I was putting Izzy in the pre-school: the two women I learned later wrote up a very hostile description of me and my house (all the books offended). It seems Jim and I were at fault for my daughter’s disability. Others kept talking of how important success outside school, in businesses, was — in ways that showed they had no idea this is the kind of thing that cannot be taught. It is social cunning imbibed from your family habitat. I told a little of my experience in a southeast Bronx public school – it was not appreciated because it was downbeat. One was to be constructive. Large abstract pessimism is good, not local true-to-life anedote which exemplifies stubborn real obstacles.

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So this piece of genuine autobiography in the context of a course I just took has taken me time to write and space to do it in. So I shall save for next time some of the wonderful books I’ve read these past 3 weeks, movies, art works looked at, music listened to, Laura’s kittens, and end on music and comedy. Now just onto experiences I’ve had I would not ever have been able to without so much coming online — ingenious people determined to reach everyone at home, to socialize, to make money in their professions.

This past Saturday I took a chance and paid $20 to listen to Jonas Kauffman in concert from the Met. At first I shuddered at the hype introduction, over-dressed woman, and began to fear this would be glittering commercial phony-ness, but bear with the opening 8 minutes, and they leave you alone to listen and watch. An hour and 20 minutes of moving magnificient songs from this handsome and extraordinarily talented actor-singer. Sometimes he was in an old (Baroque?) Bavarian church, and sometimes it was clips from him in costume in a opera. I just love his “Pourquoi me reveiller?” I learned to like and to appreciate and love opera through my 45 years with Jim. The songs sung made me remember our relationship

And then Hannah Gadsby. I have joined online an aspergers group I could never have reached, am attending regularly and making a few acquaintance friends I look forward to seeing again. We talk about things I have trouble with and am given good advice. How to stop interrupting people at the wrong time when I am just trying to join in. What I’m doing wrong? — I am not recognizing their flow of talk and its origins and understanding where it will subside. They meet once a month to discuss a book or movie or person who is known to be autistic or writes about the condition.

It was 10 at night and I had been thinking somehow that I had not laughed in a long time. This is probably untrue. Only I couldn’t remember any true exhilaration either — well only inward exhilaration. I had promised for a coming Zoom session to watch Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedienne “out”as autistic and lesbian. I did laugh and she made me feel better. On Netflix: I’d say I laughed more during Nanette because she did startle me, but the second,Douglas, with her dog as its center, was brilliant. I gathered from both “autism is seeing what no one else has noticed” and autistic people because we are different and vulnerable are more patient, tolerant, accepting of other people in all their variety Here is a clip from Douglas:

What awoke me to a certain cheer was my thought a way to understand her is: :if I can stand life on these terms, amid these cruel and inane absurdities, so can you.” Douglas contains one of the most brilliant exposures of quite what we are looking out in some of these fossilized religious devotional pictures. Hardly anyone really looks at them.

Then I read into a new humane Guide to Aspergers Syndrome by Tony Attwood arguing strongly the label should not be dropped. It is a different quality of disability but nonetheless disability. Nanette closes with her re-telling how she was attacked at a bus station.


Izzy’s new chair

While we are on this subject: this past Sunday Izzy and I managed to find a store Jim used to take me to to buy decent well made furniture — wood mostly. Izzy badly needs a new chair and I could use a small table in the kitchen. What a time we had! Very nervous trying to remember the name of the place and then the street. All I could think was chair store and Edsall Avenue. Well google and mapquest finally turned up a photo of the place that I recognized. I find things out by pictures. So, armed with 2 printed out mapquests, and Izzy programming Waze (then plugged into i-something or other, after which we turn off Godsford Park music and voila there is that lady’s voice), we made it. We have figured out how to put Waze to sleep (not to quit it, that’s not possible apparently)

I did get confused coming back and was nervous the whole time. My mind continually slightly flustered. I had not been out in the car to a new place in quite a while — I cannot find the category for this in Attwood’s book — it is probably under movement in space but there is nothing specific. I have hunted in the book. But Izzy bought a pretty ivory colored wood chair. She looks so comfortable in it. Here is her latest song:

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I never was able to find the place near us where there is testing for COVID19. I did discover that in the Alexandria there are places where you can be tested nearly for free, several cost starting $50, and many many more $150 – $300. Nuts. Why do some cost $300 — luxurious surroundings? But why try for anything labelled $150-$300? I have to find the place too. Of course Kaiser will test us but we must have symptoms to be eligible. She is to go into to work at the library this coming Thursday and may start going in once a week. She has fashion masks, santizer, and I have ordered a face shield for her.

Have I mentioned this time yet that I believe unqualified uncontrolled predatory capitalism everywhere in our lives in the US is at the core of the failed society of the US we are now experiencing — one result of this is thousands and thousands of deaths because we have no central govt that wants to do anything but exploit and abuse us. So another result of the miserable state of education across the US today and I end where I began this diary entry blog.

Ellen